I was born in the northern Norwegian town of Narvik in 1977. At age 16 I won a scholarship to attend high school in Poitiers, France. From there I went to Balliol College, Oxford, and did a BA in Egyptology and Classical Hebrew followed by an M.Phil. in Modern Middle East Studies (with Arabic). In the summer of 2001 I joined the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI) as a research fellow. From 2003 to 2007, while based at FFI, I was a PhD student at Sciences-Po in Paris, where I wrote a thesis on Jihadism in Saudi Arabia under the supervision of Professor Gilles Kepel.
Although I have been affiliated with FFI since 2001, I have spent several years in the United States on various fellowships. I was a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University (Transregional Institute) in 2007-8, a fellow at Harvard Kennedy School (Belfer Center) in 2008-09, a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton in 2009-10, and a Zuckerman fellow at Stanford University (CISAC) in 2012-13.
I have published widely on various aspects of Islamist militancy. I wrote Jihad in Saudi Arabia (Cambridge 2010) and co-authored the Meccan Rebellion (Amal 2011) and Al-Qaida dans le texte (Presses Universitaires de France, 2005). My articles have appeared in journals such as the American Political Science Review, International Security, Journal of Peace Research, International Affairs, International Journal of Middle East Studies, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, The Middle East Journal, Middle East Policy, and Studies in Conflict and Terrorism. I have also written for the International Crisis Group and Oxford Analytica. I previously co-edited Jihadica, a blog that covers developments on jihadist websites.
I regularly advise governments on matters relating to Islamism and terrorism. I have testified in the British Parliament (2014), US Congress (2013), in the Canadian Senate (2005 and 2010) and in the Danish Parliament (2006). I testified before the Norwegian 22 July Commission and served on the Advisory Expert Group of Statoil's investigation into the In Amenas attack. I have also served as an expert witness in several terrorism trials in the United Kingdom.
High-resolution pictures available below. Please credit "Christian Vinculado Tandberg/FFI".
My work can be broadly described as actor-centered research on Islamist militancy. I combine in-depth historical research, fieldwork and social science methods to analyze the origins, ideology and behaviour of violent Islamist groups, mainly of the transnational variety. Like most people I am interested in understanding why al-Qaida emerged when it did and why it continues to attract recruits.
Much of my past work focused on the history of jihadism in Saudi Arabia. This was my PhD project, which in turn became a book.
I also have a long-standing interest in jihadi ideology, and I remain an avid collector and reader of jihadi propaganda past and present. See the publications page for my writings on the subject.
My current work focuses on Muslim foreign fighters, by which I mean people who travel abroad to fight in other Muslims' wars without necessarily engaging in international terrorism. At the moment I am completing a book about Abdallah Azzam and the history of the Arab fighters in 1980s Afghanistan. I am also compiling a dataset of Muslim foreign fighter mobilizations since 1945 for use in quantitative research. When I get the time, I plan to write a short history of the Arab fighters in Chechnya.
A new research interest of mine is jihad culture, i.e. all the things militants do and consume in the underground when they are not fighting or justifying violence. This excludes theology and includes things like poetry, music, iconography, dream interpretation, martyrology, rituals and the like. I strongly suspect that these products and practices, all of which appeal to emotions as opposed to the intellect, facilitate recruitment and group control. However, we know next to nothing about this dimension of militancy, so I am putting together an edited volume that will explore key elements of jihad culture.