Born in Narvik, Norway in 1977, I was educated in Oriental Studies and Modern Middle East Studies at Oxford University and obtained my doctorate in political science from the Institut d'Etudes Politiques in Paris in 2007 with a thesis entitled "Violent Islamism in Saudi Arabia, 1979-2006: The Power and Perils of Pan-Islamic Nationalism".
I am currently director of terrorism research at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI) in Oslo. I was previously a Zuckerman fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) at Stanford University (2012-2013), a non-resident fellow at New York University (2010-2011), member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton (2009-2010), fellow and associate at Harvard Kennedy School (2008-2010), postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University (2007-2008) and visiting fellow at King's College London (2005-2006).
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 US Congress (2013), in the Canadian Senate (2005 and 2010) and in the Danish Parliament (2006). 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.