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.