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Last Updated: Friday, 9 July, 2004, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
Wrong to call terrorists 'madmen'
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Terrorist is a political not a psychiatric diagnosis, says Dr Silke
Terrorists are sane and not paranoid madmen, a leading expert says.

Dr Andrew Silke, a UN advisor and forensic psychologist at Leicester University, says terrorism is a political, not a psychiatric diagnosis.

He said legal reports showed members of groups such as Al-Qaeda were motivated by violent events and the desire for revenge.

Dr Silke was speaking at the annual conference of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Harrogate.

Dr Silke and researchers from the US and Germany have looked at the psychology of terrorism.

They certainly aren't crazy
Dr Andrew Silke, forensic psychologist at the University of Leicester

He said analysis of transcripts of legal proceedings against 180 members of Al-Qaeda, and interviews with other terrorist group members dispelled the myth that terrorists are insane.

Dr Silke said: "The widespread view that terrorists are isolated, vulnerable young men with paranoid or borderline personality disorders is false," he said.

"It is entirely perpetuated by experts relying on second hand reports."

Crazy myth

"Many psychiatrists and psychologists have written that terrorists suffer from delusions and are psychopaths, but the people who make these claims have never met a terrorist face to face," he said.

"Psychologists who have met a terrorist face to face don't find any evidence of this.

"They actually find them to be fairly ordinary.

"They certainly aren't crazy, they certainly aren't mad," he said.

All of the Al-Qaeda members studied came from middle or upper class backgrounds.

Two-thirds were college educated, a tenth had a postgraduate degree and more than seven out of 10 were married with children.

Dr Silke said most terrorists appeared to be driven by a wish to "punish" the state for previous, violent events.

"There is substantial evidence that people decide to join a terrorist group when they have been involved in a demonstration where police use excessive violence.

"The IRA killed 100 people in the three years before Bloody Sunday and 500 people in the three years after it, a staggering increase in terrorist violence," he said.

Second-hand violence

According to Dr Silke, violence doesn't have to be first hand to act as a catalyst for terrorism.

"TV footage increasingly acts as a catalyst. Footage of a father and son cowering in a house immediately before the boy was shot dead by Israeli troops in Netzarin on the West Bank in 2000 triggered a staggering increase in violence," he said.

Dr Silke said a German psychiatrist called Dr Wilfred Rusch who was employed by the German Government to assess Baader Meinhof terrorists, concluded: "None of these people are crazy - there is no psychiatric explanation as to why they were involved in terrorism."

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