Future Considerations: Relationship to the Group Variable

Future Considerations: Relationship to the Group Variable

Nitya Sunil

Salman Rashid was arrested for contacting a confidential human source who he assumed was a member of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. The Department of Justice stated that Rashid wanted to instruct members of ISIS to conduct an attack on his behalf against a dean at Miami-Dade College and a dean at Broward College due to his suspension or expulsion from these institutions. He was charged with soliciting another person to commit a crime of violence, has pleaded not guilty, and is pending trial. In our database, Rashid’s group affiliation variable was coded as an affiliation with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (formerly al-Qa’ida in Iraq) [IS/ISIL/ISIS]. Comparatively, Mohamad Jamal Khweis traveled to Syria while communicating with actual ISIS members in order to become a suicide bomber. Department of Justice reports indicate that Khweis was an ISIS member for two and a half months and participated in related activities before being captured. Khweis’s group affiliation variable was also coded as an affiliation with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (formerly al-Qa’ida in Iraq) [IS/ISIL/ISIS]. While Rashid and Khweis are both associated with ISIS, in each case, their specific relationship with the terrorist organization is extremely different.

Image of Salman Rashid

In the ‘Spring 2020 Codebook’ for the Prosecution Project, ‘Group Affiliation’ is coded as a known connection with a group at the time of the crime, with connection including membership, providing or attempting to provide assistance or aid, and communication with a group. This definition indicates that Rashid was affiliated with ISIS because he assumed that the confidential source he was communicating with was a member of the terrorist organization; however, Rashid was never an ‘official’ member or affiliate of the organization. Most likely, ISIS did not even know Rashid existed before his prosecution. In comparison, Khweis was an official member of the organization and directly participated in ISIS events. These two cases call into question whether the group affiliation variable should be further specified for what kind of affiliation, formal or informal, an individual has with a group.

Image of Mohamad Jamal Khweis

Dr. Erin Kearns, an Assistant Professor at the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Alabama, researches lying about terrorism. Members of the Prosecution Project had the opportunity to hear her presentation about how groups misrepresent violence. At the end of her presentation, she addressed considerations of her research for our coding. Her research suggested that individuals may misrepresent their role in an organization to seem more important or deny affiliation to portray innocence. Her presentation suggested four different types of relationships an individual can have with a group including: member, connected to but not a member of, inspired by but not connected to or a member of, and a post hoc connection for a variety of reasons. When analyzing Rashid’s crime, coding for the relationship to the group may provide increased clarity to the case itself. Specifically, Rashid’s case could indicate that an ‘inspired by but not connected to or a member of’ code would be appropriate because of his social media posts and willingness to ask ISIS for help in conducting an attack. Further specifying relationships to the group could allow researchers to examine the prevalence of each type (if using the four examples above) of relationship. Also, research could determine whether most individuals who are classified as having a group affiliation are actual members of the groups versus just influenced by the group’s ideology.

Through the differences in Rashid’s and Khweis’s cases the relevance of adding a variable that further examines an individual’s specific relationship with a group is evidenced. The Prosecution Project’s Codebook is an evolving document that is capable of changing and adding variables (most recently the hate crime and group identifier variables were added) indicating that in the future, a ‘relationship to the group’ variable is capable of being added as well.


Kearns, Erin. “Lying About Terrorism: How Groups Misrepresent Violence.” Powerpoint presentation, Miami University, Oxford, OH, February 10th, 2020.

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