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Radicalization and the Longevity of American Terrorists: Factors Affecting Sustainability

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2015, $399,531)

Terrorists who successfully carry out incidents and escape unscathed to possibly commit further acts of terrorism frequently achieve rock stare status among recruits inclined to radicalize to violence. The longer these terrorists evade capture, the greater their legendary status can grow. Joanne Chesimard, Ted Kaczynski, and Victor Gerena are just a few examples one could name. Although some research has been conducted on the sustainability of terrorist groups, little attention has been paid to the longevity of individual terrorists. The longevity of individual members not only affects potential recruits, but their behavior may also affect the overall sustainability of larger groups.

Project Goals: Identification of the behavioral characteristics of American terrorists associated with longevity and sustainability. In addition to identifying demographic characteristics associated with longevity, we are interested in ascertaining patterns of behavior that terrorists have successfully employed to avoid arrest and/or neutralization. We will examine the extent of participatory involvement, recruitment decisions, communication methods, incident characteristics, financial stability, precursor conduct, and spatial variations among terrorists with greater or lesser longevity.

Method: Data to be analyzed currently include 676 persons indicted in officially designated federal terrorism cases from 1980-present collected as part of the American Terrorism Study (ATS) and maintained in an Oracle relational database that includes over 400 demographic, legal, behavioral, and spatial and temporal variables. Data on these 676 persons currently includes information on 2,311 precursor activities and nearly 200 post-incident behaviors. Over 1,600 of these preparatory acts are now date stamped and linked to terrorist incidents. Additional data on new cases will be collected during the project.

Analysis: Our primary measure of longevity involves measuring date from commission of first preparatory act to date of arrest for each individual. Robust variables relating to participatory involvement, spatial and temporal patterns, and other precursor conduct are available for analysis. Data will be output to a flat file database and analyzed using appropriate statistical software. The analytic method will involve both bivariate and multivariate techniques. Diagnostic tests will be used to remove problematic outlier cases and to suggest needs for further measurement options.

Products, Reports and Data Archiving: In addition to providing NIJ with a final report and archiving the dataset under the National Institute of Justice Data Resource program, we plan to generate a series of visualized products demonstrating patterns of conduct associated with longevity for use by intelligence analysts and in local, state, and federal counterterrorism training programs.

Note: This project contains a research and/or development component, as defined in applicable law.


Date Created: September 22, 2015