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Extreme Ideologies, Situational Factors, and Terrorists’ Target Selection

NCJ Number
Date Published
May 2020
58 pages

This study examined how combinations of factors, including situational and target-specific attributes, influence terrorist target selection by extreme far-right and radical Islamic terrorists.


Study methodology was guided by situational crime prevention (SCP), which criminologists have used for decades in understanding and reducing opportunities for crime to occur. Specifically, this study drew from Clarke & Newman’s (2006) conceptualization of target vulnerability and attractiveness to better understand how particular target attributes shape whether they will be selected as targets by terrorists. Also of interest will be how terrorist co-offending, weapon sophistication, and the travel distance to commit attacks increase the likelihood that particular types of targets will be selected. Bivariate and multivariate statistical tests were used to examine how ideology and situational factors statistically predict target selection. In addition, conjunctive analysis of case configurations (CACC) is used to examine how configurations of key factors are linked with the selection of target types. Findings indicate that ideology and weapon type are two of the most significant factors associated with target selection by terrorists. Results of the CACC also found that some configurations of ideological and situational factors resulted in increased or decreased chances that terrorists would select one type of target over another, highlighting the interconnectedness of factors that shape target selection. The study concludes with a discussion of implications for terrorism prevention and suggestions for future research. 7 tables, 1 figure, and 50 references


Date Published: May 1, 2020