Counter Terrorism Research Paper


This introduction sets the stage for the articles collected in this special issue of Oxford Economic Papers. It begins by introducing essential concepts including domestic terrorism, transnational terrorism, defensive actions, proactive countermeasures, and guerrilla warfare. Three terrorist event databases, used by seven of the articles, are briefly introduced. These data sets are then used to display some stylized facts about domestic and transnational terrorism during the past four decades. Next, some essential strategic distinctions are drawn between defensive and proactive measures in the case of transnational terrorism when multiple countries are confronted by a common terrorist group. These strategic concerns vanish for domestic terrorism as a central government is able to internalize potential externalities. Finally, the key findings of the articles in the special issue are highlighted in two tables.

1. Introduction

Terrorism is the premeditated use or threat to use violence by individuals or subnational groups to obtain a political or social objective through the intimidation of a large audience beyond that of the immediate noncombatant victims (Enders and Sandler, 2012, p.4). The two essential ingredients of terrorism are its violence and its political or social motive. Terrorists tend to employ shockingly violent acts, such as beheadings, downing of commercial airlines, bombings in public markets, and armed attacks in public places, to intimidate an audience. Their unpredictable and horrific attacks are meant to make everyone feel at risk even though the true likelihood of falling victim to a terrorist incident is rather minuscule, roughly equivalent to that of drowning in one's bathtub (Mueller, 2006). Terrorists seek to circumvent normal channels for political change by traumatizing the public with brutal acts so that governments feel compelled to either address terrorist demands or divert public funds into hardening potential targets. Terrorist campaigns are more prevalent in liberal democracies, where the government's legitimacy hinges on its ability to protect the lives and property of its citizens (Eubank and Weinberg, 1994).

The four airplane hijackings on 11 September 2001 (9/11) are terrorist acts since the perpetrators were members of al-Qaida, a subnational terrorist group, bent on pressuring the USA to remove its troops from Saudi Arabia, which was al-Qaida's primary political goal at the time. These skyjackings intimidated a global audience, caused huge temporary losses to the major stock exchanges (Chen and Siems, 2004), and created $80–90 billion in direct and indirect damages (Kunreuther et al., 2003). Even though stock exchanges recovered lost values in just over a month, the death of almost 3,000 people caused rich industrial countries to allocate more resources to counterterrorism, shook insurance markets, and made an indelible impression on virtually the entire world. Heinous terrorist incidents continue to capture headlines with recent newsworthy incidents involving al-Shabaab's armed attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, on 21 September 2013; Chechen separatists’ suicide bombings of a train station and a trolley in Volgograd, Russia, on 29 and 30 December 2013, respectively; and Boko Haram's kidnapping of more than 200 female students in Chibok, Nigeria, on 14–15 April 2014. These and countless other incidents since 9/11 indicate that the government must allocate resources in an effective and measured manner to counterterrorism activities so that terrorists cannot circumvent legitimate political processes or cause significant economic losses. These losses may involve reduced foreign direct investment (Enders and Sandler, 1996; Abadie and Gardeazabal, 2008), lower economic growth (Abadie and Gardeazabal, 2003; Eckstein and Tsiddon, 2004; Gaibulloev and Sandler, 2008, 2011), less trade (Nitsch and Schumacher, 2004), reduced tourism (Enders et al., 1992; Drakos and Kutan, 2003), or lost values of stock and bond indexes (Kollias et al., 2013). Economic impacts of terrorism are greatest in small terrorism-plagued countries and developing countries (Keefer and Loayza, 2008; Sandler and Enders, 2008). Modern industrial economies can insulate themselves through judicious fiscal and monetary policy, rapid counterterrorism responses, and the transference of economic activities (Enders and Sandler, 2012). The latter involves economic activities moving from terrorism-prone sectors and regions to safer areas, which advanced, diversified economies allow. Thus, economic activity may switch from the tourism sector to other sectors when the former is targeted. In Spain, economic investment switched from the Basque Country to other Spanish provinces because of Euskadi ta Askatasuna attacks (Abadie and Gardeazabal, 2003).

Modern-day econometric methods—time series, panel, and discrete-choice models—lend themselves to the quantification of these economic losses as shown in this special issue by Choi (2015), Egger and Gassebner (2015), and Younas (2015). Additionally, game-theoretic models can display counterterrorism interactions among terrorists and governments as in the contributions in this issue by Carter (2015) and Kaplan (2015). In fact, game theory is an excellent tool to study interactions among targeted governments, between rival terrorist groups, between a terrorist group and its sponsoring state, and among the media, the terrorist group, and the public.1

The purpose of this article is to provide the requisite background to the studies in this special issue of Oxford Economic Papers. This task requires a fuller discussion of the notion of terrorism and its two primary subdivisions—domestic and transnational terrorism—in Section 2. The three event data sets employed in empirical studies, including seven of the eight articles in this issue, are briefly presented in Section 3. In Section 4, two of these data sets are used to display some recent trends and aspects of domestic and transnational terrorism during the last four decades. Essential concepts of counterterrorism are then presented in Section 5, where proactive measures are distinguished from defensive actions. Key findings of the four terrorism and four counterterrorism articles contained in this special issue are highlighted in two summarizing tables in Section 6. Concluding remarks follow in Section 7.

2. On terrorism

I now return to the definition of terrorism, given at the outset of this article. Any definition of terrorism involves much debate (Hoffman, 2006; Enders and Sandler, 2012). The research community is converging to a consensus based on an operational definition on which to construct event data sets to test theoretical propositions. The article puts forward a definition that is consistent with that used by the main event data sets and relied on by researchers. Also, this definition possesses the main ingredients that are agreed on by economists, political scientists, and political economists.

The three stakeholders in this definition are the perpetrators, the victims, and the audience. By limiting terrorism to subnational agents including individuals or a ‘lone wolf’, my definition rules out state terror in which a government terrorizes its own people. The definition, however, does not rule out state-sponsored terrorism where a government clandestinely assists a terrorist group through various means, including supplying weapons, safe haven, intelligence, training, funding, or safe passage (Mickolus, 1989; Bapat, 2006). There was a lot of state sponsorship of terrorism during the final decade of the Cold War with groups such as the Abu Nidal Organization serving as a terrorist group for hire (Hoffman, 2006).2 The most controversial element of my definition is the victim, since some definitions exclude combatants, so that attacks against an occupying army, such as US forces in Iraq or Afghanistan, are not viewed as terrorism. Generally, an attack against peacekeepers, such as the 23 October 1983 suicide bombing of the US Marines barracks at Beirut International Airport, is considered an act of terrorism. The barracks’ bombing had the political objective of removing peacekeepers from Lebanon, which happened in February 1984. Attacks against US soldiers and their dependents stationed in Germany constitute terrorist incidents, because these targeted individuals were noncombatants when attacked. ‘Audience’ refers to the collective that terrorists seek to intimidate through their wanton brutality. With sufficient and sustained intimidation, the audience will apply pressures on the besieged government to concede to the terrorist group's political demands or alternatively to take decisive action to annihilate the group.3 In the latter case, the Italian authorities dismantled the Italian Red Brigades in the 1980s.

There are some crucial distinctions to draw between terrorism and related concepts. For instance, there is the distinction between terrorism and crime. A kidnapping for ransom is a criminal act of extortion when the kidnappers are not pursuing or financing a political agenda. If a political motive is tied to the kidnapping, then it is a terrorist incident even with ransom demands being made. The hijacking of a commercial airliner by a deranged person is a crime but not terrorism. In the absence of a political motive, an armed attack by a student on fellow students or teachers is a criminal action. Next consider an insurrection, which ‘is a politically based uprising intended to overthrow the established system of governance and to bring about a redistribution of income’ (Sandler and Hartley, 1995, p. 307). Leaders of insurrections recruit from the peasantry and general population in the hopes of challenging the government's hold on power (Grossman, 1991). Successful rebel operations can generate new recruits and may ideally cause the government to impose draconian measures on its citizens, which subsequently create more support for the insurgency. If a tipping point is attained, then the government may be sufficiently challenged to lose its power to the rebels.

In distinction to insurrections, guerrilla warfare generally involves a band of rebel forces (e.g., the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia [FARC], Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, or Shining Path in Peru) that controls a sector of the country, from which to dispatch its operatives to confront government forces. Some guerrilla wars take place in urban centers. In contrast to most terrorist groups, guerrilla groups are larger in number and organized like a military force. Some guerrilla groups engage in terrorist acts, such as the three just-mentioned groups, to raise funds to secure their operations and pursue their political aims. For example, FARC kidnaps government officials and others for ransoms. Unlike an insurrection, guerrilla groups are not bent on overthrowing the government or engaging in propaganda to gain popular support (Hoffman, 2006). Shining Path and FARC apply threats and harsh measures to gain the compliance of the people in the territory that they control. Guerrilla groups rely on surprise and cover to harass numerically superior government forces. Terrorism is a tactic employed by both insurrections and guerrilla movements. As a consequence, many guerrilla groups are listed as terrorist groups despite their control of territory. Often, countries with jungle cover or mountainous terrain provide remote areas where guerrillas can conduct training and operations. In this special issue, Carter (2015) is interested in the interaction between a guerrilla group and the government, as the former chooses between terrorism and the control of territory and the latter chooses between defensive counterterrorism actions and proactive military responses to influence the group's decision.

2.1 Domestic versus transnational terrorism

Domestic terrorism is homegrown and home-directed, and represents the most common form of terrorism. For domestic acts of terrorism, the perpetrators, victims, and audience hail from the venue country, where the attack takes place. Domestic terrorist incidents include Timothy McVeigh's bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on 19 April 1995 or Eric Rudolph's anti-abortionist bombing of Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, Georgia, on 27 July 1996. Civil wars often involve numerous domestic terrorist attacks before and during the conflict by the adversaries (Findley and Young, 2012).4 These terrorist acts are more apt to be domestic when an intervention by a third party from outside the country is not involved. Boko Haram's kidnapping of more than 200 female students is a domestic terrorist incident, which involves victims and perpetrators from the venue country of Nigeria. Boko Haram is an Islamic jihadist terrorist group that controls territory in the northeast portion of Nigeria. Given the country's limited military capabilities, its government sought some assistance from the USA in terms of military advisors and intelligence in addressing the significant threat that Boko Haram poses. At times, Boko Haram crosses into Chad. If one or more of the schoolgirls are moved into a neighboring country, then the kidnapping becomes a transnational terrorist incident. In general, poor countries may request foreign assistance if they cannot properly confront an indigenous terrorist group that may attack at home or abroad (Azam and Thelen, 2010; Fleck and Kilby, 2010; Bandyopadhyay et al., 2011, 2014; Young and Findley, 2011).

Terrorism is transnational when an incident in the venue country concerns perpetrators or victims from another country. If a terrorist attack in the UK is perpetrated by terrorists from Yemen, then the incident is one of transnational terrorism. When a terrorist attack in France harms Dutch citizens, the attack is transnational. If one or more victims or perpetrators are not citizens of the venue country, then the terrorist attack is transnational. The kidnapping in January 2002 and subsequent murder of US reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan is classified as a transnational terrorist incident. The same is true of the near-simultaneous bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on 7 August 1998. Terrorist attacks against another country's embassy, even when perpetrated by citizens of the venue country, are transnational terrorist events because an embassy's grounds represent foreign soil. Similarly, terrorist attacks against international organizations’ personnel or property are considered to be transnational terrorist acts. An important transnational terrorist incident is the August 2006 plot to use liquid explosives to blow up 10 or more transatlantic flights departing the UK for the USA and Canada. A skyjacking originating in one country that is diverted to another country for political purposes is a transnational terrorist event. If a politically motivated hijacked plane has citizens from more than one country, the event is transnational terrorism even if the flight is domestic and ends in the country of origin. On 9/11, the four skyjackings are transnational terrorist acts since the victims were citizens from upward of 80 nations and the perpetrators were foreigners. The kidnapping of US journalist James Foley in Syria on 22 November 2012 and his beheading on 19 August 2014 is a transnational terrorist act. The victim was American, whereas the murderer is allegedly a British citizen from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as Islamic State (IS).

Transnational terrorist incidents frequently imply transnational externalities—for example, perpetrators from one country impose uncompensated costs on the victims of another country. If a country provides safe haven to a transnational terrorist group that attacks other countries’ interests, then transnational externalities ensue.5 The Taliban in Afghanistan had given safe haven to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida, which planned and executed the events of 9/11. When the Taliban would not surrender bin Laden to the USA following 9/11, the USA led an invasion of Afghanistan on 7 October 2001 (Enders and Sandler, 2012). In this extreme case, the transnational externality resulted in a military invasion with the intent to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaida. Transnational externalities also arise from counterterrorism policies of targeted countries, which result in inefficient levels of these policies (Sandler and Lapan, 1988; Sandler and Siqueira, 2006; Bueno de Mesquita, 2007). Actions by one targeted country to secure its borders and ports of entry may merely transfer the attack abroad, where borders are more porous (see Section 5). Since 9/11, few transnational terrorist incidents occur on US soil but 35% to 40% of such incidents involve US people or property in other countries (Enders and Sandler, 2006, 2012).

2.2 Some historical considerations of transnational terrorism

Hoffman (2006, pp.63–5) traces the modern era of transnational terrorism to the 22 July 1968 hijacking of an Israeli El Al flight en route from Rome to Athens by three armed members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist group. This skyjacking was motivated by the intention of the PFLP terrorist to trade its hostages for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. This event is noteworthy for a number of reasons. First, through its protracted 40-day negotiations, the Israelis were forced to negotiate with the Palestinian terrorists, which the Israelis had hitherto vowed they would never do (Hoffman, 1998, p.68). Second, the media coverage demonstrated to terrorists worldwide that such incidents could garner worldwide attention for their cause. Not surprisingly, transnational terrorist attacks increased greatly in numbers during the years following this incident (see the figures in Section 4). Third, there was evidence of state sponsorship after the diverted plane landed in Algiers as Algerian forces secured the hostages and held some Israeli hostages until 1 September 1968 when a deal was concluded (Mickolus, 1980, pp.93–4). Fourth, Israel eventually traded 16 Arab prisoners from the 1967 Arab-Israeli War for the remaining Israeli hostages. This trade showed terrorists that hostage taking could yield significant concessions.

Transnational terrorist groups were primarily nationalists/separatists or leftists (socialists) during the late 1960s until the late 1980s (Rapoport, 2004). Even the Palestinian terrorists were secular until the end of the 1980s with the rise of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other groups. After the mid-1990s, the religious fundamentalists came to dominate and increased the carnage (Enders and Sandler, 2000; Gaibulloev and Sandler, 2014). The phenomenon of religious-based transnational terrorism is not novel and can be traced back to the Sicarii or Zealots, a Jewish sect that conducted a terror campaign against the Romans and their Jewish collaborators in Judea from CE 48 to 73 (Rapoport, 1984; Bloom, 2005). Sicarii terrorists engaged in daytime assassinations in public places that typically resulted in the death of the assassin. As such, their dagger attacks were an early form of suicide terrorism, since the perpetrator had little chance of escape.6 From 1090 to 1256, the Islamic Assassins opposed Sunni rule in Persia and Syria, with the intent to set up their own community and state of believers in the region (Bloom, 2005). Although the Assassins’ terrorist campaign was on a much smaller scale, their goal was similar to that of ISIS. Like the Sicarii, the Assassins relied on politically motivated assassinations, performed with a dagger. Perpetrators usually sacrificed their own lives by making no efforts to escape after the deed.

3. Event data sets

In the beginning of the 1980s, the first terrorist event data set—International Terrorism: Attributes of Terrorist Events (ITERATE)—was made available to researchers. ITERATE only includes transnational terrorist attacks. Coverage starts in 1968, the beginning of the modern era of transnational terrorism, and runs until the end of 2012, with annual updates in August (Mickolus et al., 2013). ITERATE codes many variables—for example, incident date, country start location, country end location, attack type, target entity, terrorist group, perpetrators’ nationalities, number of deaths, number of injuries, victims’ nationalities, logistical outcome, US victims, state sponsorship, and scene of attack—in its Common File of over 40 variables. In addition, there is a Fate File indicating the fate of the terrorists—for example, the number of terrorists captured, the number of terrorists sentenced, and their length of incarceration. There is also a Hostage File, which has invaluable observations used by researchers to analyze logistical and negotiation success of hostage taking (Santifort and Sandler, 2013). If an attack is completed as planned, then it is a logistical success. For hostage missions, securing one or more hostages is deemed a logistical success. The Hostage File of ITERATE is currently updated through 2010. Finally, there is a Skyjacking file with additional observations, and variables on skyjacking missions such as the duration of the incidents, airline involved, and negotiation strategies used. ITERATE, like the other event data sets, relies on the news media—print, broadcast, and digital—for the observations of its variables.

An initial focus of empirical studies was on transnational terrorism because ITERATE was the most extensive data set available throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Its lengthy series of daily data were ideal for time-series studies, which dominated the research landscape except for a few survival studies, the first being Atkinson et al.'s (1987) study of the duration of hostage-taking incidents. Today, panel studies are prevalent including those in this special issue—Berrebi and Ostwald (2015), Choi (2015), Egger and Gassebner (2015), Gries et al. (2015), and Younas (2015).

Another competing event data set, modeled after ITERATE, is the RAND (2012) data set, which currently codes incidents for 1968–2009 and is not being updated. Gaibulloev (2015) uses the RAND event data in conjunction with Jones and Libicki's (2008) classification of terrorist groups’ ideologies in his study of groups’ location decisions. For 1968–97, RAND event data only include transnational terrorist attacks; after 1998, RAND data distinguish between transnational and domestic terrorist attacks in a manner consistent with my early definitions. Compared to ITERATE, RAND data code fewer variables and, for transnational terrorist incidents, have more limited coverage than ITERATE as demonstrated by Enders (2007).

The third event data set, germane to this special issue, is that of the Global Terrorism Database (GTD), which records both domestic and transnational terrorist incidents (La Free and Dugan, 2007; National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism, 2013). Although GTD recorded both kinds of incidents, until 2013 it did not distinguish between the two kinds of incidents. Enders et al. (2011) devised a five-step procedure for distinguishing between domestic and transnational terrorist incidents in GTD for 1970–2007 and made their breakdown available to researchers. This division is now applied to 2008–2012 (see Enders et al., 2014). A breakdown of terrorism into its two components is essential because the two types of terrorism may affect economic variables and counterterrorism differently—for example, economic growth or foreign direct investment is more influenced by transnational terrorism (Gaibulloev and Sandler, 2008

Terrorism and counter-terrorism have historically evolved in various forms. Terrorism has increasingly diversified in terms of the objectives that are pursued, and counterterrorism efforts have likewise proliferated across a range of institutions. Criminologists have contributed to the study of terrorism and terrorism-related phenomena by focusing on terrorism as crime or deviance and counterterrorism as social control. The incorporation of terrorism and counter-terrorism as distinctly criminological topics of research serves to bring important dimensions to terrorism studies that other disciplines do not focus on.


I. Introduction

II. Definition, Types, and Strategies of Terrorism

III. Dimensions of Counter-Terrorism

IV. Criminology, Terrorism, and Counter-Terrorism

A. Terrorism as Crime or Deviance

B. Counter-Terrorism as Social Control

V. Conclusion and Bibliography

I. Introduction

From the viewpoint of criminology, terrorism is a fascinating subject that presents a challenging opportunity for scholarly reflection on a range of theoretical, empirical, and practical issues. The field of terrorism studies broadly encompasses both terrorism as a particular activity involving the infliction of harm for specified purposes, and counter-terrorism, involving practices and institutions concerned with defining and responding to terrorism. It is the unique province of criminology to focus on terrorism as a form of criminal or deviant behavior and on counter-terrorism as social control. Criminological analyses also focus on the dynamic interplay between terrorism and counter-terrorism to offer a unique perspective in the wider field of studies examining terrorism and terrorism-related phenomena. The study of these phenomena is itself part of the historical unfolding of terrorism and counter-terrorism in the context of societal development.

This research paper reviews the central criminological aspects of terrorism and counter-terrorism. It first offers a description of the major types, strategies, and characteristics of terrorism and provides a brief review of terrorist activity throughout history. Next, attention goes to the mechanisms and agencies involved with counter-terrorism to define and respond to terrorism. Subsequently, the major part of this research paper discusses the manner in which criminologists theoretically and empirically approach terrorism and counterterrorism as elements of their subject matter. Criminology analyzes terrorism as crime or deviance and investigates counter-terrorism as social control. The unique contributions of criminology make it a valuable addition to the wider field of terrorism studies.

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