A Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence led by the University of Maryland

Key Dimensions in Understanding Terrorist Bomb Attacks


Key Dimensions in Understanding Terrorist Bomb Attacks

Investigators: 

Project Details

Abstract: 

Building on forensic psychology methods, (1) new data on the behavioral features of terrorist bomb attacks were collected to supplement a sample of START's Global Terrorism Database, to include event-specific data on implied planning, organization, and motivation; and (2) analysis was conducted using quantitative statistics and the non-metric multi-dimensional scaling techniques associated with Facet Theory, Multi-dimensional Scalogram Analysis (MSA) and Partial Order Scalogram Analysis (POSA). Both techniques are forms of multi-dimensional scaling suitable for qualitative data, which use crime scene variables to define and interpret bombing types.

Primary Findings: 

The research team developed behavioral profiles of bombing attacks. For animal rights-related bombings, a wide range of profiles emerges, indicating that while these attacks vary considerably with respect to target type and intended and actual lethality, a central focus is economic sabotage or scare tactics. In comparison, anti-abortion extremists follow a more uniform strategy insofar as their targets are primarily workplace locations and they carry out more attacks that are deliberately lethal. The research presents models that can be used to assess targeting strategies across a wide range of terrorist activity.

Methodology: 

The research team carried out extensive analysis of nearly 1,000 terrorist bombings that occurred worldwide between 1974 and 2009 using an analytical strategy called Multidimensional Scalogram Analysis. The study examines terrorist behavior in carrying out the attacks, and explores a number of dimensions such as patterns of targeting and apparent intended lethality. Among several subsets of attacks studied, detailed behavioral information on attacks motivated by animal rights and anti-abortion ideologies in the United States are presented, and models are developed to better understand the way attacks are carried out.

Timeframe

Project Period: 
June 2008 to May 2010