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New directions for terrorism research.


We have two general goals. First, we want to urge terrorism researchers to take a more comparative approach than has been used previously, as the presence of an earlier wave of terrorism, the largely anarchist inspired events of 1878-1914, suggest that terrorism not only bunches but may cycle. Given the number of international conditions that seem to correlate with these two waves (hegemonic decline, globalization, 'Empire,' and so forth), we may be dealing with cycles of terrorism, rather than isolated periods (for a further elaboration of this idea, see Bergesen and Lizardo, 2002, 2004, 2005; Lizardo and Bergesen, 2003). If this is the case, then terrorism research should include in its analysis comparative studies of different outbreaks, or waves, of terrorism. We present a research agenda for such an analysis with suggestions for comparisons at different levels of analysis, from the individual terrorist event through waves to spirals of waves over time.

Second, we suggest a new direction for the conceptualization and the measurement of distinctly transnational terrorism. A technique is presented that allows the measurement of different states of the globalization or international spread of terrorist incidents. Some preliminary data then are gathered to examine the transnational spread of terrorist incidents. We use the terms transnational and international interchangeably, as in the literature both terms are used for terrorist events where the perpetrator or target are from different countries. Before we turn to these research suggestions, we begin with a review of definitions of terrorism.

Definitions of Terrorism

Much of the early work in terrorism research centered upon various definitions (see the discussions in Cooper, 2001: Gibbs, 1989; Hoffman, 1999; Jenkins, 2001; Ruby, 2002; Schmid and Jongman, 1988; Senechal de la Roche, 1996, 2001), but as Jenkins (2001) notes, a consensus seems to be emerging on the definition of terrorism. For example, academic researchers Walter Enders and Todd Sandler (2002b) argue terrorism involves a focus upon underlying political, social, or religious motives, as its violence is separable from crime, personal vengeance, or the act of someone mentally deranged. The act itself seems to involve attempts at influencing an audience, which is often not that of the victims themselves. Terrorism is also most often directed toward noncombatants or civilians and is 'random,' so that everyone feels at risk. For such terrorists:
   Terrorism is the premeditated use or threat of use of extranormal
   violence or brutality by subnational groups to obtain a political,
   religious, or ideological objective through intimidation of a huge
   audience, usually not directly involved with the policy making
   that the terrorists seek to influence. (Enders and Sandler, 2002b:

Government institutions, such as the US Department of State, define terrorism somewhat similarly, as 'politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience' (Ruby, 2002: 10). And, interestingly enough, this is quite similar to Chomsky's (2001: 19) definition: 'Terrorism is the use of coercive means aimed at populations in an effort to achieve political, religious, or other aims.' Similar to these is Stern's (1999: 30) definition of terrorism as 'an act or threat of violence against non-combatants, with the objective of intimidating or otherwise influencing an audience or audiences.' The point is that academic researchers, government agencies, and critics of American foreign policy increasingly seem to agree about the essence of terrorism. This conception leaves open questions of motivation and ideology, which is important for researchers who wish to focus comparatively upon different historical periods and must be flexible enough to include the ideology of anarchists and social revolutionaries at the end of the 19th century and fundamental Islamic beliefs in the early 21st century. It also leaves open the question of whether the violence is performed by the state or subnational groups. We acknowledge the importance of state terrorism (Chomsky, 2001; Oliverio, 1998) as an object of research, but this particular study focuses only on subnational groups.

Is Transnational Terrorism Changing?

The conventional wisdom of researchers and commentators is that during the 1990s the world entered a new phase of terrorism that departed dramatically from what went before. It is variously called the 'new terrorism' (Jenkins, 2001; Lesser et al., 1999) or spoken of as involving 'new types of post-Cold War terrorists' (Hudson, 1999: 5), 'a new breed of terrorist' (Stern, 1999: 8), a 'new generation of terrorists' (Hoffman, 1999), 'terror in the mind of God' (Jurgensmeyer, 2000), a 'clash of fundamentalisms' (Ali, 2002), or simply a new 'wave' of terrorism (Rapoport, 1999, 2001). In general, the argument is that terrorism is changing in specific ways.

First, there is a shift in organization toward a network form. It is argued that newer terrorist organizations have moved away from the older model of professionally trained terrorists operating within hierarchical organizations with a central command chain toward a looser organization with a less clear structure. Similarly, whereas from the 1960s through the 1980s groups were more clearly nationally bound (German, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, Irish, Palestinian, etc.), newer organizations such as Al Qaeda have members from various nationalities and organizational sites outside the leadership's country of origin.

Second, it appears that the identities of transnational terrorist groups are more difficult to identify, as they seem less often to claim responsibility for specific acts. The bombing of the US embassies in Africa and the events of 11 September although purportedly organized by Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, were not immediately claimed by that organization. This contrasts with earlier terrorist organizations, which more directly took responsibility for their actions and clearly defined who they were, often with elaborate radical political ideologies.

Third, demands made by terrorist organizations do not seem to appear as often as before, and what they stand for seems more vague and hazy. The group Black September demanded the release of comrades when they attacked Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics; the IRA wants the British out of Northern Ireland, the PLO wants the Israelis out of the West Bank, and Basque independence is a clear desire of ETA. Also, the Marxist radical left logic behind earlier attacks on businessmen, diplomats, and so forth were well known. In contrast there were no demands surrounding the 1998 US embassy attacks or the events of 11 September.

Fourth, there seems to be an ideological shift from more political to more religious motives, at least in the explicit ideology of the group. What has been called the new religious terrorism, or holy terrorism, reflects the increasing prevalence of religion in the ideology of terrorist organizations, the most notable being Islamic fundamentalism, or political Islam, but also Christian fundamentalism (anti-abortion terrorism), Messianic Zionism (behind Yitzhak Rabin's assassination) or the religious sect, such as the Aum Shinrikyo, a Japanese terrorist group that released poisonous gas in a Tokyo subway in 1995. There also seems to be an increase in groups with more vague millennial and religious ideologies than earlier radical groups such as the German Red Army Faction, the Italian Red Brigades, or the Japanese Red Army.

Fifth, there appears to be a more global dispersion of targets. Whereas international terrorism of the 1960s and 1970s was largely centered in Europe and the Middle East, by the 1990s it had moved to Africa (1998 attack on US embassies), Argentina (1992 truck bombing of Israeli embassy and 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center) and the US mainland proper (1993 World Trade Center [WTC] bombing and 2001 WTC and Pentagon suicide airplane attacks).

Sixth, the violence seems more indiscriminate. Collateral damage (unintended victims) seems to claim a larger portion of the fatalities than in earlier attacks. Whereas businessmen or politicians were often specifically targeted in the radical terrorism of the 1960s and 1970s, it seems that more civilians have become targets in the early 21st century.

Is This a Globalization of Terrorism?

Reflecting for a moment upon these changes, one sees that many of them suggest the process of globalization (Barber, 2001; Boli and Thomas, 1999; Castells, 1993; Hoffman, 2002; Robertson, 1992; Sassen, 1998; Sklair, 1995; Tilly, 2002a, 2002b; Tomlinson, 1999). That is, increasingly network-like organizational forms with multinational membership bring to mind the new global network forms of business organizations. Observations of ideologies and demands that are becoming less nationally specific remind one of theories of how globalization involves cultural deterritorialization (Meyer et al., 1997; Tomlinson, 1999), and finally, the growing dispersion and indiscriminateness of terrorist violence also express a disregard for national boundaries that is a hallmark of globalization.

This raises the question: are these changes the product of recent international conditions, as some have argued about economic and cultural globalization, or, as others have argued about globalization in general, does history show that there are, in fact, earlier periods of globalization (Arrighi, 1994; Arrighi and Silver, 1999; Chase-Dunn et al., 2000; Davis, 2001: Ferguson, 2001a; Phillips, 2002)? And if that is so, might there be other periods of globalizations of terrorism?

From a very broad historical perspective terrorism seems endemic to organized social life, as it has appeared, and reappeared, throughout history. Waves of terrorism have been documented in the first century CE with the Sicarii, Jewish Zealot groups involved in assassinations and poisonings of Romans occupying Palestine, and with the Assassins, who operated in 11th-through 13th-century Persia and Syria, assassinating political and religious leaders (Lacqueur, 1977; Stern, 1999). The modern meaning of the term terrorism is associated with the 'Reign of Terror' of the 18th-century French Revolution, and Rapoport (1999, 2001) speaks of modern terrorist waves since the 1870s, the first being the one associated with anarchists and social revolutionaries in the late 19th century.

Anarchist Terrorism, 1878-1914

This well-documented historical period of terrorism ran from roughly the 1870s to the First World War. Associated with the idea of 'propaganda by deed,' Russian, Italian, Spanish, French, American, Serbian, and Macedonian terrorists were involved in a period of assassination and bomb-throwing from the Russian and Ottoman Empires to the east through the Austrian Empire and western Europe to the United States on the west. There were well-known individual terrorists (Emile Henry; Francois-Claudius Koeningstein, known as Ravachol) and terrorist groups. Prominent terrorist groups included Serbia's Black Hand; Russia's Narodnaya Volya, or People's Will; and, among Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs, the Young Bosnians and the Narodna Obrana, or the People's Defense (Hoffman, 1999). Terrorism of the 19th century was often transnational as well, as terrorists from one country killed people from another. In 1892 an Italian, Angiolillo, assassinated the Spanish prime minister; in 1894 an Italian, Santo Jeronimo Caseiro, assassinated French president Sadi Carnot; in 1898 an Italian, Luigi Luccheni, assassinated Empress Elizabeth of Austria; and in 1914 a Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand (Joll, 1964). While the contemporary period is known as one of 'international terrorism,' this earlier period also had an international or global aspect, for terrorism appeared in different parts of the world, and in many instances attackers crossed national boundaries.

This similarity with today's transnational terrorism has not gone unnoticed. Some scholars suggest that recent terrorist events have had precursors, whether in individual terrorists (the Sudanese Mahdi [Muhammad Ahmad] in the 1880s and bin Laden today), in terrorist organizations (The Black Hand and Al Qaeda), or in reactions of public officials (Theodore Roosevelt after a terrorist attack declared in 1901 that 'the anarchist is the enemy of all mankind,' and after the 9/11 attack George W. Bush blamed the 'evil-doers'). More specifically, Ferguson (2001b) makes comparisons between figures like bin Laden and late 19th-century Russian terrorists, noting similarities in the political religion of their ideologies; the diasporic--or transnational--nature of both sets of terrorists, who often resided and planned attacks abroad; and the similarity of global political economic conditions at the end of the 19th and 20th centuries. Schweitzer (2002) also argues that the major powers in 1900 would have considered giving terrorism top billing on their agenda, as did President Clinton at a Group of Seven meeting after the bombing of a US compound in Saudi Arabia, and that while 19th-century anarchist assassinations were often done by individuals, the acts were part of a larger contemporary movement of which the general public was fearful, much like present-day reactions to terrorism. If Al Qaeda is a reaction to American empire, then one could see parallels in pre-1914 terrorist groups attacking the empires of their day (the Serbian Black Hand versus the Austrian Empire; the Inner Macedonian Revolutionary Organization versus the Ottoman Empire, and the terrorists of Narodnaya Volya versus the Tsarist Russian Empire). In the case of fundamentalist Islamic terrorism, Ferguson has compared the 1880s Sudanese revolt against the British Empire with bin Laden's campaign against the US (2001b). Ferguson also notes that 19th-century Sudan would probably have been considered a 'rogue state' in its time. Kennedy (2001: 56) notes a similarity between the hatred of London as the financial center of world capitalism at the end of the 19th century and the hatred by 'fanatical Muslims today' of the dominance of Wall Street and the Pentagon. Similarly, Davis (2001) links late 19th-century globalization of trade and finance to outbreaks of terrorist activity in the developing world, and Brooks and Wohlforth (2002) note a connection between the growing multi-polarity of the great powers at the end of the last century (like today) and the presence of anarchist assassinations.

What kinds of comparisons should researchers make if it seems plausible that there were at least these two outbreaks, or waves, of terrorism? To begin with, one would want to gather data on the six different dimensions of the internationalization, or globalization, of terrorism mentioned earlier for both periods, and focus on three sets of questions, each of which addresses these different aspects of terrorism at distinctly different levels of analysis. The first deals with questions about the organization, ideology, demands, violence, and so forth of the individual terrorist event (such as assassination, kidnapping, bombing). The second set of questions centers upon the two terrorist waves (1870s-1914 and 1968-present) as the unit of analysis, looking for developmental patterns, trends, or signs of a life cycle in the sequences of event characteristics identified in the first set of questions. Finally, the third set of questions should deal with whether the terrorist waves are historically unique to each period, or whether they cycle (that is, show repeated tendencies along the same set of dimensions), or spiral (that is, advance in a systematic way along certain, or all, of the structural dimensions of the cycle identified with the second set of questions). In a real sense, terrorism research should be about the identification and understanding of social processes at different levels of analysis and how they might be interrelated or nest within each other: a terrorist event nests within a terrorist wave, which in turn nests within the geographically larger and historically longer global spiral of century-to-century waves of terrorism.

Level 1: The Terrorist Incident

Among this first set of questions would be ones that focus upon properties of the individual terrorist incident. For instance, what are the basic forms of terrorist organizations in the two periods? Are they relatively hierarchical organizations staffed by professional terrorists, amateur and loosely organized groupings, or more diffuse network forms of organization that link individuals and groups around the globe? And are these differences found in both periods, or only one?

Second, what are the values, rationales, and legitimations used by terrorists and their organizations in the 19th and 20th centuries? How are they similar and how are they different with regard to social, religious, or political themes? Are they more specific or more open ended and vague? And is there an association between different forms of terrorist organizational and ideological structures? Do politically radical groups have a different organizational form than do religious groups, or groups that seem to have no identity at all?

Also, who starts terrorist organizations and who joins or is recruited by them? This has been an area of major research concern (see the exhaustive review of studies in Hudson, 1999 and Schmid and Jongman, 1988), but the issue is usually treated in isolation, looking only at individual personality types or social backgrounds. New research should specifically ask about the interrelationship of different forms of terrorist organization, ideology, and membership. Are they more national or international, for instance? One would imagine that recruitment to the more politically radical groups would be different from more religiously millennial groups, but that is an empirical question.

Similarly, questions regarding the substance of terrorist demands must be asked. Do the terrorists make demands at all, and, again, to apply our other questions, are there certain kinds of terrorist organizations that make certain kinds of demands? Are some concrete and specific--like freeing comrades from prison--or are they more generalized and nonspecific? And do these differences vary by type of organization and ideological outlook? There are also questions about demands and kinds of violence and the success or failure of a mission. That is, are more specific demands easier to meet, resulting in fewer fatalities, or do they require political acts that authorities are unwilling to make, and therefore more often end in violence? Similarly, how are demands formulated, and does the structure of the organization affect the content and form of demands?

Research should also try to determine who is actually targeted for a terrorist attack. Are some sectors of the population preferred, such as politicians, business executives, bank presidents, or members of the military? And, do these social characteristics of targets vary with the organizational form, ideology, and type of demands of the terrorist group? There is also a question of region and whether targets are domestic or foreign. For instance, are targets in the Middle East different from those in Europe or Asia? And if foreigners are a target, are they from different social backgrounds when they are traveling abroad versus being stationed in a foreign country? And if they are stationed in the country of the terrorist organization, is the social type of target different than when the terrorist travels to another country to target a foreigner there?

Finally, which types of violence are used more often by which types of terrorist organizations, or which types of ideologies, or are different kinds of tactics dependent upon the social location of the target? Are bankers, say, kidnapped or assassinated more often than politicians? Or do groups with certain kinds of ideologies engage in certain kinds of tactics?

Level 2: The Wave of Terrorism

Moving to the next level of analysis, we note that terrorist incidents bunch and cluster to form periods or waves, or outbreaks of terrorism. And this has happened in at least two periods (1875-1914 and 1968-present). The focus here should no longer be upon the individual incident and its properties, but upon the pattern and structure revealed by the wave or cluster of incidents as a whole. For this analysis, one should address a second set of questions to the cluster as a whole, looking for emergent structural and cultural properties that characterize this distinctly collective level. The comparison shifts from the structure, pattern, and organization of each event to the structure and life cycle of each wave. And when these waves are compared, will a generalized life cycle of terrorist activity emerge?

To search for these patterns, certain questions should be asked. During a historical outbreak of terrorism, do terrorist incidents tend to cluster in certain areas, or regions of the world, either in general, or at various times in the terrorist cycle'? Does terrorism appear more in advanced industrial societies, in developing countries, in democratic societies, or in autocratic countries? Many hypotheses in the literature suggest various combinations of the above, making this an important question to ask. Similarly, does terrorism at certain points in the larger cycle cluster within certain types of countries or zones of the world (developed, underdeveloped, core or periphery)? Is there an international concentration of terrorist organizations in any particular sector of the global system? In the present situation one thinks of Middle Eastern groups, but earlier in the same wave the concentration was more in Europe (the German Red Army Faction, and so forth). This raises the question of geographical shifts in centers of terrorist organization from one sector of the global system to another as the overall wave develops and unfolds. Similarly, there is the question of the dispersion of terrorist events. Over time, do they spread in any particular direction, from developed to underdeveloped states, or vice versa, and does this spread show any pattern over the life cycle of the terrorist wave?

Also, as a wave of terrorism progresses does the social location of the targets and victims systematically vary? Are more elites targeted in the early stages and then does the violence become more socially indiscriminate as the period progresses? Are social locations of targets (class, political, status, power, positions) ordered over time in both of these waves of terrorism? Is there something like a life cycle of targets? And, while the present period is not yet complete, it may be possible, if there are similarities in the progression of targets through social space, to make predictions as to the next set of targets in the future. This is an issue with obvious policy implications.

Finally, do terrorist waves start with one type of violence and then turn to others? Karstedt-Henke (1980) theorizes a moderate-radical split in protest organizations results in terrorist groups, while della Porta and Tarrow (1986) and Tarrow (1989a, 1989b) see terrorist violence as a means of differentiation within an overcrowded social movement field. Both find a tendency toward radicalization in the later stages of a protest wave. As della Porta and Tarrow speak of a 'protest wave' turning more violent in its later stages, we can also look for structural and developmental properties of a 'terrorist wave' to see if it, too, turns more indiscriminate and violent in its later stages.

Level 3: Spirals of Terrorism

Finally, a third set of questions can be asked about the global condition of terrorism in general, when both waves of terrorism are considered at once in their sequential order. Here researchers should ask whether terrorist events spiral outward from, or inward to, the center of the

global system. In the first wave, terrorist organizations were centered in Europe and the Ottoman, Russian, and Austrian Empires, but the second seems to have moved eastward toward the Middle East and central Asia in terms of points of origination, while the central targets seem to have moved westward to the United States. This, of course, is based on casual observation, but it can be tested as a hypothesis by plotting the international location of terrorism from wave to wave to see if such a pattern emerges. The same spiral idea can be used to examine changing degrees of violence or dispersion of events across global space.

Finally, terrorism researchers should ask if there is a spiral in the width of the social structure from which victims are selected. Has their social location widened from the upper strata of political elites in the 19th century, who were the subjects of assassinations and bomb-throwing, to broader circles of the population today? Is an occupational, status, or political power pattern discernible in the overall direction of target shifts between waves, or is it more cyclic, in that the same social locations appear in both centuries? And finally, is there no pattern at all? Are things random or so scattered that it is impossible to discern any cycling let alone spiraling?

Data on Terrorism

This agenda for comparative research can be conducted with any number of research techniques, from historical comparisons to gathering data on terrorist events. In this section of the article, we would like to propose a different approach from the way international terrorism has so far been conceptualized and measured. We begin with examining how data on terrorism are presently gathered. Sociological (and some political science) research on terrorist events occurs primarily within the social movements and collective violence literature, where terrorism is usually considered an instance of a more general type of collective violence. Gurr (1990), for instance, codes sporadic terrorism, political banditry, and unsuccessful coups in one category and successful coups and campaigns of terrorism in another. Importantly, terrorism incidents do not have a separate code. Likewise, Tilly (2002a) conceptually mixes terrorist incidents with other forms of 'violent claim making,' seeing it as a form of 'coordinated destruction,' along with other forms such as 'lethal contests' and 'campaigns of annihilation,' while White (1993: 576) codes terrorist incidents in Northern Ireland as 'political violence' and Koopmans (1993: 640), in what seems clearly to be terrorist events, speaks of acts of 'severe and unusually conspiratorial violence directed against property (arson, bombings, sabotage) or people (political murders, kidnapping)' as 'heavy violence.' In these works terrorism is viewed as a form of political violence, coordinated destruction, or heavy violence, but so are other violent events (riots, revolutions, etc.). For some research, combining events is a reasonable procedure. But to understand the specific dynamics of terrorism, as opposed to other forms of political violence, acts of terrorism should be treated as their own natural type.

Another research tradition (stemming more from political science than from sociology) has focused primarily upon transnational terrorism and not mixed these events with other types of political violence. This tradition also tends to employ more economic or choice theoretical explanatory frameworks. The data here come from a variety of chronologies of terrorist events. The US State Department has developed a chronology of significant terrorist events since 1961 that is publicly available ( 5902.htm); the RAND corporation has also assembled a chronology of incidents (; and another widely used chronology, International Terrorism: Attributes of Terrorist Events (ITERATE), was initially assembled by Mickolous (2002).

Researchers have used these data sets to descriptively identify overall trends in international terrorism, including simple longitudinal counts of events and time series estimates of resultant patterns in transnational terrorism. Enders and Sandier (2002a) observe that international terrorism shows peaks and troughs and that the total number of events has declined through the 1990s. At the same time, they note, injuries or deaths are more likely for targeted individuals. Work has also been done to display trends and cycles and to attempt forecasting (Cauley and Im, 1988; Enders et al., 1992), and studies have been done on bargaining situations between terrorists and governments over hostages, kidnappings, and skyjackings (Atkinson et al., 1987). Sandler and Enders (2002: 9) speculate about the economic scale involved in the planning of major attacks, which results in down times to plan the next attack, and hence to an observed 'bunching of attacks' noted in their chronology counts. To account for the fluctuations in the longitudinal data on global counts of terrorist incidents, Chalk (1995) suggests a somewhat similar dynamic of attack and counterattack (by authorities), creating a space between bunches of terrorist events as terrorists prepare for new offensives. Finally, Enders and Sandler (2000) argue that the logistic base necessary for terrorist attacks can also create the observed ebbs and flows in the data. Logistically complex events, such as skyjackings, large-scale suicide bombings, or assassinations, have a longer cycle than less sophisticated events.

Turning Transnational Terrorism into a Variable

While these chronologies of terrorist incidents have provided empirical data, they have by and large been employed in a rather straightforward fashion as simple counts of transnational events. Terrorist events, though, can vary in their degree of internationalness.

Further, the conventional distinction between domestic and international terrorism may not reflect two ontologically different species of political violence, but merely different states of a single variable. To formulate a preliminary understanding of this possibility, we can create a simplified model of the terrorist event, comprised of two dimensions. First, each terrorist incident is comprised of a set of actors, which we will divide into perpetrators and victims; that is, terrorists and their targets, the people, property, objects, or installations that are attacked. Second, the attack occurs in some place. Here, to further simplify the model, we will distinguish between the national home or residence of the perpetrators and victims. When the attack takes place in an actor's home country, it will be referred to as being at home. When it takes place away from their nation of origin, it will be referred to as away.

Obviously, a terrorist event has other dimensions. What is proposed here is a simple model to clarify the various dimensions on which degree of internationalness might vary. Table 1 presents selected examples of the classification of terrorist perpetrator and victim by whether they are home or away.

In the upper left corner of Table 1, we have an illustrative incident in which both the perpetrator (Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood) and the victim (Egypt's president Anwar Sadat) are both at home--that is, in Egypt when the 1981 assassination event took place. This first category is also what is conventionally meant by domestic terrorism. Our point here is that domestic terrorism is not a separate species of violence, but a particular state of the terrorism variable in general. Next, in the upper right quadrant, the illustrative incident is the 1983 bombing of the US Marine barracks in Lebanon. Here the terrorist perpetrator, Lebanon's Hezbollah, is at home (the event was in Lebanon) and the victim is away (the Americans are in Lebanon).

If the first quadrant constitutes 'domestic' terrorism, the second quadrant can constitute the first stage of 'international' terrorism, for only one of the participating parties is out of their home country (in this case, the Americans in Lebanon). Moving down a quadrant, we see the bombing of US embassies in Nairobi and Dares Salaam in 1998. These incidents took place in East Africa, so that neither perpetrator (Al Qaeda with its headquarters, or home, in Afghanistan) nor terrorist victim (Americans) is in the home country or region; hence, both are characterized as being away. This seems a further degree of internationalness than where the perpetrator is still within its home country, as both are now in some third country that is the home of neither perpetrator nor victim. Moving to the left we come to the last quadrant, with the example of the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. Here the perpetrator is away (Al Qaeda outside of Afghanistan) and the victim is at home (the World Trade Center is within the United States). Here the terrorist is the most aggressive, going directly to the home country of the target.

Now, if we consider all four of Table 1's categories as states of the dispersion, or spread, or internationalness of terrorism, they should be ordered as follows. First, and the least international, is the home/home category (previously called domestic terrorism), for both perpetrator and victim are within their own national boundaries for the attack. Second is the perpetrator home/victim away category, for while the perpetrators haven't left their country, they have shifted their attacks to foreigners; hence, the terrorism takes on an international quality. Third is the away/away category, where both the perpetrator and victim are in places other than their home countries. This seems even more international. Fourth, the terrorist perpetrator has gone to the home of the victim to conduct the attack there. This category system is general and can be used to code events from the 19th century as well, as seen in the illustrative examples of Table 2.


We can use this simple model of the spread of terrorism to generate the following testable hypothesis: if contemporary terrorism is indeed globalizing, then as we proceed from category one through four, the average year of occurrence should be later and later. That is, the mean year of occurrence of category four should come after category three, and that after category two, and that after category one. This could be done for both waves of terrorism, if the data are available.

Testing the Model

At present there is no systematic chronology or event file for the 19th-century wave of terrorism (1880-1914). But data on events are available for the contemporary wave of terrorism. We will employ data taken from terrorist incident reports provided by the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism's (MIPT) Terrorism Knowledge Base ( TKB.jsp). This is a data set comprised of terrorist events from the RAND Terrorism Chronology 1968-97, the RAND-MIPT Terrorism Incident database (1998-present), the Terrorism Incident Database, the Terrorism Knowledge Base of the Universities of Arkansas and Oklahoma, and DFI International's research on terrorist organizations. It provides an inventory of 19,383 incidents from 1975 to 2004 (end of October). For a preliminary study, this number of events was too large to manually code. Given a general interest in Islamist terrorism, we decided to select only the events reported for Islamist terrorist groups (N = 368) for our sample of terrorist incidents. MIPT categorizes terrorist groups by their ideology (anti-globalization, Communist/socialist, environmentalist, leftist, national/separatist, racist, religious, right-wing conservative, and right-wing reactionary). We read the descriptions of the groups listed under the heading 'religious' and selected ones that were clearly Islamist in orientation. This set included 17 groups (see Table 3). For each group we coded their base of operations (country) and the country in which the incident occurred. From this we were able to determine whether perpetrator and victim were within their home base or country. The MIPT data represent only transnational terrorist incidents from 1975 through 1997, while for 1998 to 2004, they include domestic incidents as well. Therefore, we could not obtain a measure of the home/home condition for the bulk of our time period.


If Islamist terrorism is internationalizing, we expected to find that the average year for our three conditions (e.g. cells 2-4 of Table 1) should be later and later. This hypothesis was not supported. As Table 4 shows, the average year of terrorist incidents under the three conditions of 1) terrorist home/victim away, 2) terrorist away/victim away, and 3) terrorist away/victim home does not increase over time. That is, the average year for when both perpetrator and victim were away from their home country came earlier (1989) than when the terrorist was at home and the victim was away (1992). We tested for a difference of means, and there was a significant difference between these years (p < .001 for a two-tailed test). We did find, though, that the situation in which the perpetrator left the home base of operations to attack the victims within their home country had a mean year value later than the other two conditions (1997).

What we found then was a somewhat different pattern, as can be seen in Figure 1, which presents the percent of total terrorist incidents by these different perpetrator-victim combinations for five-year periods between 1975 and 2004.


While incidents of all three kinds occur throughout the period, they peak at different times. Terrorism, when both perpetrator and victim are away peaks first, followed by incidents when the perpetrators are within their home country and are attacking foreigners. The situation where the victim is at home and the terrorist perpetrator comes to their country peaks last.

These findings suggest that international terrorism begins in more neutral space--countries that are neither those of the terrorists nor their victims. Perhaps the success of these events embolden terrorist groups and they then move more of their activity to their home country and attack foreigners there. That in turn may trigger a response by authorities, with the state suppression of terrorist activity forcing them to conduct attacks abroad. If this is so, why they go to the country of their target and not just back to the neutral space of some third party country is not clear at this time.


We have sought to make two general points. First, terrorism research should be comparative in nature and can be conducted by asking researchable questions at various levels of analysis, from the individual incident through historical spirals of terrorist waves. Second, we should not consider international terrorism as a singular entity. It varies in its essence. We suggested one simple technique for coding the dispersion, or internationalization of, terrorist incidents. As presently specified, that model was not supported as an indicator of the globalization or internationalization of terrorism. Instead, there may be a more curvilinear aspect to the spread of terrorism: it starts abroad, then shifts to the terrorist's home base, and then shifts again to the home base of the targeted victim. At this point the data are very tentative and must be taken with great caution. What is important, though, is the idea that international terrorism is not just a single essentialist form of violence, but that there may be degrees of such internationalness and that these can and should be quantified and studied.
Table 1.

Location of perpetrator and victim in terrorist incidents


Perpetrator               Home                          Away

Home                Assassination of            Bombing of US Marine
                 President Sadat (1981)       Barracks in Beirut (1983)
Away           World Trade Center/Pentagon     US Embassies Bombed in
                     Attacks (2001)           Nairobi and Dar es Salaam

Table 2.

Location of perpetrator and victim in terrorist incidents, 1878-1914
(incidents from Joll, 1964)


Perpetrator             Home                         Away

Home              Russian National        Assassination of Austrian
                Assassinates Head of        Archduke in Bosnia and
              Tsarist National Police         Herzegovina (1914)
Away             Italian Anarchist       Empress Elizabeth of Austria
                 Assassinates Prime      Stabbed by Italian National
              Minister of Spain (1897)      in Switzerland (1898)

Table 3. Islamist terrorist groups, 1975-2004

Terrorist group                             Base of operation

Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)                      Philippines
al-Arifeen                                  Pakistan
al-Badr                                     Pakistan
al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya (GAI)                Afghanistan, Egypt
al-Intiqami al-Pakistani                    Pakistan
al-Qaeda                                    Afghanistan, Pakistan *
al-Umar Mujahedin                           Pakistan
Armed Islamic Group                         Algeria
Harakat ul-Mudjahidin (HuM)                 Pakistan
Hezbollah                                   Lebanon
Islamic Great Eastern Raiders Front         Turkey
Islamic Salvation Front                     Algeria
Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)                       Pakistan
Lashkar-I-Omar                              Pakistan
Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)       Philippines
Muslims Against Global Oppression (MAGO)    South Africa
Sudan People's Liberation Army              Sudan

Source: MIPT (2004).

Table 4.

Average year for types of terrorist incidents, 1975-2004

At time of incident                year *    SD     Number of cases

Terrorist in their home country     1992     5.2          219
Victim in another country
Terrorist in another country        1989     6.4          79
Victim in another country
Terrorist in another country        1997     6.2          70
Victim in their home country

* Numbers are rounded to integers (p < .001 for two-tailed test).


This research was supported by the University of Arizona. We would like to thank Omar Lizardo, John Meyer, Colin Beck, J.P. Schnapper-Casteras, and members of the Stanford Terrorism Research Group for helpful comments on earlier formulations of these ideas. We would also like to thank Pat Lauderdale, Annamarie Oliverio, and anonymous reviewers for comments on an earlier draft of this article.


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Albert J. Bergesen is Professor of Sociology at the University of Arizona. His research focuses upon measuring the globalization of terrorist events and a Weberian analysis of Islamic fundamentalism. Address: Department of Sociology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA. Email:

Albert J. Bergesen * and Yi Han *

* University of Arizona, USA

Yi Han is a graduate student in sociology at University of Arizona. His research interests include methods, organization, and culture. Currently he is working with Professor Al Bergesen on the study of terrorism and world systems. He is also working on a project on the structural transformation of knowledge institutions. Address: Department of Sociology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA. Email:

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Date:Feb 1, 2005
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