Research Repository

The Quality of Terrorist Violence: Explaining the Logic of Terrorist Target Choice

Polo, Sara MT (2020) 'The Quality of Terrorist Violence: Explaining the Logic of Terrorist Target Choice.' Journal of Peace Research, 57 (2). pp. 235-250. ISSN 0022-3433

Polo_Final.pdf - Accepted Version

Download (331kB) | Preview


Existing research on terrorism as a strategy has largely neglected the apparent differences in what groups target. Whereas some organizations primarily target undefended civilians, other attack mainly official and hard targets. I develop an explanation of terrorist groups’ relative target preferences based on how a group’s ties to its constituency and specific government repressive strategies either constrain or incentivize terrorist attacks against soft civilian vs. hard/official targets. Specific sources of support and the degree of out-group antagonism in their constituency shape terrorist groups’ primary targeting strategy. While groups with transnational support are generally more likely to target primarily undefended civilians, not all groups with local support are restrained. Groups with low out-group antagonism and local civilian support incur high political costs for targeting civilians and focus primarily on official targets. Instead, groups with domestic support but high out-group antagonism have mixed incentives. When facing indiscriminate government repression these groups become more likely to target primarily undefended civilians, because they can justify such a response to their audience, direct attacks against out-group civilians, and radicalize local constituents. Indiscriminate repression, however, does not change the targeting strategy of groups who face high political costs for attacking civilians. I examine the observable implications of the theory in a comparative analysis of terrorist organizations (1995-2007) as well as an over-time analysis of repression and targeting in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (1987-2004), and find strong support for the theoretical argument.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: terrorism; targets; substitution; popular support; counterterrorism
Subjects: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Divisions: Faculty of Social Sciences
Faculty of Social Sciences > Government, Department of
SWORD Depositor: Elements
Depositing User: Elements
Date Deposited: 16 Jan 2019 16:22
Last Modified: 06 Jan 2022 13:57

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item