Exploring Terrorist Targeting Preferences

Exploring Terrorist Targeting Preferences

Exploring Terrorist Targeting Preferences

Exploring Terrorist Targeting Preferences

Synopsis

Governments spend billions to protect against terrorism. Might it help to understand what al Qaeda would achieve with each specific attack? This book examines various hypotheses of terrorist targeting: is it (1) to coerce, (2) to damage economies, (3) to rally the faithful, or (4) a decision left to affiliates? This book analyzes past attacks, post hoc justifications, and expert opinion to weigh each hypothesis.

Excerpt

Each year, federal, state, and local governments spend billions of dollars protecting the United States against acts of terrorism, with human, military, and capital resources allocated in ways that reflect each potential target’s value and vulnerability. Yet those buildings, institutions, and icons that the United States perceives as being of utmost value may not be those that its potential attackers perceives that way. That one potential attack may hurt the United States more than another does not mean that terrorists believe that the first would advance their goals any more than would the second.

The goal of this investigation is to assess on what basis al Qaeda would select targets within the United States. Four hypotheses have been considered. The coercion hypothesis posits that acts of terrorism would be designed to cause pain and thereby influence U.S. foreign policy. The damage hypothesis posits that they are designed to hurt the U.S. economy and thereby reduce the means available to support U.S. foreign policy. The rally hypothesis posits that such acts are meant to rally support in the Muslim world. The franchise hypothesis assumes that al Qaeda has limits on its ability to direct terrorist acts and, instead, supports such acts carried out by like-minded terrorists. This study tested these hypotheses by examining major terrorist events (associated with al Qaeda) over the last dozen years, looking at al Qaeda writings, and soliciting the informed judgment of experts.

This study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology Directorate, Office of Comparative Studies.

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