Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Incidents of Terrorism in the United States, 1997-2005

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Incidents of Terrorism in the United States, 1997-2005

Article excerpt

Spaces can be at the heart of terrorist conflicts. Radical Islam's interest in Mecca and Medina is an example of a place-based spatial focus. In the 1960s Puerto Rican nationalist groups such as Los Macheteros executed attacks in the United States to promote independence of their homeland. In this sense, land control can be the strategic focus of terrorist campaigns. Past terrorist incidents in the United States targeted specific places--for instance, women's health clinics, ski resorts, or office buildings--in a strategic way in order to deliver messages to citizens and governments. Terrorists often perpetrate violence close to coveted real estate, and terrorist attacks reflect strategic spatial considerations embedded in targets and in methods used to commit crimes.

In any violent event, terrorist actors must either personally intersect the individuals, groups, or physical facilities targeted or have deposited timed explosives, firebombs, or other attack vectors designed to harm bystanders or property. Donald Black argues that the "geometry of terrorism" involves physical proximity combined with high social polarization, but his theory of collective terrorist violence says nothing about the spatial characteristics of terrorist targets or the functions performed at attack sites (2004). How and where do terrorist actors intersect victims in space? Criminology's routine activities theory predicts that criminal attacks occur where unguarded targets--that is, the victims of crime--go about their daily business of working, living, and playing (Felson 1998). A twist of terrorism geography is that places are often the victims of terrorist attacks, as when places are targets because they host some activity--a government building, a health clinic, or a pristine natural environment, for example. The geography of terrorism requires a broader conception of victimization in which the places of terrorist incidents are an integral part of the messages such attacks deliver (Drake 1998). Understanding the geography of terrorism in the United States requires more attention to empirical questions about where attacks occur, such as:

* Terrorist incidents occur in different areas of a country. In the United States, have they occurred in clusters, or randomly across spaces of interest, people, or property? How are these locations linked to terrorist motivations? Which specific places are the most frequent settings for terrorist attacks?

* The functions performed at the spaces that constitute terrorist targets are indirect victims of the attack, and in this sense terrorist motivations are likely tied to certain types of settings for violence. To what extent can certain land uses be linked to higher risks of attack, different methods used, or terrorists' motivation or cause?

* How do terrorist actors intersect spatially with victims or property-based targets? Terrorists cross paths with victims, whether they be individuals or places, in a number of ways.

In the United States, terrorist actions frequently target places with facilities that perform specific functions. Attacks change the use of spaces, drive people from places, or create the threat of random violence in those places. From 1997 to 2005, close to 200 terrorist incidents have occurred in the United States. Even so, no one has systematically analyzed the spatial patterns of places where incidents occur, how place patterns connect to terrorist causes, the targets chosen for attack, the methods of attacks, the success or failure of attacks, or the types of land uses where terrorism occurs. Terrorist motivations influence the places and spaces that are targeted. If terrorism geography includes the interactions of place, motivation, and method in conducting terrorist attacks, then the theory and practice of terrorism geography need more attention.

In this article I identify the locations of religious, environmental, animal-rights, and other forms of terrorism. …

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