The Targets and Intended Victims of Terrorist Activities in the United States

Kelly Damphousse, University of Oklahoma
Brent L. Smith, University of Alabama - Birmingham
Amy Sellers, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Little empirical information has been available on the actual targets and/or the intended victims of terrorist groups. For the current analysis, the authors extracted actual targets and intended targets of terrorists indicted in the United States between 1980 and 1999. Using data from the American Terrorism Study, the authors identified the top three actual targets (completed acts) and the top three intended targets (prevented acts) oiof over 400 terrorists from about 50 terrorist groups. Information was extracted from the federal criminal indictments of the terrorists. Analyses of the data suggest that targeting typically falls into one or more of four categories: (1) efforts to obtain funding for the terrorist organization; (2) "ideological revenge" against specific persons who have been vocal in their opposition to the group or its goals; (3) "ideologically symbolic" targets that epitomize the group's stance on sepcific political issues; and (4) internal targeting of wayward members for security purposes. While one would expect "ideologicalloy symbolic" targets to dominate such an analysis, the number of crimes committed by terrorists in the other categories suggests that the criminal activities of terrorist groups are much more varied and unpredictable than most persons realize.

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Updated 05/20/2006