Dynamic Patterns of Terrorist Networks

Efficiency and Security in the Evolution of Eleven Islamic Extremist Attack Networks

Cassie McMillan, Diane Helen Felmlee, Dave Braines

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Objectives: The current research examines how the efficiency/security tradeoff shapes the evolution of dynamic terrorist networks by focusing on the structural properties of these collectives. Some scholars argue that terrorist groups develop as chain-like, decentralized structures, while others maintain that terrorist networks form patterns of redundant ties and organize around a few highly connected individuals, or central hubs. We investigate these structural properties and consider whether patterns vary at different phases of a terrorist network’s formation. Methods: Using a variety of descriptive network measures and Separable Temporal Exponential Random Graph Models, we consider patterns of tie formation across eleven multi-wave terrorism networks from the John Jay & ARTIS Transnational Terrorism database. This dataset includes networks from prominent attacks and bombings that occurred in the last 3 decades (e.g., the 2002 Bali Bombings), where nodes represent individual terrorists and ties represent social relationships. Results: We find that terrorist groups navigate the efficiency/security tradeoff by developing increasingly well-connected networks as they prepare for a violent incident. Our results also show that highly central nodes acquire even more ties in the years directly preceding an attack, signifying that the evolution of terrorist networks tends to be structured around a few key actors. Conclusions: Our findings have the potential to inform counterterrorism efforts by suggesting which actors in the network make the most influential targets for law enforcement. We discuss how these strategies should vary as extremist networks evolve over time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Quantitative Criminology
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2019

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Terrorism
Law Enforcement
efficiency
Databases
Research
terrorism
law enforcement
incident
Group
Datasets

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law

Cite this

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title = "Dynamic Patterns of Terrorist Networks: Efficiency and Security in the Evolution of Eleven Islamic Extremist Attack Networks",
abstract = "Objectives: The current research examines how the efficiency/security tradeoff shapes the evolution of dynamic terrorist networks by focusing on the structural properties of these collectives. Some scholars argue that terrorist groups develop as chain-like, decentralized structures, while others maintain that terrorist networks form patterns of redundant ties and organize around a few highly connected individuals, or central hubs. We investigate these structural properties and consider whether patterns vary at different phases of a terrorist network’s formation. Methods: Using a variety of descriptive network measures and Separable Temporal Exponential Random Graph Models, we consider patterns of tie formation across eleven multi-wave terrorism networks from the John Jay & ARTIS Transnational Terrorism database. This dataset includes networks from prominent attacks and bombings that occurred in the last 3 decades (e.g., the 2002 Bali Bombings), where nodes represent individual terrorists and ties represent social relationships. Results: We find that terrorist groups navigate the efficiency/security tradeoff by developing increasingly well-connected networks as they prepare for a violent incident. Our results also show that highly central nodes acquire even more ties in the years directly preceding an attack, signifying that the evolution of terrorist networks tends to be structured around a few key actors. Conclusions: Our findings have the potential to inform counterterrorism efforts by suggesting which actors in the network make the most influential targets for law enforcement. We discuss how these strategies should vary as extremist networks evolve over time.",
author = "Cassie McMillan and Felmlee, {Diane Helen} and Dave Braines",
year = "2019",
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doi = "10.1007/s10940-019-09426-9",
language = "English (US)",
journal = "Journal of Quantitative Criminology",
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