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Longevity of American Terrorists: Factors Affecting Sustainability

NCJ Number
Date Published
24 pages

This report presents the findings and methodology of a study with the goal of identifying characteristics and behaviors of terrorists that improved their chances of avoiding arrest.


This is noted to be an important issue, since the appeal of violent extremism, its methods, and the groups that advocate it are emboldened when the risk of being identified, arrested, and punished for VE appears to be low. A literature review found no quantitative examinations of the longevity and sustainability of VE at the individual level. The current study focused on five factors linked with the longevity of individual terrorists: 1) the possible effects of changes in the U.S. Attorney General’s Guidelines for terrorism investigations; 2) the impact of  ideology, which may have indirectly affected longevity through gender, age, target selection, and mode of operation; 3) lone actors compared to group participation; 4) the extent of participation in preparatory activity; and 5) the sophistication of the terrorism incidents in which the person participated. Another factor incidental to the study also emerged, i.e., the ability of a terrorist to cross international boundaries. Data used in the analysis were obtained from the American Terrorism Study (ATS). This is an Oracle 11g relational database composed of 15 tables that include information on the demographic characteristics of terrorism offenders, federal charges and other legal variables, the geocoded locations of perpetrator’s residences, pre-incident activities and crimes, and plotted incidents. The types of data analyses conducted are described in this report. The study focused on the 25.4 percent of the sample recorded as having escaped capture for more than 3 years. Four major findings are discussed. Overall, strategic changes in policy and practice related to VE have shortened the longevity of terrorists in the United States. 6 tables, 2 figures, 9 references, and a list of scholarly study products

Date Published: January 1, 2019