Explaining Civilian Attacks: Terrorist Networks, Principal-Agent Problems and Target Selection

Max Abrahms, Matthew Ward, Ryan Kennedy


Terrorist groups exhibit variation in their targeting choices. Why do some groups direct their violence against civilians while others limit this occurrence? This study analyzes the network relationships between terrorist groups to elucidate their targeting behavior. Drawing upon insights from the organizational ecology and conflict literatures, we predict that terrorist group affiliates will be significantly more likely than their parent group to attack civilian targets. Our original principal-agent theory consistently outperforms extant explanations in a multi-method analysis of 238 terrorist groups from 1998 to 2005. These results shed new light on why certain terrorist groups are more likely than others to target civilians.

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Perspectives on Terrorism is  a journal of the Terrorism Research Initiative and the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies

ISSN  2334-3745 (Online)

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