Terrorist Prison Breaks

Trevor Cloen, Yelena Biberman, Farhan Zahid


Why would an insurgent group which employs terrorist tactics intentionally stage a quiet, nonviolent prisonbreak when it could instead carry out a violent spectacle? Insurgent targeting of prisons poses a puzzle to our understanding of security in state-building environments, but it has yet to be explored. This article addresses the question of why terror groups choose to employ nonviolent means for a prison break with a comparative study of prison break attempts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Nigeria. Using an original dataset consisting of all known prison break attempts carried out by a terrorist organization between 2001 and 2015, this article discerns the conditions under which nonviolent tactics are pursued. We argue that insurgents engage in nonviolent tactics when the predominant security authority signals the imminent withdrawal of military assets. This incentivizes them to limit violent activity, thereby encouraging the completion of the withdrawal process.

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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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