Identification of subgroups of terror attacks with shared characteristics for the purpose of preventing mass-casualty attacks: A data-mining approach

Gonen Singer, Maya Golan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations

Abstract

Security and intelligence agencies around the world invest considerable resources in preventing terrorist attacks, as these may cause strategic damage, national demoralization, infringement of sovereignty, and government instability. Recently, data-mining techniques have evolved to allow identification of patterns and associations in criminal data that were not apparent using traditional analysis. The aim of this paper is to illustrate how to use interpretable classification algorithms to identify subgroups ("patterns") of terrorist incidents that share common characteristics and that result in mass fatalities. This approach can produce insights far beyond those of conventional macro-level studies that use hypothesis-testing and regression models. In addition to this methodological contribution, from a practical perspective, exploring the characteristics identified in the "patterns" can lead to prevention strategies, such as alteration of the physical or systemic environment. This is in line with situational crime prevention (SCP) theory. We apply our methodology to the Global Terrorism Database (GTD). We present three examples in which terror attacks that are described by a particular pattern (set of characteristics) resulted in a high probability of mass casualties, while attacks that differ in just one of these characteristics (i.e., month of attack, geographical area targeted, or type of attack) resulted in far fewer casualties. We propose exploration of the differentiating characteristic as a means of reducing the probability of mass-fatality terrorist incidents.

Original languageEnglish
Article number14
JournalCrime Science
Volume8
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 18 Dec 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Author(s).

Keywords

  • Global Terrorism Database
  • Interpretable classification models
  • Mass-casualty terror attack

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