Taking Responsibility: When and Why Terrorists Claim Attacks

51 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2013

Date Written: 2013


Despite general academic consensus on terrorism being a strategic and communicative act, most extant work has only analyzed these features in relation to the actual attack itself. However, much of the communicative and strategic weight may come from a public claim of responsibility for the attack (or lack thereof). A terrorist attack is fundamentally an intimidating costly signal that foments uncertainty; claims of credit can naturally be viewed as a manner in which to augment the costliness and uncertainty of this base signal. Using this insight, I develop a series of hypotheses to test several well-established and mostly qualitative theoretical arguments in the literature. Focus is placed on Kydd and Walter's (2006) important work on extremists' strategies. Using econometric analysis on the Global Terrorism Database and case studies of three extremist organizations in Pakistan, I find that credit-claiming is indeed consistent with these strategies: While a dominant strategy of intimidation keeps claim rates low, extremists are more likely to claim responsibility for attacks that involve high costs (suicide and casualties), institutionally constrained states (democracy), and competitive environments. Attempts to sabotage political moderation serve to suppress claims. Moreover, groups with limited and specific aims, such as separatist organizations, are likely to have a higher claim rate than organizations with more sweeping and amorphous objectives. These findings not only tap into a largely overlooked dimension of violent political communication, but function as a useful test of extant theories in the terrorism literature that have thus far been evaluated using very small-N analysis.

Keywords: terrorism, terror, strategies, credit-claiming, provocation, intimidation, attrition, outbidding, spoiling, pakistan, GTD, global terrorism database

JEL Classification: D74, D80

Suggested Citation

Min, Eric, Taking Responsibility: When and Why Terrorists Claim Attacks (2013). APSA 2013 Annual Meeting Paper, American Political Science Association 2013 Annual Meeting, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2299920

Eric Min (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

No Address Available

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