Researchers, as part of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) under the Department of Homeland Security, are trying to come up with a way to better predict where and when terrorist attacks would happen on U.S. soil.
To start, the researchers from the University of Maryland and University of Massachusetts-Boston mapped all events considered terrorism since 1970 to 2008 in the United States (below). This established areas they deemed terrorism “hot spots” but also revealed that terrorism is actually “widely dispersed”. So widely dispersed that every state has experienced some act of terrorism in some form, according to the report. The report defines a hot spot as an area where more than the average number of terrorist attacks have taken place — the average for the U.S. is six.
The research found that a third of all terrorist attacks during that time-frame studied took place in five metropolitan cities — Manhattan, New York (343 attacks); Los Angeles County, Calif. (156 attacks); Miami-Dade County, Fla. (103 attacks); San Francisco County, Calif. (99 attacks); and Washington, D.C. (79 attacks).
“Mainly, terror attacks have been a problem in the bigger cities, but rural areas are not exempt,” Gary LaFree, director of START and lead author of the new report, said in the University of Maryland press release.
“The main attacks driving Maricopa into recent hot spot status are the actions of radical environmental groups, especially the Coalition to Save the Preserves. So, despite the clustering of attacks in certain regions, it is also clear that hot spots are dispersed throughout the country and include places as geographically diverse as counties in Arizona, Massachusetts, Nebraska and Texas,” LaFree added.
In addition to tracking areas prone to terrorist attacks, the study authors saw trends in timing of terrorist attacks and type of motivation behind the attack. For example, co-author Bianca Bersani, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, said that terrorist attacks they classified as extreme left-wing — “groups that want to bring about change through violent revolution rather than through established political processes” — were limited almost exclusively to the 1970s. Whereas in the 1980s terrorism with religious motivations took place and the 1990s had extreme right-wing attacks by “groups that believe that one’s personal and/or national “way of life” is under attack and is either already lost or that the threat is imminent”.
The Huffington Post points out that there is a correlation between the type of attack that took place and location:
The research showed a strong association between the county in which a terrorist attack occurred and its motivation. “For example,” a University of Maryland statement notes, “Lubbock County, Texas, only experienced extreme right-wing terrorism while the Bronx, New York, only experienced extreme left-wing terrorism.”
Overall, the report found that terrorist attacks in the United States are at lower levels than other times in its history, even though the threat of terrorism has more public attention now — usually in the form of terrorism against the country by religious extremists. The research also found that “foiled plots” for potential terrorist attacks increased during this time.
Ultimately, with more research, the group hopes to gain understanding about the link between what is considered terrorism and ordinary crime in order to better predict when and where terrorist events could happen. Next, the research will be looking into language diversity and its relationship with terrorist attacks and ordinary crime.