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Database spotlight: Big Allied and Dangerous (BAAD)

Researchers from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) released a dataset focusing on the characteristics of active terrorist groups and their lethality.

START researchers Victor Asal and Karl Rethemeyer compiled data on 395 active terrorist organizations from 1998-2005 focusing on a number of organizational characteristics. The dataset, Big Allied and Dangerous 1.0 (BAAD1) , contains information on the size of terrorist organizations, their ideology, whether they are supported by state sponsors, the age of the organizations, number of fatalities attributed to the organizations, whether the organization controls territory, and counts of alliance connections.

BAAD1 evolved through semantic data hosted by the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT). Asal and Rethemeyer built upon and coded this data to form BAAD1. BAAD1 provides researchers with information on the nature and characteristics of terrorist organizations rather than just terrorism incidents. BAAD1 is specifically designed to facilitate quantitative research on the behavior of terrorist organizations.

Analysis of BAAD1 indicates that network connections, size, religion and ideology are key factors in determining a terrorist organization's potential for lethality. "Even without the data on al-Qaida this holds true," Asal said.

The data from BAAD1 also disproves the common theory that terrorist organizations are more likely to use CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear) terrorism if they are religiously-affiliated. Data from BAAD1 indicates that a terrorist organization's network connections are a greater influence in CBRN use.

Using BAAD1, Asal and Rethemeyer also determined which characteristics of a terrorist organization make it more likely to attack the United States. Terrorist organizations based in non-democratic countries where the U.S. military has at least 2,000 troops are more likely to attack the United States or U.S. interests.

"This finding holds true even if organizations based in Iraq and Afghanistan are removed from the analysis," Asal said. Terrorist organizations based in democratic countries that host U.S. troops are much less likely to target U.S. interests.

BAAD Version 1.0 is currently available. Asal and Rethemeyer are currently in the process of building a second, updated dataset, BAAD Version 2.0 (BAAD2). BAAD2 will feature time-series data that will include more variables and will extend the data from BAAD1 into the future. BAAD-2 will also focus on the networks of terrorist organizations in relation to their characteristics.

Asal and Rethemeyer have presented their findings at talks hosted by the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Defense (DOD) to positive reviews. "We are always happy to share our findings with other people and policymakers," Asal said. BAAD1's focus on terrorist organizations rather than incidents proves an useful resource to researchers, policymakers and practitioners.