A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

New START study examines communities where terrorists lived, planned and prepared

According to a new study from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), perpetrators of terrorist attacks in the United States have lived, planned and prepared for attacks in communities that are generally characterized by lower socioeconomic status, poorer housing conditions and sociodemographic characteristics that are significantly different than those without residential or pre-incident activity. However, these overall patterns vary significantly by the type of extremist group -- environmental, far-right or al-Qa'ida and Associated Movements (AQAM) ? with which the perpetrators were affiliated.


The study, "From Extremist to Terrorist: Identifying the Characteristics of Communities where Perpetrators Live and Pre-Incident Activity Occurs" uses tract-level data from the 2000 U.S. Census to examine the characteristics of residential and pre-incident activity locations associated with 144 terrorism incidents investigated by the FBI between 1990 and 2010 and included in the American Terrorism Study. The research team, Paxton Roberts, Kevin Fitzpatrick, Brent Smith and Kelly Damphousse -- analyzed the socioeconomic status, housing and sociodemographic characteristics of these locations.

The findings are summarized in the START Research Highlight, available for download here.

Environmental groups' activities typically occurred in areas that were not significantly different from areas without activity in terms of socioeconomic indicators. However, residences in these tracts were newer, with higher values for owner-occupied homes, and there was a lower percentage of non-white and foreign born residents, and a higher percentage of married families. Compared to areas without residential or pre-incident activities, far-right groups' activities occurred in communities that were generally less diverse, with lower percentages of foreign-born residents, and less affluent, marked by a lower average income and more households living below the poverty level.

Housing in these areas tended to be less expensive, with lower rents and lower owner-occupied home values. The AQAM groups' activities occurred in areas that were more urban and diverse, with higher unemployment and higher percentages of households living below the poverty level, than areas without activity. Housing in such areas tended to be older, but rents and home values were higher. Lower percentages of married families lived in these areas. Funded by the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate's Resilient Systems Division, the research team will expand the study to include data from cases before 1990 and after 2010 as well conduct further analysis.

This research is part of a larger effort to develop a comprehensive database on Terrorism and Extremist Violence in the U.S. (TEVUS) that integrates data from the Global Terrorism Database, the American Terrorism Study, the United States Extremist Crime Database and the Profiles of Perpetrators of Terrorism in the United States dataset. Led by START, the research team is creating a resource that will allow operational and academic end-users to conduct unprecedented analyses that incorporate incident, perpetrator and geospatial information.

Download the Research Highlight here. Download the full report here.