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

The Terrorists' Planning Cycle: Patterns of Pre-incident Behaviors


An examination of the terrorists’ planning cycle requires that we have some understanding and measurement of the behaviors that would be included as “preparatory” to a terrorist incident. For the current analysis, we use data from the American Terrorism Study (ATS), which is based on information extracted from federal court cases involving persons indicted for “terrorism or terrorism-related” activities due to an FBI investigation under its counter-terrorism program (Smith, 2006). The ATS includes data on individuals indicted from 1980 to the present. Since 2003, the NIJ has funded five projects specifically intended to identify “precursor” or “pre-incident” activities committed by terrorist prior to “officially designated” terrorism incidents. The DHS START Center of Excellence has provided funding for additional data collection on these cases since 2008. This chapter provides a summary of finds from all of these projects. This analysis involved examining the pre-incident activities of terrorists linked to 409 planned or completed terrorism incidents between 1975 and 2011 that fell into four categories—al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda-related, Far Left, Far Right, and environmental groups. Incidents where ideological affiliations were categorized as national/separatist (43), single-issue (28), or not known (7) were eliminated from this analysis.

Publication Information

Full Citation:

Smith, Brent L., Kelly Damphousse, and Paxton Roberts. 2017. "The Terrorists' Planning Cycle: Patterns of Pre-incident Behaviors." In The Handbook of the Criminology of Terrorism, eds. Gary LaFree and Joshua D. Freilich. West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 62-76. https://books.google.com/books?id=KRyfDQAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=The+Handbook+of+the+Criminology+of+Terrorism&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjjtoyszeLRAhWEOSYKHR1HA4wQ6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q&f=false