Exploiting the Chaos

Terrorist Target Choice Following Natural Disasters

Published in: Southern Economic Journal, Apr. 2013

Posted on RAND.org on February 08, 2013

by Claude Berrebi, Jordan Ostwald

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This article explores the differences between transnational and domestic terrorism, further differentiating by private versus government targets, to estimate the effect of exogenous catastrophic shocks on a country's level of domestic and transnational terrorism. The empirical analysis uses detailed data on terrorism, natural disasters, and other relevant controls for 176 countries from 1970–2007 to illuminate several key disparities in post-disaster target choice of terrorists. The results indicate that natural disasters incite both transnational and domestic terrorism; however, evidence is found for dissimilar motivations between the two. While both types of terrorism increase after disasters, transnational attacks against the government increase immediately following the disaster suggesting an impetus to exploit weakened "hard" targets during the chaos. Conversely, domestic terrorism against the government takes longer to manifest, suggesting a period of time for which the public recovers and assesses the government's response.

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