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Voice and silence: Why groups take credit for acts of terror

  • Aaron M Hoffman

    (Department of Political Science, Northern Illinois University,

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    Terrorism is designed to draw attention to particular issues and causes. Yet, the incidence of credit-taking (announcing one’s responsibility for acts of terror) varies even though anonymity can undermine the clarity of the intended messages. This article offers an explanation of the variation in credit-taking that emphasizes how the competitive context in which groups operate shapes terrorists groups’ need to cultivate support for their activities. Increasing numbers of terrorist organizations make it difficult for the supporters of terrorism to reward the perpetrators of particular attacks with their backing. Since such support is critical to the proper functioning of terrorist organizations, groups use claims of responsibility to distinguish themselves from those that had no hand in the violence. Consequently, variation in the probability of credit-taking fluctuates as a function of the number of active terrorist groups in a given theater of operations. This argument is contrasted with theories that suggest credit-taking is influenced by: the ideological mix of terrorist organizations; the willingness of governments to respond to terrorism using military force; state sponsorship; the depth of communal grievances; and the use of suicide attacks. The results, based on an analysis of transnational terrorism events conducted in the Israeli theater of operations between 1968 and 2004, suggest that competitive context is a consistently strong predictor of credit-taking. By implication, the results point to the utility of counter-terrorism strategies that interfere with the transmission of information between terrorist organizations and their supporters.

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    Article provided by Peace Research Institute Oslo in its journal Journal of Peace Research.

    Volume (Year): 47 (2010)
    Issue (Month): 5 (September)
    Pages: 615-626

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    Handle: RePEc:sae:joupea:v:47:y:2010:i:5:p:615-626
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