Members of the public perceive coordinated terrorist attacks that involve multiple actors as more threatening than attacks carried out by individuals, according to a study that includes two University of Kansas international relations professors.
“What this suggests is that as a strategy for inciting terror, coordinated attacks are more effective,” said Clayton Webb, assistant professor of political science. “On the other hand, coordinated attacks are more difficult to carry out, so the attacks that are most likely to generate a response from the public require more attention to detail and resources. This could have potential implications for terrorism prevention and counterterrorism measures.”
The journal Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict recently published the study by Nazli Avdan, assistant professor of political science, and Webb. They examined public perceptions of transnational terrorist attacks to determine which features of these attacks matter most and possibly could put political pressure on states to react.
The project came in the wake of the large-scale attacks in 2015 and 2016 in Paris and Brussels. Both attacks involved coordinated bombings and shootings. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL or ISIS, claimed responsibility for the attacks.
According to the Avdan and Webb, coordination serves as a fear amplifier. Organizations capable of coordinating simultaneous strikes at different locations in the same city are perceived as more sophisticated. This influences public perceptions of those organizations’ capabilities. Even if groups do not inflict more harm than so-called “lone-wolf” attacks, the sense of sophistication makes the groups seem more menacing.