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  • Fatherly love: and more surprising insights from the social sciences

    The Boston Globe - 05/24/2015

    CUTTING OFF THE HEAD of the snake has long been the modus operandi in counterterrorist operations. But the snake can just as often become a hydra. In a study from the department of unintended consequences, political scientists at Northeastern University and the University of Virginia found that the leaders of militant groups generally restrain those groups from indiscriminate violence. Data from the Middle East and North Africa during 1980-2004 indicate that groups without centralized leadership or the ability to easily communicate were about twice as likely to target civilians. Likewise, data on drone strikes in the Afghanistan-Pakistan tribal regions during 2004-2011 reveal that leadership deaths shifted a group’s focus to civilian targets and away from military targets. This also happened to the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a Palestinian group, after Israel’s attacks on the group’s leadership during the Second Intifada (2000-2005), which “empowered lower-level members bent on attracting esteem within the community, climbing the organizational hierarchy, and avenging Palestinian suffering to which they were disproportionately exposed.”

    Abrahms, M. & Potter, P., “Explaining Terrorism: Leadership Deficits and Militant Group Tactics,” International Organization (Spring 2015).

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