Comparative Politics

Targeting and Attacking America

Victor Asal University at Albany, State University of New York
R. Karl Rethemeyer University at Albany, State University of New York
Hating America – and targeting or killing Americans – at times seems like a mandatory activity for terrorists, yet only a small minority of known terrorist organizations target or attack American interests. Under what circumstances do terrorist organizations choose to target American citizens and interests? When do they actually commit such attacks? To answer these questions, we leverage data from the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism’s database on terrorist organizations and attacks. Our statistical analysis finds that the factors that drive an organization to target US interests are not completely co-terminus with those factors that help to explain the pattern of actual attacks. The propensity to target and to attack US interests are both related to alliance connections and basing of US troops in authoritarian countries that host a given terrorist organization.