$1.3 million grant supports new study of global terrorist involvement

November 30, 2011

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Researchers from Penn State’s International Center for the Study of Terrorism (ICST) are launching a groundbreaking new study of the motivations and behaviors of terrorist actors.

The collaboration is part of a three-year international research program known as Understanding the Arc of Terrorist Involvement. The program will bring $1.3 million to Penn State for two research projects on the psychology of terrorism.The projects are sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate and coordinated through the United Kingdom Home Office and Department of Homeland Security.

One project, “Pathways, Processes, Roles and Factors for Terrorist Disengagement, Re-Engagement and Recidivism,” will build on ICST Director John Horgan’s earlier research on helping practitioners understand how, why and when people disengage from terrorism as well as how and why they re-engage with terrorism. An  associate professor of psychology, Horgan will be working with the center's newest postdoctoral research fellow, political scientist Mary Beth Altier from Princeton University, on this project.

The center's other project, “Tracing the Motivations and Antecedent Behaviors of Lone-Actor Terrorism,” will have Postdoctoral Research Fellow Paul Gill work with Horgan, graduate researchers, and undergraduate student interns to synthesize existing research on “lone-wolf” terrorism cases and create a typology of different lone actors. As part of this study, researchers are looking for patterns in the routine activities that lone-actor terrorists engage in prior to attack.

The Understanding the Arc of Terrorist Involvement program is an unprecedented international effort, and the outputs of these projects will significantly expand the nature and scope of academic research on terrorism and will provide intelligence and law-enforcement officials with practical, actionable knowledge to inform the basis of their operations.

“We are incredibly excited,” said Horgan. “These projects represent some of the most challenging work ICST has done to date and mark a critical turning point in the marriage of academic theorizing and operational counterterrorism. This really is real-world research in action, and our collaboration illustrates the value of engagement of academia with critical national security issues.”

Dedicated to the scientific study of terrorism and political violence, the International Center for the Study of Terrorism engages in research, teaching and training activities that are international in scope and multidisciplinary in nature. Based in Penn State's College of the Liberal Arts, the center is committed to promoting and engaging in data-driven empirical research performed to the highest academic standards. With its hub at Penn State, the center also functions around a core of universities that comprise the Worldwide Universities Network. Using the global structure and capabilities of this network, the center encourages collaboration, information sharing, dialog and debate across geographical and disciplinary boundaries.

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Last Updated December 05, 2011