How do leadership decapitation and targeting error affect suicide bombings? The case of Al-Shabaab

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Abstract

Targeted killing is a cornerstone of counter-terrorism strategy, and tactical mistakes made by militant groups are endemic in terrorism. Yet, how do they affect a militant group’s suicide bomber deployment? Since joining Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab has carried out various types of suicide attacks on different targets. Using a uniquely constructed dataset, I introduce two typologies of suicide bomber detonation profiles – single and multiple – and explore the strategic purposes these have served for the group during multiphasic stages following targeted killings against the group’s leadership and targeting errors committed by Al-Shabaab. The findings reveal that targeted killing has the opposite effect of disrupting suicide attacks, instead, leading to a rapid proliferation of unsophisticated single suicide attacks against civilian and military targets to maintain the perception of the group’s potency. Thus, I argue that targeting errors made by Al-Shabaab have a more serious detrimental effect on its deployment of suicide attacks than any counter-terrorism measure.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalStudies in Conflict & Terrorism
Early online date17 Jun 2020
DOIs
Publication statusEarly online - 17 Jun 2020

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