Skip to content

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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
Publication statusEarly online - 17 Jun 2020


  • How Do Leadership Decapitation and Targeting Error Affect Suicide Bombings? The Case of Al-Shabaab

    Rights statement: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Studies in Conflict & Terrorism on 17.06.2020, available online:

    Accepted author manuscript (Post-print), 493 KB, PDF document

    Due to publisher’s copyright restrictions, this document is not freely available to download from this website until: 18/12/21

Related information

Relations Get citation (various referencing formats)

ID: 21330627