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A complex networks approach to find latent clusters of terrorist groups

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journal contribution
posted on 22.08.2019, 16:45 authored by Gian Maria Campedelli, Iain CruickshankIain Cruickshank, Kathleen CarleyKathleen Carley
Given the extreme heterogeneity of actors and groups participating in terrorist actions, investigating and assessing their characteristics can be important to extract relevant information and enhance the knowledge on their behaviors. The present work will seek to achieve this goal via a complex networks approach. This approach will allow to find latent clusters of similar terror groups using information on their operational characteristics. Specifically, using open access data of terrorist attacks occurred worldwide from 1997 to 2016, we build a multi-partite network that includes terrorist groups and related information on tactics, weapons, targets, active regions. We propose a novel algorithm for cluster formation that expands our earlier work that solely used Gower’s coefficient of similarity via the application of Von Neumann entropy for mode-weighting. This novel approach is compared with our previous Gower-based method and a heuristic clustering technique that only focuses on groups’ ideologies. The comparative analysis demonstrates that the entropy-based approach tends to reliably reflect the structure of the data that naturally emerges from the baseline Gower-based method. Additionally, it provides interesting results in terms of behavioral and ideological characteristics of terrorist groups. We furthermore show that the ideology-based procedure tend to distort or hide existing patterns. Among the main statistical results, our work reveals that groups belonging to opposite ideologies can share very common behaviors and that Islamist/jihadist groups hold peculiar behavioral characteristics with respect to the others. Limitations and potential work directions are also discussed, introducing the idea of a dynamic entropy-based framework.


Publisher Statement

This is the open access published version of: Campedelli, G. M., Cruickshank, I., & Carley, K. M. (2019). A complex networks approach to find latent clusters of terrorist groups. Applied Network Science, 4(1). doi: 10.1007/s41109-019-0184-6 © The Author(s). 2019