Scientists 'can predict how lethal a terror group will become'

Scientists 'can predict how lethal a terror group will become'
By: Technology Posted On: October 07, 2019 View: 11

Scientists 'can predict how lethal a terror group will become'

Researchers funded by the US Army have developed a model which they say can successfully predict how lethal a terror organisation will become in the future based on its first 10 attacks.

According to the Global Terror Database, 61 terror groups have emerged on average each year from 2000 to 2015, leading to an 800% increase in terror attacks.

While some of these groups quickly disbanded, others such as Islamic State have gone to become global threats.

The Pentagon building in Washington, DC
Image: The US spends half a trillion dollars each year combating terrorism

Aware that the US government has spent half a trillion dollars every year to research and combat terrorism, the data scientists turned to the financial sector for inspiration as they sought to identify the threats posed by new terror groups.

"Essentially we said, 'What if we think of terror organisations like a business whose product is lethality? How do we predict their success in producing that product?'" said lead author Professor Brian Uzzi.

The researchers assembled and calibrated data from terrorist organisations operating between 1970 and 2014.

Some of these groups, including the United Liberation Front of Assam, Al Shabaab, and Moro Islamic Liberation Front, began with very few attacks in their early days, but the model recognised how destructive they could become.

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"The model can predict the future impact of some of these sleeper groups even while they are still operating in an under-the-radar way," said study co-lead author Yang Yang, a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern.

For instance, venture capitalists analyse how a company which regularly releases new products probably has more resources than a company which releases products at random.

In the same way the researchers analysed how terror organisations which regularly carry out attacks probably have more resources and organisational strength than those which conduct them at random.

TOPSHOT - A member of the Iraqi forces walks past a mural bearing the logo of the Islamic State (IS) group in a tunnel that was reportedly used as a training centre by the jihadists, on March 1, 2017, in the village of Albu Sayf, on the southern outskirts of Mosul.
Iraqi forces launched a major push on February 19 to recapture the west of Mosul from the Islamic State jihadist group, retaking the airport and then advancing north. / AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE        (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Islamic State was predicted to be one of the deadliest groups

The researchers then introduced different factors, including the diversity of weaponry, how sophisticated those weapons were, and the attackers' success in carrying out their attacks.

One of the terror groups that had extraordinarily strong attack capabilities despite an "irregular attack cadence" which suggested unstable resources was Islamic State.

After just 10 attacks, the researchers placed Islamic State in the 90th percentile among terror groups with the potential for committing deadly attacks.

Professor Uzi, Dr Yang Yang and Dr Adam Pah - of Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management and the McCormick School of Engineering - are publishing their work, titled Quantifying The Future Lethality Of Terror Organisations, in the journal PNAS.

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