Nearly a third of all terrorist attacks from 1970 to 2008 occurred in just five metropolitan U.S. counties, but events continue to occur in rural areas, spurred on by domestic actors, according to a report recently published by researchers in the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), a Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Center of Excellence based at the University of Maryland.
The research was conducted at Maryland and the University of Massachusetts-Boston.
The largest number of events clustered around major cities:
While large, urban counties such as Manhattan and Los Angeles have remained hot spots of terrorist activities across decades, the START researchers discovered that smaller, more rural counties such as Maricopa County, Ariz. -- which includes Phoenix -- have emerged as hot spots in recent years as domestic terrorism there has increased.
The START researchers found that 65 of the nation's 3,143 counties were "hot spots" of terrorism.
They defined a "hot spot" as a county experiencing a greater than the average number of terrorist attacks, that is, more than six attacks across the entire time period (1970 to 2008).
"Mainly, terror attacks have been a problem in the bigger cities, but rural areas are not exempt," said Gary LaFree, director of START and lead author of the new report.
"The main attacks driving Maricopa into recent hot spot status are the actions of radical environmental groups, especially the Coalition to Save the Preserves. So, despite the clustering of attacks in certain regions, it is also clear that hot spots are dispersed throughout the country and include places as geographically diverse as counties in Arizona, Massachusetts, Nebraska and Texas," LaFree added.
Concentration of Fatal Terrorist Attacks in U.S., 1970 -- 2008 Click for hi-res image
TYPES OF ATTACKS: LaFree, a professor of criminology at the University of Maryland, and his co-author Bianca Bersani, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, also assessed whether certain counties were more prone to a particular type of terrorist attack.
They found that while a few counties experienced multiple types of terrorist attacks, for most eattacks were motivated by a single ideological type. For example, Lubbock County, Texas, only experienced extreme right-wing terrorism while the Bronx, New York, only experienced extreme left-wing terrorism.
LaFree and Bersani also found time trends in terrorist attacks.
"The 1970s were dominated by extreme left-wing terrorist attacks," Bersani said. "Far left-wing terrorism in the U.S. is almost entirely limited to the 1970s with few events in the 1980s and virtually no events after that."
Ethno-national/separatist terrorism was concentrated in the 1970s and 1980s, religiously motivated attacks occurred predominantly in the 1980s, extreme right-wing terrorism was concentrated in the 1990s and single issue attacks were dispersed across the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, according to the new report.
To define the ideological motivations, LaFree and Bersani used START's Profiles of Perpetrators of Terrorism -- United States (Miller, Smarick and Simone, 2011), which briefly describes ideological motivations as:
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