When terrorists target schools: An exploratory analysis of attacks on educational institutions

Abstract

Terrorist attacks on educational institutions have taken many forms: armed assaults, bombings, hostage takings, chemical attacks, and arson. This paper focuses on armed assaults. The frequency of this type of attack on educational institutions has increased sharply since 2003, with the incident rate in 2007 being double that of the previous year. A comprehensive chronology of all armed assaults on educational institutions since 1980 (N = 146) was created with reference to the Global Terrorism Database, and other credible sources. Descriptive reports of each incident were subjected to content analysis according to a series of 16 variables. These variables describe various aspects of the incident including information about who the victim(s) were, where and when the attack took place, and who the offender(s) were. The data set was analysed using traditional inferential statistics illustrating that armed terrorist attacks on educational institutions have increased in lethality, but changed in terms of the main targets. The data were also analysed using Multidimensional Scalogram Analysis (MSA) to explore inter-relationships between behaviors and identify the underlying dimensions in terrorist attacks on educational institutions. The analysis demonstrates that attacks can be classified on an expressive-instrumental continuum and the implications are discussed.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This goes against the long held view that terrorist actors are characterised by psychological disorder (see Horgan, 2005, for review).

  2. 2.

    The means displayed in Figure 1 represent the number of school-associated victims per incident. This figure does not include terrorist fatalities or ‘other’ victim (e.g., police officer, security service) fatalities. It is these figures that further statistical analysis was run on. The mean for the 2000s decade was calculated including the fatality figures for the Beslan incident. While this figure may have inflated the mean represented in Figure 1, its inclusion will not have affected the outcome of the statistical tests as non-parametric tests are run on the ranks of data rather than the raw data itself.

  3. 3.

    Incidents in which the terrorist group responsible was ‘unknown’ were excluded from the statistical analysis. The descriptive statistics for these incidents have been included in Table II for completeness.

  4. 4.

    The mean values displayed in Table II were calculated excluding one incident (Beslan attack) which represented a statistically significant outlier that would have skewed the results.

  5. 5.

    This refers to the number of school-associated victims per incident. This figure does not include terrorist fatalities or ‘other’ victim (e.g., police officer, security service) fatalities.

  6. 6.

    Mean values calculated excluding Beslan.

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Correspondence to Emma Bradford.

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Bradford, E., Wilson, M.A. When terrorists target schools: An exploratory analysis of attacks on educational institutions. J Police Crim Psych 28, 127–138 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11896-013-9128-8

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Keywords

  • terrorism
  • armed assault
  • educational institutions
  • expressive-instrumental continuum