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Dissertation Focuses on Terrorism

The type of leadership, specific tactical operations, economic factors, and the manner in which groups obtain funding are among the factors that contribute to the success or failure of terrorist organizations, according to the findings of a recent doctoral graduate at Sam Houston State University's College of Criminal Justice.

Sean Hill, a former member of an antiterrorism unit in the U.S. Marine Corps in the 1990s, followed what became a research interest to completion of his dissertation last month and the receipt of his doctorate Dec. 7.

Entitled "The Next Threat: A Predictive Analysis of the Continuity of Terrorist Organizations," Hill's research was based on a study of 50 active and 50 non-active terrorist groups, comparing each group's relationship to a series of social, economic, and demographic characteristics as well as the tactical or operational ways in which the groups carried out terrorist attacks.

Groups that receive funding from drug trafficking, charitable front organizations or rogue state support are more likely to survive, said Hill, who added that there was also a high correlation with a number of social indicators.

Countries with higher rates of population growth, high unemployment, unstable governments and low Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures are more likely to sustain terrorist groups.

But, survivability as a terrorist organization over time also depends in large measure on leadership, he said. Groups with a charismatic or transformational leader are more likely to remain active than those with transactional or multiple leaders.

An important component to this research, according to Richard Ward, who chaired Hill's dissertation committee, is an advancing our ability to predict those variables that contribute to the development and growth of terrorism.

"The research is groundbreaking, not only in helping to clarify much of what is thought about casual factors such as poverty and economic conditions, but also in identifying characteristics and tactics that contribute to the survival of terrorist groups," said Ward.

Groups that carry out assassinations and certain types of bombings were more likely to last longer than those who used hijackings and random bombings against civilian targets, according to Hill, who noted that terrorism is inherently a complex global phenomenon that must be fought from a multi-dimensional perspective.

Governments must target not only organizational characteristics, but also the social environment that fosters support for the group.

Data for Hill's research was collected over a 10-year time span from August 1992 through August 2002 as part of an ongoing research project of the Office of International Criminal Justice and the Institute for the Study of Violent Groups at Sam Houston State University.

Hill served as a research associate while completing his graduate studies over the past four years. An Illinois resident, he served as an intern with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) and as a team leader with international research groups.

Chicago Police Department Superintendent Terry Hillard, who once served on the FBI counter-terrorism unit, was a member of the dissertation committee, that also included Doug Moore, who is nationally recognized for his expertise in the analysis of police operations, and Mitchel Roth, professor of criminal justice and historian.

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SHSU Media Contact: Brandon Autrey
Nov. 14, 2002
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