Understanding terrorist groups



Publication Details

Mullins, S. J. (2012). Understanding terrorist groups. In U. Kumar and M. K. Mandal (Eds.), Countering Terrorism: Psychosocial Strategies (pp. 118-142). New Delhi: Sage Publications.

Additional Publication Information

Countering Terrorism: Psychosocial Strategies contextualizes the issues related to terrorism and places the discourse within the ambit of sociocultural theories. The book goes beyond the obvious and commonsensical notions and discusses the relevant issues from interdisciplinary perspectives, informed by theoretical stances of not only psychological sciences, but other social sciences like political science, criminology, military, and sociology as well. The volume contains 18 chapters by expert authors with diverse cultural backgrounds and provides a wide ranging canvas for multifaceted understanding of the terror phenomenon. The opening section, 'Understanding Terrorism: Psychosocial Issues', places emphasis on developing a well-heeled construct with strong theoretical foundations and empirical understanding of the psycho-socio-cultural dynamics involved in perpetration of terror acts. The second section, 'Countering Terrorism: Psychosocial Avenues', flows from the understanding thus attained and expounds counter-terror strategies and preventive measures that go beyond the obvious short-term goals and envisage the creation of a peaceful world.


The maxim “know your enemy” undoubtedly applies to the task of devising effective strategies to counterterrorism. However, due to the emotive nature of terrorist violence, the high stakes involved, and the need for a rapid response, understanding of terrorist groups often fails to progress beyond a superficial level. Yet if we do not fully comprehend the nature of the threat, our ability to put an end to political violence will also be limited.

The uniqueness of terrorist organizations or movements and the context within which they operate of course means that there is no predetermined formula which can be followed in order to bring about the end of terrorism. But by studying the behavior of different terrorist groups over time, we can begin to identify key features of these groups that can help to predict their behavior and to inform tailored approaches to counterterrorism. In particular, it is important to understand how and why groups emerge in the first place, the significance of ideology, motivations, organizational structure and leadership, ways in which groups change over time, reasons for demise, and possible re-emergence of terrorism. Understanding these aspects of terrorist groups is crucial to understanding how they will react to different counterterrorism tactics and for developing effective strategies against them.

Please refer to publisher version or contact your library.