A model for predicting terrorist attacks in advance
A new study details a theoretical model that can help predict where terrorist attacks will take place up to a week in advance.
Why is this important: Much of the power of a terrorist attack stems from the quality of the surprise. Being able to reliably predict when and where attacks are likely to occur could potentially mitigate terror as a tool and reduce security costs.
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What is happening: In a study published Friday in Science Advances, researchers described a framework that uses publicly available data on terrorist incidents around the world between 2002 and 2016 to identify factors that could reliably alert authorities before a likely attack.
Locations from previous attacks had the best predictive value – if terrorists thought a location was worth attacking once, chances are more that it will be worth attacking again.
In addition, population density, travel time to the nearest town, density of the road network, and economic activity (partly quantified by nighttime visible satellite lighting) all correspond to a probability of d. higher attack.
In numbers : In regions with a high prevalence of terrorism, the model was able to predict up to 51% of attacks a week in advance.
The trap : For areas with a low prevalence of terrorism – like the United States, for example – the model is much less able to predict attacks in advance, simply because there is so little data to mine.
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