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Using Primary Sources for Terrorism Research: Introducing Four Case Studies

Several years ago, Magnus Ranstorp lamented the paucity of publications that critically assess the state of the art in the study of terrorism.[1] A glance at the books and articles published since 9/11 does indeed reveal that such assessments are relatively few in number.[2] These however, are often damning in their critique. Emblematic in this regard is the oft-encountered quote attributed to Michael Howard, a doyen of the study of terrorism, who once commented that the field had ‘been responsible for more incompetent and unnecessary books than any other outside … of sociology. It attracts phoneys and amateurs as a candle attracts moths’.[3] More recently, Marc Sageman, one of the leading contemporary terrorism scholars, has argued that terrorism research was in a state of ‘stagnation’; despite all the funding that had become available since 9/11 and despite the massive increase in books and articles published on the subject, our understanding of the phenomenon has failed to make significant strides forward.[4] While other internationally-renowned scholars, like John Horgan, Jessica Stern, Alex Schmid and Max Taylor have countered with several examples of evidence-based research that have indeed advanced our understanding of terrorism, Sageman’s polemic at the very least raises some important issues.[5]

About ICCT

The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT) is a think-and-do tank based in The Hague, Netherlands. We provide research, policy advice, training and other solutions to support better counter-terrorism policies and practices worldwide. We also contribute to the scientific and publi.…