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Classifying terrorism: a latent class analysis of primary source socio-political and psychological data



Attempts to define terrorist typologies often emphasise the importance of socio-political and psychological factors and the distinction between lone and group actors. However, these attempts are predominantly driven by theory or secondary data, and controversies still surround how much influence family, ideology, and personality factors exercise on terrorist behaviour. Using Latent Class Analysis (LCA), we developed a typology for terrorism utilising common social, family, childhood, ideology, and personality factors. The sample comprised 160 incarcerated offenders convicted of terrorism in Iraq. We applied LCA, including a total of 21 variables representing participant characteristics, attitudes, perceptions, and behaviours commonly identified in the literature. Analysis indicated a three-class model fit was better than two- and four-class models. The largest class in the LCA (40.6%, n = 65) was classified as ‘non-religious nationalists’ (class 1). The second largest class (40%, n = 64) was classified as ‘oppressed instrumentalists’ (class 2). The smallest class (19.4%, n = 31) was classified as ‘aggrieved antisocials’ (class 3). The new typology merits further investigation in different settings with a larger sample Although the widely supported distinction between lone and group actor terrorism was not borne out in this sample, the new categorisation can nonetheless offer opportunities for identifying those at risk and offering social interventions.

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