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Empty Threats: How Extremist Organizations Bluff in Terrorist Campaigns


Journal Abstract

Studies in Conflict & Terrorism

Why do extremist organizations issue terrorist bluffs? According to previous research, empty threats against civilians are likely to negatively influence assessments of groups’ strength and credibility, thus making it more difficult for extremists to achieve their goals. Despite these potential audience costs, bluffing is a common terrorist tactic. This inquiry assesses data on the bluffing patterns of three organizations—Boko Haram, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, and the Real Irish Republican Army—and finds that groups suffer few costs for making empty terrorist threats. Furthermore, extremists bluff to advance a variety of strategic goals including outbidding rival factions, spoiling peace settlements, and intimidating civilians.


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