Deadliness, organisational change and suicide attacks: understanding the assumptions inherent in the use of the term ‘new terrorism’

Orla Lynch, Chris Ryder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


This study examines the use of the term ‘new terrorism’ in a sample of the literature on terrorism, to identify whether the term represents a stable concept within the field, is of analytic value to terrorism research or is a phrase that merely identifies an unquantified concept. A content analysis of articles published in the journal Studies in Conflict and Terrorism from 1992 to 2011 was used as a literature sample to identify the most frequently cited features of new terrorism. The results of the analysis demonstrate that there was little consistent use of the phrase ‘new terrorism’ and the most common feature linked to it was only present in 25% of the articles. Three of the prominent features discovered in the content analysis are examined in greater detail: increased deadliness, new organisational structures (in particular, the leaderless phenomenon) and suicide terrorism. A common claim in the literature – of a decrease in the frequency of the attacks but an increase in the lethality per attack – seems to have been a short-term trend between 1992 and 2005. Since this time, the trend has reversed. Historical analysis was used to assess the notion of change in the organisational structure. This analysis allowed the authors to identify precursors of the ‘new’ organisational structures. Early groups such as the Anarchists were found to use a similar concept of decentralised command with varying degrees of success. Similarly, historical precursors of suicide terrorism were found, even though the recent exponential growth in the use of suicide terrorism by modern terrorist organisations could be considered as quantitatively ‘new’. This study concludes that the new terrorism represents a loose association of tactics, provides limited value to terrorist research, and represents not a category identifiable by novel features, but rather a loose referral to the perceived importance and threat of terrorism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)257-275
Number of pages19
JournalCritical Studies on Terrorism
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2012


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