U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

How Terrorists Learn - Interview at the 2009 NIJ Conference

NCJ Number
Date Published
June 2009
1 page
This is the video and transcript of an interview at the 2009 NIJ Conference that dispels the image of the "superterrorist" as a sophisticated and intelligent planner and executor of violence against masses of people.
Michael Kenney - who is an assistant professor of Political Science and Fellow of the International Center for the Study of Terrorism at Pennsylvania State University - discusses his field research on terrorists' proficiency in two of the most devastating post-911 attacks, the Madrid (Spain) bombings and the London (England) tube and bus bombings. Kenney concludes from his research that although these attacks were ruthless and deadly, the planning and execution were riddled with basic mistakes and "sheer sloppiness" by the terrorists. He argues that although the Islamist militants do learn from their mistakes and analytical thinking, their ability in this regard is limited. Therefore, media depictions of the "superterrorist" are not supported by a detailed analysis of their arracks. This finding provides encouragement that skilled and trained law enforcement and intelligence personnel using sophisticated technology will be largely successful in countering large-scale terrorist attacks. Systematically designed case studies of terrorist attacks should continue to expose flaws and methods used in terrorist attacks, so that counterterrorist tactics will be tailored to terrorism's many weaknesses in the prevention and mitigation of future attacks.

Date Published: June 1, 2009