Terrorist cells target less well-protected places frequented by Westerners. These could include locations where crowds gather such as social and retail venues, tourist sites and transport networks (rail, road and airports). This was illustrated by the attacks in Bali in 2002, Madrid in 2004, Egypt in2005, Mumbai in 2008, Nairobi in 2013 and Paris, Tunis and Sousse in 2015. The strategy adopted has a fundamental effect upon the selection of targets.The effectiveness of randomly targeting a public place comes from the likelihood of low security and the element of surprise. Depending on the location, public venues also offer the chance for maximum casualties. This was demonstrated in the November 2015 attacks in Paris.

So what do terrorist groups really look for while choosing their victims? Let’s have a look:


The intended target audience of the terrorist act may be the population as a whole, some specific portion of a society – an ethnic minority, for example- or decision-making elites in the society’s political, social, or military populace.

Even if casualties or destruction are not the result of a terrorist operation, the threat or potential of violence is what produces the intended effect.

Since the victims of terrorist violence are often of little import, with one being as good for the terrorists’ purposes as another, victim or target selection can appear random or unprovoked. But the target will contain symbolic value or be capable of eliciting emotional response according to the terrorists’ goals. Remember that the actual target of terrorism is not the victim of the violence, but the psychological balance.

Terrorism’s effects are not necessarily aimed at the victims of terrorist violence. Victims are usually objects to be exploited by the terrorists for their effect on a third party. Victims are simply the first medium that transmits the psychological impact to the larger target audience. For both domestic and transnational terrorist groups, we find that private parties are now the most favoured targets and bombings are the most favoured attack mode.


Terrorists conduct more operations in societies where individual rights and civil legal protections prevail. While terrorists may base themselves in repressive regimes that are sympathetic to them, they usually avoid repressive governments when conducting operations wherever possible. An exception to this case is a repressive regime that does not have the means to enforce security measures. Governments with effective security forces and few guaranteed civil liberties have typically suffered much less from terrorism than liberal states with excellent security forces. Al Qaeda has shown, however, that they will conduct operations anywhere.

It is clear that, ideally, a terrorist group’s strategy will involve attacks which maximise the chances of achieving the desired reaction by the psychological target. Terrorist target selection is also affected by factors such as the resources of the group to be victimized, the reaction of that particular society to the terrorists’ actions, and the security environment within which the terrorists operate.

We have all noticed that terrorist organizations of the present time, mainly ISIS, has chosen Europe as it’s battlefield. Why is that?

A select few western European countries (especially France) have large existing Muslim populations. They have been there for at least a generation or two; most of them are from former colonies like Algeria, Pakistan and Iraq. It’s much easier for terrorist organizations (who are mostly Islamic in nature) to radicalize people who are already Muslims than to convert non-Muslims to Islam and then radicalize them.

Europe represents Western civilization, which is the greatest enemy of radical Islamist groups such as ISIS. For example, the very name of Boko Harammeans something along the lines of “Western education is forbidden”. America is an enemy as well, but it’s harder to reach. Therefore, Europe is a natural target, more so than East Asia and Africa for example.

European countries, especially the UK and France, have a large part in the airstrikes and bombings against ISIS. Typically, groups want to take revenge.

When a terrorist attack happens in Africa or the Middle East, people tend not to think about it. These countries are considered to be the “Third-world” nations. When they bomb an airport in a place like Nigeria or Indonesia, they get very little publicity.When a terrorist attack occurs in Europe, the media is all over it. Look how much reaction was generated after the Paris and Brussels attacks to see this phenomenon in action. What comes next is endless hand wringing, new resolve to root out terrorism, and strengthening surveillance and controls. These are all outcomes that bring joy to the terrorists.


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Co-Founder/ Co- CEO

IRIANS- The Neuroscience Institute

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