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Terrorism and Counterterrorism Datasets: An Overview  

Sara M. T. Polo and Blair Welsh

There has been a dramatic increase in research on terrorism and counterterrorism since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Given its prominence, many scholars have assessed the advancement of the field in terms of publication output and research questions. However, there has also been a significant growth in data collection efforts. Datasets on terrorism and counterterrorism have been developed and revised across a number of levels: the event level, organizational level, and individual level. At the event level, datasets offer cross-national, regional, and subnational coverage of individual terrorist events and their characteristics, such as lethality, targets, tactics, and perpetrators. Organizational-level datasets unveil important characteristics of terrorist organizations—including ideology, capabilities, duration, social service provision, and networks—over time and space. Individual-level datasets contain information on global jihad, online activity, terrorist leaders, and terrorism in the United States. While more limited on coverage, data on counterterrorism focus on hard-power counterterrorism, targeted counterterrorism (e.g., drone strikes and leadership decapitation), and soft-power counterterrorism, which encompasses strategies aimed at raising the perceived benefits of abstaining from terrorism. Many datasets and integration techniques have also been developed to study the practice of terrorism in various contexts, such as civil war and ethnic conflict. Data integration expands and deepens our understanding of the causes, dynamics, and consequences of terrorism in various contexts and sheds light on the relationship between terrorism and other violent and nonviolent tactics. The growth of data collection efforts is beneficial for researchers in the field of terrorism and beyond as well as for policy makers and practitioners.