A few months ago, the Chicago Project On Security and Terrorism (CPOST), affiliated with the University of Chicago, launched a new website. I checked it out at the time, but found it lacking. They've had some time now to make available their substantial terrorism-related archives, and the result is worth checking out.
CPOST is headed by Robert Pape, author of the much quoted Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. I've read parts of it. In my brief recollection, driven by data sets that he has compiled, Pape frames modern suicide terrorism (I prefer homicide terrorism) as a tool of national liberation, used exclusively against democratic regimes seen to be in occupation of territory. A brief recollection, mind you. Interesting to note that Pape's analysis excludes transnational jihadist organizations like al Qaeda, which do not have traditional nationalist aspirations, and which have executed homicide bombing operations in non-democratic regimes, like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and Yemen. However, I believe many of these attacks postdate the book's publication date. To my knowledge, he has not updated his conclusions to conform to this reality.
In any case, one can now conduct extensive searches by a range of dates (1981-2001), campaigns, groups, targets, weapons, etc. So, in a cursory examination of the Palestinian war against Israel, between 1994 and the end of 2001 (the period for which data is currently available), 70.4% of all terrorist acts were perpetrated against civilian Israeli targets.
Digging into this data, one finds that 67.9% of all Palestinian terrorist acts were committed on sovereign Israeli soil, while the rest occurred on territories liberated by Israel in 1967 and held under Israeli administration and (post-Oslo) Palestinian Authority rule.
If you are so inclined, you can even examine the murder weapons of choice.
One day soon, CPOST will post access to available martyrdom videos for homicide operations. The final message to the world of dozens, perhaps hundreds of mass murderers - to be fair, some of them mere attempted mass murderers - will be eternally preserved, for posterity and hand wringing.
Aside from the historical and human interest value, it's hard to see what purpose all this information serves. Can statistical analysis derive coherent policy solutions from decades old metrics? Perhaps, but it seems to me, only in the broadest sense. Yes, terrorism and, in particular, homicide bombings, are a favorite tool of modern (almost exclusively Muslim-identified) non-state actors seeking to exert political coercion against nation-states with policies structurally responsive to popular pressure. However, to the extent this data offers answers, they appear largely academic and purely superficial to real world needs. To glean anything of substance, we must either drill down into terrorist tradecraft, to identify specific operational patterns that can be exploited for quite localized defensive or pre-emptive operations, or expand the focus outright to encompass general trends that enable future policy analysis and planning.
The real questions policy makers need answered are not so easily quantifiable - do terrorism and homicide bombing achieve political objectives? If so, how? What are the military, political and propagandistic strengths and weaknesses of various terrorist strategies, and how can they be exploited to mitigate or eliminate such threats to states and their civilian populations? It is here that cold metrics bog down in the cauldron of ideologies, biases and literary flare, but perhaps not without useful insight.
The basis of science, as I understand it, is the notion that, with sufficient information, everything is knowable, understandable, predictable. Yet, to what extent can the social sciences - and terrorist studies are at the ragged frontier of humanities - be subject to such enlightened, rosy optimism? Is CPOST an incubator of studied, "science-based" policy, or an aggregator of interesting history with dubious future applications?
Pape, along with James K. Feldman, is releasing a new book this fall: "After Iraq: Stopping the Rise of Anti-American Suicide Terrorism Around the World". Well, that could be useful, unless it's not.