Risk terrain modelling of contemporary Violent Dissident Republican activity in Belfast

Zoe Marchment1, Paul Gill1
1University College London, London, United Kingdom

There is extensive research to suggest that most terrorist offenders are rational and purposeful in their decision making. They will make carefully calculated decisions that are utility maximising and likely to increase their probability of success. These decisions are based on perceived rewards, effort and risk. There have been several analyses demonstrating spatial and temporal variation in risk of terrorist attacks, and most conclude that terrorism is spatially concentrated. However, these spatial analyses were unable to identify the causes of these hotspots – just the fact they exist.

Risk terrain modelling (RTM) was created to assess risk by analysing the level of opportunity a location may offer to an offender seeking a target. Each location has an associated value to an offender, which is determined by the opportunity for crime that it offers. RTM can be used to identify the locations that have the greatest perceived opportunity and therefore pose the highest level of risk.

This study uses RTM to examine the influences of social and physical context on target selection for Violent Dissident Republican activity in Belfast. This method identified multiple significant risk factors for bombings and bomb hoaxes, and differences between the two incident types. The model shows good predictive accuracy in identifying the areas of a city most at risk of a terrorist attack and could be a useful tool in guiding targeted responses to associated threats.

Zoe is currently a final year PhD candidate at the Department of Security and Crime Science, UCL. Her research examines the spatial patterns of terrorist target selection, with a focus on lone actors and Violent Dissident Republican activity. She holds a BSc in Psychology and MSc in Countering Organised Crime and Terrorism. Zoe has worked on projects for the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory; Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST); FP7 Preventing, Interdicting and Mitigating Extremism (PRIME) and the VOX-Pol Network of Excellence.

Dr. Paul Gill is a senior lecturer in Security and Crime Science at University College London. Previous to joining UCL, Dr. Gill was a postdoctoral research fellow at the International Center for the Study of Terrorism at Pennsylvania State University. He has over 50 publications on the topic of terrorist behaviour. He has conducted research funded by the European Research Council, Office for Naval Research, the Department of Homeland Security, DSTL, the European Union, the National Institute of Justice, CREST, Public Safety Canada and MINERVA. These projects focused upon various aspects of terrorist behavior including the IED development, creativity, terrorist network structures, and lone-actor terrorism.

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