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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: September 2009

5 - Reducing the opportunities for terrorism: applying the principles of situational crime prevention


Societies threatened by terrorism pursue many different strategies to protect themselves from attack. These include: “taking out” terrorists, sometimes through conventional warfare; strengthening laws and legal action to bring terrorists to justice; winning the “hearts and minds” of foreign and local communities that might otherwise support terrorism; persuading certain regimes to abandon their support for terrorists; and strengthening the confidence of home populations, including detailed plans for minimizing harm when attacks are made.

These strategies have been widely discussed in the academic literature, but in this chapter we discuss an approach that has received less attention – that of reducing the opportunities for terrorism. By this we mean protecting the most vulnerable targets from attack, controlling the tools and weapons used by terrorists, and altering specific aspects of other social and physical systems – what we call facilitating conditions – to make it harder for terrorists to operate. This approach is an application of situational crime prevention, the science of reducing opportunities for crime (Clarke, 1980). This means that we treat terrorism as simply another form of crime – crime with a political motive (Clarke and Newman, 2006). Situational prevention has no difficulty handling the many different motives that drive crime. For example, sexual abuse is a very differently motivated offense from, say, homicide or burglary or robbery, but examples of the successful application of situational prevention exist for all these and many other crimes (e.g., see Clarke, 2005).

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