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“Kill Them All—Old and Young, Girls and Women and Little Children” 1 : An Examination of the Organizational Choice of Targeting Civilians

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 February 2015


What factors make it more likely that non-state organizations will target civilians as a political strategy? This study examines targeting civilians as a tactical and normative choice, and hypothesizes that the targeting of civilians (compared to the general use of violence) is a function of the ideological make-up of organizations, organization weakness and state repression. Other factors related to organizational capability will not have a differential impact on the likelihood that an organization will target civilians for violence. This article uses data from the Minorities at Risk Organizational Behavior database to examine these issues with respect to ethno-political organizations. It argues that the typical analytic focus on general violence obscures understanding of the factors that lead to targeting civilians. It finds that targeting civilians—while similar in some respects to the use of general violence—is different, particularly with respect to organizational ideology.

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© The European Political Science Association 2015 

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Ezekiel 9:5–7.


Victor Asal is Associate Professor of Political Science, Rockefeller College, University at Albany, SUNY, 135 Western Ave, Albany, NY 12203 (email: Mitchell Brown is Associate Professor of Political Science, 7080 Haley Center, Auburn University, AL 36849 (email: Marcus Schulzke is a Research Fellow at the School of Politics and International Studies, 13.14 Social Sciences Building, University of Leeds LS2 9JT ( Support for this research was provided by the Department of Homeland Security through the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect views of the Department of Homeland Security. The most recent version of this article was presented at the Third Annual Conference on Terrorism and Policy, sponsored by the Center for Global Collective Action at the University of Texas, Dallas, 20–21 May 2010. We would like to thank the reviewers of this manuscript for their helpful suggestions.


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