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Fall 2009-Fall 2012
Mapping Militant Organizations


The second tower of the World Trade Center explodes into flames after being hit by a airplane, New York, Sept. 11, 2001, with the Brooklyn Bridge in the foreground.
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Senior Fellow, Professor, by courtesy, Political Science

This research project launched in 2009 traces the evolution of militant organizations and the interactions that develop among them over time. Findings have been presented in interactive maps on a separate website.  These maps – which are visual representations of the architecture of terrorist groups in a series of conflicts – show how relationships among militant organizations change over time, as well as presenting in-depth profiles of individual groups and comprehensive lists of their activities. Thus far, the site includes information about violent non-state actors in Northern Ireland, Iraq, Somalia, Italy, Pakistan, Colombia, the Philippines, North Caucasus and global Al Qaeda. Each profile follows the same format, thus facilitating comparison among groups and patterns of evolution. Work has also been done on Germany and Sri Lanka.

The project provides a unique lens into the genealogy of violent extremist organizations. The site is intended for students, scholars, journalists, policy analysts and anyone interested in violent oppositional organizations. For example, after al-Shabaab’s attack on the mall in Nairobi in September 2013, news organizations could use the site to read a detailed profile of the group and see where they were accused of taking part in other attacks.

The purpose of the project is to identify patterns in the evolution of militant organizations and to discover the consequences of this evolution. The project describes and compares the genealogy of different families of violent extremist organizations. Genealogies are presented in interactive diagrams that detail how groups shift, both in their focus and in relation to allies and rivals among other groups. For example, historical models can be applied to al-Qaida and its affiliates, including the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to make sense of the group’s evolution. The project has also developed computer software, registered on GitHub, to organize and display the information.

The project was funded by the Minerva Initiative and the Social and Behavioral Dimensions of National Security, Conflict, and Cooperation competition, a joint venture between the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense. It is also supported by the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford Univeristy and the Summer Research College.


Research Materials