Suicide Attacks and Hard Targets: An Empirical Examination
Suicide terrorist attacks are theorized to provide militants with various strategic advantages. Among these is the ability to successfully strike against well-defended or ‘hard’ targets. Scholars argue that because suicide attacks produce higher levels of damage and do not require an escape route for the perpetrator, they are particularly effective against hard targets. Consequently, militants should be expected to use such attacks more frequently, and successfully, against hard targets. This study empirically tests this contention using incident-level data on between 22,000 and 170,000 terrorist attacks in between 154 and 175 countries for the period 1970–2016. It makes two key findings. First, suicide attacks are both more frequently deployed against hard targets, and are more often successfully executed against hard targets. Second, this finding is not a product of foreign military interventions, as previous literature might suggest. Suicide attacks are found to be more likely to be launched against, with success, both domestic and foreign military targets. This underscores the importance of qualities of the target itself when explaining the strategic decision to use suicide attacks by militant groups.