Understanding Terrorist Network Topologies and Their Resilience Against Disruption

R. Lindelauf, P.E.M. Borm, H.J.M. Hamers

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This article investigates the structural position of covert (terrorist or criminal) networks. Using the secrecy versus information tradeoff characterization of covert networks it is shown that their network structures are generally not small-worlds, in contradistinction to many overt social networks. This finding is backed by empirical evidence concerning Jemaah Islamiyah's Bali bombing and a heroin distribution network in New York. The importance of this finding lies in the strength such a topology provides. Disruption and attack by counterterrorist agencies often focuses on the isolation and capture of highly connected individuals. The remarkable result is that these covert networks are well suited against such targeted attacks as shown by the resilience properties of secrecy versus information balanced networks. This provides an explanation of the survival of global terrorist networks and food for thought on counterterrorism strategy policy.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationTilburg
PublisherOperations research
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Publication series

NameCentER Discussion Paper


  • terror networks
  • terrorist cells
  • network structure
  • counterterrorism


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