Returning to the Fight: An Empirical Analysis of Terrorist Reengagement and Recidivism

Mary Beth Altier, Emma Leonard Boyle, John G. Horgan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Recent interest in terrorist risk assessment and rehabilitation reveals the likelihood and risk factors for terrorist reengagement and recidivism are poorly understood. Informed by advances in criminology, this study develops a series of theoretical starting points and hypotheses. We test our hypotheses using data on 185 terrorist engagement events, drawn from eighty-seven autobiographical accounts, representing over seventy terrorist groups. We find terrorist reengagement and recidivism rates are relatively high in our sample and similar to criminal recidivism rates except in the case of collective, voluntary disengagements when an entire group chooses to disarm. We account for why we observe relatively high rates in this sample. With regard to risk factors, we find terrorists are less likely to reengage as they age. Radical beliefs and connections to associates involved in terrorism increase the likelihood of reengagement. Social achievements (marriage, children, employment) do not commonly serve as protective factors, at least in the short term, when controlling for beliefs and connections. Finally, those from an upper or middle-class childhood family are less likely to reengage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)836-860
Number of pages25
JournalTerrorism and Political Violence
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Safety Research
  • Political Science and International Relations

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