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Detecting trends and shocks in terrorist activities

Although there are some techniques for dealing with sparse and concentrated discrete data, standard time-series analyses appear ill-suited to understanding the temporal patterns of terrorist attacks due to the sparsity of the events.

This article addresses these issues by proposing a novel technique for analysing low-frequency temporal events, such as terrorism, based on their cumulative curve and corresponding gradients. Using an iterative algorithm based on a piecewise linear function, our technique detects trends and shocks observed in the events associated with terrorist groups that would not necessarily be visible using other methods.

The analysis leverages disaggregated data on political violence from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) to analyse the intensity of the two most violent terrorist organisations in Africa: Boko Haram (including its splinter group, the Islamic State West Africa Province), and Al-Shabaab.

Our method detects moments when terrorist groups change their capabilities to conduct daily attacks and, by taking into account the directionality of attacks, highlights major changes in the government’s strategies. Results suggest that security policies have largely failed to reduce both groups’ forces and restore stability.

R. Prieto-Curiel, O. Walther, E. Davies, Detecting trends and shocks in terrorist activities, PLoS ONE 18(9) (2023) E0291514.

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