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Researchers Study Characteristics of Extremists Who Pursue Chemical, Biological Weapons

By Maryland Today Staff

New research from UMD’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) could help authorities better head off plans for chemical and biological attacks by identifying commonalities among violent non-state actors who pursue such methods.

In a paper published in the journal Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, START Assistant Research Scientist Thomas Guarrieri found that older extremists are more likely to pursue CB weapons, as are those who are jobless or students. Additionally, Islamist, far-right and far-left extremists are less likely to pursue CB weapons than those acting on behalf of a single issue. The study found no evidence that gender or education affect whether an extremist will pursue CB weapons.

“As advances in technology make it easier for extremists to adopt more destructive attack modalities, analyzing the data that we collect and maintain at START will be crucial in understanding the terrorist threatscape,” said Guarrieri. “Even though this study is exploratory, there has been little scientific examination to date of unconventional weapon choices among violent extremists.”

For the study, Guarrieri and co-author Collin Meisel, a former START research assistant now at the University of Denver, analyzed and compared two START datasets that include violent extremists from the Profiles of Individual Radicalization in the United States Dataset and individuals from the Chemical and Biological Non-state Adversaries Database.

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