1st Edition

How Terrorists Learn Organizational Learning and Beyond

    216 Pages 11 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This volume helps us understand the transformations of terrorist organisations, and the conflicts they are involved in, by broadening the perspective on what is considered terrorist learning.

    Using a variety of methodological approaches and empirical data, the volume offers a look at the clandestine inner lives of groups from different continents and ideological backgrounds in order to explore from whom they learn and how, and what the outcomes are. Their internal and external interactions are examined within their socio-political contexts to illuminate how they adapt to challenges or fail to do so. Unpacking the question of ‘how do terrorists learn’ helps us to grasp not only changes of violent means of action but also of operational and strategic approaches and, ultimately, even transformations of the ends pursued. The chapters demonstrate that terrorist learning is not principally different from that of other human organisations. The contributors draw on conceptual frameworks of organizational learning, but also broaden the scope beyond the organizational framework to acknowledge the variety of forms of informal and decentralized learning characteristic of much contemporary terrorism.

    This book will be of much interest to students of terrorism studies, violent extremism, organisational studies and International Relations.

    1. Introduction: Tackling the Complexity of Terrorist Learning

    Michael Fürstenberg/ Carolin Görzig/ Imad Alsoos / Florian Köhler

    Part I: Learning of Organizations

    2. Double-loop Learning in Terrorist Organizations: Facilitators and Impediments

    Florian Köhler/ Imad Alsoos/ Michael Fürstenberg/ Carolin Görzig

    3. Downgrading or Upsizing Strategies: How Rebels Learn about the Right Repertoire of Violence

    Luis De la Calle

    4. Social-Media Jihad as a Learned Strategy: How Daesh Learned but Failed to Exploit Western Vulnerabilities

    John Nicolas Helferich

    5. Learning Patterns and Failures: An Analysis of ISIS Operations between 2013 and 2019

    Nori Katagiri

    Part II: Learning beyond Organizations

    6. Adaptation of Propaganda and Communication: The Online Magazines of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State Compared

    Boyan Hadzhiev

    7. Terrorist Tactical Diffusion Among Lone Actors: Explaining the Spread of Vehicle Ramming Attacks

    Ari Weil

    8. Learning through the Migration of Knowledge: Exploring the Transition of Operatives between Violence Organisations

    Sheelagh Brady

    9. Decentralized Collective Learning: Militant Accelerationism as a Community of Practice

    Michael Fürstenberg

    10. Conclusion: What Have We Learned about Terrorist Learning?

    Imad Alsoos/ Florian Köhler / Carolin Görzig/ Michael Fürstenberg


    Carolin Görzig is a Research Group Leader at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle, Germany.

    Michael Fuerstenberg is Senior Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle, Germany.

    Florian Köhler is Senior Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle, Germany.

    Imad Alsoos is Senior Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle, Germany.

    'This volume offers an exceptional collection of well-written and important studies on how terrorist networks acquire and interpret information, store and share knowledge, and actively seek new ways to adapt and innovate. These learning attributes distinguish the relatively few effective terrorists from the many who fail.'

    -- James J.F. Forest, UMass Lowell and Editor-in-Chief, Perspectives on Terrorism

    'This book makes an important contribution to the steadily growing literature on terrorism learning. The authors build a comprehensive model that explains how violent non-state actors learn, which they apply to a range of terrorist and insurgent case studies. Not content to limit themselves to explaining how terrorists improve their violent repertoires, the authors explore how some groups learn to question—and change—their goals and strategies, including moving away from political violence. How Terrorists Learn will appeal to anyone interested in terrorism studies and homeland security, insurgency and counterinsurgency, organizational adaptation and learning, and security studies.'

    -- Michael Kenney, University of Pittsburgh, USA