Criminologist LaFree Heads Terror Behavior Study Center


The National Center for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland is the first U.S. program funded by the government to study terrorist behavior, says the Baltimore Sun. The Department of Homeland Security hopes that START’s “rapid-response team” of academics can use a database of more than 70,000 terrorist events to begin finding answers to some of terrorism’s fundamental questions.

Center director Gary LaFree’s background in criminology provides an “interesting new way” to look at terrorist behavior, said Melvin Bernstein, director of university programs for Homeland Security. “So much of the research so far has been just on people who have actually engaged in terrorism,” LaFree says. “We argue that to understand terrorism, you’ve got to know not only about the relatively small number of people that engage in it but all the people who could have. And about the people who support the goals of the terrorists, strongly or even weakly. You’ve got to understand the communication going on between this relatively small group and the larger society.” LaFree hopes that the center will persuade students to make careers in the study of terrorism and counterterrorism. His center has connected psychologists, sociologists, political scientists, anthropologists, geographers, criminologists, demographers, and economists. The START database includes descriptions of domestic and international events collected since 1970 from news accounts and embassies.


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