The last terrorist attack in the United States occurred on 11 September 2001. Thus, we are approaching six years without an attack. The dearth of attacks on civilians in the United States may be the result of al–Qaida embracing the results of a recent study by Max Abrahms, wherein he concludes that groups that primarily attack civilian targets fail.
“This suggests not only that terrorism is an ineffective instrument of coercion, but that its poor success rate is inherent to the tactic of terrorism itself.”
Mr. Abrahms suggests that the effects of correspondent-inference theory explain why nations are so loath to acquiesce to the demands of terrorist. Correspondent-inference theory seeks to explain the cognitive process used by an observer to infer the motives of an actor. For example, it we see a person act in a rude manner we conclude that she is an unpleasant person, not that she acted in a rude manner but is otherwise a good person.
When terrorist groups attack civilians, nations infer that the goal of the terrorist is annihilation of the nation, its citizens, and way of life. This is illustrated in the study by looking at Russia’s response to the 1999 apartment bombings, the reaction of the United States to 9/11, and Israel’s response to the first intifada. In sum, these nations ignored the stated goals of the terrorist and inferred that the groups intended to destroy them. With this inferred intent, nations are highly unlikely to accede to any demands made by terrorists. Thus the success rate of terrorist hovering at a paltry 7%.
It may be overly optimistic to assume that al–Qaida has forsaken terrorists attacks against civilian targets in order to further its goals. The attacks in the United Kingdom suggest that al–Qaida still views attacking civilian targets as a useful tool. Yet, the United States has not been attacked.