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Ethnic Minorities and Terrorism

Ethnic Minorities and Terrorism

Photo credit: Christiaan Triebert

This analysis summarizes and reflects on the following research: Arva, B. J., & Piazza, J. A. (2016). Spatial Distribution of Minority Communities and Terrorism: Domestic Concentration versus Transnational Dispersion. Defense and Peace Economics27(1), 1-36.

Talking Points

  • Countries with geographically concentrated ethnic communities are more likely to experience terrorism.
  • The likelihood of terrorism increases when a country’s ethnic communities have close family ties in other countries.
  • Diaspora communities can play a large role in the financial and logistical support of terrorist groups.


Are countries with excluded minority communities more likely to experience terrorist attacks? Do ties with family members outside of the country affect a community’s likelihood of experiencing a terrorist attack at home?

In this study, the authors examine whether countries with geographically concentrated ethnic communities experience more terrorist activity than countries with more dispersed or integrated ethnic populations. The study also examines whether countries with ethnic groups that have close family ties in other countries experience more terrorism.

The research compared information from an original dataset containing records of terrorist attacks in over 165 countries from 1981-2006 to the Global Terrorism Database. This specific analysis provided the ability to compare a large list of global terrorist attacks with more specific country information relating to ethnic populations and terror. With this information, the authors propose the following hypotheses:

  1. Countries containing large geographically concentrated minority communities are more likely to experience terrorist attacks
  2. Countries containing large minority communities with ties to family members in other countries are more likely to experience terrorist attacks.

The research findings supported the authors’ hypotheses: countries with ethnic enclaves concentrated in one part of the country and ethnic groups with family ties in other countries are more likely to experience terrorist attacks. Countries with ethnic minorities who are more dispersed, or integrated into the major ethnic group, are less likely to experience terrorism.

Countries with ethnic groups without strong family ties in other countries experience less terrorism than those with ethnic communities with family ties outside the country. The findings also suggest that state or regime qualities, such as repression, prompt the creation of diaspora communities that can lead to terrorism.

The link between minority communities and family ties to other countries was developed from evidence pointing to the strong support these communities can gather from sympathetic outsiders. Terrorist movements benefit from stable support networks when their ideology is shared by sympathetic outsiders with dependable family, social, or cultural ties.

Contemporary Relevance

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey, the Basque Homeland and Freedom (ETA) group in Spain, and Chechen separatists in southern Russia are historic and contemporary examples of minority communities using common terrorist tactics to lash out at their governments.

These groups, as well as the currently more recognized organizations like ISIS and Al Qaeda, have ties to foreign funding and assistance. As the above findings show the presence of foreign assistance is linked to the concentration of ethnic communities as well as levels of oppression from local governments.

Practical Implications

The authors suggest that their findings may indicate the need for officials to refocus the ways they combat terrorism. The strong relationship between diaspora communities and the support of close family members abroad makes fundraising, arms transfers, or recruitment much easier to accomplish and harder to detect. Many terrorist groups rely on outside support, so a shift of focus from military action abroad to police action at home may help to eliminate the underground networks that keep many extremist groups afloat. Of course, more substantial preventative measures should address the root causes of terrorism and support by engaging those communities where radicalization takes place in a meaningful manner. Ample approaches in the field of constructive conflict transformation can be applied.

Continued Reading

Fight terror again, and again, and again. Or end it by refusing to participate in its creation.

How terrorists exploit family ties to recruit and retain members

Family ties can help shield terrorists from detection

30% of members of terrorist groups share family ties: Study 

Keywords: diaspora, ethnic groups, terrorism

The above analysis is from Volume 1, Issue 3, of the Peace Science Digest.


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