Decapitation, disruption, and unintended consequences in counterterrorism: Lessons from Islamist terror networks in Spain

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ABSTRACT: This study examines the unintended consequences of decapitation strategies. Two Islamist terror networks in Spain have been used to critically evaluate theories of leadership removal guided by large-N cross-sectional research. Arguably, current models neglect to include relational variables that constitute the foundation for policies of network disruption. Spanish terror networks are mapped out over a 10-year period (1995–2004) to demonstrate the importance of network variables. Policies meant to disrupt militant networks can generate unintended consequences, as was the case with Spain’s Operation Dátil following the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon in the United States. The Madrid train bombing network developed in the vacant political space following the counterterrorism operation that targeted radical Islamists in Spain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)177-191
Number of pages15
JournalDefense and Security Analysis
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • counterterrorism
  • decapitation
  • Madrid train bombing
  • network analysis
  • Spain
  • Terrorism

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