Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

First Advisor



Studies on civilian support for terrorist groups are limited in what they are able to say about why some terrorist groups have high civilian support while others do not. Most of these studies have focused on resource provision, overlooking the fact that it is only a strategy to extract resources in future. Additionally, these studies pay scant attention to existing resource structure, especially territorial and political control to explain terrorist-civilian interaction. The importance of territorial control and political involvement with respect to terrorism has been under studied because of the inherent clandestine and violent nature of terrorist groups. However, careful analysis of several terrorist groups reveals that these two factors are important in determining the levels of civilian support received. My findings bring the question of territorial control to the forefront and opens up avenues for more systematic analysis about this link between terrorist-civilian interaction and territorial control. My research also offers a unique lens in understanding terrorist-group behavior. While most studies highlight terrorist's interaction with national or international government, I look at terrorist's interaction with civilians, a crucial section of the audience. Furthermore, I approach this topic by emphasizing the bi-directional nature of this interaction - a. perception of civilians by the terrorist group and b. terrorist group's perception of the civilians. This dissertation argues that both these perceptions are based on the preexisting, dynamic, and acquiredconditions in whichthe terrorist groups operate. I explore six specific conditions within these three categories - terrorist groups' territorial control; political involvement; sub-group affiliations, ideological motivation, target selection and ethnic composition to understand how they affect civilian support for terrorist groups. I conduct a two step nested analysis. While most studies on terrorism rely on event count data, this methodology offers a more detailed understanding of the cases. In the first step, I conduct a fifteen case comparison to trace the necessary and sufficient conditions for high civilian support for terrorist groups. Results indicate that combinations of territorial control, sub-group affiliations and political involvement along with nationalist ideology is crucial in understanding levels of civilian support for terrorist groups. Following this, in the second step of my nested analysis, I conduct an in-depth case study of the Maoist extremist group in India. I investigate the temporal variation of civilian support for this group. The findings suggest that territorial shift and group's change in tactics affect the nature of civilian support. Following this, counter terrorism policies should take into account the nature of terrorist-civilian interactions while intervening in areas where terrorists and civilians are interacting regularly.




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