Cutting The Head Off The Snake

Tom Jacobs summarizes Jenna Jordan's 2009 paper (pdf) in the journal Security Studies, which studied assassination attempts on the heads of terrorist organizations between 1945 and 2004:

The results hardly suggest leadership removal hastens a group’s demise. Fifty-three percent of the terrorist organizations that suffered such a violent leadership loss fell apart — which sounds impressive until you discover that 70 percent of groups who did not deal with an assassination no longer exist. Further crunching of the numbers revealed that leadership decapitation becomes more counterproductive the older the group is.

But Matt Dickenson's research predicts "no significant backlash against citizens in the continental US" in the coming months:

The primary finding that I explore in my paper is that violence seems to decrease after the removal of Tier One leaders and increase after the removal of midlevel leaders. The possible causal mechanisms for this are explained in the paper.