Department or Program




Nearly ever country engaged in counterterrorism campaigns includes leadership targeting as a key pillar of their counterterrorism strategy. However, the effectiveness of leadership removal in reducing the lethality of terrorist organizations is fiercely debated in the academic community. This thesis contributes to this field by examining how varying levels of charismatic authority and institutionalization within a terrorist group interact to impact the outcome of leadership removal on a terrorist organization’s operational capacity. I find that leadership removal is rarely an effective military strategy for degrading the operational capacity of a terrorist organization, working successfully only on terrorist groups that are highly dependent on charismatic authority and have a weak institutional structure. However, leadership removal, particularly within terrorist groups that have both high levels of charismatic authority and institutionalization, causes political change within terrorist groups that, depending on the internal dynamics of that group, can have either positive or negative implications for counterterrorism policy.

Level of Access

Open Access

First Advisor

d'Ambruoso, Will

Date of Graduation


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Number of Pages


Open Access

Available to all.