Terrorism studies has in the past been blighted by a wide use of open source data originating in secondary sources with the ensuing issues of ‘accuracy, bias and audience context’ (Silke 2003, p.62). There has been a general lack of original data gathering by scholars (Silke 2003, pp.60-66). Reid and Chen illustrate this in their study by studying citation indexes and visualising the linkages. Their analysis suggests limits in the acquisition and production of new and original data (Reid & Chen 2006, p.51). Weinburg & Eubank have argued that the content of many studies is ‘anecdotal and story-telling’ (Weinburg & Eubank 2008, p.185). There is a consensus that because of its subject matter, terrorism is a field in which data collection is difficult (Sinai 2006).
Studies in the sphere of ‘foreign fighters’ have also had to address the issue of data collection and analysis. An early study on foreign fighters in Iraq drew its data from the internet, specifically jihadist websites. Paz found that the majority of ‘foreign fighters’ in Iraq reported as killed or martyred were from Saudi Arabia, 61% (Paz 2005, p.2). He acknowledged the limitations of the data sample, its origins, and conclusions. Another study on ‘foreign fighters’ published later in 2005 looked at ‘foreign fighters’ with a focus on Saudi nationals (Cordesman & Nawaf, 2005). This study which received press attention at the time and continues to be cited by academics is problematic (Christian Science Monitor 2005; Hegghammer 2010). The data was sourced to Saudi and regional intelligence services’ reporting and arrived at conclusions that were at odds with Paz’s study but also United States military estimates at the time (New York Times, 21 October 2005; MNF-I, 2005 p.5). Cordesman & Nawaf stated that based on their intelligence sources, Saudi nationals made up 1-2% of the total insurgency or 12% of the ‘foreign fighter’ contingent. They added that Algerian nationals were the largest foreign grouping in Iraq (Cordesman & Nawaf 2005, pp.5-6). Later studies based on ‘foreign fighter’ records captured in 2007 as well as MNF-I briefings on ‘foreign fighters’ captured during operations in Iraq in 2006 indicate that Saudi nationals were consistently amongst the majority of ‘foreign fighters’ captured or killed; often in the top four nationalities. In comparison, Algerian nationals were not listed in the top four nationalities by MNF-I (MNF-I, 2006a, 2006b; CTC 2007).
Social science research practices have developed a number of measures to address issues of reliability and validity in relation to the data and conclusions derived from the data (Neuman 2007 p.118; Robson 1993). There is also the issue of making the source data available for other scholars to be able to test in order to determine whether the methodology and results are accurate. This is not only an issue for terrorism studies but is also a subject of debate other areas of academic research. Based on a review of other data sources the Cordesman & Nawaf study fails to meet the ‘concurrent’ and ‘predictive’ tests; ‘concurrent’ being agreeing with a pre-existing measure – Paz or MNF-I – and ‘predictive’ being agreeing with future behaviour, for example the data recovered at Sinjar (CTC 2007).
Cordesman, A., Nawaf, O. (2005). Saudi Militants in Iraq: Assessment and Kingdom’s Response. Center for Strategic and International Studies
Felter, J. & Fishman, B. (2007). Al-Qa’ida’s Foreign Fighters in Iraq: A First Look at the Sinjar Records. CTC
Filkins, D. (2005, October 21). Foreign fighters captured in Iraq come from 27, mostly Arab, lands. New York Times, pp. 9–11
MNF-I. (2005, December 08), Powerpoint Slides of Weekly Press briefing for the Multinational Force in Iraq, previously available at www.mnf-i.com
MNF-I. (2006, April 20), Powerpoint Slides of Weekly Press briefing for the Multinational Force in Iraq, previously available at http://www.mnf-i.com
MNF-I. (2006, July 05), Powerpoint Slides of Weekly Press briefing for the Multinational Force in Iraq, previously available at www.mnf-i.com
Murphy, D. (2005, September 27). Iraq’s foreign fighters: few but deadly. Christian Science Monitor,.
Neuman, W.L. (2007). Basics of Social Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches, Pearson
Paz, R. (2005). Arab volunteers killed in Iraq: an Analysis. PRISM Series of Global Jihad, 1(3).
Reid, E. F., & Chen, H. (2007). Mapping the contemporary terrorism research domain. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 65(1), 42-56.
Robson, C. (1993). Real World Research, Blackwell
Silke, A. (2003). Research on Terrorism: Trends, Achievements and Failures (Cass Series on Political Violence). Routledge.
Sinai, J. (2006). New Trends in Terrorism Studies: Strengths and Weaknesses. In M. Ranstrop (Ed.), Mapping terrorism research: state of the art, gaps, and future directions. London: Routledge.
Weinberg, L. & Eubank, W. (2008). Problems with the critical studies approach to the study of terrorism. Critical Studies on Terrorism, 1(2), 185-195.