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Splitting to survive: understanding terrorist group fragmentation

John Francis Morrison (School of Business and Law, University of East London, London, UK)

Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice

ISSN: 2056-3841

Article publication date: 18 September 2017




From Al-Qaeda to the IRA, almost all terrorist organisations have experienced splits in some shape or form. This can spell the dawn of violent spoiler groups, but it may equally play a significant role in the overall politicisation of a group. The purpose of this paper is to provide a greater understanding of these splits by assessing the issue from a political organisational perspective.


The author proposes that by addressing splits through the lens of organisational survival, we may gain a greater insight into the process which takes place in the lead up to, and in the aftermath of, organisational cleavage.


It is posited that the rationale behind schism can, at times, be the result of a desire from at least one side to maintain the survival of the organisation in a form they both respect and recognise. In order to achieve this, it might require forming an independent, autonomous organisation, or alternatively promoting the exit of internal factional competitors.

Research limitations/implications

Within the paper, three organisational hypotheses are proposed. It is vital that in order to assess their validity, these are empirically tested by future researchers.

Practical implications

To be able to counter terrorist organisations, one must first have an understanding of the external and internal events and processes. While much of our attention is on understanding paid to the external violent activity of the groups, we must also develop a significant understanding of the non-violent internal activities as well. This paper provides a theoretical basis for understanding one of these process, organisational split.


By addressing splits from an organisational survival viewpoint, the paper challenges the previously held assumption that splits should be analysed as part of the “end of terrorism.”



Morrison, J.F. (2017), "Splitting to survive: understanding terrorist group fragmentation", Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice, Vol. 3 No. 3, pp. 222-232.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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