COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced Monday the creation of a University of Maryland center to study the roots of terrorism, probe the internal working of terrorist organizations and seek ways to disrupt their activities before attacks.
The center, to be funded by a $12 million federal grant, is one of four Homeland Security Centers of Excellence that will draw on the work of university researchers to help study terrorism threats.
The University of Southern California leads a center that evaluates terrorism threats and programs designed to stop attacks. The University of Minnesota and Texas A&M run separate centers that study risks to food and agriculture. Ridge said a fifth center, not yet established, will review the nation's preparedness for disasters and terrorism.
"We think the last aspect of combatting international terrorism is understanding it more completely than we do now," Ridge said during a speech on Maryland's College Park campus.
Maryland's center will combine the work of criminologists, psychologists, sociologists and other disciplines. It includes academics at other schools, including the University of Pennsylvania, the University of South Carolina and UCLA.
Researchers will rely on extensive databases of terrorist incidents and groups already housed at the university. The terror attacks database has records on about 70,000 incidents dating back to 1970, according to Gary LaFree, a criminology professor at Maryland and director of the center.
"We not only have good researchers but a lot of data already available," LaFree said.
Researchers also will hold focus groups in about seven Islamic countries to try to determine factors behind terrorism. That includes understanding what makes people join groups and carry out attacks.
Surveys done in the United States will gauge how to craft effective public warnings systems for terrorism, LaFree said. Other work includes studying how U.S. prisons can be recruiting grounds for terror groups and why groups motivated by religion are more likely to seek weapons of mass destruction than those with no religious component.
LaFree said the center's work won't be classified and that researchers will be free to criticize the federal government's terrorism policies. The $12 million grant will fund work for three years.