A pair of West Virginia University professors believes that this week’s closing of multiple U.S. embassies across the world signifies that terrorism will continue even after the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan.

The U.S. government has closed at least 22 embassies and consulates in the Middle East and North Africa due to intelligence reports of credible threats from al Qaeda and related terrorist groups.

Rather than attacking a powerful country’s military – a war that cannot be won, terrorists may be as likely to attack civilians and symbolic targets, such as embassies, said Jeffrey Daniels, interim department chair and associate professor of counseling psychology.

“Targets are usually vulnerable in some way, such as an embassy that’s isolated from the power of the ‘enemy’ country,” Daniels said, “or they can be ‘soft targets’ like schools or the Boston Marathon, with little to no protections.”

Much of Daniels’ research focuses on hostage-taking and terrorism, and the psychology behind those areas. He has collaborated with FBI, police and federal agents on several studies.

“Closing U.S. embassies may communicate two messages to terrorists,” he added. “On the one hand, it may be somewhat disheartening because it shows that our Intel network is successful at monitoring their communications. It also communicates that we will do what it takes to keep our citizens safe, even in isolated facilities. However, it is also likely that such actions will result in more careful communications (less chatter) in the future.”

Scott Crichlow, chair of the Department of Political Science, called the closures of U.S. embassies uncommon, but said it happens when a particularly threatening security issue is perceived to exist.

For the shuttered embassies, this means all consular appointments (pertaining to visas, business planning, etc.) are canceled and that non-essential personnel won’t report to work, Crichlow said.

Though the public isn’t privy to the specifics of those “threats,” Crichlow questions how officials are deciding which embassies to close.

“It’s hard to read because there are so many closures, and in such an odd combination of places,” he said. “The embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were bombed 15 years ago today, but they aren’t closed. The consulates in Peshawar and Karachi have been attacked, but they aren’t closed. But there are closures not only in some Middle Eastern states, but also in Madagascar, Burundi, and Rwanda.

“Unless the pattern of these closures is being carried out for counter-intelligence purposes, it’s possible they indicate a concern regarding the growth of terrorist threats in disparate parts of Africa.”

Crichlow teaches and conducts research on international relations, U.S. foreign policy, political psychology and Middle Eastern politics. His current research focuses on how group decision-making dynamics and the beliefs and personality traits of political leaders affect foreign policy.

Both professors are available to comment to media. To contact Daniels, email Jeffrey.Daniels@mail.wvu.edu or call (304) 293-2235.

To contact Crichlow, send an email to Scott.Crichlow@mail.wvu.edu or call (304) 293-9535.



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