The Annals of Applied Statistics

Modeling and estimation for self-exciting spatio-temporal models of terrorist activity

Nicholas J. Clark and Philip M. Dixon

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Spatio-temporal hierarchical modeling is an extremely attractive way to model the spread of crime or terrorism data over a given region, especially when the observations are counts and must be modeled discretely. The spatio-temporal diffusion is placed, as a matter of convenience, in the process model allowing for straightforward estimation of the diffusion parameters through Bayesian techniques. However, this method of modeling does not allow for the existence of self-excitation, or a temporal data model dependency, that has been shown to exist in criminal and terrorism data. In this manuscript we will use existing theories on how violence spreads to create models that allow for both spatio-temporal diffusion in the process model as well as temporal diffusion, or self-excitation, in the data model. We will further demonstrate how Laplace approximations similar to their use in Integrated Nested Laplace Approximation can be used to quickly and accurately conduct inference of self-exciting spatio-temporal models allowing practitioners a new way of fitting and comparing multiple process models. We will illustrate this approach by fitting a self-exciting spatio-temporal model to terrorism data in Iraq and demonstrate how choice of process model leads to differing conclusions on the existence of self-excitation in the data and differing conclusions on how violence spread spatially-temporally in that country from 2003–2010.

Article information

Ann. Appl. Stat. Volume 12, Number 1 (2018), 633-653.

Received: March 2017
Revised: August 2017
First available in Project Euclid: 9 March 2018

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Laplace approximations nonseperable space–time spatial-temporal dependence Bayesian terrorism


Clark, Nicholas J.; Dixon, Philip M. Modeling and estimation for self-exciting spatio-temporal models of terrorist activity. Ann. Appl. Stat. 12 (2018), no. 1, 633--653. doi:10.1214/17-AOAS1112.

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