Terrorists take into consideration a number of core factors before selecting a target to launch their terrorist acts. These factors include recognition, Coercion, intimidation, and provocation.
The consideration of the recognition is based on the terrorist belief that high visibility targets will attract the biggest media attention and thus magnify the extent of damage inflicted on the target. This is the main reason why the September 11th attacks were aimed at the twin towers in N.Y.
Coercion, on the other hand, involves a selection of targets aimed at specific individuals with the aim of influencing or forcing them to act within certain guidelines. This type of terrorist target selection is always done to the political elite of a particular nation. The gruesome murder of the former Lebanese premier Rafic Hariri is a good example of a terrorist targeted by the use of Coercion.
Intimidation is very closely related to Coercion in that it aims at intimidating specific individuals to act as per the demands of the terrorist. Provocation site selection would translate to hitting critical infrastructure of a government such as communication systems, defense headquarters, capital buildings, or white house.
In addition to the above, a number of factors come to the fore when terrorists aim at hitting a target. Most of the locations hit by terrorists have easy access and escape routes and are usually composed of diverse ethnic groups. These include embassies and airports. This is to avoid being conspicuous in such targets in cases where the terrorists are foreign nationals.
Furthermore, terrorists prefer highly populated targets that may provide a safe haven for the terrorists and find political supporters who support their missions. Locations that have corrupt laws enforcers and customs officials, such as the porous borders, are likely to attract terrorist activities. The availability of the needed weapons to successfully launch their attacks and critical infrastructure that have the capacity to affect the normal functioning of a government are preferred by the terrorist in that their aim is to inflict maximum disruption and damage.