Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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How Many Americans Are Killed by Terrorism?

by Micah Zenko
June 5, 2012

Armed police guard the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean, Virginia, in October 2009 (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters). Armed police guard the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean, Virginia, in October 2009 (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters).


Today, the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) released its 2011 Report on Terrorism. The report offers the U.S. government’s best statistical analysis of terrorism trends through its Worldwide Incidents Tracking System (WITS), which compiles and vets open-source information about terrorism—defined by U.S. law as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.”

Although I invite you to read the entire thirty-one page report, there are a few points worth highlighting that notably contrast with the conventional narrative of the terrorist threat:

  • “The total number of worldwide attacks in 2011, however, dropped by almost 12 percent from 2010 and nearly 29 percent from 2007.” (9)
  • “Attacks by AQ and its affiliates increased by 8 percent from 2010 to 2011. A significant increase in attacks by al-Shabaab, from 401 in 2010 to 544 in 2011, offset a sharp decline in attacks by al-Qa‘ida in Iraq (AQI) and a smaller decline in attacks by al-Qa‘ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al-Qa‘ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).” (11)
  • “In cases where the religious affiliation of terrorism casualties could be determined, Muslims suffered between 82 and 97 percent of terrorism-related fatalities over the past five years.” (14)
  • Of 978 terrorism-related kidnapping last year, only three hostages were private U.S. citizens, or .3 percent. A private citizen is defined as ‘any U.S. citizen not acting in an official capacity on behalf of the U.S. government.’ (13, 17)
  • Of the 13,288 people killed by terrorist attacks last year, seventeen were private U.S. citizens, or .1 percent. (17)

According to the report, the number of U.S. citizens who died in terrorist attacks increased by two between 2010 and 2011; overall, a comparable number of Americans are crushed to death by their televisions or furniture each year. This is not to diminish the real—albeit shrinking—threat of terrorism, or to minimize the loss and suffering of the 13,000 killed and over 45,000 injured around the world. For Americans, however, it should emphasize that an irrational fear of terrorism is both unwarranted and a poor basis for public policy decisions.

Post a Comment 8 Comments

  • Posted by kcsaff

    3 out of 978 is about 0.3%, not 0.003%.
    17 out of 13,288 is about 0.1%, not 0.001%.

  • Posted by Peter Duveen

    As Mr. Zenko has pointed out (and as was similarly pointed out by John Mueller in an article in the October 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs, and in his book, “Overblown”), the threat of terrorism is in contrast to “a comparable number of Americans (who) are crushed to death by their televisions or furniture each year.” If Americans are afraid, it is because the threat is surreptitiously hyped by government agencies and a compliant press. This is particularly true of the so-called domestic “terrorist” incidents such as bombing plots against synagogues and pipelines, etc., the overwhelming majority, if not all, of which were crafted as FBI as entrapment schemes. When these are announced, public officials decry them as if they were real, homegrown plots, and their statements are repeated in the press. The Associated Press, the primary conduit for national and international news, repeats the government meme verbatim, rarely representing any statements to the contrary. We must ask, what is to be gained by such an artificial crafting and hyping of the terrorist threat?

  • Posted by Javed Mir

    As usual, impartial reporting by Mr. Zenko. This hyping of terrorism should now stop. Men and resources should be diverted for developing the American economy and any leftover be utilized for the welfare of those who do not afford primary education and basic health needs.

  • Posted by nikos

    Wow how soon we forget 9/11, and we simply forget the 11 thwarted attempts since 9/11 in our country. Islam has a direct goal and it is a cancer within society and the root cause of the majority of the problems in the world today. It is a regressive ideology masked as a religion and luckily people are awakening to the reality of their goals. Europe should be a good lesson for us as they are 20 years ahead in letting these people emmigrate whiel watching them contribute nothing to society other then pumping out kids, collecting checks from the governments and trying to instill their beliefs on others. And no this is not a right wing extremist view – there is a reason that almost 100% of the governments in Europe are standing up to Islam and tightening controls. Unless- Germany, UK, France, Spain, Switzerland, Norway, and all the others are run by right wing extremists there is a distinct problem in what these animals teach.

  • Posted by jone

    I thought it was a good time to repost my blog from June 1st of 2009 about how many Americans were killed by right wing terrorists here in the US in the 90s. In fact, almost twice as many were killed by the right.locksmith melbourne

  • Posted by Blockbuster Netflix

    Let’s hope so.

  • Posted by Patrick Strei

    I have seen the 2011 nctc report, but now cannot find it anywhere. It appears to have been scrubbed. Your link, and those on other sites direct to NCTC site home page, and the report is not there.

    I look3d a couple of months ago, and the report was still on sites other than NCTC, but not now.

    Unlike the 2011 report start does no provide easy to use pie charts on perpetrators and victims. The 2011 report made it very clear that Islamic terrorists were behind the vast majority of attacks

  • Posted by michael meir

    how many people total have been killed by terrorists? that would be good 411 cuz i have to write a long essay bout terrorism and i’d like those details.

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