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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The Latest in Tracking Global Terrorism Data

by Micah Zenko
November 19, 2012

A sniper in a control tower checks surrounding areas for al-Shabaab militants (Handout/Courtesy Reuters). A sniper in a control tower checks surrounding areas for al-Shabaab militants (Handout/Courtesy Reuters).


I was fortunate to attend a presentation of recent terrorism research led by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), which is based at the University of Maryland. START produces the Global Terrorism Database (GTD), an open-source database based on publicly-available information about terrorist events from 1970 through 2011 (with plans for annual updates) that includes more than 104,000 cases. (For their data collection and coding methodology, see here.) The GTD attempts to collect information on 120 attributes for each incident with 75 coded variables. It is easy to use, and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in having a data-driven understanding of trends in global terrorism over the past five decades.

Moreover, START will produce the statistical annex for the Department of State’s congressionally mandated report, “Country Reports on Terrorism 2012.” Data for the report was previously provided by the Worldwide Incidents Tracking System (WITS), which was discontinued by the National Counterterrorism Center in April 2012. As the 2011 report provided very limited information at only thirty-one pages long, hopefully the 2012 report will be more comprehensive.

While you should browse yourself, see below for ten interesting—and perhaps counterintuitive—facts about global terrorism from START and the GTD.

Top ten perpetrators of terrorist attacks in 2011:

  1. Communist Party of India-Maoists (CPI-M): 371
  2. Taliban: 254
  3. Al Shabaab: 163
  4. Boko Haram: 124
  5. Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC): 83
  6. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP): 80
  7. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP): 75
  8. New People’s Army (NPA): 48
  9. Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK): 35
  10. Baloch Republican Army (BRA): 22

More than six hundred groups other than al-Qaeda have been engaged in terrorism worldwide since 1998. From 1998 to 2008, al-Qaeda was responsible for only 0.3 percent of more than 21,000 total terrorist attacks. However, during this same period, al-Qaeda was responsible for 5.4 percent of terrorism fatalities.

Prior to 9/11, al-Qaeda had successfully launched only five other terrorist attacks globally: The Aden Movenpick and Gold Mohur Hotels in Aden in 1992, U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the U.S.S Cole in the Port of Aden in Yemen in 2000. Excluding 9/11, groups allied with al-Qaeda are responsible for over twelve thousand deaths worldwide.

Organizations representing minority ethnic groups in the Middle East that are not democratic and have all the characteristics of separatism, violent rhetoric, foreign support, and state repression have an 89 percent likelihood of engaging in terrorism.

Out of fifty-three foreign terrorist groups designated by the State Department as a special threat to the United States, and out of 16,916 attacks attributed to these groups between 1970 and 2000, just over 3 percent of those attacks by these designated anti-U.S. groups were actually directed at the United States. 99 percent of those attacks did not occur in the United States, but were aimed at U.S. targets in other countries.

Globally, over 65,000 people have died in terrorist attacks since 2001, with an average of 7,258 deaths in terrorist attacks per year.

51 percent of terrorist attacks have zero victims; 19 percent kill one person; 13 percent kill between two and four people; and 6 percent kill between five and ten people.

There have been twenty-five terrorist attacks against religious figures or institutions in the United States between 1970 and 2007, four of which were unsuccessful. These attacks resulted in a total of eight fatalities. Nine of the twenty-five attacks involved explosives or bombs.

From 1991 to 2000, the United States experienced an average of 41.3 terrorist attacks per year. After 2001, the average number of attacks on the United States decreased to 16 per year between 2002 and 2010.

New York City is the most common target of terrorist attacks in the United States. Of the 2,347 total attacks in the United States between 1970 and 2010, more occurred in New York than in the next four most frequently targeted U.S. cities combined (Miami: 70 attacks; San Francisco: 66 attacks; Washington, DC: 59 attacks; and Los Angeles: 54 attacks). 21 percent of all U.S. incidents during this period occurred in New York, with a peak of 48 percent in 1973.

Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by Adam

    Most of my friends say they believe Nato and/or Israel are the No.1 perpetrators of terrorist atrocities nowadays! Presumably they are measuring it by the numbers of civilians killed, wounded, dispossessed, Ethnically Cleansed or otherwise terrorised.

  • Posted by Don Bacon

    Despite these figures we have the comical Matthew Olsen, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, who testified to Congress on July 25: “Iran remains the foremost state sponsor of terrorism” and then told an audience of more than a hundred security professionals gathered at Aspen on July 26: “There are times when we are briefing the White House [on terror threats that] at the top of the list are Hezbollah or Iran.”

  • Posted by Herbert

    Most of adam’s freinds are undereducated.

  • Posted by Roland McDonald

    The USA government + the industrial/military complex lying to their own people and the rest of the the world by claiming that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, then going in there, killing military personell as well as plenty of civilians, spreading fear, loathing and misery over the whole country, installing a puppet administation… all that for securing future avilability of the oil in place from that region. -What can we call this? Terror? Robbery? Looting with cold blooded murder? Warmongering?
    Ups, sorry, my bad. It”s called bringing peace, stability, democracy and wealth to underveveloped terrorist countries. Also protection of the US population from those terrorist countries because they are geographically sooo very close.

    Who is the biggest global player in selling weapons to anybody with money or oil owning a 33% share of the whole weapons worldwide market? A president of such a nation never should get a Nobel Peaze Prize.
    This world is just fucked up. Open your eyes and see.

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