Statistics on Terrorism

Content

1. Some preliminary remarks
2. US terrorism deaths
3. Global terrorism deaths
4. Worst terrorist attacks
5. Age of terrorists, numbers of plots and attacks
6. Aircraft terrorism
7. Activities of particular terrorist groups
8. Public opinion on the justifiability of terrorism
9. Terrorism and form of government
10. Counter-terrorist actions

1. Some preliminary remarks

First a general remark about terrorism statistics: defining what counts as a terrorist attack or a terrorist fatality is controversial. According to a famous saying, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Some terrorism databases or indices count rebel attacks, others don’t, some limit terrorism to peacetime, others include wartime attacks, and so on. However, a reasonably uncontroversial definition states that a terrorist attack is “an unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” The victims are usually innocent bystanders; the perpetrators are non-governmental groups; and the purpose is fear. Hence, the murder of abortion doctors would also count.

Another remark: media attention for terrorism doesn’t correspond to the importance of terrorism. There isn’t really a lot of terrorism in the world. As a cause of death, it’s ridiculously rare: in 2012, more Americans died crushed by their TVs or furniture (16) than from terrorism (10). And it was about the same in earlier years (with the exception of 2001).

causes of death

(source)

Since 9/11, 53 people have been killed by terrorists in the UK. Every one of those deaths is tragic. So is every one of the 26,805 deaths to have occurred on Britain’s roads between 2002 and 2012 inclusive, an average of 6.67 deaths a day. … This means that 12 years of terrorism has killed as many people in the UK as eight days on our roads. (source)

Which doesn’t mean we should neglect the very real suffering that terrorism causes, but this does put things in perspective.

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2. US terrorism deaths

Given these caveats, here are some numbers. In the US alone – hardly the most affected country - there have been 2,608 terrorist attacks – 226 of them with fatalities – between 1970 and 2011; 9-11 of course being the deadliest one.

terrorist attacks in the US since 1970

terrorist attacks in the US since 1970

(source)

The severity rather than the frequency of attacks is a better measure: one attack killing nearly 3000 people is arguably worse than 3000 attacks killing hardly anyone. Here’s an indication of recent fatalities:

terrorist groups in the US

(source; the “Justice Department” referred to here is an animal-rights group, not the federal agency)
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3. Global terrorism deaths

If we look at the rest of the world, one of the best sources for statistics on terrorism is the Global Terrorism Database:

deaths due to terrorism

global terrorism deaths

(source)

Another useful source is the National Counterterrorism Center:

countries with most deaths caused by terrorists

(source)

And then there’s also the Global Terrorism Index established by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP). Of the 158 countries covered by the index, only 31 have had no attacks in the ten years to 2011. However, the majority of attacks are

concentrated in just a handful of countries. Iraq ranks first based on a five-year weighted average of the number of incidents, deaths, injuries and estimated property damage. It has suffered from the most attacks, including 11 of the world’s worst 20. Indeed, Iraqis comprised one third of deaths from terrorism between 2002 and 2011. But while the number of incidents there have climbed since 2007, deaths have actually declined. Other terrorist hotspots include Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. The worst attack over the period was in Nepal, where 518 people died and 216 were injured. If there is any small cause for comfort, it is that terrorist incidents have plateaued since their peak in 2008. (source)

(This attack in Nepal, however, was an attack by Maoist rebels on a Nepalese army barracks in 2004. The vast majority of the 518 fatalities in that attack were the rebels themselves).

global terrorism index

According to the GTI, Iraq and Afghanistan account for 35% of last decade’s terrorist attacks.

gti

(source)
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4. Worst terrorist attacks

The map below, compiled by Wm. Robert Johnston, and last updated 24 August 2008, shows the worst terrorist attacks, worst meaning attacks resulting in 100 or more fatalities:

map of worst terrorist attacks worldwide

(source)

Legend:

1: 13 Dec 1921: bombing of Bolgard palace in Bessarabia (modern Moldova) (100)
2: 16 Apr 1925: bombing of cathedral in Sophia, Bulgaria (160)
3: 18 May 1973: mid-air bombing of Aeroflot airliner, Siberia (160)
4: 4 Dec 1977: crash of hijacked Malaysian airliner near Malaysia (100)
5: 20 Aug 1978: arson of theater in Abadan, Iran (477)
6: 20 Nov-5 Dec 1979: hostage taking at Grand Mosque in Mecca (includes 87 terrorists killed) (240)
7: 23 Sep 1983: crash of Gulf Air flight following mid-air bombing over the UAE(112)
8: 23 Oct 1983: truck bombings of U.S. Marine and French barracks, Beirut, Lebanon (301)
9: 14 May 1985: armed attack on crowds in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka (150)
10: 23 Jun 1985: mid-air bombing of Air India flight off Ireland, and attempted bombing of flight in Canada (331)
11: 18 Apr 1987: roadway ambush near Alut Oya, Sri Lanka (127)
12: 21 Apr 1987: bombing of bus depot in Columbo, Sri Lanka (106)
13: 29 Nov 1987: mid-air bombing of Korean Air flight near Burma (115)
14: 21 Dec 1988: mid-air bombing of Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland (270)
15: 19 Sep 1989: mid-air bombing of French UTA flight near Bilma, Niger (171)
16: 27 Nov 1989: mid-air bombing of Avianca flight in Bogota, Columbia (110)
17: 3 Aug 1990: armed attack at two mosques in Kathankudy, Sri Lanka (140)
18: 13 Aug 1990: armed attack at mosque in Eravur, Sri Lanka (122)
19: 2 Oct 1990: crash of hijacked PRC airliner in Guangzhou, PRC (132)
20: 12 Mar 1993: 15 bombings in Bombay, India (317)
21: 22 Sep 1993: crash of airliner struck by missile in Sukhumi, Georgia (106)
22: 19 Apr 1995: truck bombing of federal building, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA (169)
23: 14-19 June 1996: hostage taking in Budennovsk, Russia, and two failed rescue attempts (143)
24: 23 Nov 1996: crash of hijacked Ethiopian Air flight off Comoros (127)
25: 29 Aug 1997: attacks at Sidi Moussa and Hais Rais, Algeria (238)
26: 22 Sep 1997: attack at Ben Talha, Algeria (277)
27: 30 Dec 1997: attack at Ami Moussa, Algeria (272)
28: 4 Jan 1998: attacks at Had Chekala, Remka, and Ain Tarik, Algeria (172)
29: 11 Jan 1998: attack on movie theater and mosque at Sidi Hamed, Algeria (103)
30: 8 Aug 1998: truck bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Saalam, Tanzania (303)
31: 13 Sep 1999: bombing of apartment building in Moscow, Russia (130)
32: 31 Oct 1999: intentional crash of Egypt Air flight off Massachusetts, USA, by pilot (217)
33: 10 Aug 2001: attack on train south of Luanda, Angola (152)
34: 11 Sep 2001: crashing of planes into WTC, New York, Pentagon in Virginia, and Pennsylvania, USA (2,993)
35: 12 Oct 2002: car bombing outside nightclub in Kuta, Indonesia (202)
36: 26 Oct 2002: hostage taking and attempted rescue in theater in Moscow (includes 41 terrorists killed) (170)
37: 29 Aug 2003: car bombing outside mosque in Najaf, Iraq (125)
38: 1 Feb 2004: two suicide bombings of political party offices in Irbil, Iraq (109)
39: 21 Feb 2004: armed attack and arson at refugee camp, Uganda (239)
40: 27 Feb 2004: bombing and fire on ferry near Manila, Philippines (118)
41: 2 Mar 2004: multiple suicide bombings at shrines in Kadhimiya and Karbala, Iraq (188)
42: 11 Mar 2004: bombings of four trains in Madrid, Spain (191)
43: 24 Jun 2004: multiple bombings and armed attacks in several cities in Iraq (103)
44: 1-3 Sep 2004: hostage taking at school in Beslan, Russia (includes 30 terrorists killed) (366)
45: 28 Feb 2005: car bombing outside medical clinic in Hilla, Iraq (135)
46: 14 Sep 2005: multiple suicide bombings and shooting attacks in Baghdad, Iraq (182)
47: 5 Jan 2006: bombings in Karbala, Ramadi, and Baghdad, Iraq (124)
48: 11 Jul 2006: multiple bombings on commuter trains in Mumbai, India (200)
49: 16 Oct 2006: truck bombing of military convoy near Habarana, Sri Lanka (103)
50: 23 Nov 2006: multiple car bombings in Baghdad, Iraq (202)
51: 22 Jan 2007: multiple bombings in Baghdad area, Iraq (101)
52: 3 Feb 2007: truck bombing in market place in Baghdad, Iraq (137)
53: 6 Mar 2007: two bombings and other attacks on pilgrims, Hilla, Iraq (137)
54: 27 Mar 2007: two truck bombings in Tal Afar, Iraq (152)
55: 18 Apr 2007: bombings in Baghdad, Iraq (193)
56: 3-10 Jul 2007: hostage taking and subsequent storming of mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan (102)
57: 7 Jul 2007: bombings in Baghdad and Armili, Iraq (182)
58: 14 Aug 2007: multiple truck bombings in Al-Qataniyah and Al-Adnaniyah, Iraq (520)
59: 18 Oct 2007: bombing of motorcade in Karachi, Pakistan (137)
60: 17 Feb 2008: bombing at dogfighting festival in Kandahar, Afghanistan (105)

Here’s another map showing the number of non-state terrorist incidents in the period 2000–2008:

Number of non-state terrorist Incidents 2000–2008

(source)

Below the same map but for 2009 (full data here):

Number_of_terrorist_incidents_2009

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5. Age of terrorists, numbers of plots and attacks

Data from Control Risks:

Terrorism statistics

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6. Aircraft terrorism

fatalities from violent passenger incidents on commercial aircraft

fatalities from violent passenger incidents on commercial aircraft

terrorism and airtravel safety

terrorism and airtravel safety

(source)
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7. Activities of particular terrorist groups

Here are some data on the activities of particular terrorist groups:

terrorist attacks attributed to al-Qaeda

(source)

deaths atributed to ETA

(source)

fatalities from terrorism in Israel

fatalities from terrorism in Israel 2

(source)

And here are some numbers on right-wing terrorism in the US:

right wing domestic terrorist attacks in the US

(source)
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8. Public opinion on the justifiability of terrorism

public opinion on targeting civilians, by religion

(source)

Those data are for US citizens only, but the data below show that Muslims in general, and not just Muslim Americans, aren’t more inclined to accept terrorism:

public opinion on attacks on civilians

(source, MENA is Middle East and North Africa)

muslim opinion on suicide bombing

(source)
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9. Terrorism and form of government

Interestingly, terrorism tends to occur much more in democratic countries than in nondemocratic ones:

terrorism in democracies

(source)
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10. Counter-terrorist actions

Counter-terrorist actions also produce fatalities. Perhaps the most salient form of counter-terrorism are drone attacks. Since 2004, drone strikes have killed an estimated 3,110 people in Pakistan. Less than 2% of those have been high-profile targets. Many have been innocent bystanders (source). Torture is another problem. Some data here.

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25 thoughts on “Statistics on Terrorism

  1. I was hoping to see charts that show terrorism by type of religion – for example, the yearly frequency of attacks by members of Islam, Christians, Hindus, Atheists, etc – correlated by percentage of world population.

  2. Lala says:

    “All Terrorists are Muslims…Except the 99.6% that aren’t”, try this link…it can be a very instructive article!

  3. Cassandra says:

    Thank you for the statistics. I use some of the information for my project. Please send me an email if you have more information.

  4. this is really good research, I’m a senior here at new tech high school in Anderson, CA and this is really extraordinary. Thank you for you statistics!! helped A lot!!

  5. roondog says:

    I read “http://www.loonwatch.com/2010/01/not-all-terrorists-are-muslims/” awhile back, and loved it. and I was able to find terror attack by religion, from the link they provided, which was to the FBI’s website, but it has since vanished. I think the only thing on the FBI’s site now is by year, and they are only recent years. it’s frustrating.

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  7. Hey there,

    I’ve enoyed your coverage of terrorism and how it has developed after the death of Bin Laden. I recently finished working on an infographic that explores this issue and other interesting information about Al Qaeda from a visual perspective. I thought I would share it with you in the hopes you might make some use of it. Here’s the link: http://www.securitydegreehub.com/al-qaeda/

    Best,
    Jack Kelle

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  12. Leonard Goldman says:

    It seems odd that the country of Israel does not appear to be listed on any of these lists or charts. I seem to recall that they have had a pretty serious history with Palestinian terrorist groups.

  13. David T says:

    Terrorism statistics should not be compared to accidents and incurable diseases as terrorism is a deliberate act. It is murder of people, men, women and children going about their daily lives. The acceptable number of terrorism deaths or injuries is zero.

    The number of terrorism acts is a poor statistic, and obviously requires the definition of what is an act of terrorism. For example the FBI list of terrorism acts 2002-2005 includes 9/11 and on 9/16/2005 an act of attempted arson by the animal liberation front. Clearly these 2 acts do not deserve equal weighting and is why counting acts is misleading. It is a secondary statistic for guiding law enforcement, but some people misleadingly promote it as THE statistic. Injuries and fatalities are the meaningful statistics.

    When terrorist acts are committed, it will always be traced back to a group or race. What is needed is those groups to vocally denounce the acts, as silence will always be interpreted as tacit approval. Loud and clear denouncement is needed.

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