Monday, December 7, 2015

The Growth in Mass-Fatality Terrorism

Updated March 2016

Media coverage of terrorist attacks that take the lives of a significant number of people is pervasive, particularly just after the attacks take place.  Is it our imagination or have the number of terrorist attacks that have claimed a large number of victims been on the increase or is it simply a reflection of the non-stop, 24 hour news cycle?

Fortunately, the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism has recently released a study that looks at how many single terrorist attacks there have been in a single nation in a single day over the period between 1970 and 2014 in which there have been more than 100 victims, excluding the terrorists themselves.  The authors found that over the 44 year timeframe, there have been 176 attacks that fall within their definition of a mass-fatality terrorist attack.

Here is a graphic showing the number of times that more than 100 people were killed by terrorist attacks on a single day in a single country:

Obviously, it's not our imagination or the impact of the 24 hour news cycle; 2014 was a bad year for mass-fatalilty terrorist attacks.

The first mass-fatality terrorist attack in the study occurred in 1978 when an arson attack which targeted the Cinema Rex Theatre in Abadan, Iran ended up killing 430 people.  Until the September 11, 2001 attack in the United States, this was the deadliest single act of contemporary terrorism.   Interestingly, there was popular speculation that agents of the Iranian government, headed by the Shah of Iran, had used the attack to kill several dissidents in the building.  It was one of the factors that ultimately led to the mass demonstrations that ended up with the Shah of Iran being deposed and replaced by Ayatollah Khomeini.  This is a prime example of possible state-sponsored terrorism that went terribly wrong.

On average, over the four decades plus, there have been an average of 4.2 mass-fatality terrorist attacks every year.  Unfortunately, as the graph shows, 2014 was an outlier with 26 mass-fatality terrorist attacks that took place in eight different countries:

Afghanistan - one event
Central African Republic - one event
Iraq - nine events
Nigeria - nine events
Pakistan - one event
South Sudan - one event
Syria - three events
Ukraine - one event

Of the 26 days in which there were mass-fatality terrorist events in 2014, eleven were the responsibility of ISIS.  In the case of Nigeria, all nine attacks in 2014 were the responsibility of Boko Haram.  

Between 2000 and 2014, there were 83 days on which more than 100 people were killed by terrorists in a single country.  These attacks took place in 25 different nations including both North and South America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia with a concentration in both Nigeria and Iraq as shown on this table:

Let's look at the entirety of terrorist attacks between 2000 and 2014.  Like the recent attack in Paris, 14 percent of all terrorist attacks in the period between 2000 and 2014 were coordinated efforts in which terrorists executed multiple attacks simultaneously in a single city or nation.   On average, attacks that were a co-ordinated effort were slightly more deadly with 2.84 total fatalities compared to 2.35 total fatalities in isolated attacks.  Here is a table showing the lethality of coordinated terrorist attacks among the nations with the highest percentage of coordinated terrorist attacks between 2000 and 2014:

Among the nations that had more than 40 attacks over the 15 year period, at 40 percent, France had the highest proportion of attacks that were coordinated efforts.  All of these involved property damage and no fatalities with a substantial number of attacks being carried out by the Corsican National Liberation Front.

Let's close this posting by looking at the perpetrator groups that are responsible for the most coordinated terrorist attacks between 2000 and 2014:

Under its present incarnation, ISIS is responsible for more than 750 attacks, a rather shocking number given its late appearance on the world's stage.  If we look further back in history, the Islamic State's predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), carried out an additional 400 attacks.

As we can see, terrorists who were trying to impact their audience with mass-casualty events during 2014 were extremely successful.  With governments around the world granting themselves access to our most personal communications, it is interesting to note that the number of terrorist mass-casualty events is hardly under control.  While such events may not have affected political change, they have certainly injected a large dose of fear into their targets.

1 comment:

  1. The information governments gather is not to stop terrorists; it is to stop US, should we decide we are sick of being serfs. It is to prevent Occupy Wallstreets, Euromaidans, Colour revolutions etc.