Terrorism: The Global Picture

The Index is based on data from the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) - the most comprehensive dataset on terrorist activity with over 104,000 cases of terrorist attacks codified.

The Index ranks countries based on the following four indicators weighted over five years: Total number of terrorist incidents; Total number of fatalities from terrorism; Total number of injuries from terrorism, and; Estimated property damage from terrorism. Each of the factors is weighted between zero and three, with fatalities having the highest weighting, and a five year weighted average is applied to reflect the lasting psychological effect of terrorist acts over time.

Defining Terrorism
Defining terrorism is not a straightforward matter. There is no single internationally accepted definition of what constitutes terrorism, and the terrorism literature abounds with competing definitions and typologies. The GTI accepts the terminology and definitions agreed to by START researchers and its advisory panel. The GTI therefore defines terrorism as “the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation”. This definition recognises that terrorism is not only the direct physical act of an attack, but also the psychological impact it has on a society, sometimes for many years after.

The biggest rise in global terrorism took place over the period from 2005 to 2007 and was driven by events in Iraq. Four other countries also significantly contributed to the global rise with Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, and the Philippines all experiencing increases, especially between 2007 and 2009. Only 20 nations scored a zero for terrorist impact over the 2002-2011 period, indicating the impact of terror, while heavily concentrated in some places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, is nonetheless widely distributed around the world. There has been a significant increase in the total number of terrorist incidents over the ten year period with the number of terrorist incidents increasing by 464 per cent. The most significant jump was from 2007 to 2008 with incidents rising from 2520 to over 4000. Since then the number of incidents has plateaued. The success rate of these attacks remained very high, ranging between 89 per cent and 97 per cent. In 2011 the average rate of success was 91 per cent. From 2004 there has been an increase in the total global number of injuries from terrorist incidents which reached its peak in 2009, while the number of fatalities peaked in 2007 and by 2011 were back to a similar level to 2006. The results for 2011 show Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan were the three countries most affected by terrorism that year. Of the 158 nations included in the GTI, 84 did not suffer a terrorist incident in 2011.

Weapons and Targets
According to the report, the most common type of weapons used in terrorist attacks are explosive devices. Attacks with firearms have increased steadily over the last decade while suicide bombings have become more prevalent in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. At over four and a half times their 2002 levels, global trends for suicide attacks peaked in 2007 at 288, however once again these trends are dominated by Iraq.

US, UK and Europe

The attacks in the US during the 2002‑2011 period were predominately of a ‘domestic’ nature and mainly committed by environmentalists, animal activists, racists, and anti-abortion activists. In the US, most terrorist attacks were aimed at buildings and businesses, with minimal attacks on private citizens. In 2009, a spike in US terrorism was the result of the Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan opening fire on fellow soldiers at a military facility where he killed 13 soldiers and injured 19.

In spite of the persistent number of relatively small and medium sized incidents in the US, from 2002 to 2011 North America was the region with the least number of terrorist attacks, followed by Western Europe. When combining Western and Eastern Europe as one region and aggregating all the countries, it can be seen that Europe experiences many more incidents of terrorism than the US.

Since 2002, Europe has had 2,341 incidents with 1,431 occurring in Central and Eastern Europe and the other 910 incidents occurring in Western Europe, 25 per cent of which took place in the UK. Of these attacks, two thirds were committed by unknown perpetrators. Where the perpetuators were known, attacks have centered on nationalist separatist objectives. In Central and Eastern Europe, Chechen Rebels and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), who have been fighting for independence from Russia and Turkey respectively, were the most active. The Basque Fatherland and Freedom (ETA) were the most active in Spain. As with other parts of the world, bombings/explosions are the most common type of terrorist attack in Europe. The majority of terrorist incidents in Europe were domestic. That is to say, the raison d’etre seems to be focused on national issues as in Greece with its austerity measures or Spain with its nationalist/separatist discontent.

Incidents in Europe increased drastically in 2007, primarily due to Russia which suffered 140 attacks in 2008. Chechen Rebels and the Caucasus Emirate are known to have each committed around 7 per cent of these attacks. Georgia was also the victim of increased attacks, going from not being targeted once in 2007 to suffering 31 attacks in 2008. While the majority of these attackers remain unknown, South Ossetian separatists account for around a third of all incidents. A second increase in incidents occurred in 2009 and 2010 which again can be attributed to rising attacks in Russia.

In Western Europe, the increase observed in 2007-2009 can be largely attributed to increased activity in Greece that rose from 14 incidents in 2007 to 115 in 2009. Since 2009 however, incidents have decreased in Western Europe to around 2002 levels. The US had a lower number of terrorist attacks than the UK with 127 incidents being recorded from 2002 to 2011, compared to 236 in the UK, the majority of which occurred in Northern Ireland. On the whole, the numbers of fatalities in Europe have decreased since 2002.

Corruption and Terrorism
Although the correlation between corruption and terrorism is not strong, a deeper investigation highlights that those countries with the highest levels of terrorist activity also score poorly on corruption measures. Four of the 15 countries with the highest level of activity are ranked in the bottom ten on the Corruption Perception Index, with the rest being in bottom third and only Thailand and India having mid-ranking scores on corruption.

There are many countries which are ‘corrupt’ but do not have terrorism, indicating that corruption on its own does not necessarily lead to terrorism. However, nations severely affected by terrorism share high levels of corruption. As corruption increases it has little effect on peace until a tipping point is reached, after which very small increases in corruption result in very large decreases in peacefulness.

To further understand what types of corruption were associated with low levels of peacefulness, the Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) from Transparency International was correlated against the GPI. Changing levels of corruption in the police, military and judiciary were found to be most closely aligned with changes in peace. This demonstrates the link between corruption and the breakdown of rule of law, and would indicate that measures aimed at reducing corruption within the law enforcement agencies would go a long way to improving their legitimacy and undercutting societal discontent.

Black Swans and Burstiness
The GPI features a contribution entitled Black Swans and Burstiness: Countering Myths about Terrorism by Gary La Free, director of the START Consortium at the University of Maryland. He writes: “Terrorism has two characteristics that make it prone to myth-making - It’s ‘Black Swan Nature’ and its ‘Burstiness’

“Essayist Nassim Taleb defines a black swan incident as one that falls outside the realm of regular expectations, has a high impact, and defies predictions. The term is based on the observation that before they visited Australia, Europeans had assumed that all swans were white; an assumption that at the time was supported (for Europeans at least) by their own experience.

Taleb claims that the coordinated terrorist attacks of 9/11 are a perfect example of a black swan event because they were unexpected, had a huge impact on policy and were difficult to predict. One of the major challenges in responding to terrorism is that a handful of very rare cases can have a disproportionate effect on setting the agenda for the phenomena more generally.

“But terrorism also tends to be bursty. Bursty distributions are those that are highly concentrated in time and space. Recent research has shown that diverse phenomena are bursty, including streams of e-mail messages; traffic on crowded freeways; the frequency of forest fires and the global distribution of terrorism.  These two qualities – its black swan character and its burstiness – make responding to terrorism challenging. On the one hand, terrorism is relatively infrequent and hard to predict; on the other hand, when it starts to happen there is a tendency for it to happen in the same place a lot.

Beyond al-Qaeda
Bill Braniff, executive director of the START Consortium, contributes a chapter entitled ‘Beyond al-Qaeda’ which examines the ten most lethal organisations in the timeframe of the report. These include the Taliban, the Islamic State of Iraq and its two precursor organisations (al-Qaeda in Iraq and Tawhid wal Jihad – which make the top ten on their own record), Tehrik‑i‑Taliban Pakistan, and Boko Haram.

Braniff states: “Four of the five most lethal‑single attacks of 2011 were conducted by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (110 killed), the Tehriki-Taliban Pakistan (80 killed), al-Shabaab (70 killed), and al-Qaeda in Iraq (65 killed). According to GTD data, however, the al-Qaeda organisation itself was responsible for only one incident – a kidnapping – out of the 5000 terrorist incidents in 2011, while 11 of the most 20 active groups globally were al-Qaeda linked. As a result, the al-Qaeda organisation does not currently claim the majority of our attention, except when another important cadre member is killed or captured. Instead, observers ponder the meaning of the continuous or frequently increasing levels of violence from other jihadist groups in the context of a post Arab-Spring world, despite the fact that the various narratives of the Arab Spring seem to undermine al-Qaeda’s reliance on violence and its call to reestablish the caliphate as the governing structure for the Muslim nation. 

“Additionally, individuals continue to join jihadist groups or plot violent attacks of their own volition. What should we take from these seemingly contradictory developments? Did al-Qaeda succeed by inspiring widespread jihadism, or has it lost to a variety of more popular, parochial actors?  To address these questions, it is essential to understand al‑Qaeda’s origins and its place in the broader Islamist landscape; only in context can the decline of the al‑Qaeda organisation and the persistence of violent jihadism be understood and can governments formulate policy for a threat environment beyond al-Qaeda.”

Youth unemployment and terrorism
Professor Raul Caruso of the Institute for Economic Policy in Milan elaborates some points on future aspects of terrorism on a global scale. Caruso highlights trends and aspects that would make terrorism and political violence a serious threat.

“What inflames terrorism? No clear-cut answers exist in this respect. However, there is a growing consensus on the positive association between declining economic opportunities and the emergence of violence. In particular, there are several studies analysing the causal relationship between economic conditions and antisocial behaviors, political violence and terrorism. In this vein, a particular aspect which has been often underestimated, namely the relationship between youth unemployment and emergence of terrorism.

“Youth unemployment is a particular aspect of economic environment. Youth unemployment in many countries is currently a growing phenomenon. According to the figures released by the ILO in May 2012, 12.7 per cent of the global youth labour force will be unemployed in 2012. If we take into account the global numbers, there will be nearly 75 million unemployed youth aged 15 to 24  in 2012. This constitutes an increase of nearly 
4 million since 2007. In fact, the global economic distress worsened the youth unemployment rates across the world. In fact, it is widely acknowledged that youth employment is more sensitive than adult employment.

Swing sensitive
“Young workers are supposed to be vulnerable because of their lack of seniority and their skills are low. That is, in times of economic sluggishness, employers would hire workers with superior experience and competences, namely adults unemployed. Therefore, youth unemployment is expected to be more sensitive to the swings of the business cycle. However, the rise of youth unemployment has been asymmetric across regions. In 2011, in North Africa, the 27.9 per cent of young people was unemployed 2011. In the Middle East the rate was of 26.5 per cent. In Latin America and the Caribbean the figure peaked to 15.6 in 2009 and eventually decreased to 14.3 per cent in 2011. In developed economies in 2012, the figure is expected to be around 18 per cent. In my view, the dramatic rise of youth unemployment is likely to constitute the fundamental engine of political violence and terrorism.”

Further information
The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) is a non-profit research organisation dedicated to shifting the world’s focus to peace as a positive, achievable, and tangible measure of human well-being and progress. To download the full Global Terrorism Index report, and to see interactive maps based on the data its uses, visit tinyurl.com/d5hf6fm



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