Global terrorism increasing, but fewer attacks in Western world

Though al-Qaeda central was not directly responsible for any attacks in 2012, the six deadliest terrorist groups in the world were all affiliated to some extent with the organization. These include the Taliban (more than 2,500 fatalities), Boko Haram (more than 1,200 fatalities), al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (more than 960 fatalities), Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (more than 950 fatalities), al-Qaeda in Iraq (more than 930 fatalities), and al-Shabaab (more than 700 fatalities).

Attacks in Yemen, Nigeria, and Iraq were among the deadliest in 2012.

  • On 5 January, unidentified Sunni perpetrators in Dhi Qar, Al Anbar and Baghdad, Iraq bombed various Shiite civilian targets, including pilgrims and laborers, in six separate attacks. Nearly 120 people were killed across all six attacks, including at least two suicide bombers.
  • In Nigeria on 20 January, approximately 190 people were killed in bombings targeting government, police, media, schools, utilities and private citizens, primarily in Kano. Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the attacks, indicating that they were carried out in response to Nigerian authorities detaining and killing Boko Haram members.
  • On 4 March, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula attacked a series of military targets in Zinjibar, Yemen, killing a total of 195 soldiers and kidnapping 73. More than 40 perpetrators were also killed in these attacks, and the hostages were released the following month.

GTD data files and documentation are available for download from the START Web site for users who would like to conduct custom analysis of the data. In addition to the methodological improvements made in the collection and coding process, the GTD team has added elements to improve the experience for those using the database. 2012 is the first year of data that includes geocodes for all attacks that occurred worldwide. Efforts to geocode the historical data back to 1970 are ongoing, and with the current update the geocoding process was completed for an additional 20 countries in North Africa and Southeast Asia. This information makes it possible for analysts to explore geospatial patterns of terrorist violence and more easily identify the sub-national concentrations of attacks.

Other new variables include target subtypes, which systematically classify targets into more specific categories. For example, while previous versions of the data allowed users to explore a subset of attacks against transportation targets, now analysts can easily identify attacks that target buses (42 percent of all transportation attacks), trains (33 percent), bridges and tunnels (9 percent), stations (7percent), roads (4 percent), subways (2 percent), or taxis (1 percent).

“This update includes a number of improvements that we have been working on for several years, in response to common requests from users,” said Erin Miller, GTD program manager. “We are always happy to get feedback on what types of information would make this a more useful resource and better serve the needs of researchers and practitioners.”

According to Miller, the most commonly requested feature is the ability to distinguish between international and domestic attacks. To address this need, the GTD team developed a set of indicators that classify attacks as international or domestic across several dimensions, including logistics (whether the perpetrator group crossed a border to carry out the attack) and ideology (whether the perpetrator group was attacking a target of a different nationality, regardless of where the attack took place). The domestic/international indicators and other new variables are currently included in the downloadable data files. START plans to incorporate them into the online user interface in a future update. More information about the new variables can be found in the GTD Codebook.

With this data release, the GTD now contains information on more than 113,000 domestic and international terrorist attacks between 1970 and 2012 that resulted in more than 243,000 deaths and more than 324,000 injuries. These attacks are defined 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.

The GTD is funded through START by the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate’s Office of University Programs, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Counterterrorism, and the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate’s Resilient Systems Division.