Skip to navigationSkip to content

Ideas

Our home for bold arguments and big thinkers.

AP Photo/Hadi Mizban
A decade-long tragedy.

Data show that terror attacks aren’t just more frequent—they’re more deadly

Davide Mancino
By Davide Mancino

Editor, datajournalism.it

2013 was the year with the highest number of both terrorist attacks and victims since data has been collected (data for 2014 isn’t yet available). According to the Global Terrorism Database, managed by the START consortium and the University of Maryland, 11,952 attacks caused 22,178 victims worldwide that year.

The countries that have been hit hardest in recent years are Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In 2013, Iraq had 2,800 attacks, Pakistan 2,200 and Afghanistan 1,400.

Yet, if we consider the number of terrorism victims over population to get a somewhat raw measure of the “density” of the attacks, Iraq is by far the first country in the world for terror attacks, with 211 deaths per million people: that’s three times Syria, which comes next with 68 deaths per million (though the conflict in this area makes numbers less reliable).

Looking at the data from this perspective, Lebanon and Libya also stand out, with roughly 40 terror victims per million for both. Yemen is fifth at 25, while—at 20 deaths per million people—the intensity of assaults in Afghanistan is ten times lower than in Iraq.

Pakistan had a total of 2,900 terrorism victims in 2013—third after Iraq (7,000) and Afghanistan (3,700). Being a more populated country, however, the assault density was much lower at 16 victims per million people. In 2014, however, the toll might be higher following the Taliban attack on a school last December, that killed 141 people, of which 132 were children.

Next is a group of African countries—namely Kenya, Sudan, Mali and Nigeria—with 4 to 11 terrorism victims per million people in 2013. In Nigeria, casualties from the Jan. 3 2105 Boko Haram massacre have yet to be fully determined, but it is likely that the event will put Nigeria in a much worse spot in 2015. Also, according to the database, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip there were three deaths per million people.

The ranking in 2013 changes when looking at the number of attacks per million people. While Iraq stays at the top, the civil war in Libya takes its toll and makes the country second-most-attacked, followed by Lebanon. Syria, Nigeria and Sudan had relatively fewer attacks, but many of those ended up killing several victims. The opposite happened in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where there have been roughly four times more attacks per million people in 2013 than in Egypt.

Terrorism hit Iraq—where attacks started to escalate in 2003—the hardest. From 2008 to 2011, the situation improved, and victims did drop. Along with the rise of the Islamic State, however, terrorist activity spiked again. In 2013, deaths from terrorism in Iraq reached 7,000, with 2,850 attacks: about eight a day.

This represents an increase of 40% over 2012, which had 8,500 attacks, in a steep upward trend since 2005: ten years ago they were just above 2,000. The number of victims was between 7,700 and 9,100 per year from 2008 to 2011, but it almost doubled in 2012 and grew another 40% the year after that.

The scale of the attacks in the country is not easy to put in perspective: it is as if the United States had 27,000 terror attacks and 67,000 victims in one year. With a rate as high as Bagdad, New York would have had roughly 750 yearly attacks: two each day.

The Global Terrorism database defines terrorism as “an intentional act of violence by a non-state actor.” To be included, an attack had to “aim at attaining a political, economic, religious or social goal”, convey a message to a “larger audience than the immediate victims” or place itself “outside the precepts of International Law.” Figures tend to become less reliable as they go further back in time.

Subscribe to the Daily Brief, our morning email with news and insights you need to understand our changing world.