Broad Patterns in Global Terrorism in 2014

The U.S. State Department has just published its annual country reports on terrorism. In the past, most of the resulting commentary has focused on the narratives in the main report. It is the statistical annex, which largely goes unread, however, which does most to provide a picture of the global patterns in terrorism and which does most to warn that we are neither winning nor containing the struggle.

The State Department reports that there were a total of 13,463 terrorist attacks worldwide in 2014, resulting in more than 32,700 deaths and more than 34,700 injuries. In addition, more than 9,400 people were kidnapped or taken hostage . This meant the number of terrorist attacks in 2014 increased 35% and total fatalities increased 81% compared to 2013.

Looking back at previous editions and other data once sees the following patterns:

• The Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia continue to dominate world terrorism. They had a total of roughly 9,600 terrorist incidents in 2013 – the vast majority of which were carried, out by Islamic extremist or Jihadist groups.

• No other region had more than 1,000.

• The US State Department Country Reports on Terrorism 2013 showed that major incidents had risen from less than 300 major incidents a year in the MENA region during 1998 to 2004, to approximately 1,600 in 2008.

• They increased again from around 1,500 in 2010 to 1,700 in 2011, and jumped to 2,500 in 2012, and 4,650 in 2013.

• This was a fifteen-fold increase in annual incidents since 2002, and threefold increase since 2010.

It is scarcely coincidental that the concentration of terrorist violence can often be directly linked to major civil conflicts and failed nations that have weak and corrupt governments and deep sectarian, ethnic, racial, and tribal friction. Moreover, if one looks at the data on terrorism by country in the excepts below, it all too clear that the sharp rise in refugees and internally displaced persons from some 40 million in the past to well over 60 million in 2014 has been closely related to the rising levels of violence in the states where terrorism is most common.

The State Department data also decisively show that terrorism is not a clash between civilizations, but a clash within one. So do Rand studies that reflect:

• A 58-percent increase in the number of Salafi-jihadist groups from 2010 to 2013.

• Estimates that the number of Salafi jihadists more than doubled from 2010 to 2013, according to both RAND’s low and high estimates.

• Approximately 99 percent of the attacks by movements like al Qa’ida 2013 were against “near enemy” targets in North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.

Similar reports include:

• A US government National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC, report on terrorism for 2011 that estimated that: "In cases where the religious affiliation of terrorism casualties could be determined, Muslims suffered between 82 and 97% of terrorism-related fatalities over the past five years.”

• Estimates by the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) at the University of Maryland, that between 2004 and 2013, about half of all terrorist attacks, and 60% of fatalities due to terrorist attacks, took place in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan – states with largely Muslim populations.

• A BBC study that concluded that, “The overall number of deadly terrorist attacks in France, the UK, Spain and the US is very low by international standards. Between 2004-2013, the UK suffered 400 terrorist attacks, mostly in Northern Ireland, and almost all of them were nonlethal. The US suffered 131 attacks, fewer than 20 of which were lethal. France suffered 47 attacks.

The attached report provides detailed excepts from the Statistical Annex to the State Department report describe the key patterns in terrorism in 2014 in terms of total incidents and casualties, location, critical countries, perpetrators, lethality, targets, tactics, and weapons.