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Over 40 years, 150,000+ counting

The University of Maryland (UMD) has a substantial dataset on acts of terrorism dating back to 1970. Their research has documented over 150K incidents across 206 countries. In this election year (and nearly every election year), there is an ongoing conversation on the safety and stability of the US and the threat of terrorist groups. On both sides, there is less of a dialogue about the recent exponential surge in terror related events globally, particularly in a select few countries which I will expand on shortly.


From UMD: "The Global Terrorism Database (GTD) is an open-source database including information on terrorist events around the world from 1970 through 2015 (with annual updates planned for the future). Unlike many other event databases, the GTD includes systematic data on domestic as well as international terrorist incidents that have occurred during this time period and now includes more than 150,000 cases"


For perspective, I developed an interactive global heat map with Google's Javascript Map API (thanks, Google!). The map records every event by lat/long since 1970. As expected, the heaviest concentration is in the Middle East and parts of Asia.

Digging deeper into the data by year, we can clearly see a massive increase in terrorist activities in the past four years. Of note, US military presence in the Middle East has decreased by its largest percent in the past five years, ~40%. From 2011 to 2012, Pakistan and Afghanistan attacks grew between 60% to 100%, respectively. Only a few countries comprise the majority of incidents, namely Afghanistan, Iraq, India, Philippines, Somalia, and Ukraine. These areas represent around 4% of total countries effected by terrorism, and greater than 50% of incidents in the past four years.

The spike in the past 4 years is more striking in the time-series charted below. The 2014 increase in Iraq was the highest number of incidents ever recorded for a given country.

From another viewpoint, we can use the Pareto technique to examine the number of incidents by each country as a percent of total inclusive of the past 40 years. 20 countries (~10%) make up 75% of the cumulative total attacks.

We can drill down in the types of attacks as well. There is a clear trend across all years of violent bombings and armed assaults globally.

Now, let's take a moment and examine the US domestic and international attacks. There have been ~2K attacks (~1% of global total ) since the 1970's, the majority of which involved bombings between 1970 and 1990. Overall, these attacks have steadily decreased over time.

The type of incidents in recent years are also far less violent as well with majority involving facility and infrastructure attacks. Below are the attack types by year. The recent increase in armed assaults from ideologically driven attackers should be noted below; however, in total the attacks are fewer than the majority of preceding years.

In closing, there are countries, and more importantly citizens of those countries, which deal with the externalities of terrorist incidents on a consistent basis and in several areas it is only becoming worse. The truth is that the US is not one of those countries. Terrorism is an enormous global concern, but not necessarily due to the reasons assigned by both sides of the political system.

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