Global Terrorism since 1970

I’m working on a larger project at the moment, but want to use this space to post some of the work in progress. I’m looking at data from the Global Terrorism Database, which tracks a staggering amount of detail on terrorist attacks going back to 1970.

To begin, how has the number of terrorist attacks changed over time?


There is a striking increase in attacks after 2011, with the current rate about triple what it was before.  Where are these events occurring?


Clearly these events are not evenly distributed throughout the world. The spike of the last six or so year is driven almost entirely by the Middle East & North Africa and South Asia, with a much smaller spike in Sub-Saharan Africa.

These have just been the sheer number of events; what about fatalities? First, a look at the percent of events having at least one recorded fatality:


There seems to have been a slight trend towards increased deadliness. Now, the total number of recorded fatalities by region:


The pattern is broadly similar to the raw number of attacks. Finally, a look at the average number of people killed per attack, again by region:


Beyond an obvious spike for 9/11 and a handful of other isolated events, there doesn’t appear to be any clear pattern over time. If terrorism were becoming more coordinated or tactics were becoming more advanced over time, we might to expect ‘better’ terrorists to kill more people per attack; that isn’t happening.

Looking at this data, it’s striking how concentrated terrorism is in just a few parts of the world. It’s also interesting to see terrorism fade from Central and South America after a moderately strong presence in the 80s and 90s.

The database also attempts to keep track of whether a terrorist attack was ideologically motivated or not, though there isn’t information on the particular kind of ideology. What I hope to do next is see if there is any pattern in the frequency of ideologically motivated attacks over time, and whether those are deadlier than non-ideological attacks.


2 thoughts on “Global Terrorism since 1970”

  1. There were a large number of domestic terrorist attacks in the 1970s that were not “religiously” motivated. Leftist groups like Weather Underground, the SLA, etc. committed many acts of domestic terrorism. You should try and chart that as well.


    1. Yes, unfortunately the GTD does not code explicitly for the ideology of an attack, only if it was international in ideology/execution. I will still make a US only graph, though.


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