A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

Al-Qaida's fatal terrorism under Osama bin Laden

May 2, 2012, marks the first anniversary of the death of al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden. Under his leadership, the terrorist organization was responsible for thousands of deaths and injuries. This report summarizes the terrorist activity of al-Qaida and its network of affiliates.


Al-Qaida central, under the direction of Osama bin Laden, was responsible for - or suspected to be responsible for - 60 terrorist attacks around the world between 1998 and 2010, an average of six attacks per year of activity.

These attacks resulted in the deaths of at least 3,625 individuals. In addition, more than 5,000 people were wounded in al-Qaida attacks.

In 2009 and 2010, there were no attacks attributed to al-Qaida.

Almost 3,000 people were killed in the al-Qaida attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

More than 600 individuals were killed in fatal al-Qaida attacks in:

  • Afghanistan
  • Kenya
  • Pakistan
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Somalia
  • Tanzania
  • Tunisia
  • Turkey
  • Yemen


More than 600 other groups have been engaged in terrorism worldwide since 1998. From 1998 to 2008, al-Qaida was responsible for only 0.3 percent of more than 21,000 total terrorist attacks. However, al-Qaida was responsible for 5.4 percent of terrorism fatalities during this same period, indicative of the intensely deadly nature of al-Qaida operations and efforts.

Al-Qaida's operations were especially deadly even in comparison to other notorious, long-standing terrorist organizations:

  • ETA, the Basque nationalist terrorist group in Spain, was responsible for approximately 820 deaths from 1972 to 2009.
  • The Irish Republican Army (IRA) was responsible for more than 1,800 fatalities dating back to 1970 - less than half of the number of people killed by al-Qaida.
  • The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is responsible for nearly 5,000 terrorism fatalities in its history. While FARC has imposed this bloodshed over the course of more than 30 years, al-Qaida's casualties were concentrated in just a 10-year period.


Al-Qaida has also become a crucial "node" in a network of deadly terrorist organizations - some created in the hopes of replicating al-Qaida, others aligning with al-Qaida for ideological or practical reasons. Research by Victor Asal and R. Karl Rethemeyer at the University at Albany (SUNY) has identified 33 different terrorist organizations with direct links and alliances to al-Qaida.

Several of these AQ-allies have adopted al-Qaida's practice of trying to inflict mass casualties. Since 1998, there have been 482 incidents of mass-casualty terrorism - single events in which more than 25 people are killed. Al-Qaida and its affiliates have carried out more than 140 mass-casualty terrorism attacks - nearly one-third of all that occurred during this period.

Together, this network with al-Qaida at the core is responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians around the world. To read the full al-Qaida report "Al-Qaida's fatal terrorism under Osama bin Laden," visit http://www.start.umd.edu/start/publications/br/AQAttacks_20120501.pdf


The data presented here are drawn from the Global Terrorism Database (GTD). The GTD contains information on more than 98,000 terrorist incidents that have occurred around the world from 1970 to 2010. For more information about the GTD, visit www.start.umd.edu/gtd.

The GTD is a project of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). START aims to provide timely guidance on how to reduce the incidence of terrorism and disrupt terrorism networks, as well as enhance the resilience of society in the face of terrorist threats at home and abroad. Additional information about START is available at www.start.umd.edu.


The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) is supported in part by the Science and Technology Directorate of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security through a Center of Excellence program based at the University of Maryland. START uses state‐of‐the‐art theories, methods and data from the social and behavioral sciences to improve understanding of the origins, dynamics and social and psychological impacts of terrorism. For more information, contact START at infostart@start.umd.edu or visit www.start.umd.edu.