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Global terrorism decreases in 2018 as recent uptick in U.S. terrorist attacks was sustained

START releases 2018 GTD dataset and announces partnership with CHC Global

Heat map showing the concentration and intensity of terrorist attacks in 2018 from the GTD.

With more than 9,600 terrorist attacks killing more than 22,980 people in 2018, the level of terrorist violence worldwide decreased for the fourth consecutive year, while the United States sustained an increase for the third consecutive year with 67 attacks, according to a new report from the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). This is the most terrorist attacks that the country has experienced since 1982.

Based on newly released data from START’s Global Terrorism Database™, which now includes information on more than 190,000 terrorist attacks dating back to 1970, the report highlights trends in global terrorism in 2018, including: a steep decline in ISIS attacks in Iraq, but an expansion of the group’s global footprint; fewer mass casualty attacks in Western Europe; and an increase in far-right attacks in the United States. 

“It’s always interesting to see how diverse patterns are from place to place,” said Dr. Erin Miller, manager of the GTD™ and author of the report. “We have data on terrorist violence worldwide, but remember that every place is unique, with complex and varied contexts and developments that extend beyond terrorist violence. This analysis just scratches the surface.”

Since terrorist violence peaked in 2014 at nearly 17,000 attacks and more than 45,000 total deaths globally, the number of attacks has decreased 43 percent and the total number of deaths has decreased 48 percent. The decrease has been driven largely by patterns of terrorism in Iraq, which from 2013 to 2017, suffered more terrorist violence than any other country in the world. However, in 2018, following a lengthy and deadly offensive by the Iraqi government and its allies against Islamic State, terrorism in Iraq decreased dramatically. The number of terrorist attacks in Iraq decreased 46 percent between 2017 and 2018 and the number of people killed in terrorist attacks decreased 78 percent.

Though Islamic State’s violence decreased dramatically since the liberation of Mosul in July 2017, it remained deadly, killing more than 800 victims in at least 650 attacks in 2018 in Iraq and more than 700 people in at least 72 attacks in Syria. The group killed more than 1,606 in 735 attacks in total, also claiming responsibility for deadly attacks in Iran, the Philippines and Tajikistan. The influence of Islamic State continued to expand geographically. Attacks carried out by Islamic State “core” operatives, affiliated organizations or unaffiliated individuals who indicated allegiance to Islamic State took place in 34 countries in 2018 (56 countries since 2002).

The number of terrorist attacks in Western Europe decreased 31 percent between 2017 and 2018, while the number of deaths decreased 70 percent, in part because there were fewer mass casualty attacks. In 2015, 2016, and 2017 there were multiple events in Western European countries in which assailants killed more than five people, including mass casualty attacks carried out by jihadists in Paris, Brussels, Nice, Berlin, Manchester, London, and Barcelona. There were nine lethal terrorist attacks in Western Europe. The deadliest of these occurred in December, when an assailant who claimed allegiance to Islamic State attacked civilians at a Christmas market in Strasbourg, France, killing five people and injuring 11 others.

“Patterns of terrorism in Western Europe and the United States can be very volatile,” Miller said. “In general the number of terrorist attacks in these locations has been relatively low compared to other parts of the world and other times in history, so it can be difficult to discern clear trends. But in the United States we have seen a steady increase in attacks in recent years and it seems to be sustained.”

The decade-long uptick in the United States has been primarily driven by an increase in far-right attacks, as well as an increase in the variety of ideological motivations and in the number of perpetrator groups conducting attacks. The number of terrorist attacks remained relatively stable in 2017 (66) and 2018 (67), following an increase from 38 attacks in 2015 to 67 attacks in 2016.

There were six lethal terrorist attacks in the United States in 2018, excluding one attack in which only the perpetrator died, compared to 18 in 2017. Although terrorism in the United States is ideologically and geographically diverse, all six lethal attacks involved far-right ideological elements, including primarily white supremacy and, in at least two cases, male supremacy.

New partnership, new website

In concert with the new report and 2018 data, START is announcing a new partnership and launching a new GTD website.

The University of Maryland has partnered with CHC Global, to serve as START’s exclusive commercial distribution partner for the GTD.  Headquartered in London, CHC Global is an independent advisory practice, who work to understand, manage and insure terrorism risks.  The partnership is intended to help secure the long-term stability of the GTD, ensure it remains freely available for personal and academic research use, and allow START researchers to focus on making continual improvements to the data and data collection process.

“CHC Global has extensive expertise in delivering terrorism analytics in the public and private sectors,” START Director William Braniff said. “The fact that they share our commitment to distributing the GTD widely to those who work to understand and minimize the impacts of terrorism makes them ideal partners in this effort.”

The partnership will allow START, via CHC Global, to engage more proactively and gain licensing revenue from the many organizations who value the database and routinely use it in their work and products.

“The GTD is recognized as the authoritative source of terrorism event data by researchers, policy makers and commercial organizations, internationally,” CHC Global CEO Chris Holt said. “It is an unparalleled resource for those who seek to understand the frequency and severity of terrorism. We’re very much looking forward to developing this partnership with START, including enhancing aspects of the data for commercial users.”

Since initially being made public in 2007, monthly downloads of the GTD have risen dramatically as the dataset continues to improve, resulting in an average of more than 1,000 downloads per month in 2018, and over 63,600 total downloads through 2018. While a majority of those downloading the data indicate they are doing so for personal or academic research use – which they will be able to continue to do freely – a large number of users also indicate they represent organizations, including commercial entities. Those users will now need to purchase a license from CHC Global to download the GTD dataset.

All users may still access the search and browse function of the legacy GTD site, subject to agreeing to non-commercial terms of use.

START has compiled and published the GTD for more than a decade but has faced a challenge in securing long-term funding for base data collection. Without 2019 funding, there would have been a lapse in GTD production, meaning that individual governmental and non-governmental organizations and institutions would have needed to develop individualized, ad hoc strategies for measuring terrorism, or rely on less data-driven approaches to countering terrorism.

In addition to partnering with CHC Global to commercially distribute the GTD, START continues to seek consistent funding for the GTD well beyond 2019. Furthermore, without U.S. Government funding, the U.S. Government will not maintain government purpose rights to the data to future releases of the data.

The GTD’s comprehensive, accessible, transparent, structured and unstructured data make it a critical resource for governments, non-government organizations, commercial entities, and scholars alike.  It is used by thousands of analysts around the world, seeking to better inform the public about a frequently misunderstood topic.  All of these users benefit from high-quality data for both operational and analytical purposes.