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Newsweek, Washington Post: The Only Thing We Have to Fear ...


Newsweek, Washington Post: The Only Thing We Have to Fear ...

May 25, 2008

Zakaria Discusses GTD and Challenges of Tracking Terrorism

Newsweek columnist Fareed Zakaria discussed START and its Global Terrorism Database project in his piece "The Only Thing We Have to Fear ...". Zakaria's column reports on findings from a study conducted at Simon Fraser University that concludes that if incidents in Iraq are excluded from calculations fatalities from terrorism are actually on the decline globally if incidents in Iraq are excluded from calculations. As noted by START Director Gary LaFree in a response to this report, it is true that removing Iraq from analyses dramatically impacts findings on global terrorism trends. But, LaFree argues in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Company, it is problematic to conclude that none of the violence occurring in Iraq at present qualifies as terrorism: ユ Distinguishing terrorist violence from other violence in Iraq since 2003 is challenging. However, START and its Global Terrorism Database (GTD) has been striving to apply the same criteria for including cases from Iraq as from other parts of the world. Here are those criteria: To be included in the GTD, all attacks must meet three criteria: (1) the incident must be intentional ヨ the result of a conscious calculation on the part of a perpetrator; (2) the incident must entail some level of violence (includes property violence) or the threat of violence; and (3) there must be sub national perpetrators (the GTD is limited to acts of non-state terrorism). In addition to the three criteria above, all attacks in the GTD are evaluated on three additional criteria: (1) the act must be aimed at attaining a political, economic, religious, or social goal; (2) there must be evidence of an intention to coerce, intimidate, or convey some other message to a larger audience (or audiences) than the immediate victims; and (3) the action must contravene the precepts of international humanitarian law (particularly the admonition against deliberately targeting civilians or non-combatants). GTD includes in the database all cases where at least two of these three criteria are present. However, analysts may eliminate cases where all three criteria are not met. ユ Until 2002, Iraq accounted for less than 1% of all attacks in the GTD. However, in 2003, Iraq accounted for 7% of attacks and in 2004 Iraq accounted for nearly 30% of attacks. ユ One of the most difficult problems in accurately counting terrorist attacks in Iraq is what to do with attacks against military targets. Although many experts would exclude attacks against the military as non-terrorist, some experts consider attacks on military targets outside of regular warfare (such as the USS Cole) or attacks that include off-duty soldiers (such as the Bali attacks) as terrorism. Attacks on the military in Iraq are evaluated by our analysts on a case-by-case basis according to the criteria noted above. Of the 87 Iraqi attacks in the GTD in 2003, 22% involved military targets and of the 327 Iraqi incidents in the GTD in 2004, 11% involved military targets. The GTD criteria allow users to exclude these attacks from their analysis should they so wish.

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