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START research examines history of terrorism and the Olympic Games

Researchers investigate patterns of terrorist attacks related to the Olympic Games

Olympic sites of the past four decades have been relatively safe with respect to terrorism, according to a new report by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). In light of the resources and attention devoted to the possibility of a terrorist attack at the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in London, START researchers published a background report on the history of terrorism and the Olympics since 1970.

After analyzing terrorist attacks that have taken place during the Olympic Games in the host country, researchers concluded that there is no consistent increase or decrease in the frequency of terrorist attacks during the Olympics when compared with other time periods in the same city, which suggests that considerable efforts to reinforce security are generally effective at mitigating any potential threats.

"The heightened profile of these events might increase the likelihood of a terrorist attack while the heightened security and surveillance might decrease the likelihood of an attack," says Erin Miller,

START researcher and co-author of the background report. The background report details the fatal attacks that occurred in three Olympic host cities: Munich (1972), Atlanta (1996) and Beijing (2008). These attacks left 16 victims and 6 perpetrators dead, and more than 100 wounded. The background report further examines the patterns of terrorism in 20 Olympic host countries in the year prior to the start of the games as compared to the time of the games. Of the 15 countries that saw terrorist attacks during these time periods:

  • Nine had more attacks during the Olympics than in the prior year.
  • Six had fewer attacks during the Olympics than in the prior year.
  • Three had fewer fatalities during the Olympics than in the prior year.
  • Six had more fatalities during the Olympics than in the prior year.

The background report also reviews the history of terrorism in London and the United Kingdom. Since 1970, there have been 380 attacks in London causing more than 175 fatalities and more than 2,200 injuries. Researchers note that these attacks were infrequent with the most recent of being a series of four coordinated suicide bombings on public transportation. The attack, claimed by a group calling itself "Secret Organization of al Qaida in Europe," killed 56 and wounded more than 700.

START's Terrorism and the Olympics Background Report can be found on its website at http://www.start.umd.edu/start/publications/br/TerrorismAndOlympics.pdf.