Terrorism old and new.

There have been fewer terrorist attacks in the United States and Western Europe in recent years than in the past, according to data from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism.

In addition, total fatalities have remained constant between the first and second halves of 1970 to 2016. Fatalities from terrorist attacks in Western Europe have not reached their previous highs during the ethno-nationalist wave of terrorism between 1970 and 1990.

Perpetrators of terrorism in the U.S. in recent years appear to have less technical proficiency for political violence. For example, fewer explosives have been employed in the U.S. in recent years. Recent terrorist attacks in the U.S. indicate the use of less complex capabilities including firearms and incendiary devices, according to a recent study.

Firearms also appear to have increased the lethality of terrorist attacks in the U.S. in the last decade, according to the same study. A survey of TEVUS data suggests that recent U.S. terror attacks also appear to involve fewer participants. However, terrorist conspiracies may not be fully reflected in publicly available information.

In Western Europe, however, the use of bombs has remained consistent with the previous period. Firearm use has also declined significantly in Western Europe in recent years.

Attacks in the U.S. between 1970 and 2016

75 percent of the total number of terrorist attacks that have occurred in the U.S. between 1970 and 2016 happened during the first half.

Fatalities from Terrorist Attacks in U.S. between 1970 and 2016

However, 93 percent of the 3,648 fatalities that resulted from terrorism in the U.S. happened in the latter half of the same period.

But, just five attacks account for 87 percent of the total casualties from terrorism in the U.S. between 1970 and 2016 specifically the four catastrophic terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda on September 11, 2001, and the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City by anti-government extremists.

Fatalities from Terror in U.S. are Increasing

Total fatalities in the U.S. between the two periods are comparable when excluding for the outliers. However, 2016 was the worst year for fatalities from terrorism since 1973. Moreover, since 2009, fatalities from terrorist attacks in the U.S. has grown on average approximately 21 percent annually.

Nature of Attacks in U.S. Comparatively

In the U.S. excluding the five catastrophic attacks mentioned above there has been a 36 percent decline in the use of explosives (when compared to the previous period) and a slight increase in the use of firearms from 13 percent in the previous period to 18 percent more recently. Use of incendiary devices in the U.S. has also doubled in recent years.

Attacks in Western Europe between 1970 and 2016

69 percent of the total number of terrorist attacks that have occurred in Western Europe between 1970 and 2016, happened during the first half. The largest number of attacks, roughly 31 percent occurred in the United Kingdom, followed by approximately 20 percent in Spain, 16 percent in France, nine percent in Italy, and eight percent in Greece.

The majority of terrorist attacks in Western Europe roughly 15 percent (where the perpetrator is known) were conducted by the Irish Republican Army the bulk of those occurring between 1971 and 1994. 10 percent of overall terrorism in Western Europe was conducted by Basque Fatherland and Freedom (ETA) the brunt of that between 1977 and 1997.

Fatalities from Terrorist Attacks in U.S. between 1970 and 2016

81 percent of fatalities from terrorism occurred during the previous period. Like the U.S., fatalities from terrorism in Western Europe are on the rise at 35 percent annually since 2004. This follows a steady 15-year decline between 1988 and 2003.

Nature of Attacks in Western Europe Comparatively

More than 50 percent of terrorist attacks during both periods utilized explosives, which may indicate higher and more organizational capability from Western European terrorism. The use of incendiary devices remained constant at 28 percent between for both periods. The use of firearms in Western Europe has seen a decline of more than half.

Character of U.S. Attacks between 1970 and 2016

The graph below excludes for the 5 catastrophic outliers in the U.S. that account for 87 percent of the total casualties from terrorism in the U.S. between 1970 and 2016 specifically the four catastrophic terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda on September 11, 2001, and the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City by anti-government extremists.

Top three weapons employed in U.S. Attacks between 1970 and 2016

Character of Western European Attacks between 1970 and 2016

Data for graphs sourced from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) retrieved on September 2, 2018.

Alexa O'Brien Alexa O'Brien conducts research and analysis about national security and law enforcement. Her work has been published in The New York Times, VICE News, The Cairo Review of Global Affairs, Guardian (UK), The Daily Beast, NY Daily News, and featured on the BBC, PBS, NPR, Democracy Now!, and Public Radio International. She was shortlisted for the 2013 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in the United Kingdom and listed in The Verge 50. In 2016, she worked at The Constitution Project in Washington, D.C. as a staff researcher and writer on an independent commission studying Oklahoma's death penalty. She also provided research support to scholars of the first cost study conducted on that state's capital punishment system. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, majoring in Political Science. She is currently pursuing a Master's in Applied Intelligence at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. She resides in New York City.
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