Incidents of Terrorism — 2009
Country Reports on Terrorism
Developing Statistical Information
Consistent with its statutory mission to serve as the United States government's knowledge bank on international terrorism, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) is providing the Department of State with required statistical information to assist in the satisfaction of its reporting requirements under Section 2656f of title 22 of the US Code (USC).
This statute requires the State Department to include in its annual report on terrorism "to the extent practicable, complete statistical information on the number of individuals, including United States citizens and dual nationals, killed, injured, or kidnapped by each terrorist group during the preceding calendar year." While NCTC keeps statistics on the annual number of incidents of "terrorism," its ability to track the specific groups responsible for each incident involving killings, kidnappings, and injuries is significantly limited by the availability of reliable open source information, particularly for events involving small numbers of casualties. Moreover, specific details about victims, damage, perpetrators, and other incident elements are frequently not fully reported in open source information.
This Annex is provided for statistical purposes only. The statistical information contained in the Annex is based on factual reports from a variety of open sources that may be of varying credibility. Any assessments regarding the nature of the incidents or the factual circumstances thereof are offered only as part of the analytic work product of the National Counterterrorism Center. Nothing in this report should be construed as a determination that individuals associated with the underlying incidents are guilty of terrorism or any other criminal offense. As with all entries in the Worldwide Incident Tracking System, the statistical information will be modified, as necessary and appropriate, when and if the underlying incidents are finally adjudicated.
In deriving its figures for incidents of terrorism, NCTC in 2005 adopted the definition of "terrorism" that appears in the 22 USC § 2656f(d)(2), i.e., "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents."
NCTC posts information in the repository for the US government's database on terror attacks, the Worldwide Incidents Tracking System (WITS). WITS is accessible on the NCTC website at www.nctc.gov for the public to have an open and transparent view of the NCTC data. A detailed description of the methodology and counting rules is also available on the website, as is a geospatial tool to allow mapping of the data. NCTC will ensure that the data posted to the website is updated as often as necessary by regularly posting information about new or prior attacks.
Tracking and analyzing terrorist incidents can help us understand some important characteristics about terrorism, including the geographic distribution of attacks and information about the perpetrators, their victims, and other details. Year-to-year changes in the gross number of attacks across the globe, however, may tell us little about the international community's effectiveness either for preventing these incidents, or for reducing the capacity of terrorists to advance their agenda through violence against the innocent.
NCTC Observations Related to Terrorist Incidents Statistical Material
Approximately 11,000 terrorist attacks occurred in 83 countries during 2009, resulting in over 58,000 victims, including nearly 15,000 fatalities. Attacks decreased by about six percent in 2009 and deaths by about 5 percent. This marks the second consecutive year for declines for both attacks and fatalities. Unlike the preceding four years where the Near East witnessed the largest number of attacks, the largest number of reported terrorist attacks in 2009 occurred in South Asia, which also had, for the second consecutive year, the greatest number of fatalities. Together, South Asia and the Near East were the locations for almost 2/3rds of the 234 high-casualty attacks (those that killed 10 or more people) in 2009.
Sunni extremists were identified with about one-half of all attacks in 2009. Almost 90 groups were associated with these attacks. According to open source reports, the Taliban, more than any other group, claimed credit for the largest number of attacks and the most fatalities. Al-Shabaab was the second deadliest group, followed by al-Qa’ida in Iraq as the third deadliest group.
Largest Sunni extremist attacks
Other notable Sunni extremist attacks
Of the remaining incidents, as many as 150 groups were identified as perpetrators. The largest non-Sunni attacks include the following:
Types of Attacks
Most attacks in 2009 were perpetrated by terrorists applying conventional methods such as armed attacks, bombings, and kidnappings. Drawing on the lessons learned from the Mumbai attack in 2008, Sunni extremist elements used suicidal militia style attacks in numerous large scale attacks in 2009. Terrorists continued their practice of coordinated attacks that included secondary attacks on first responders at attack sites; they also continued to reconfigure weapons and other materials to create improvised explosive devices, and used women and children to evade security counter-measures.
Victims and Targets of Attacks
As has been the case since 2005, substantial numbers of victims of terrorist attacks in 2009 were Muslim.
Open source reporting largely identifies victims as civilians – approximately two-thirds of almost 48,000 killed or injured. As such, the fidelity of victim types is difficult to obtain, but the fragmented reporting on it does yield some insights about the demographics of these victims.
An Academic’s Perspective on Open Source Event Data
The Worldwide Incidents Tracking System (WITS) data provided in the National Counterterrorism Center's Report on Terrorism is the triumph of empirical analysis over primal fear of terrorism and impulses to react rashly. The NCTC mission statement, which emphasizes analysis and information sharing, paves the way for such an approach to thinking about terrorism and developing effective counterterrorism strategy. Terrorism is difficult to analyze for several reasons. The broad variety of types of terrorism, the tendency for terrorists to operate outside of predictable patterns, and the unknown relationship between cases reported in the open source arena and actual terrorist incidents, stand as barriers to a full understanding of the phenomena. News reporter Lincoln Steffens's account of creating the impression of a crime wave in New York in the early 20th century just by changing his reporting practices is a cautionary tale against the temptation to put too much faith in the reliability of open source data. Despite these limitations, the NCTC data set provides vital starting points to overcome the barriers that can impede useful empirical analysis toward the prevention of terrorism. Our thinking about terrorism can be organized by establishing the causal drivers behind the lethality and frequency of terrorist incidents, with help from coherent models like the routine activities theory and games theory. Thoughtful analysis of the best data available is no panacea, but enlightened approaches to counterterrorism can substantially reduce the risk of lapses in our ongoing attempts to prevent terrorism.
—Brian Forst, American University
The full letter of Dr. Brian Forst is available in the 2009 NCTC Report on Terrorism, available via the Internet at www.nctc.gov.
Source: U.S. State Department