Terrorism in 2013

By Erik Goepner

An estimated 61% more people perished from terrorist attacks in 2013[1] than did in 2012. As the Global Terrorism Index Report authors note, those 18,000 deaths far surpassed the 3,361 deaths from terrorist attacks in 2000. Drawing on data from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism’s Global Terrorism Database, the report and the data it contains have much to offer.

Interested in how terrorist group ideology has morphed over the past decade and a half? Check out the following graphic and observe how the religious-based groups have come to dominate terrorist activity.

Terrorism 2013(Source: Global Terrorism Index 2014, p. 31)

Who conducted the attacks? Two-thirds of the fatalities were caused by four groups: the Islamic State, Boko Haram, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda and its affiliates. As the report noted, “extreme interpretations of Wahhabi Islam” were the key commonality among the groups.

Unsurprisingly, more than 50% of the fatalities occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria accounted for another 30% of the fatalities.  In total, those five countries bore the brunt for 82% of terrorist-caused fatalities last year.

Looking at the details of the attacks, half of them resulted in no fatalities. Approximately 40% killed between one and five people, while 10% took the lives of six or more human beings. The most lethal form of attack was suicide bomber. While suicide attacks had the highest failure rate (56%), they caused an average of 11 fatalities per attack as compared to two fatalities for all other forms of terrorist attack.

Last year, suicide attacks only accounted for five percent of all terrorist attacks. Of concern, though, the Islamic State conducted 58 of the suicide attacks. By comparison, the two most prolific suicide attack groups over the past decade—al-Qaeda in Iraq and Tehrik-I-Taliban in Pakistan—have averaged 13 and 14 suicide attacks per year, respectively.

As a final note—perhaps for balance, perhaps to recognize the role of fear in terrorism—how might we understand the tragic loss of 18,000 lives to terrorism last year as compared to the 430,000[2] who were killed in homicides?


Image Credit: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and Terrorism Prevention

[1] The authors of the report note that the manner of data collection for the Global Terrorism Database became more automated in 2011. As a result, some events that may have been missed in prior years would now be collected, possibly inflating numbers for 2011 and following years. In response, they modeled three approaches. For example, their conservative model indicated the number of terrorist events rose by 475% since 2000, as compared to a 689% increase for the upper bounded model.

[2] See the Global Study on Homicide 2013 available at http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/publications-by-date.html

Game of Goons: Boko Haram & the War on Educated Girls

By Alena M. James

It has been nearly a month since the terrorist organization known as Boko Haram raided a secondary school located in Chibok—a Local Government Area located in Borno State, Nigeria. During the raid, the terrorist group abducted more than 200 girls and loaded them onto trucks. Many of the girls were tricked into believing the terrorists were soldiers. Some of the girls believed the men to be evil and managed to escape the village by jumping from the trucks to get away. The brave girls who escaped shared their horrific stories with loved ones and authorities who were startled by the event that had transpired.

The majority of the girls involved in the abduction campaign remain missing and social movements are taking place to spread awareness and rally support in efforts to find them. Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who was targeted for assassination by the Taliban, spoke out against the abductions referring to the abductees as “her sisters” and condemned Boko Haram for their lack of understanding of Islam saying, “They should go and they should learn Islam, and I think that they should think of these girls as their own sisters. How can one imprison their own sisters and treat them in such a bad way?” Malala has helped to perpetuate the #BringBackOurGirls campaign to speak up for her sisters.

In an unsettling video message acquired by Nigerian authorities, the terrorist group’s leader, Abubaka Shekau, announced he intends to sell the 15-18 year old girls into the human trafficking market coercing the girls into marriages, forcing them into slavery, and having them sexually exploited.  The extremist leader declared, “I abducted a girl at a Western education school and you are disturbed. I said Western education should end. Western education should end. Girls, you should go and get married.”

Several countries have offered their support in the search for the missing girls. France, the United Kingdom, China, and the United States have deployed teams to aid in rescue efforts. Reports have suggested that the girls have been divided into groups and likely carried across Nigeria’s borders into the countries of Chad and Cameroon.

Boko Haram is an Islamic Extremist Group that was founded in 2002. Since then, the terrorist organization has fought against the Nigerian government which they view as advocates for the influence of Western Culture. The U.S. declared Boko Haram a terrorist organization in 2013 based on their suicide attack on a UN building in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, in 2011.

Following is a Terrorist Group profile on the organization.


The group firmly adheres to Islam and believes that western influence does not belong in Nigeria.  The organization fights against Western societies and deems Western education as sinful. The group desires to make Nigeria an Islamist State and seeks to impose Sharia Law on the country. They also target “false Muslims.”

Leadership Style

The organization was first led by Mohammed Yusuf, a western educated Nigerian who considered Western Education to corrupt one’s belief in one God.  Analysts have described Yusuf as being both very wealthy and highly educated. Yusuf was killed trying to escape Nigerian police in 2009.  After Yusuf’s death, he was succeed by Abubakr Sheku.  Sheku has been described as a quiet theologian possessing an eidetic memory. He is fluent in the languages of Kanuri, Hausa, Arabic, and English. Reports indicate that Sheku lacks charisma and oratorical skills, but his ruthless actions makes him incredibly dangerous. The US placed a $7 million bounty on Sheku. The leader continually releases recorded video messages taking credit for its terrorist operations in Nigeria.


Several reports have announced classified members of the Boko Haram as being individuals stemming from low social economic statuses. The group attracts individuals in need of wealth and is believed to be comprised of men from other countries such as Chad, Somalia, and Sudan.

Monetary Sources

It is unclear from where Boko Haram receives the monetary resources to fund its operations, but reports suggest the group relies on contributions from its members and possibly other Islamic militant groups.

Logistical & Tactical Resources

The group is suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda and to have received training in terrorist tactics such as carrying out explosion operations. The US reported in its 2011 National Strategy for Counterterrorism (page 16) that Boko Haram had ties to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). However, even Al Qaeda has expressed its opposition to the school girls’ abductions.


According to START’s Global Terrorism Database, the group has targeted numerous establishments over the years. Businesses, educational institutions, government facilities, military facilities, police stations, bus stations, private citizens, religious figures, and telecommunication establishments, among others. The group has targeted 52 educational facilities and 79 government buildings.

Weapon Types

Also, according to data collected from START’s Global Terrorism Database, the group relies heavily on explosives, firearms, and incendiary devices to carry out its operations. Armed assaults comprise the majority of the organization’s attacks. The database indicates that more than 320 armed assaults and 205 bombing/explosion attacks have been carried out by Boko Haram.


Much of the information collected in the profile above was obtained and summarized from circulating news sources, a report provided by the Anti-Defamation League published in 2012, an exposition provided by The Council on Foreign Relations, and the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism’s Global Terrorism Database. Additional sources contributing information can be found via the links provided.


(Image Credit: NBC)