Simon Fraser University


Study finds global terrorism declining

June 12, 2008

A recently released report by researchers at the SFU-based Human Security Report Project (HSRP) in the School for International Studies challenges the common perception that global terrorism is increasing with compelling evidencethat it’s actually declining.

Among their observations in the Human Security Brief 2007, the HSRP researchers conclude that:

  • Fatalities from terrorism have dropped by 40 per cent while al-Qaeda has faced a dramatic collapse in support throughout the Muslim world.
  • There has been an "extraordinary, but largely unnoticed, positive change" in the sub-Saharan African security landscape, with the number of conflicts being waged falling by more than half between 1999 and 2006, and the combat toll dropping by 98 per cent.
  • A previously observed decline in the total number of armed conflicts and combat deaths around the world also continues.

The HSRP team analyzed statistical trends from three U.S.-based research centres — the National Counterterrorism Center, the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism and the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism.

While trend data from these centres appears to support claims that the threat of terrorism is increasing, HSRP researchers argue that the data are misleading when defined in another way.

For example, fatalities in Iraq, which appear to drive the global trend, are typically labeled civilian deaths, but are counted in the centres’ evaluations. Meanwhile similar acts of civilians being intentionally killed in sub-Saharan Africa civil wars aren’t counted.

The project’s director, Andrew Mack, says such inconsistencies distort the global terrorism trend data. However, the researchers found that even including the Iraq data, a major recent decline in incidence of terrorism could be seen in the latter half of 2007.

The decline is not surprising, says Mack: "Historically, most terrorist campaigns have failed and the Islamists’ slumping popular support in the Muslim world is now a huge liability for the al–Qaeda network."