Event ReportsPublished on Apr 23, 2015
Dr. Gary LaFree of the University of Maryland says in his studies of the data gathered by his department, he has noticed that in recent years, terrorist attacks have become deadlier with advances in technological knowhow. However, attacks using high technology, radiological, chemical and biological attacks, made up only a meager percentage of the total number of attacks.
Sharp rise in number of terror attacks since 2010

"There was a sharp rise in the total number of terrorist attacks worldwide after 2010," observed Dr. Gary LaFree while discussing patterns of terrorism from 1970 till 2013 at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata.

Dr. LaFree, Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice and Director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland, said despite the rise in number of attacks, the fatality rate has remained relatively unchanged.

He was delivering a lecture on ’Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism: Asian Experience’ on April 21 in association with the U.S. Consulate General in Kolkata. Dr. LaFree said the START advances science-based knowledge about the human causes and consequences of terrorism as a resource for homeland security policymakers and practitioners. The START also compiles a Global Terrorism Database, recording terrorist attacks, their intensities and trends in the evolution of terrorism across the world.

Dr. LaFree said in his studies of the data gathered by the START, he noticed that in recent years, terrorist attacks have become deadlier with advances in technological knowhow. Nevertheless, attacks using high technology, radiological, chemical and biological attacks, made up only a meager percentage of the total number of attacks. Most terrorist attacks are still carried out with primitive bombs such as dynamite, while firearms are also used to some extent.

He also drew a parallel of global terrorism trends and of trends within India and said that the two trends mostly match. The year 2014 in India witnessed a number of such attacks but they were in general not very deadly. Along with this, he also observed that there have been no suicide attacks in India in the same timeframe. His data showed the east and northeast of India to be most affected with scattered instances in the south and north-central regions as well. He reported that 236 unique terrorist organizations perpetrated a total of 8,207 attacks over the 1970-2013 period, in India.

Dr. LaFree went on to show how the geographical distribution of terrorist attacks has changed over the past three to four decades. In the 1970s, the countries most affected were Turkey, Spain, and Italy; in the 1980s, it was mostly centered in South America; in the 1990s, Pakistan, and again Turkey feature on the list. In the 2000s the most affected countries include those of South and Southeast Asia. Mapping the terrorism hot spots across the globe, Dr. LaFree pointed out that in 2013, the highest intensity regions included West Asia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan primarily while lower intensity attacks were also registered in North and central Africa, the northern part of South America, the northeastern part of India, and also at some points in Southeast Asia. Among the most frequently attacked countries from 1970 to 2013 are Iraq, Pakistan, India, Columbia and Peru while countries with the highest fatalities include Iraq, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. He mentioned that if these attacks and fatalities were grouped into regions, then South Asia and the Middle and North Africa (MENA) emerge as regions with the highest number of fatalities. On the other hand, in South America and in Europe, the number of terrorist attacks was much higher than the number of fatalities.

Talking about the longevity of terrorist organizations, he pointed that very few survive for a long period of time. Drawing from David Rapoport’s theory of terrorist activities being ’waves’ of specific types of terrorism, Dr. LaFree identified the four important waves of terrorism -- the Anarchist Wave (1880s-1920s), the Anti-Colonial Wave (1920s-1960s), the New Left Wave (1960s-1990s), and the Religious Wave (1979-current). The pattern of attacks is much more dynamic since groups themselves are fluid in their activity and response. For instance, specific days can increase the likelihood of attacks such as election dates, while specific government actions can also provoke a quick response by the group within less than a week after the action.

The data and the mapping done by Dr. LaFree served to show the pattern of terrorism over the last three to four decades and how terrorism as a phenomenon displays a tendency to shift in accordance with the political and socio-economic tensions of different regions.

Gen. (Retd.) Shankar Roychowdhury, the discussant, observed that Dr. Lafree’s presentation attempted to put a quantitative face to terrorism. He said that over time, terrorism has come to mean any and all the things that affect the normal course of life. And in this respect, there needs to be further nuanced studies which can help us understand the various factors that impinge on terrorist activities. This would also enable a better understanding of how to cope with and address such challenges at both the political and the socio-economic levels.

Gen. Roychowdhury also drew attention to the link between organized crime and terrorism and the need to identify and analyze these links. In conclusion, he said that through such quantitative pattern analyses as Dr. LaFree’s the capacity to better comprehend and even to forecast terrorist events may emerge.

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