A day doesn’t go by when a story about a deadly terrorist attack somewhere around the world doesn’t make a headline. Holidays are unfortunately not excluded from the grime and gore: this past April, during Easter festivities, Sri Lankans witnessed one of their worst terrorist attacks in the country’s history when a group of suicide bombers radicalized by Islamic State ideology attacked churches and hotels, killing over 250 people.
Studying the underlying political, social, economic, and religious factors that inspire individuals to commit such heinous acts of violence is admittedly a joyless task. Given the various interpretations among the academic community about what it means to actually be a terrorist and what qualifies as terrorism adds complexity to the entire discourse. Measuring terrorism is an inexact science made even more difficult by the ease with which a prospective assailant can conduct an operation using crude weapons with little to no advanced warning.
Fortunately, researchers at the University of Maryland have helped us make sense of modern-day terrorism through the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism program. The consortium’s annual report is perhaps the most accurate qualitative resource for academics and practitioners who are responsible for understanding the terrorist phenomena and developing policies to counteract it.
This week, the START project published its report covering 2018, a year when the Islamic State was steadily losing its territorial caliphate in Syria (the group lost most of its territory across the border in Iraq the previous year) and Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups were asserting their presence in Africa. While the product is quite detailed, full of numbers and trends across a wide constellation of countries on multiple continents, several findings stand out immediately.