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Generating Terrorism Event Databases: Results from the Global Terrorism Database, 1970 to 2008

Part of the Springer Series on Evidence-Based Crime Policy book series (SSEBCP,volume 3)


In this paper, I provide an update on the Global Terrorism Database (GTD), an open source event database that now includes information on nearly 88,000 domestic and international terrorist attacks since 1970. I describe our original data collection efforts, some of the strategies we have employed to improve the quality and comprehensiveness of the data, and the strengths and weaknesses of open source data in general and the GTD in particular. I then provide descriptive statistics on the contents of the most recently available version of the GTD and offer observations about the future of event databases. While social and behavioral research on terrorism has expanded dramatically in recent years, theoretical perspectives that incorporate terrorism and the collection of valid data on terrorism have lagged behind other criminological specializations. Despite the enormous resources devoted to countering terrorism, we have surprisingly little empirical information about which strategies are most effective.


  • Middle East
  • Terrorist Attack
  • Terrorist Organization
  • Private Citizen
  • Event Database

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  1. 1.

    Most of the 1993 data in the GTD were lost by the original data collectors and we have never been able to recover them fully (LaFree & Dugan, 2007).

  2. 2.

    This was the original PGIS definition of terrorism applied from 1970 to 1997. When data collection was taken over by the START Consortium in 2005, we required that two of the following three criteria also had to be met for inclusion in the database: (1) the violent act was aimed at attaining a political, economic, religious, or social goal; (2) the violent act included evidence of an intention to coerce, intimidate, or convey some other message to a larger audience (or audiences) other than the immediate victims; and (3) the violent act was outside the precepts of International Humanitarian Law. These criteria were constructed to allow analysts and scholars flexibility in applying various definitions of terrorism to meet different operational needs. The data presented in this chapter include all cases that meet any two of these three criteria.

  3. 3.

    For this classification we treat the country or territory as the target. Thus, an attack on the U.S. embassy in Switzerland is treated here as a Swiss attack. Similarly, an attack on a Swiss ambassador living in the U.S. is counted here as a U.S. attack. Although the vast majority of cases in the GTD involve attacks where the location of the target and the nationality of the target are the same, there are some interesting variations across attacks depending on the geographical country attacked, the nationality of the perpetrators, and the nationality of the target. We are exploring these issues in much greater detail in ongoing research.

  4. 4.

    The GTD generally includes attacks against the police only if they were not acting in concert with and under the direct authority of a military unit. We also include attacks on the military, if they occur either in situations where the military personnel were not performing military duties (such as the 2005 attacks in Bali) or where they were not in an active military theater (such as the 2000 attack on the USS Cole).


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Prepared for Evidence-Based Counterterrorism, edited by Cynthia Lum and Les Kennedy. Support for this research was provided by the Department of Homeland Security through the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), grant number N00140510629. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect views of the Department of Homeland Security. I want to thank Erin Miller and Sumit Kumar for database support and Cynthia Lum, Leslie Kennedy, and several anonymous reviewers for helpful editorial suggestions.

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Correspondence to Gary LaFree Ph.D .

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Countries Listed Within Each Region



East and Central Asia

China, Hong Kong, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macao, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan

Eastern Europe

Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Belarus, Croatia, Czechoslovakia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Kashmir, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Serbia-Montenegro, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Soviet Union, Ukraine, and Yugoslavia

Latin America

Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Bolivia, Brazil, Cayman Islands, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Falkland Islands, French Guiana, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Martinique, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts and Nevis, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, Venezuela, and the Virgin Islands (US)

Middle East and North Africa

Algeria, Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, North Yemen, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Yemen, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, West Bank and Gaza Strip, Western Sahara, and Yemen

North America

Canada, Mexico, and the United States

South Asia

Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Mauritius, Nepal, New Caledonia, Pakistan, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Tonga, Vanuatu, Wallis and Futuna, and Western Samoa

Southeast Asia and Oceana

Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Caledonia, New Hebrides, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa (Western Samoa), Solomon Islands, Singapore, South Vietnam, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Vanuatu, Vietnam, and Wallis and Futuna

Sub-Saharan Africa

Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Kinshasa), Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zaire, Zambia, and Zimbabwe

Western Europe

Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Corsica, Denmark, East Germany, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Great Britain, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Isle of Man, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and West Germany

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LaFree, G. (2012). Generating Terrorism Event Databases: Results from the Global Terrorism Database, 1970 to 2008. In: Lum, C., Kennedy, L. (eds) Evidence-Based Counterterrorism Policy. Springer Series on Evidence-Based Crime Policy, vol 3. Springer, New York, NY.

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