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 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



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.


  1. Behlendorf, B., LaFree, G., & Legault, R. (2011). Predicting microcyles of violence: Evidence from terrorist attacks by the FMLN and ETA. University of Maryland: Unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar
  2. Chermak, S. M., Freilich, J. D., Parkin, W. S., & Lynch, J. P. (2011). Comparing data sources of American terrorism and extremist crime: Investigating selectivity bias. Michigan State University: Unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar
  3. Cutter, S. (2005). Geo-coded terrorism attacks in India. University of South Carolina: Unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar
  4. European Commission. (2008). Defining terrorism. Transnational terrorism, security and the rule of law. Retrieved October 10, 2008, from
  5. Fahey, S., LaFree, G., Dugan, L., & Piquero, A. (2011). Situational determinants of terrorist and nonterrorist aerial hijackings. Justice Quarterly.  DOI: 10.1080/07418825.2011.583265.
  6. Hoffman, B. (2007). The new age of terrorism. RAND: National Security Research Division. Retrieved from
  7. Jenkins, B. M. (1975). International terrorism: A new model of conflict. In D. Carlton & C. Schaerf (Eds.), International terrorism and world security. London: Croom Helm.Google Scholar
  8. LaFree, G., & Dugan, L. (2009). Tracking global terrorism, 1970–2004. In D. Weisburd, T. Feucht, I. Hakimi, L. Mock, & S. Perry (Eds.), To protect and to serve: Police and policing in an age of terrorism (pp. 43–80). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  9. LaFree, G., Dugan, L., Xie, M., & Singh P. (2011). Geospatial and temporal patterns of terrorist attacks by ETA, 1970 to 2007. Journal of Quantitative Criminology.  DOI: 10.1007/s10940-011-9133-y.
  10. Merari, A. (1991). Academic research and government policy on terrorism. Terrorism and Political Violence, 3, 88–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Pinkerton Global Intelligence Service. (1995). Annual report for 1993. Washington: Unpublished.Google Scholar
  12. Schmid, A., & Jongman, A. J. (1988). Political terrorism: A new guide to actors, authors, concepts, databases, theories and literature. Amsterdam: North-Holland.Google Scholar
  13. Sheehan, I. S. (2011). Assessing and comparing terrorism sources. In C. Lum & L. Kennedy (Eds.), Evidence-based counter terrorism. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  14. Smelser, N. (2007). The faces of terrorism: Social and psychological dimensions. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Smith, B. L., Damphouse, K. R., Jackson, F., & Sellers, A. (2002). The prosecution and punishment of international terrorists in federal courts: 1980–1998. Criminology and Public Policy, 1, 311–338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Van Brakle, M., & LaFree, G. (2007). Rational choice and terrorist target selection: Lessons from the South African experience. Paper presented at the annual meetings of the American Society of Criminology. Atlanta, Georgia.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Criminology and Criminal JusticeUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA

Personalised recommendations