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50 Years of Mass-Fatality Terrorist Attacks: A Retrospective Study of Target Demographics, Modalities, and Injury Patterns to Better Inform Future Counter-Terrorism Medicine Preparedness and Response

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 August 2021

Derrick Tin*
Affiliation:
Senior Fellow, BIDMC Disaster Medicine Fellowship; Department of Emergency Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, MassachusettsUSA
Attila J. Hertelendy
Affiliation:
Faculty, BIDMC Disaster Medicine Fellowship; Department of Emergency Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MassachusettsUSA
Alexander Hart
Affiliation:
Director of Research, BIDMC Disaster Medicine Fellowship; Department of Emergency Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center; Instructor, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MassachusettsUSA
Gregory R. Ciottone
Affiliation:
Director, BIDMC Disaster Medicine Fellowship; Department of Emergency Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center; Associate Professor, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MassachusettsUSA
*
Correspondence: Derrick Tin, MBBS BIDMC Disaster Medicine Fellowship Department of Emergency Medicine Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School Cambridge, MassachusettsUSA E-mail: derrick@alphazodiac.com

Abstract

Background:

Terrorism-related deaths have fallen year after year since peaking in 2014, and whilst the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has disrupted terrorist organizations capacity to conduct attacks and limited their potential targets, counter-terrorism experts believe this is a short-term phenomenon with serious concerns of an escalation of violence and events in the near future. This study aims to provide an epidemiological analysis of all terrorism-related mass-fatality events (>100 fatalities) sustained between 1970-2019, including historical attack strategies, modalities used, and target selection, to better inform health care responders on the injury types they are likely to encounter.

Methods:

The Global Terrorism Database (GTD) was searched for all attacks between the years 1970-2019. Attacks met inclusion criteria if they fulfilled the three terrorism-related criteria as set by the GTD codebook. Ambiguous events were excluded. State-sponsored terrorist events do not meet the codebook’s definition, and as such, are excluded from the study. Data analysis and subsequent discussions were focused on events causing 100+ fatal injuries (FI).

Results:

In total, 168,003 events were recorded between the years 1970-2019. Of these, 85,225 (50.73%) events recorded no FI; 67,356 (40.10%) events recorded 1-10 FI; 5,791 (3.45%) events recorded 11-50 FI; 405 (0.24%) events recorded 51-100 FI; 149 (0.09%) events recorded over 100 FI; and 9,077 (5.40%) events recorded unknown number of FI.

Also, 96,905 events recorded no non-fatal injuries (NFI); 47,425 events recorded 1-10 NFI; 8,313 events recorded 11-50 NFI; 867 events recorded 51-100 NFI; 360 events recorded over 100 NFI; and 14,130 events recorded unknown number of NFI. Private citizens and property were the primary targets in 67 of the 149 high-FI events (100+ FI). Of the 149 events recording 100+ FI, 46 (30.87%) were attributed to bombings/explosions as the primary attack modality, 43 (28.86%) were armed assaults, 23 (15.44%) hostage incidents, two (1.34%) were facility/infrastructure attacks (incendiary), one (0.67%) was an unarmed assault, seven (4.70%) had unknown modalities, and 27 (18.12%) were mixed modality attacks.

Conclusions:

The most common attack modality causing 100+ FI was the use of bombs and explosions (30.87%), followed by armed assaults (28.86%). Private citizens and properties (44.97%) were most commonly targeted, followed by government (6.04%), businesses (5.37%), police (4.70%), and airports and aircrafts (4.70%). These data will be useful for the development of training programs in Counter-Terrorism Medicine (CTM), a rapidly emerging Disaster Medicine sub-specialty.

Type
Original Research
Copyright
© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the World Association for Disaster and Emergency Medicine

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