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Terrorist Attacks Against Performing Arts Venues: Global Trends and Characteristics Spanning 50 Years

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 August 2022

Stephen Y. Liang*
Department of Emergency Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MissouriUSA Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MissouriUSA
LinLin Tian
Department of Neurology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MissouriUSA
Garrett A. Cavaliere
Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine, MarylandUSA
Benjamin J. Lawner
Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine, MarylandUSA Maryland ExpressCare Critical Care Transport Program, Baltimore, MarylandUSA
Gregory N. Jasani
Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine, MarylandUSA
Correspondence: Stephen Y. Liang, MD, MPHS Washington University School of Medicine Mail Stop Code 8051-043-0015 4523 Clayton Avenue St. Louis, Missouri63110USA E-mail:



In fostering community and culture through entertainment in shared spaces, performing arts venues have also become targets of terrorism. A greater understanding of these attacks is needed to assess the risk posed to different types of venues, to inform medical disaster preparedness, to anticipate injury patterns, and to reduce preventable deaths.


A search of the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) was conducted from the year 1970 through 2019. Using pre-coded variables for target/victim type and target subtype, attacks involving “business” and “entertainment/cultural/stadium/casino” were identified. Attacks targeting performing arts venues were selected using the search terms “theater,” “theatre,” “auditorium,” “center,” “hall,” “house,” “concert,” “music,” “opera,” “cinema,” and “movie.” Manual review by two authors was performed to confirm appropriateness for inclusion of entries involving venues where the primary focus of the audience was to view a performance. Descriptive statistics were performed using R (version 3.6.1).


A total of 312 terrorist attacks targeting performing arts venues were identified from January 1, 1970 through December 31, 2019. Two-hundred nine (67.0%) attacks involved cinemas or movie theaters, 80 (25.6%) involved unspecified theaters, and 23 (7.4%) specifically targeted live music performance venues. Two-hundred thirty-four (75.0%) attacks involved a bombing or explosion, 50 (16.0%) damaged a facility or infrastructure, and 17 (5.4%) included armed assault. Perpetrators used explosives in 234 (75.0%) attacks, incendiary weapons in 50 (16.0%) attacks, and firearms in 19 (6.1%) attacks. In total, attacks claimed the lives of 1,307 and wounded 4,201 persons. Though fewer in number, attacks against music venues were responsible for 29.4% of fatalities and 35.0% of those wounded, and more frequently involved the use of firearms. Among 95 attacks falling within the highest quartile for victims killed or wounded (>two killed and/or >ten wounded), 83 (87.4%) involved explosives, seven (7.4%) involved firearms, and three (3.2%) involved incendiary methods.


While uncommon, terrorist attacks against performing arts venues carry the risk for mass casualties, particularly when explosives and firearms are used.

Original Research
© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the World Association for Disaster and Emergency Medicine

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