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A chilling visual history of the past 15 years of terrorism

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

With ISIS's dramatic march across Iraq last June and the recent attacks in Paris, terrorism has become the big issue in American foreign policy in a way we haven't seen since the first few years after 9/11. But although the threat of terrorism in the United States feels like it's waned for almost a decade between 2001 and today, terrorist attacks continued to happen around the world — as the following short video, which maps the past 15 years of major terrorist attacks, shows.

The video's creator, Milan R. Vuckovic, used data from the University of Maryland's authoritative Global Terrorism Database to plot every terrorist attack that killed 21 or more people between the beginning of 2001 and this year (the 2015 data is gleaned from news reports and is less reliable). Vuckovic notes that "due to the large amount of data used, there are likely to be mistakes (exact chronology, location, casualties etc.)" and that the video "should serve as an approximation." Still, the result is a riveting picture of where and when terrorist groups have been deadliest:

There are a few interesting takeaways from the video:

  • Iraq doesn't show up on the map until after the US invasion in 2003. In other words, there were zero terrorist attacks that killed more than 21 people inside Iraq between January 1, 2001, and March 2003.
  • The overwhelming majority of terrorist attacks happen in places with active wars and insurgencies, rather than in relatively stable countries. Things like the Paris attacks and 9/11 are just really, really rare.
  • Relatedly, terrorist attacks in a country tend to ebb and flow in connection with local militant groups' fortunes in war. After the LTTE/Tamil Tigers' defeat in 2011, terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka ceased completely. Likewise, Iraq and Nigeria both got more deadly after ISIS and Boko Haram (respectively) grew in strength in recent years.
  • The text at the end — claiming that terrorism never works — is heavily disputed. Some academic studies do find that terrorism is an ineffective tactic for insurgent groups looking to overthrew governments (see, for instance, Max Abrahms's research); others suggest that terrorism can actually help militant groups accomplish important goals.

Those are just a few quick thoughts. There's a lot more interesting stuff in the video — it's definitely worth watching.

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