Attrition: What The Media Will Not Tell You


December 26, 2015: Terrorism gets a lot of headlines because it kills many people in horrific and often unexpected ways. Yet since 2000 there have been about 12,000 terrorism related deaths a year while there were about a million deaths a year from automobile accidents. While we accept automobile related deaths as a cost of living in a more affluent society (and most are accidents, not deliberate attacks), terrorism causes alarm. Moreover while 62 percent of terrorism deaths are carried out by identifiable groups, over a third are the work of unknown groups or individuals. Over 90 percent of the terrorism deaths committed by known groups are the work of Islamic groups. Most of the rest are leftist rebels, usually representing some form of extreme communism. Among the known terrorist deaths about 60 percent are the work of twenty major groups. The names of the most destructive of these are well known. Since 2000 the Afghan Taliban and ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant) have each killed about 15,000 people. The difference is that the Afghan Taliban has been active through this entire period while ISIL only got started in 2013. These two groups represent about 16 percent of all terrorist deaths. The next two major killers (Boko Haram in Nigeria and al Qaeda worldwide) killed about 10,000 people each since 2000. The difference is that al Qaeda has been active since 2000 while Boko Haram only got to large scale killing in 2008.

While motor vehicles provide many useful, even essential, services terrorism is all about terrorizing people, often a specific group or even an individual. Much terrorism is carried out with the aim of garnering a lot of media attention. While many terrorists may be barely competent at building bombs and avoiding detection and capture, they must be led by people who know how to play the media. Naturally the media that eagerly jumps all over terrorist attacks designed for media use is much less eager to investigate and publicize the media strategy and techniques of the terrorists.


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