The Truth Behind Five Statements About Terrorism

Determing fact from fiction in the debate on terrorism

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images News

No matter where travelers go in the world, arguably the most unknown threat they face abroad is terrorism. In 2016 alone, the world has faced attacks in the United States and around the world that have been completed under the guise of terrorism. In July 2016 alone, over one dozen attacks have taken place across Europe, at locations including France and Germany.

While the threat of terrorism is always prevalent, travelers who understand how these unpredictable situations affect their trips can better prepare for the worst case scenarios. Here are the facts behind five common statements made about global terrorism, and what travelers can do to ensure safe travels prior to departure.

Statement: There is one Islamic State attack every 84 Hours

Fact: In July 2016, global terrorism tracking company IntelCenter released data suggesting there is one terrorist attack perpetrated in the name of the Islamic State every 84 hours. CNN independently verified that data through their own analysis, suggesting a terrorist attack takes place somewhere in the world every 3.5 days on average.

However, the data measures attacks completed both directed by leaders of the Islamic State, and attacks which are inspired by the Islamic State. Therefore, while terrorism is still a major threat, it is difficult to discern which events are actually perpetrated as acts to inspire fear, and which are single events.

Moreover, it is important to understand where these attacks are taking place. Using July 2016 as an example: there were over one dozen attacks in Europe (including Turkey), but only one was actually directed by the Islamic State. The remainder took place in some of the most corrupt nations in the world, including Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.

Travelers who are concerned about their next trip should consider purchasing a travel insurance policy prior to departure, and ensure their policy covers terrorism. Furthermore, travelers should also make a personal safety plan for each stop on their trip, in case the worst come to fruition as they travel.

Statement: Terrorism is the biggest threat against western travelers

Fact: Although terrorism is a major threat to western travelers, it is not necessarily the biggest threat they face while traveling abroad. According to data collected by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), there were over 430,000 reported intentional homicides around the world in 2012. The UNODC defines intentional homicide as “…unlawful death purposefully inflicted on a person by another person…[including] serious assault leading to death and death as a result of a terrorist attack.”

In comparable data, there were over double the amount of assaults in the United States alone, and well over 10 million reports of theft and robbery reported around the world in places including Brazil, Germany, and the United Kingdom. While terrorism is a serious threat that can affect travelers at any given time without warning, travelers have a higher statistical chance of being a victim of mugging or pickpocketing theft while traveling.

Prior to departure, every traveler should make a backup plan in case of theft. This should include making a contingency kit with backup items, as well as keeping a copy of essential passport pages in case it is lost or stolen.

Statement: Homicide and terrorist attacks are leading causes of death abroad

Fact: Unfortunately, terrorist attacks can come out of nowhere and affect thousands of people at once, leaving behind a wake of death and property destruction. These highly publicized events are taken to inspire fear in travelers, forcing them to reconsider whether or not it is worth it to take their next trip.

However, homicide – including terrorist attacks – are not the leading cause of death for American tourists around the world. According to the State Department, automobile accidents were the leading cause of death for American travelers in 2014, as 225 were killed in a number of ways involving motorized vehicles. Other leading causes included drowning and drug use abroad.

It is important for travelers to note that homicide – which includes terrorism – was the second leading cause of death abroad. Intentional killings claimed the lives of 174 Americans traveling outside the United States in 2014. Therefore, no matter where we go, travelers should always be aware of their surroundings and take extreme caution as they travel.

Statement: Violence is a bigger problem abroad than in the United States

Fact: While most terrorist attacks take place outside of the United States, this does not necessarily mean that the United States is a safe haven. Several nations warn their tourists to be weary of gun violence in major cities while visiting the United States.

Moreover, data collected by both the University of Maryland and several independent organizations suggest America has the most acts of gun violence than many other nations around the world. Data collected by the Gun Violence Archive suggests there were 350 mass shootings in the United States in 2015 alone, claiming 368 lives and injuring 1,321.

While that data may be startling, several other nations have bigger problems when it comes to violence and homicide. UNODC data shows the United States of America had a homicide rate of over 14,000 per 100,000 population in 2012. Although this number may seem high, other nations have a much higher homicide per capita rate. Brazil, India, and Mexico each reported a homicide rate per 100,000 population significantly higher than the United States. While travelers in the United States should be vigilant at home, they should also express similar awareness while away from home as well.

Statement: The 2016 Olympics will be a target for terrorism and violence

Fact: While Brazil is known for a high rate of homicides and arrests have been made leading up to the 2016 Olympic Games, the event has traditionally been known as a rather peaceful gathering of nations. According to a report from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland, only four fatal attacks have taken place at three Olympic Games since 1970. Of those, only two were confirmed as terrorism attacks – the other two were attributed to protests and mental illness.

Due to the violent history of modern Brazil, travelers should remain well aware of their surroundings and maintain a personal safety plan at all times. This includes staying on main roads, and only taking official taxi cabs or ridesharing services between events. Finally, travelers to the 2016 Olympic Games should also have their personal health in mind, as the Zika virus is a major concern for those traveling to Brazil.

Although the statements on terrorism can sound bleak and scary, every traveler can make better decisions when taking the statistics and data in context. By understanding the meaning behind the messaging, travelers can make an educated decision on when to travel, and when to stay home.