9/11 'Misleads' Americans' View of Terrorism; Analysis Shows Most Attacks Small, Amateurish, Non-Lethal

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 28, 2009 | Go to article overview

9/11 'Misleads' Americans' View of Terrorism; Analysis Shows Most Attacks Small, Amateurish, Non-Lethal


Byline: Jennifer Harper, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Sept. 11 looms large as the defining example of a terrorist attack on the United States, but it was one of more than 1,000 in recent years and a very atypical example.

The United States has experienced over 1,350 terrorist attacks since 1970, peaking in the mid-1970s with 120 attacks per year, states a new analysis by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), based at the University of Maryland and a research arm of the Homeland Security Department.

The data were gleaned from the Global Terrorism Database (GTD), which includes detailed information - weapons, casualties, perpetrators - on more than 80,000 attacks worldwide between 1970 and 2007.

The real message here is that the 9/11 attack changed everything in the United States - and to some extent around the world - even though it was an incredibly atypical event. Because 9/11 has become the very symbol for terrorism, we tend to think of all terrorist attacks as being similar, said Gary LaFree, director of START.

So, 9/11 poses a policy dilemma. On the one hand, there is no denying its impact. On the other hand, if we consider it to be typical of terrorist attacks, we will have a very misleading view of terrorism, Mr. LaFree said.

But the nation's impression of what constitutes terrorism is often influenced by frequent, dramatic news coverage. Terrorism, in fact, has been the No. 1 story three times in the last five weeks, according to the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, filling up one-third of total coverage. Throughout 2008, terrorism only accounted for 1 percent, the group said. …

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