21 May 2008


21 May 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


Contrary to “expert consensus”, the threat of terrorism -– however defined -– was declining, Andrew Mack, Director of the Human Security Report Project said at Headquarters today.

Launching Human Security Brief 2007 at a press conference sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations, Mr. Mack said that conclusion was based on critical analysis of three data sets covering the period from 1998 to 2006, produced by The National Counterterrorism Centre, the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism and the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland.  The first organization is a Government agency and the other two receive Government funding.  Human Security Brief 2007 was published by the Human Security Report Project research team at Simon Fraser University’s School for International Studies in Vancouver, Canada.

Mr. Mack, a former Director of the United Nations Strategic Planning Unit before starting the Human Security Report Project, said all three data sets included civilians killed by non-State actors in civil wars, but not consistently so.  Some 81 per cent of terrorism victims were from Iraq since the 2003 invasion, but the data sets did not include victims of civil wars in sub-Saharan Africa or Darfur.  If the Iraq situation were removed from the data, there would be a 40 per cent decline in the incidents covered in two data sets, with the third still showing a small increase.  However, new data from the National Counterterrorism Centre for 2007 showed a decline.

He said part of the decline was due to tactical successes in the “war on terror” -- sanctuary denied, leaders killed and networks disrupted -– but mostly because Islamist terrorist organizations had “shot themselves in the foot”.  Al-Qaida in Iraq, for instance, had angered even Sunni Iraqis by its indiscriminate violence against civilians, and some recent polls showed that “100 per cent” of Iraqis thought the attacks were unacceptable.

Just 1 per cent of Afghans felt strong support for the Taliban, and in north-west Pakistan, Osama bin Laden’s popularity had dropped from 70 per cent in 2007 to just 4 per cent in 2008, he said.  That could lead to the conclusion that, as terrorism went up, support went down.  The fact that about 2,000 people a year were killed in terrorist acts should be put in perspective.  An estimated 500,000 people were murdered annually and one million died from traffic accidents.  The threats of Al-Qaida were real, but terrorism posed no threat to civilization.

Turning to the human security situation in sub-Saharan Africa, he said estimates from the 1990s indicating that the region was hopelessly mired in violence had not panned out.  Between 1999 and 2006, conflict numbers had declined by more than half and fatalities by an “astounding” 98 per cent.  The decline was caused by peacemaking and mediation, as well as post-conflict peacebuilding, spearheaded by the United Nations.  From 1999 to 2006, not one of the peace agreements signed in Africa had broken down.

Asked what impact the designation of Somalia’s Al-Shabab as a terrorist group by the United States Department of State would have, Mr. Mack said the State Department only gave such a designation if a group threatened United States nationals or interests, adding that he did not know what impact such a designation for Al-Shabab would have.  However, the killing of civilians by non-State actors in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was not seen as terrorism, according to that “US-centric definition”.

Whether Iran supported or even exported terrorism was hard to say, he said, in response to another question, noting that such statements were based on “murky” intelligence and depended also on the definition of terrorism.  Iran certainly did not support the Sunni Al-Qaida in Iraq.

Responding to other questions, he said it was difficult to assess which country was the most insecure, or to include homicide, for instance, in the definition of insecurity.  Iraq was probably the worst, but it was getting “less bad”, while Afghanistan was getting worse.  The indirect consequences of war should also be taken into account, because it led to more people dying of malnutrition and disease.  Figures for Darfur in that regard were hard to come by because no epidemiological surveys had been carried out, but one estimate indicated that some 150,000 people had died of those causes.

Humanitarian workers were increasingly targeted for attacks, he said, in answer to another question.  In 2006, twice as many humanitarian workers had been killed than in 1998, but their numbers in the field over that period had doubled.

Stressing that the drop in terrorism was a net decline, he said incidents in Algeria and Pakistan had gone up, but terrorist activity in Algiers was small compared to what it had been in the 1990s.  Islamist terror groups lacked the support they had enjoyed in that decade as they had alienated the population to such an extent that it had started to cooperate with the authorities.

He said he did not know whether or not the Iraq war remained a recruiting tool for terrorists, but the flow of foreign fighters into that country had declined.  The diaries of captured or killed jihadists had mentioned a lack of morale for some years now and it had become increasingly difficult to recruit people for what seemed a losing cause.

Asked about Palestine, he said that was the only area where support for suicide bombers stood at 50 per cent, simply because the bombers did not target fellow Muslims.

Reiterating that there was still no agreement on a definition of terrorism, he noted that the “Group of 77” developing countries and China did not consider resistance against occupation as terrorism.  Moreover, State terrorism would have to include the blanket bombardment on German cities during the Second World War and the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  But however terrorism was defined, the trend did not change much.

Human Security Brief 2007 can be downloaded from

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.