Resources: datasets on jihadism updated

This is a list of sources for quantitative information on jihadist terrorism. It is an updated version of the list I posted in May last year.

It contains five new sources, and working links for everything (over half had broken).

Some of the links go directly to tables or charts, but most go to articles or reports that contain the dataset within. Most of the linked articles are in PDF format.

The sources are divided according to whether they focus on individuals involved in jihadism (usually covering demographic characteristics) or on jihadist incidents (covering things like methods of attack). Those that include both have been placed in the individuals section.

Within those categories, they are divided into whether they are free or behind paywalls.

A special note is made if the data is disaggregated. Those ones don’t simply say “45% of the sample was born in the US” but provide lists of each individual or incident, with specific details. These ones are the most valuable.

If you know of any good ones I’m missing, please let me know.


Jihadist individuals – open access

Altunbas, Yener and Thornton, John (2009) Human Capital and the Supply of Homegrown Islamic Terrorists in the UK, Social Science Research Network.

Atran, Scott (2009) John Jay & Artis Transnational Terrorism Database  Website which contains disaggregated data in excel sheets.

Bakker, Edwin (2006) Jihadi Terrorists in Europe, Clingendael: Netherlands Institute of International Relations.

Bergen, Peter et al (2010 but ongoing) Post-9/11 Jihadist Terrorism Cases Involving U.S. Citizens and Residents: An Overview, New America Foundation. Disaggregated.

Felter, Joseph and Fishman , Brian (2007) Al Qa’ida’s Foreign Fighters in Iraq: A First Look at the Sinjar Records, New York: Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point.

Fishman , Brian, ed. (2008) Bombers, Bank Accounts, and Bleedout: al-Qa`ida’s Road in and Out of Iraq, New York: Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point.

Gambetta, Diego and Hertog, Stephen (2007) Engineers of Jihad, London: University of Oxford.

Gartenstein-Ross, Daveed and Grossman, Laura (2009) Homegrown Terrorists in the U.S. and U.K.: An Empirical Examination of the Radicalization Process, Washington DC: Federation for Defense of Democracies.

Gilson, Dave et al (2011) “Terror Trials by the Numbers”, Mother Jones. See the disaggregated data here.

Hegghammer, Thomas (2013) “Should I Stay or Should I Go? Explaining Variation in Western Jihadists’ Choice between Domestic and Foreign Fighting“, American Political Science Review, Volume 107, Issue 1. The disaggregated data is available here and here.

Jenkins, Brian (2010) Would be Warriors: Incidents of Jihadist Radicalization in the United States Since September 11, 2001, Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation.

Kurzman, Charles (2011) Muslim-American Terrorism Since 9-11: An Accounting, Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, 2 February. Disaggregated.

Kurzman, Charles and Schanzer, David and Moosa, Ebrahim (2010) Anti-Terror Lessons of Muslim-Americans, Washington DC: US Department of Justice, 6 January.

Zammit, Andrew (2011) “Who becomes a jihadist in Australia?” ARC Linkage Project Conference on Radicalisation Conference 2010.


Jihadist individuals – paywalled

Dyer, Emily and Simcox, Robin (2013) Al-Qaeda in the United States – A Complete Analysis of Terrorism Offenses, London: Henry Jackson Society. 107-page preview available for free, full report can be purchased in hard copy. Disaggregated.

Haddad, Simon (2010) “Fatah al-Islam: Anatomy of a Terrorist Organisation”, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism vol. 33, iss. 6, pp. 548-569.

Leikin, Robert (2006) “The Quantitative Analysis of Terrorism and Immigration: An Initial Exploration”, Terrorism and Political Violence, iss. 18, pp. 503-521.

Mullins, Sam (2011) “Islamist Terrorism and Australia: An Empirical Examination of the ‘Home-Grown’ Threat”, Terrorism and Political Violence, vol.23, iss. 2, pp. 254-285.

Porter, Louise and Kebbell, Mark (2010) “Radicalisation in Australia: Examining Australia’s Convicted Terrorists”, Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, June.

Simcox, Robin and Stuart, Hannah and Ahmed, Houriya (2011) Islamist Terrorism: the British Connections. 2nd Edition. London: Henry Jackson Society and The Centre for Social Cohesion. 32 page preview available for free, full report can be purchased in hard copy. Disaggregated.

Stenersen, Anne (2011) “Al Qaeda’s Foot Soldiers: A Study of the Biographies of Foreign Fighters Killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan Between 2002 and 2006”, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, March, pp. 171 – 198.


Jihadist incidents – open access

Bjelopera, Jerome P. and Randol, Mark A. (2010) American Jihadist Terrorism: Combating a Complex Threat, Washington DC: Congressional Research Service, 7 December. Disaggregated.

Cruickshank, Paul (2011), The Militant Pipeline: Between the Afghanistan-Pakistan Border Region and the West, New America Foundation. Disaggregated.

Nesser, Petter (2010) “Chronology of Jihadism in Western Europe Update 2008-2010”, Working Paper, Kjeller: Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, 20 December. Disaggregated.

Sageman, Marc (2009) “Confronting al-Qaeda: Understanding the Threat in Afghanistan”, Perspectives on Terrorism, vol. 3, no. 4.

Europol (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013), Europol Terrorism Situation and Trend Reports, European Police Office.


Jihadist incidents – paywalled

Jordan, Javier (2012) “Analysis of Jihadi Terrorism Incidents in Western Europe 2001-2010”, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, April, pp. 382-484. Disaggregated.

Nesser, Petter  (2008) “Chronology of Jihadism in Western Europe 1994–2007: Planned, Prepared, and Executed Terrorist Attacks”, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, October, pp. 924-946. Disaggregated.

Crone, Manni and Harrow, Martin (2011) “Homegrown Terrorism in the West”, Terrorism and Political Violence, August, pp. 521-536. The disaggregated data is available here.

About the estimated 200 Australian fighters in Syria again

Since April, almost every article about Australian involvement in the Syrian civil war, repeats the claim that 200 Australians are fighting in the insurgency.

This number is being treated as the one and only official estimate, and two days ago an article in TIME incorrectly attributed the number directly to “a public statement made by David Irvine, director general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO)”.

In this post I argue that the 200 figure should not be treated as authoritative, and present several reasons why it’s likely to be an over-estimate. I’ve made several of these arguments before, but as the TIME article irked me I’ve decided to put them all together to make a clear case for scepticism.


There is no one official, public, estimate of the number of Australian fighters in Syria. Instead there have been several conflicting reports of statements by government officials.

200 figure originated from an article in The Australian on Saturday 13 April, where Cameron Stewart and Paul Maley reported that “the number of Australians believed to be fighting in Syria has doubled in less than six months to about 200, and ASIO is concerned that at least 100 are fighting for radical al-Qa’ida offshoot, the al-Nusra Front.”

In an article published on Monday 16 April, a journalist had asked ASIO Director-General David Irvine about Australians fighting in Syria. He stated that “we are talking in the hundreds and not the tens”. This suggested that ASIO officially endorsed the estimate of 200 or more fighters (which was how I interpreted it in this article I wrote on the day).

However, Irvine’s words may have been a bit more ambiguous. While the journalist, Brendan Nicholson, stated that Irvine was referring specifically to fighters, it is not clear from the actual quote whether Irvine was referring only to fighters or to all Australians involved in the conflict in some capacity.

Later that evening, Foreign Minister Bob Carr was interviewed on 7:30 and explicitly downplayed the 200 fighters claim by saying:

“There was a global figure quoted on the weekend in an interview I did that I can’t confirm or deny. The number of Australians who actually had been participating in the fighting would be a good deal lower than that 200 figure that was quoted. That 200 figure, if it is right, would include people who are raising money, expressing sympathy, people who have been described to me as Jihadist tourists turning up in a trouble spot.” [emphasis added]

Recent reporting casts further doubt on the ‘200 fighters, 100 with Jabhat al-Nusra’ claim. On 22 June Federal Police Commissioner Peter Drennan, while cautioning that the numbers were unclear, said that only “a handful” of Australians were believed to be fighting with Jabhat al-Nusra. It’s not clear how many “a handful” is, but it certainly sounds like less than 100.

Then on 1 July the Sydney Morning Herald reported that “the Australian Federal Police believe 150 to 200 Australians have travelled to Syria, with a significant proportion fighting with the resistance, about half of whom are with al-Qaeda aligned group Jabhat al-Nusra”. [emphasis added]

So there are no solid numbers available, but the ‘200 fighters, 100 with Jabhat al-Nusra’ claim should just be considered as one estimate among several, and all other government statements (with the possible exception of David Irvine’s) suggest the number is lower.


My own view is that 200 figure is extremely high compared to past trends in Australian jihadism, and therefore is probably an over-estimate. I went into that in the article from April:

“A recent study by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), based on 450 sources including Western and Arabic media and online jihadist forums, estimates that 135-590 Europeans have joined the insurgency.

At the time the ICSR’s European estimates were published, April 2, the study’s author Aaron Zelin provided the following estimate for Australia: 18-123 fighters.


The ICSR’s estimate has been superseded by the more recent figure of 200 Australians involved. This new figure cannot currently be verified, and should be treated cautiously until more information comes out. The estimate is higher than the ICSR’s maximum estimates for any European country, and one third of their maximum estimate for Europe as a whole. This seems doubtful, particularly as Australia usually has far lower rates of jihadist activity than many European countries.

Open-source research by myself and my colleague Shandon Harris-Hogan has found 17 cases of Australians allegedly involved in jihadist activity in Lebanon between 2000 and 2012. If the estimate of 200 Australians involved in jihadism in the Syria-Lebanon region since the outbreak of the Syria conflict is accurate, it represents an unprecedented escalation.”


None of this changes the fact that there has been substantial Australian involvement in the insurgency, and that the Syria conflict raises extremely serious security concerns for Australia, both because of current local violence and the potential threat from returning fighters.

But that only makes it more important for anyone writing on the issue to be careful with the facts. Personally, I can’t make any claim to know what the actual number of Australians fighting in Syria would be, and will reconsider my arguments if more solid information becomes available. However,  for now I recommend scepticism towards this widely-reported 200 figure.

This large estimate is worrying but fortunately not authoritative, as it is in serious tension with several government statements, the currently available empirical information, and past trends.

Videos about Australia’s role in Afghanistan

Despite being Australia’s longest war, there isn’t a great deal of detailed material available about the ADF’s military effort in Afghanistan. As the deployment winds down, the conflict is likely to get even less coverage or in-depth investigation.

For those who want to know more about what our soldiers have been doing, and what impact they have been having in the country, here is a small selection of videos compiled as a companion piece to this post of research resources.

The first two videos are short segments from Hungry Beast, the third is a double-episode of Four Corners, and the final one is a regular-length Four Corners episode.The Hungry Beast segments are embedded while the Four Corners episodes are linked to. Hungry Beast actually made several more videos about Australia in Afghanistan, including extended interviews with the people in these two segments. Unfortunately the videos on their site are not currently working, so I’ve only included those that I could find on YouTube.


Mud, dust & shit
Hungry Beast
17 November 2009


“That is a story, but it’s not the story.” – ‘Tom’, Australian soldier.

Chances are, most of what you have heard about the war in Afghanistan has come via the Australian Defence Force’s Public Relations department. Unlike other coalition forces, Australian journalists find it exceedingly difficult to gain access to our soldiers. Many resort to embedding with our allies to cover conflicts we’re involved in. And while there have been a number of first-person accounts of our allies’ soldiers’ experiences published abroad, we’ve heard almost nothing from the Australian perspective.

When Hungry Beast decided to do a story on the war in Afghanistan, we wanted to focus on personal stories. But when we approached Australian soldiers to ask them what it’s like to fight on the frontline, we were consistently met with one of three responses: polite refusal, open hostility or a referral to Defence PR. We found it increasingly bizarre that our soldiers wouldn’t discuss even the most trivial details of their time at war, and the story became as much about the army’s control over the media as it was about the war in Afghanistan.

Eventually, we found one currently-serving soldier who has served in Afghanistan, who was willing to talk. He offers a rare insight into the mind of someone who, quite literally, puts his life on the line in the name of this conflict. His reasons for speaking out are telling:

“It appalls me that whinging frauds are able to gain the bulk of the media access and press their bogus claims… I can’t change the course of a cultural tsunami of myth making and superficial story telling, but that doesn’t mean I have to accept it.”

Hungry Beast spoke to ‘Tom*’ at length. In this recreation, we have edited and restructured that interview for the sake of length and comprehensibility, but all the words you hear are entirely his own. To protect his identity, ‘Tom’ has been played by actors Aden Young, Dan Wyllie, Lewis Fitz-Gerald and Rodger Corser.

*not his real name.


Defence secrecy
Hungry Beast
21 March 2011


Hungry Beast reports on claims from inside the Australian Army that the Department of Defence, under Minister for Defence Stephen Smith, is routinely using ‘operational security concerns’ to delay or withhold from public release information, images and footage relating to operations in Afghanistan that have been cleared for public release by ADF commanders on the ground.

There is a growing sense of frustration among soldiers that this skews public perception of the conflict and our soldiers’ role in it, by focusing on the ‘bad news’ stories of injuries, deaths, civilian casualties or alleged misconduct by Australian troops and not providing material that could help contextualise the environment soldiers are operating in.

We interviewed former Chief of Army (2002-2008) Lt Gen Peter Leahy, and former Army Officer James Brown, who both assert that this problem stems from over-centralisation and control of information by Defence Public Affairs and the Minister’s office.

Both men say the responsibility for release of information should be ‘devolved down’ to lower-level commanders on the ground, in line with the practices of other coalition forces, to ensure timely and effective release of information.

The Defence Minister declined our requests for an interview for this story. But a spokesperson for the Minister did provide written answers to questions submitted to the Department of Defence by Hungry Beast.


A careful war
Four Corners
5 and 12 July 2010

View the two-part episode here


Chris Masters delivers two ground level reports giving a soldier’s-eye view of the bloody war being waged against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Part one offers a rare and powerful insight into the perspectives of the soldiers fighting in conflict-torn Afghanistan.

In the second part of the report, Australian troops head into unchartered territory, trying to win the faith and trust of a brutalised people.

Cameraman Neale Maude wins Walkley Award for Best Camera Work.

The Broadband Edition includes extended interviews with members of Alpha Company who talk candidly about the impact of the war on their lives. Plus a reporters’ diary, and a behind-the-scenes interview with the Four Corners team.


In their sights
Four Corners
6 September 2011

Video available here


A Four Corners team investigates both the merits and the risks of the “kill-capture” campaign. Its proponents claim that the strategy has been successful in killing enemy commanders, but several missions involving elite Australian soldiers have gone horribly wrong, killing “friendly” local leaders and civilians.

Ask most Australians what the “strategy” in Afghanistan is and they would tell you it’s about winning the hearts and minds of the population. The Government talks about the need to improve security, protect the population, build schools and hospitals and a lasting stable government. But running parallel with this “hearts and minds” approach is another far more contentious and highly secretive strategy – it’s called “kill-capture”. Using mostly Special Forces, the Coalition has been hunting down Taliban commanders one by one.

The program is massive and increasing. In the last year an estimated 11,000 insurgents and their leaders have been killed or captured. The strategy is to disrupt, dismantle and demoralise the insurgents, forcing them to the negotiating table.

Their leaders are taken out night after night after night, their caches of equipment supplies, their money supplies are cut off, so the idea is you start to grind down the enemy’s will and its capability to fight and an important part of that is going after those leaders. ISAF General

But for all its perceived success, some are questioning the strategy and the unintended consequences it’s delivering. First, experts say, killing the established leadership has led to a new generation of younger even more radical insurgents. The second problem comes when the raids go wrong.

Each raid is only as good as the intelligence it’s based on. Evidence shows that in a number of cases the intelligence is not reliable and in others it appears Coalition forces have been manipulated by their Afghan allies into settling old scores and killing tribal rivals. As a result, families are divided and devastated, local populations become alienated and angry, leading some into the arms of the Taliban.

A Four Corners team reports on how the “kill-capture” strategy developed, how it’s being implemented and expanded and finally examines the fall-out when things go wrong. The program gets access to the families and eye witnesses who were present when elite Australian troops undertook “kill-capture” missions. The program investigates three incidents, revealing why, in two cases, it appears the wrong people were killed and in another a suspect already detained was shot dead at close range.

After a decade of war in Afghanistan, is the “kill-capture” strategy doing more harm than good?