Global Counter-IED MapMilitary Counter-IED units

Global Terrorism Database (GTD)

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 11.15.38Location: University of Maryland, USA


The GTD was established in 2001, when the University of Maryland obtained a database of terrorist incidents between 1970 and 1997 from the Pinkerton Global Intelligence Services (PGIS). The PGIS database identified terrorism incidents from wire services, government reports, and major international newspapers. Its purpose was to assess the risk of terrorism for its clients.

Initially, those at the University of Maryland digitalised the existing data, but in 2006 they were given funding from the Human Factors Division of the Department of Homeland Security to extend the GTD beyond 1997. It is currently maintained by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland. The database contains information on global domestic and international terrorist incidents from 1970 to 2014, with annual reports planned for the future. The data is used by other organisations, such as the Institute for Economics and Peace, and provides the data background for reports such as the Global Terrorism Index.

The data is available online and to download. 
It is searchable in a number of fields including date, country, attack type, target type, weapon type, casualties, fatalities, and injuries. Regarding weapon type, fields include biological, chemical, firearms, and explosives / bombs / dynamite. IEDs are included in the explosives / bombs / dynamite field, but are not specifically coded on the data- base, however incidents can be searched in a separate field for detonation method like ‘pressure trigger’ and ‘remote trigger.’

On the website ‘IED’ can be searched, returning over 920 incidents. The entire database contains over 125,000 incidents.

Open sources are used to compile the database, including those found through Lexis-Nexis and GTD claims that 25 to 35 data collectors, who are fluent in six languages, typically find 10,000 potential incidents each day. Relevant incidents are then included in the database.

The principal problem with the GTD is that it has used four different methodologies for data collection. Only in 2011 did the University of Maryland itself begin collecting the data, at which point it changed its methodology and standards. This means that the data is inappropriate for the analysis of terrorist trends, including IED incidents, over time. The GTD does state as much, but the data continues to be used by organisations and academics to analyse terrorism trends. GTD data is used widely by the media and by policymakers, and it has been argued that the use of this data may “become the basis for policy decisions,” even though it is flawed.

Regarding IEDs, as the database does not code IEDs as a separate weapon type, it is difficult to use the data to consider any trends in IED use. The database also only includes those incidents which meet its definition of terrorism, meaning it has limited utility for global analysis.

This profile is part of AOAV’s investigation into counter-IED (C-IED) actors around the globe. To see the list of all C-IED actors recorded by AOAV, see here. To see those engaged in the Middle East, the Sahel, North Africa or other highly impacted countries please see here, here, here, and here respectively. This research was made possible by funding from the NATO Counter Improvised Explosive Devices Centre of Excellence (C-IED COE). To read the full report, ‘Addressing the threat posed by IEDs: National, Regional and Global Initiatives’, see here.