You’ve seen this map somewhere on social media the last few weeks, haven’t you?

Here it is from Poland’s deputy justice minister, because somehow this is how you show solidarity with the citizens of a country millions of your own people live and work in.

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I’ve also seen it from Polish MEP and unsuccessful candidate for the presidency of the European Council Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, though my favourite version is the one tweeted out by that one guy who managed to get fired from The Rebel.

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OOOOH this one has different colours!!

And last, a version I saw on Instagram this week.

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Cool.

So where the hell is this data even from? Turns out, as someone from the right-wing Polish Twitterati told me, it’s data from the reputable Global Terrorism Database (GTD) at the University of Maryland, which is an “open-source database including information on terrorist events around the world from 1970 through 2015.” (Notice right now that says “events,” not “attacks.” This will be important). I was further informed that, for some reason, the data on this map that’s been making the rounds is only from 2001 on. OK.

So I took a look through the GTD data on some of the countries (including Poland) on this map.  There are certainly no terror “incidents” (read, “incidents”) listed in Poland from 2001 on. OK, so that seems (seems) accurate.

But what about terror in other countries? I’m particularly interested in these apparent incidents in Iceland, which shows up in some versions of the map and, having been there, doesn’t exactly strike me as a terror hotbed.

Since 2001, there have apparently been two terror incidents in Iceland that explain the two Icelandic dots on the map:

  • In 2012, “An explosive device detonated near government offices in Reykjavik city, Reykjavik North Constituency, Iceland. The explosive device was partially detonated by a robot meant to deactivate it. No group claimed responsibility for the incident.” Property damage was listed as unknown.
  • In 2014, “Assailants attempted to set a Lutheran Church on fire in Akureyri city, Northeast constituency, Iceland. No one was injured in the attack; however, the building was damaged. No group claimed responsibility for the incident.” Property damage is listed as “minor.”

No one was killed or injured in these two incidents.

Again, “incidents” is the key word. These two big red Icelandic points, and many others on the map, don’t represent terror attacks at allMany of them, including these two in Iceland, represent vague criminal acts that may not actually have anything to do with terrorism (let alone jihadist terrorism), that have barely caused any property damage and, more importantly, haven’t killed or injured anyone.

Why no Polish incidents in the GTD since 2001? Surely there’s been at least one shitty attempt at something like a pipe bomb in a car that never went off (there was one in the Czech Republic database, as I discovered) that would merit a mention in this database, though presumably this will make it into 2017’s list for Poland, given the criteria for inclusion.

So the next time you see this map, you’ve got a few options. If it’s got no legend or title, you can always tell whoever shared it that the points represent vague definitions of criminal acts that don’t always seem to be reported consistently. If it says something about “terror attacks,” tell them they’re completely, 100% wrong, and tell them there’s more than enough data on the GTD website for them to make a proper map of actual terror attacks that isn’t just a cute meme for people who don’t like Muslims.

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One thought on “The story behind that “terror attacks” map you keep seeing

  1. Thank you for taking your time to do fact-checking. List of ‘events’ in Poland since 2001 should be much longer than the current one at GTD website, as we see rise of anti-muslim ant anti-foreigner incidents in Poland which – according to GTD criteria, should be listed as ‘terrorist events’. For example – in May 2016 it was an attempt to bomb city bus in Wroclaw – luckily nobody suffered. Attacker occurred to be a chemistry student and right-wing supporter.

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