Those arguing for more profiling quite frequently claim that while not all Muslims are terrorists, most terrorists are muslim. Is there data to show that more than 50% of terrorists attacks can be attributed to any one religious or political affiliation.

To clarify some.
Terrorism : The use of violence, outside of war, to manipulate or coerce a population.
Region : US and Europe

  • 11
    -1 for a poorly-worded question (besides being rather inflammatory). Define a date range, define location(s), define "terrorist" in context of the question. It is someone that commits an crime resulting in death, or just injury? Someone that runs a forum where people promote the above?
    – ropable
    Mar 23, 2011 at 5:25
  • 28
    I'm not trying to prove or state anything. I have repeated a claim we all know people make that I am skeptical of but do not have hard numbers for
    – jjj
    Mar 23, 2011 at 12:21
  • 21
    The biggest problems I see here is one of geographical perspective and how you define "terrorist". If you ask someone from Northern Ireland, I suspect they might tell you that most terrorists, from their point of view, are Christian. If you ask one of these "terrorists" (from whatever background or fighting for whatever cause) or someone who has similar aims to them, they will probably tell you that they are not a terrorist at all.
    – Rob Moir
    Mar 23, 2011 at 13:46
  • 4
    @user unknown: And you're claiming that animal activists haven't engaged in terrorism?
    – Golden Cuy
    Apr 29, 2011 at 14:41
  • 10
    One mans freedom fighter is another mans terrorist. Aug 15, 2011 at 16:34

5 Answers 5


The answer to this question varies greatly, depending on country you are from.

If you're from the Netherlands, Islamists represented 100% of the individuals suspected of terrorism each year from 2006 to 2009 (between 2 or 6 per year), except in 2007. On the other hand, if you are from France, then, while Islamists do represent a sizable number of the arrested suspects, the percentage is far lower (342 out of 1468, or 23.2%) in the same timespan.

In the United States, more than 80% (186 out of 228) of all convictions tied to international terrorist groups since 9/11 involve defendants driven by a radical Islamist agenda.

The European Union has a graph of arrested terrorism suspects by Member State in its Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2010:

enter image description here

It also states that:

The number of arrests relating to Islamist terrorism (110) decreased by 41 % compared to 2008, which continues the trend of a steady decrease since 2006.

Since you're interested in those numbers to discuss more profiling, arrested suspects are not what is interesting to look at. Instead, that would be successful attempts.

There are few successful attempts, at least in Europe, over the last few years. For example, there was only one attempt in 2009:

enter image description here

..and it was foiled.

The preceding years are not very different. In the recent years, Islamist terrorism has not been very successful. For example, the Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2008, which reports on terrorism in the European Union in 2007, states that:

With regard to Islamist terrorism, two failed and two attempted attacks were reported for 2007. As in 2006, failed or attempted Islamist terrorist attacks took place in the UK, Denmark and Germany. Police investigations into the attempted attacks in Denmark and Germany have shown that the intended targets were likely to be located on their national territory.

However, as the report notes, "The failed and attempted attacks mainly aimed at causing indiscriminate mass casualties." As such, even one successful attack can lead to a large amount of causalities.

Resources used:

  • 32
    Very misleading. Vast majority of "terrorist attacks" in Spain are mostly Kale Borroka or commies torching some ATM or breaking some windows. If not for their links with ETA, it would be classified as vandalism, not terrorism. By comparison in 2004 Madrid, Al-Qaida killed 192 people. Yes, that was just one attack. Like 9/11 was just one event. 11-M or 9/11 cannot be counted as equivalent to event like "Molotov cocktail attacks on a court and several banks in the town of Amorebieta. The attacks caused minor damage and no injuries"
    – vartec
    Jul 4, 2011 at 10:15
  • 6
    Well, @vartec, according to the definition of the question, it is disputable, what counts as a terrorist act. But if you think, that an attack with much victims should not be compared with an attack without deads, you should protest against the question, not the answer. On the other side: Why don't we count the US torture system as terrorism? Aug 3, 2011 at 16:46
  • 19
    I haven't read the report, but it is interesting that they choose to measure arrests rather than convictions.
    – Oddthinking
    Aug 4, 2011 at 2:19
  • 2
    @userunknown, because history is written by the winners, and the present is written by the powerful? =/
    – Brian S
    Sep 26, 2014 at 22:16
  • 15
    There's also a bit of a self-fulfilling issue here -- when a white Christian firebombs an abortion clinic, it's a "disturbed loner". When a bunch of white extremist Tea Partiers call for an armed march on Washington it's just "misguided patriotism", but when a soldier with documented depression issues who happens to be muslim snaps and opens fire while on the base, it's labeled a "terrorist attack". These statistics are essentially useless. May 27, 2015 at 21:22

According to the FBI data only 6% of all terrorist in the US between 1980 and 2005 were Muslim. There were even more Jewish terrorists.

For the US the categorical claim "more than 50% of terrorists attacks can be attributed to Muslims" is therefore false.

  • 44
    The world is a very big place and some parts of it are not America.
    – Rob Moir
    Mar 23, 2011 at 14:24
  • 10
    +1 - The question is vague, I accept restricting it for the purpose of giving a definitive answer :) Mar 23, 2011 at 14:47
  • 14
    your data goes back 25 years, the claim is recent and relevant to the current situation.
    – jwenting
    Mar 23, 2011 at 20:29
  • 8
    If you do it by death toll, 2 of those Islamist attacks constitute 13042/14038 = 93% of the total deaths. This answer misrepresents that data by not including that caveat.
    – bobobobo
    Apr 1, 2013 at 20:45
  • 4
    @bobobobo : The question isn't about how harmful certain acts are. The question is about whether most terrorists are muslim. Either someone is a terrorist or they aren't.
    – Christian
    Nov 6, 2015 at 20:01

Robert Pape, in Dying To Win, provides evidence that most suicide terrorists are not Muslim:

"No previous analysis of suicide terrorism has been able to draw on a complete survey of suicide terrorist attacks worldwide. This drawback, together with the fact that many such attacks, including all those against Americans, have been committed by Muslims have led many in the United States to assume that Islamic fundamentalism must be the main underlying cause. This, in turn, has fuelled a belief that anti-American terrorism can be stopped only by wholesale transformation of Muslim societies, a belief that helped create public support of the invasion of Iraq. Comprehensive study of the phenomenon of suicide terrorism, however, shows that the presumed connection to Islamic fundamentalism is misleading." (p38 of the 2006 paperback edition)

He goes on to show that most suicide attacks are carried out by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. Again, this evidence is just for suicide terrorism, so much depends on how you define 'terrorism'.

  • +1 just because Pape's book Dying to Win is very good. Apr 17, 2011 at 18:53
  • 4
    -1. You're giving Pape an opportunity to soapbox here without providing solid enough evidence. Islamic terrorists blew up 2 planes and killed thousands of people on 9/11/2001. "the presumed connection to Islamic fundamentalism is misleading."? That much is obvious, and tying knots around people's heads with complicated excuses doesn't change the fact.
    – bobobobo
    Apr 1, 2013 at 20:34
  • 2
    @bobobobo, you have hilariously misunderstood the statement. He means that when you look at a large number of suicide attacks, there is no statistical evidence that Islamic fundamentalism is responsible for most of them, not that any specific attack is unconnected with Islam. Sep 27, 2014 at 13:03
  • @bobobobo 9/11 shows an example of islamist terrorists who are more successful, not more numerous, than their non-islamists counterparts.
    – gerrit
    Dec 3, 2015 at 19:17

According to the American National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), the majority of terrorist deaths with known perpetrators worldwide between 2005 to 2010 were caused by Sunni Muslim terrorists. For years where it also reported the number of attacks (2009-2010), Sunni Muslim terrorist attacks also made up a majority.

The NCTC used to publish yearly reports via the Worldwide Incidents Tracking System (WITS), which indicated the religion group of perpetrators of terrorist attacks worldwide. This service was discontinued in 2012, however all of their reports have been archived.

For the purposes of this analysis, the NCTC used the following definition of "terrorist":

NCTC analysts determine if an event meets the definitional criteria of 22 U.S.C. § 2656f(d)(2) as an act of terrorism

22 U.S.C. § 2656f(d)(2):

the term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents;

Their yearly reports clearly show that Sunni terrorists make up an absolute majority of deaths caused. The majority holds for all of the individual years that were available on the archives. For example, this is the deaths breakdown by perpetrator group for the year 2008:

enter image description here

In the years where the number of attacks was not broken down by religion, the number of deaths was, and it always exceeded 50%.

While the breakdown by number of attacks was not stated in the reports from 2005-2008, they stated in their 2010 report that Sunni terrorists made 60% of attacks in 2010, and caused 70% of all terrorism-related deaths.:

Sunni extremists committed almost 60 percent of all worldwide terrorist attacks. These attacks caused approximately 70 percent of terrorism-related deaths, a significant increase from the almost 62 percent in 2009.

In their 2009 report, the NCTC also made similar statements:

Sunni extremists were identified with about one-half of all attacks in 2009. Almost 90 groups were associated with these attacks. According to open source reports, the Taliban claimed credit for the largest number of attacks causing the highest number of fatalities. Al-Shabaab was the second deadliest group, followed by al-Qa’ida in Iraq as the third deadliest group.

Therefore, for the limited timeframe surveyed by the NCTC WITS, we can say that Muslim terrorists perpetrated the most attacks and caused the most deaths worldwide.

  • 1
    But was this in the US and Europe as per the question - 75% of terrorist acts are in a handful of countries in Middle East and Africa - Iraq and Syria as mentioned here are in the top few
    – mmmmmm
    Nov 25, 2015 at 19:32
  • -1 This is interesting information but misleadingly presented, at least in the context of the question which asks about the EU and US. E.g. in 2008 (the year shown on the pie chart) there have been 15,765 total deaths, but only 33 of those in the US (and no islamist attacks at all in the EU, per TESAT 2009).
    – Tgr
    Dec 3, 2017 at 2:49
  • The NCTC report does not include breakdown of perpetrators per country, but GTD does, and according to that none of the 2008 US terrorist attacks were islamist either (mostly far-right andeco-terrorist).
    – Tgr
    Dec 3, 2017 at 2:54

According to dictionary the definition of terrorism:

"the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes."

Using this definition for terrorism then no, most terrorists are not Muslim. The largest group of terrorists includes people from different religions and ethnic backgrounds who all wear government uniforms (some examples are here, here, and here).

As Brendan Behan so astutely pointed out:

"The terrorist is the one with the small bomb."

  • 7
    So is your claim that all war is terrorism? Mar 23, 2011 at 14:56
  • 11
    From the definition of terrorism - yes. War usually involves a political entity and terrorism is defined as using violence for political purposes.
    – Muro
    Mar 23, 2011 at 15:02
  • 3
    Some definitions of terrorism (what’s the current UN definition?) explicitly exclude acts of war (i.e. acts sponsored by a government) but by this definition the 9/11 attacks wouldn’t be terrorism either. So I’m actually fine with the above definition. Mar 24, 2011 at 13:38
  • 9
    Nowhere in your definition contains the word civilians. If you throw in the word civilians after the word coerce or "violence targetted at innocent civilians" then your definition makes some sense. I don't consider attacking a military base the same as attacking a bus full of civilians. Likewise, I don't consider targetting terrorists with a side affect of killing civilians as terrorism because the intent was not to intimidate or coerce the civilians. The intent was to kill the bad guys. I think most non-muslims agree that terrorism specifically targets civilians.
    – Dunk
    Apr 1, 2011 at 21:02
  • 4
    Many acts of "war" in World War II targeted civilians. From both sides. I propose we retire the term terrorism.
    – gerrit
    Feb 13, 2013 at 18:27

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