This image is circulating on the web. Is its figures for deaths on American soil at the hands of citizens of banned versus non-banned countries correct?

Here's why Trump's Muslim ban makes literally NO sense: it bans people from countries whose citizens have never attacked the United States.

Americans killed from different countries

Note that the claim is about deaths on American soil, although that is not explicit in the image.

Notes: I'm not interested in the precision of the figures - errors of a few tens of people are not important.

Also note this is not a duplicate of this question, since this is specifically about terrorist deaths, not any terrorist activities.

EDIT: I did omit originally the specification that the statement was about deaths on American soil.

  • 5
    The graphic doesn't say anything about terrorism.
    – DavePhD
    Jan 29, 2017 at 21:23
  • 3
    I agree with all of these that the graphic is very misleading, but it is a valid question. The OP is not under any obligation to be asking a question to solve every debate about the executive order.
    – rougon
    Jan 29, 2017 at 21:32
  • @Shog9 the claim does not say "American soil", instead the person asking the question chooses to interpret it that way.
    – DavePhD
    Jan 30, 2017 at 3:04
  • 8
    All those edits look like major goalpost-shifting to me. "No Americans have died" - I mean "No Americans have died on American soil" - no, wait, I mean "No Americans have died on American soil due to terrorist activity". Jan 30, 2017 at 8:32
  • 1
    By my calculations, the vast majority of the deaths listed (2996) were on Sept 11, 2001. They have pro-rated the death by count of the number of hijackers from each of the four countries listed. I'm a bit dubious about that technique being used (should the nationality of their leaders be counted too?), but as long as you know that's what they have done, I figure it is acceptable.
    – Oddthinking
    Jan 30, 2017 at 10:07

2 Answers 2


The data seems to have come from a publication of the Cato Institute titled "Terrorism and Immigration: A Risk Analysis". The paper's appendix includes "Table A.1. Identified Foreign Persons Who Attempted or Committed Terrorism on U.S. Soil, 1975-2015", which seems to be the source of the claim. The table does not list country of origin, which makes verifying the claim somewhat time consuming. However, startling fact is that the 9/11 attacks make up the vast majority of foreign-born terrorist murders in the United States for that period.

Those men were from Saudi Arabia (15), the United Arab Emirates (2), Egypt and Lebanon. The chart in split deaths in a single attack evenly across all perpetrators. So each of the 9/11 hijackers was listed as causing 157 fatalities. That would produce this chart:

Country               Fatalities
-------               ----------
Saudi Arabia                2355
United Arab Emirates         314
Egypt                        157
Lebanon                      157

Since there were 17 pre-9/11 murders and 24 post-9/11 foreign-born terrorist murders in the time period, that means the numbers in the chart are correct within the tens of people specified by the question. Whether or not the Cato Institute information is wrong, outdated or misleading, I haven't considered in this answer.

Digging a bit further into the paper, I found this very interesting chart:

Comparing terrorism murders to all other sorts.

And the conclusion:

Foreign-born terrorism on U.S. soil is a low-probability event that imposes high costs on its victims despite relatively small risks and low costs on Americans as a whole. From 1975 through 2015, the average chance of dying in an attack by a foreign-born terrorist on U.S. soil was 1 in 3,609,709 a year. For 30 of those 41 years, no Americans were killed on U.S. soil in terrorist attacks caused by foreigners or immigrants. Foreign-born terrorism is a hazard to American life, liberty, and private property, but it is manageable given the huge economic benefits of immigration and the small costs of terrorism. The United States government should continue to devote resources to screening immigrants and foreigners for terrorism or other threats, but large policy changes like an immigration or tourist moratorium would impose far greater costs than benefits.

  • 2
    What about the 100 Americans killed 31 October 1999?
    – DavePhD
    Jan 30, 2017 at 4:46
  • 1
    @DavePhD: Good question. I'm not sure why that attack was not listed in the table. Perhaps it's because the motivations of the relief first officer are unknown? Or maybe because the Egyptian investigators disagreed with the NTSB's conclusion? Oversight? In any case, that would add 100 to the Egypt column, which would be a much larger difference than allowed by the question. Seems unlikely to change the rhetorical point of the claim, however. Jan 30, 2017 at 4:58
  • I just want the people to be remembered, regardless of rhetoric. It's bad enough that the question says the deaths of "a few tens of people are not important".
    – DavePhD
    Jan 30, 2017 at 10:28
  • 3
    @DavePhD That incident was in international waters, not on US soil.
    – ventsyv
    Jan 31, 2017 at 15:01
  • 2
    There's also no evidence of any links to terrorism for that 1999 incidence - as far as I can tell there's no firm proof about motive but evidence points to mass-murder/suicide by a flight officer who was being disciplined for inappropriate sexual behaviour, and whose last flight happened to have the officer who responsible for his disciplinary action as a passenger Jan 31, 2017 at 18:27

Iranian citizen Ismail Ascari, killed 241 Americans, 23 October 1983.

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Philadelphia Beirut Memorial

  • 3
    @rougon - including "abroad" makes the whole thing meaningless as that would - presumably, as a technicality - include all the deaths of US soldiers abroad - USS Cole, Iraq war, today's Yemeni raid, the list is countless. Much as I dislike this claim in the first place, disproving it on technicality or bad phrasing is not really an endeavor worth doing as far as illuminating the truth.
    – user5341
    Jan 29, 2017 at 22:49
  • 4
    @DJClayworth The actual claim simply says "attacked the United States". The phrase "American soil" is your own creation. When Libyans kill a US Ambassador in a US embassy, that is obviously an attack on the United States, even if it is not on American soil.
    – DavePhD
    Jan 29, 2017 at 22:49
  • 10
    @DavePhD I think an embassy IS technically "american soil."
    – rougon
    Jan 29, 2017 at 22:51
  • 2
    @user5341 I think the usefulness of the distinction is in areas that could be considered combat-related, or, perhaps attacks on civilians. I don't want to speak for the OP, but the issue seems to be whether people from these countries represent a danger to Americans over here.
    – rougon
    Jan 29, 2017 at 22:51
  • 6
    @DavePhD: I think Sklivvz meant that adding a complete listing of the marines who died does not add to the effectiveness of the answer. To me, it adds an emotional element that doesn't fit well with a Q&A intended to rely on reason. (The embassy bombing was the first time I really understood how dangerous the world could be.) I think a better addition would be to explain how the embassy, despite its location, was technically US territory. Jan 30, 2017 at 3:51

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