In Spain, a terror cell of 12 people managed to kill only 14 people. That's 1.16 victims per terrorist.

This is a pattern one notices elsewhere in Europe as well, that is, terrorist attacks that consist of people going on a minor rampage with knives, pistols, or cars, and only managing to kill a relatively small amount of people. For example, take Islamic terrorism in Europe since 2014: there's been 43 distinct attacks, and of all those, only 6 resulted in the deaths of more than 15 people. Of the remaining 37 attacks, the average number of victims per attack was only 1.8 deaths. Source:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_terrorism_in_Europe_(2014%E2%80%93present)#List_of_attacks

Of course I am ignoring non-lethal injuries, but what is the reason for these very ineffective attacks?

Some possible reasons perhaps:

  • Terrorists don't actually want to kill many people, and often realize this during the actual act, so the attack is essentially "halted" by themselves.
  • Terrorists are mostly idiots (hence why they are terrorists), and therefore incompetent at performing a job properly.
  • People are largely well-prepared against terror attacks by now.
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    Very related: Why does ISIS continue to do things to make their “enemy” even more determined to go after them? (point being that deaths/damage isn't the primary goal of terrorism, but attention for advertisement and/or recruiting is).
    – user11249
    Aug 22, 2017 at 19:19
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    Reconsider your metrics of what is effective, with the inclusion of the stated and implied goals of terrorism. Aug 22, 2017 at 19:21
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    Take note of the media coverage which comes hand-in-hand with these attacks. Particularly when attacks take place in large European cities - there is a lot! Admittedly, I haven't researched into this, but I would expect they revel in the attention they receive from the media - perhaps this would explain why they always claim responsibility for their attacks?
    – Cthulhu
    Aug 22, 2017 at 19:21
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    I sincerely don't understand why on earth this question became this badly downvoted. There are many good papers about the common goals and tactics of modern terrorist groups, and this question, IMO, deserves pointing to one of these, accompanied with some explanation that their goal is not measured in number of victims, but in ignition of unrest, fear, and disrupting the normal operation of society. Aug 23, 2017 at 1:16
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    @DrunkCynic - Questions about political processes are on topic. Political violence (including terrorism) is an example of a political process. Why do you think that it isn't on topic? Aug 23, 2017 at 20:34

2 Answers 2


Plausible Reasons:

Most terrorists are small, minimally trained groups or individuals

Those that commit terrorist acts may be determined but not fully have the capacity to properly plan or execute large scale assaults (which involve controlling big groups rather than individual victims).

Likewise, if you look at disciplines that involve potential injury (armed forces, martial arts, weapons manufacturing), these are often specialities in their own right. They are skills which certain people practice or refine for years and aren't easily picked up by "amateurs".

Deadly things are deadly

Items that are potentially lethal are generally well-regulated in many countries, including vehicles, fire arms, munitions and chemicals.

Homemade bombs often require specific skills to get "right", are generally dangerous to manufacture and/or require regulated materials.

Chemical weapons are typically inaccurate - - they are often as likely to affect those deploying them or not have any effect at all depending on conditions.

Uncontrollable vehicles are accounted for with things such as vehicle barriers.

People are difficult to injure

Both from a self-preservation standpoint and in terms of what people can physically survive, people are generally only easy to kill if a) they are unaware or incapacitated and/or b) you inflict very specific kinds of injuries (primarily organ trauma or blood loss). Add in increased awareness of terrorism and people are likely much less easy to kill with a terrorist assault.

People are not inherently killers

Co-operation is required for survival in most social species so even those that do kill tend to do so in limited quantities. I would posit there is a very large gap between thinking about killing and actually performing the act, especially on other people (those similar to you vs. other species of animal).

Terrorism isn't about widespread killing or injuring

Remember, though, that terrorists have the goal of creating fear for political ends. So while actual attacks may be ineffective at killing or injuring generally, they can be "effective enough" in achieving political aims or crafting political narratives.


The very first question which comes to the mind before answering this question is: How do you define Terrorism?

If Terrorism is taken literally - an act of spreading terror among people with some political, religious or ideological claim. Then your question doesn't validate 100%.

There are many examples of terrorism in last couple of years resulting in lot of deaths, a couple of examples:

  1. Orlando Shooting (US) - 50+ Deaths
  2. Kunduz Hospital Airstrike by US (Afghanistan) - 42+ Deaths
  3. Car Bomb (Syria) - 50+ Deaths

Actually if we go by definition of Terrorism, then there is an act of terrorism in Syria (or Mosul, Iraq) every week if not every day by either Assad's forces, Russian air-force or American coalition forces.

I think your questions should be more like "Why Terrorist strikes by ISIS vs West/Non-Muslims are kind of Ineffective?"

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    Neither #1 nor #2 should properly be called terrorism, since the critical factor is an intent to cause terror. By your definition, any industrial accident would be considered terrorism. Or indeed, natural phenomena such as earthquakes and hurricanes.
    – jamesqf
    Aug 25, 2017 at 18:37
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    @jamesqf the orlando shooting wasn't a terrorist attack? What are you smoking? People like that shouldn't even be in the country. Aug 25, 2017 at 21:35
  • @easymoden00b: How was the Orlando shooting a terrorist act? "Terrorist" implies that the intent is to frighten people into some social/political change, no? So killing people just because you hate that sort of people is hardly terrorism, any more than e.g. a serial killer targeting women is terrorism.
    – jamesqf
    Aug 26, 2017 at 5:56
  • @jamesqf He was an Islamic Jihadist killing members of our society because he thought (just as all others in their ideology do) that we degenerate Kuffir. It was terrorism by the definition of the word. It wasn't because 'lol gays r icky' it was 'lol allah akbar death 2 the infidels'. Aug 28, 2017 at 13:15

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