We rate this statement as Mostly True.

“More people were killed by terrorists in 2015 than in any other year ever, after an 80 percent increase from 2014.”

Joseph Pitts
in a Medium post
February 25, 2016
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Fact-checking a PA lawmaker’s claim of exponential terrorism growth in 2015

U.S. Rep. Joseph Pitts, a Republican whose district encompasses Reading and Lancaster, used a recent Medium post to highlight the number of people killed by terrorists worldwide as he advocated for the continued usage of the U.S.’s Guantanamo Bay facility.

The post, published at the end of February, opened with this statement: “More people were killed by terrorists in 2015 than in any other year ever, after an 80 percent increase from 2014.”

That seemed like a large increase, so we decided to check the claim.

After an inquiry from PolitiFact, Pitts’ chief of staff Monica J. Volante said the statement should have read, “More people were killed by terrorists in 2014 than in any other year ever, after an 80 percent increase from 2013.” So the actual statement is one year off.

When the years in the statement are corrected, and based on that source, this appears to check out. The 2015 Global Terrorism Index published by the Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace has, for the last three years, compiled information on terrorist activity dating back to 2000. It data comes from figures provided by the Global Terrorism Database hosted at the University of Maryland.

The 111-page report states that 2014 was the deadliest on record worldwide, and 32,658 people died as a result of terrorism, representing an 80 percent jump from 2013 when about 18,000 people were killed.

That increase is the largest yearly increase in the last 15 years, according to the report. The 2014 figure also represents a nine-fold increase compared to the number of people killed by terrorism worldwide in 2000.

However, Pitts used the statement — though the years were incorrect on first blush — to segue into his views on keeping the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay open, where about 90 terrorism suspects are held on the southern tip of Cuba. President Obama has long called for the closure of the prison and in February released a plan to transfer the remaining detainees to other facilities, including ones in the United States.

Pitts’ Medium post focused largely on threats from terrorist groups Al-Qaeda and ISIS. But the Global Terrorism Index that was the basis of his initial claim reports that most deaths were by Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group based in Nigeria. In other words, those attacks have little to do with the argument Pitts builds upon: Proof that the U.S. should keep the detention center at Guantanamo Bay open.

Nigeria saw the largest increase in terrorist deaths ever recorded in 2014 with 7,512 fatalities, a 300 percent increase from the year prior. Boko Haram accounted for 6,644 deaths and ISIS was responsible for 6,073.

According to the Global Terrorism Index that Pitts’ office cited, much of the terrorism didn’t directly affect the United States. Of the deaths worldwide in 2014, 78 percent were concentrated in Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria.

However, of the countries classified in the report as “the West,” the United States had the most deaths from terrorism in 2014, with 18 deaths and 19 attacks. Of those, all but five were committed by individuals and were, according to the report, “largely motivated by right wing extremism or white supremacists.”

Our Ruling

The initial claim made by Pitts says, “More people were killed by terrorists in 2015 than in any other year ever, after an 80 percent increase from 2014.” While his office corrected those years to 2014 and 2013, respectively, to PolitiFact, the original Medium post was not updated as of publication time to reflect the correct years.

Though the claim is accurate when the years are corrected, it leaves out context that the vast majority of the terrorism worldwide in 2014 did not directly affect the United States. Instead, it was largely concentrated in Africa and the Middle East. We rule the claim Mostly True.

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