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Just how bad is terrorism in 2016?

In 2016 mass killings have dominated headlines across Europe
Crying woman in Nice
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2016 has been the year of the "pray for" hashtag - with news of a terror attack becoming almost normal.  

There have been times when things have felt pretty grim...

Brussels in Belgium was hit with twin bomb attacks.   

In Munich, Germany, an 18-year-old gunman went on a shooting spree in a shopping centre.

France has seemingly suffered the most, from police stabbings to the horrific lorry attack on Bastille Day celebrations in Nice. 

And Turkey has seen months of unrest - and a failed military coup.  

Every morning we're waking up to another tragedy

But are things as bad as they seem? 

To find out Radio1 Newsbeat teamed up with Radio 4's More or Less programme and BBC Monitoring. 

Read more: Are we getting numb to terror?     

To count terrorism deaths you first need to decide what qualifies as a terror attack

Finding a definition for terrorism that everyone agrees on is impossible. 

Because we wanted to be able to compare 2016 with previous years, we went with the definition set out by the Global Terrorism Database (GTD). 

GTD has been monitoring terrorism worldwide for 45 years and has records of more than 150,000 attacks between 1970 and 2015.

"In the last few years we've seen very steep increases in the number of attacks and the lethality of attacks," says Dr Erin Miller, who runs the database. 

"And so that has certainly been a concerning trend."  

we've seen very steep increases in the number of attacks and the lethality of attacks

Dr Erin MillerGlobal Terrorism Database

The GTD classes a terrorist attack as violence used to achieve a political, social, economic or religious goal, carried out by someone not working for a government.  

That's controversial because it means the GTD would also class the recent attempted coup in Turkey as falling within their definition of a terrorist attack.

The start of 2016 saw the highest number of terrorism deaths in Western Europe since 2004

There were 143 deaths which also makes it the second worst seven month period since 1980. 

The only year with more deaths since the turn of the century was the first half of 2004, when 191 people were killed in a series of train bombings in Madrid.  

Madrid train bombing
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191 people died and 1,841 people were wounded in the Madrid train bombings in 2004

But when you look further back, there were many more deadly years in the 1970s. 

"Of course, there was the conflict in Northern Ireland with the Irish Republican Army," explains Dr Miller. 

"There was the Basque fatherland and freedom group in the Basque region of Spain and France, and there are a number of extreme left-wing groups in other parts of Europe. 

 "And so I do think it's a mistake to forget about that and assume that we're just in this never-ending downward spiral, which is certainly not the case."

The dominant European militant groups of the 1970s

    • The Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out bomb attacks throughout the decade. It was fighting for Northern Ireland to leave the UK and become part of the Republic of Ireland. Splinter groups are still in operation
    • Eta was a group of Basque terrorists who fought for independence for seven French and Spanish states. Its campaign continued until 2011 when a ceasefire was agreed

I do think it's a mistake to assume we're in this never-ending downward spiral, which is certainly not the case

Dr Erin MillerGlobal Terrorism Database
It's been a deadly year so far in Turkey
Destroyed homes in Turkey this year
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People return to their homes in south-east Turkey after being forced out by fighting

If the figures are broadened to look at Europe as a whole the GTD's definition of terrorist attacks brings up a much higher count. 

The analysis shows that there were 892 terror deaths across Europe, including Turkey, in the first seven months of 2016. 

That makes it the deadliest start to a year in more than two decades for the continent.

Combined these groups [in Turkey] have killed more people in Europe so far in 2016 than so-called Islamic State.

These figures will be controversial to some because the GTD say they would also class the recent attempted coup as falling within their definition of a terrorist attack. 

So those deaths are included in the Europe total too. Other analysts would dispute this was a terrorist act. 

Putting the coup to one side, Turkey has also seen a rise in violence more generally in the past year. A number of pro-Kurdish militant groups in Turkey are fighting for greater autonomy as part of a bloody campaign that reached its peak in the mid-1990s. 

In fact, it's this same conflict that's partly behind the spike in European terrorism deaths between 1992 and 1994. 

Bar chart of terror deaths in Europe
BBC

A ceasefire broke down in July 2015 and groups like the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK) have been carrying out shootings and bomb attacks ever since, in the Kurdish-dominated areas of the south-east as well as the major cities of Ankara and Istanbul. 

Combined, these groups have killed more people in Europe so far in 2016 than so-called Islamic State.  

Read more: The Turkish attacks that didn't make such big headlines

European terrorist attacks make up only a small part of the global total
Global terrorism deaths by region, 2015
BBC

July was a particularly bad month for terrorism in Europe. 

But the deaths actually make up only a small part of the global total. 

We estimate there were 1,580 terrorism deaths worldwide that month, although getting accurate information from some places - like Iraq and Syria - is particularly tricky. 

Thirty percent of our estimated total were in Europe, and six percent were in Western Europe.

A woman sits in the rubble of a building after a bomb in Iraq claims nearly 300 lives
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A woman sits in the rubble of a building after a bomb in Iraq claims nearly 300 lives

In Baghdad, a reported 292 people were killed in a bomb attack as they shopped on 2 July ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid. 

That's nearly three times as many as in the whole of Western Europe for the entire month.

And that isn't unusual. Dr Miller says in recent years a pattern has started emerging.

"The vast, vast majority of these attacks do take place in a very small number of countries. So in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Syria, in Nigeria."

Terrorism is 'small potatoes' compared to 'wars, homicides and murders'
Causes of deaths in Western Europe
BBC

Professor Steven Pinker from Harvard University, who studies patterns of violence, says people are disproportionately scared of terrorism. 

"For all the fear that terrorism generates, you're almost certainly going to die of something else," he explains. 

We can't turn our heads away from gory carnage and the terrorists know that

Prof Steven PinkerHarvard University

"It's small potatoes compared to all the other ways that people kill each other - wars, homicides and murders, car accidents, or just about any type of accident. 

"But it's designed to generate a lot of publicity. We can't turn our heads away from gory carnage and the terrorists know that.

"So you get a lot of publicity generated by attacks that are horribly tragic, but kill a fraction of the number of people who die from drowning, falls, or ordinary bar room murders."

This is a collaboration between BBC Newsbeat, Radio 4's More or Less and BBC Monitoring

Research and words by Will Chalk, Simon Maybin, Paul Brown, Anna Doble

Infographics by James Mobbs

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