During the last few years the amount of terrorist attacks against media representatives or telecommunication facilities have increased.
According to the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) maintained by National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), there have been total of 1407 terrorist events around the world where media or telecommunications have been targeted since 2000. Over 400 have been killed and over 500 wounded in the attacks.
The amount of incidents has risen during the last few years up to over two hundred incidents per year. The rise is partly due to the methods of data gathering improving, but also due to acceleration of conflicts in different parts of the world. Terrorism researcher Leena Malkki (D.Soc.Sc.) of the University of Helsinki also points out that incidents earlier classified as part of civil war are now more often classified as terrorist incidents.
Central Asia and Middle East the most heated regions
One third of all the terrorist incidents against media have taken place in South and Central Asia, mainly in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. One fourth of the incidents has occurred in Middle East, mainly in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. After these regions, most hazardous countries have been Philippines, Somalia, Nigeria and Thailand. Only few attacks occur in Europe, even though they tend to get the highest media coverage in the western countries.
In India, Philippines, Thailand and Nigeria the majority of incidents are against facilities and infrastructure, and the number of casualties is low. Individual journalists are rarely targeted. In Afghanistan, in Pakistan, and especially in Iraq and Syria the number of individual journalists being attacked is high. In Somalia, the majority of incidents are assassinations and kidnappings conducted by Al-Shabaab, a jihadist terrorist group.
High rate of journalist abduction in Syria
The conflict in Syria began in spring 2011, and only within few years Syria has become this millennium’s second highest ranking country in journalist abduction.
Kidnappings usually end within few days, but in Syria the journalists taken as hostage have been kept captive for prolonged periods of time. Few times the captives have been released within or almost within a week, but on average the time of captivity has been 114 days during the years 2012—2014. The longest periods of captivity were 398 and 394 days. Also many of the abducted journalists have been killed verifiably, or their fate is unknown.
In majority of cases the Islamic State (IS, former ISIS/ISIL), a Sunni Islamist militant group, is behind the abductions.
One of the most shocking incidents was when an American journalist, James Foley, was kidnapped alongside with a British journalist, John Cantlie, in November 2012. The fate of John Cantlie remains unknown, but Foley was held captive for almost two years and beheaded on August 19, 2014. His execution was depicted publicly in a video released by IS. Another American journalist, Steven Sotloff, who was kidnapped in August 2013 near Aleppo city, appeared also in the video, and was reportedly beheaded within couple of weeks on September 2, 2014. The executions were conducted in retaliation for the airstrikes carried out by the United States in Iraq.
Text and graphics: Malviina Hallamaa