Late Sunday, the White House released a new policy aimed at replacing President Trump’s legally iffy executive orders banning visitors from a number of countries he linked to a risk of terrorism. New restrictions were placed on those traveling from Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen to varying extents. Chad, North Korea and Venezuela are new to the list, and Sudan, one of the original seven countries Trump targeted, has been removed. Only one other country from the first list got a similarly clean bill of health: Iraq, which was removed earlier this year.
The new policy prompted at least one generally agreed-upon reaction: Why those countries?
Trump has regularly asserted that the prohibitions were necessary to protect Americans from terrorist attacks. The ban itself evolved from his December 2015 proclamation that there should be a ban on Muslims entering the United States until the government “figured out what was going on” in regards to attacks inspired by the Islamic State. After terrorist attacks in Europe, Trump has repeatedly used the incidents to plug the need for a ban, suggesting a link between the two.
But the countries added to the immigration ban aren’t ones that have seen much terrorism recently, according to data compiled by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland.
START (as it’s known) has logged every terrorist attack from 1970 through 2016, allowing us to see broad trends in the attacks.
If we look at the number of annual incidents, Iraq has led the world in recent years, thanks to the Islamic State. But, then, Iraq is no longer on Trump’s list.
(Red lines indicate nations that have at some point been banned. The darker the red, the more recently the ban was put in place. Countries are labeled from the top until the second country named in the ban.)
Somalia is also in the Top 10 for incidents in 2016, as are Yemen and Syria. But above all those countries are Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and the Philippines. Yemen and Syria trail Turkey and Nigeria. Chad, North Korea and Venezuela land in the 61st, 109th and 57th spots. (109th is the same as “tied for last” with zero reported terrorist incidents.)
Looking at the cumulative number of incidents since 1970, Iraq is still in the lead. Chad, North Korea and Venezuela are ranked 93rd, 195th and 56th respectively.
Using another metric — the number of fatalities in each year — the same question arises.
In 2016, Iraq, Syria, Somalia and Yemen were all in the Top 10 of terrorist-related deaths. Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkey and South Sudan were, too, but they never faced a migration ban.
(The spike in U.S. fatalities is a result of Sept. 11, 2001.)
Cumulatively, only Iraq and Syria are in the Top 10 since 1970. Chad is 48th, North Korea 165th and Venezuela 73rd.
If we’re considering only the most recent surge in violence, the new additions to Trump’s list are still a mystery. Since 2009, Iraq has seen the most deaths due to terrorist attacks, followed by Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. None of those countries are on the list. In terms of the change in a country’s cumulative number of terrorism deaths since 2009, only Libya and Yemen are in the Top 10.
Notice that Nigeria, which borders Chad to the west, pops up a lot in these lists. It’s the birthplace of Boko Haram, a radical terrorist group that rose to international prominence in 2014. It also operates in Chad, which may be why Chad is on the list. Though: Why not Nigeria in that case?
That the administration added countries to the list that aren’t predominantly Muslim is probably intentional, given how often Trump’s comments about a Muslim ban were used to reject the proposal in court. The New York Times’s Maggie Haberman reported that the White House thinks the new list helps them avoid that perception.
It’s certainly as good an explanation for their inclusion as the terrorist threat they pose, if recent history is any guide.