Terrorism: deaths fall 44%, still widespread.
Despite a global drop in fatalities in 2017, terrorism remains widespread with 67 countries experiencing at least one death.
After peaking in 2014, deaths from terrorism have fallen for the third consecutive year. The total number of deaths fell by 27 per cent between 2016 and 2017, with the largest falls occurring in Iraq and Syria. Last year, 94 countries improved, compared to 46 that deteriorated.
This is the highest number of countries to record a year on year improvement since 2004 and reflects the increased countering terrorism effort around the world since the surge in violence in 2013.
The large falls in the number of deaths in Iraq and Syria is mainly the result of ISIL’s continuing decline. The number of deaths from terrorist attacks attributed to ISIL fell by 52 per cent in 2017, with total incidents falling by 22 per cent. There was a corresponding decrease in the lethality of attacks, highlighting the weakening capacity of the organisation. ISIL has now lost most of its territory and sources of revenue. Despite this, ISIL remained the deadliest terrorist group globally in 2017.
Although the total number of deaths from terrorism has fallen, the impact of terrorism remains widespread. In 2017, 67 countries experienced at least one death from terrorism, which is the second highest number of countries recording one death in the past twenty years. However, it is a fall from the peak of 79 countries in 2016.
Afghanistan was the country that recorded the highest number of terrorism deaths in 2017, while Angola and Spain had the largest deteriorations in score in the GTI. Somalia and Egypt recorded the largest increases in the number of deaths from terrorism in 2017. In Somalia, Al-Shabaab was responsible for the single largest terrorist attack in 2017, when a truck bomb detonated outside a hotel, killing 587 people.
Egypt experienced the second largest terrorist attack of 2017, when the Sinai Province of the Islamic State attacked the al-Rawda mosque, killing 311 people and injuring 122. The attack was the deadliest in Egyptian history.
The global economic impact of terrorism was US$52 billion in 2017, 42 per cent lower than in 2016.
Iraq remains the country most impacted by terrorism.
Despite a significant drop in deaths from 2016 to 2017, Iraq remains the country most impacted by terrorism, a position it has held since 2014. The total number of deaths from terrorism in Iraq fell from 9,783 to 4,271 between 2016 and 2017, a 56 per cent decline and the country’s lowest number of deaths since 2012. There was also a fall in the number of incidents, dropping to 1,956 from 2,969 in 2016. There was also a substantial drop in the lethality of attacks with 2.2 deaths per attack compared to 3.3 in 2016.
Afghanistan records the most deaths from terrorism.
In 2017, Afghanistan was the country that recorded the highest number of deaths from terrorism, replacing Iraq which had held the position since 2013.
Total deaths from terrorism in Nigeria fall to 1,532.
Total deaths from terrorism in Nigeria fell to 1,532 in 2017, a decrease of 16 per cent from the prior year. The decline follows the 63 per cent drop in deaths in Nigeria in the preceding year, and a 34 per cent drop in 2015. This highlights the effectiveness of the counter-insurgency operations undertaken in Nigeria and its neighbours, Cameroon, Niger and Chad.
Global trends in terrorism
The world has seen a substantial decrease in deaths from terrorism since 2014, with the most dramatic reductions occurring in Iraq and Nigeria. Increased counterterrorism coordination at both the state and international level, increasing political stability, the winding down of the Syrian civil war, and the collapse of ISIL have all played a role in reducing the impact of terrorism around the world.
This current period of declining terrorism follows three previous trends in the global phenomenon. The current period of decline follows three previous terrorism trends since the 9/11.. Between 2002 and 2007, terrorist attacks increased steadily, correlating with an increase in violent conflict in Iraq. This trend peaked in 2007, corresponding with the US troop surge, after which terrorism steadily fell, with deaths from terrorism dropping 35 per cent between 2007 and 2011.
The third trend from 2011 to 2014 saw the level of global terrorism surge, with deaths from terrorism increasing by more than 350 per cent in just three years. This surge coincided with the aftermath of the Arab Spring, increased violent conflict in Iraq, the rise of ISIL, and the start of the Syrian civil war, as well as the re-emergence of Boko Haram in Nigeria.
As the intensity of terrorism has increased over the last two decades, its impact has also spread to more countries around the world. In 2001, 50 countries experienced at least one death from terrorism. This number dropped to 39 in 2004. However, since then the number of countries has grown steadily, with more than 60 countries experiencing at least one fatal attack in every year since 2012. This number peaked in 2016, when 79 countries had at least one death from terrorism. The distribution of terrorist deaths has remained widespread even though the total number of deaths has decreased considerably.
The increase in attacks and deaths across more countries has meant that the impact of terrorism is becoming more widespread, even as deaths from terrorism are decreasing. In 2002, the first year for which there was sufficient data to produce the GTI, 44 countries recorded no impact from terrorism, meaning that there had not been a single death or attack in the previous five years. In 2017, that number had decreased to 26.
In charts: the impact of terrorism
The global impact of terrorism
Despite a significant fall in the number of deaths from terrorism in Iraq, there was no change in the five countries most impacted by terrorism, which include Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria and Pakistan. All of these countries have been ranked in the worst five every year since 2013.
Conflict continued to be the primary driver of terrorist activity for the countries most impacted by terrorism in 2017.
In 2017, terrorist attacks in conflict countries averaged 2.4 deaths, compared to 0.84 deaths in non-conflict countries. Terrorist attacks are more lethal on average in countries with a greater intensity of conflict. In 2017, countries in a state of war averaged 2.97 deaths per attack, compared to 1.36 in countries involved in a minor armed conflict. There are numerous possible reasons for this difference. Countries in conflict have a greater availability of more military-grade small arms and bomb-making capabilities. Countries that are not in conflict tend to be more economically-developed and spend more on intelligence gathering, policing and counterterrorism.
The difference in lethality between terrorist attacks in conflict and non-conflict countries can also be clearly seen by the distribution of deaths from terrorism. In non-conflict countries, 74 per cent of terrorist attacks from 2002 to 2017 resulted in no fatalities. By contrast, in conflict countries, less than half of all terrorist attacks resulted in no deaths, and there were 84 attacks that killed more than 100 people.
However, terrorist attacks that killed high numbers of people have remained relatively rare in both conflict and non-conflict countries since 2002, with only 2.2 per cent of attacks in non-conflict countries and 4.5 per cent of attacks in conflict countries killing more than ten people.
The four terrorist groups responsible for the most deaths in 2017 were the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Taliban, Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram. These four groups were responsible for 10,632 deaths from terrorism, representing 56.5 per cent of total deaths in 2017. In 2012, just prior to the large increase in terrorist activity around the world, these four groups were responsible for 32 per cent of all deaths from terrorism. A decade ago, they accounted for just six per cent.
The past decade has experienced the largest surge in terrorist activity in the past fifty years. These four groups are responsible for 44 per cent of the deaths in the decade. However, all of the groups other than Al-Shabaab have experienced falls in terrorist activity in the past few years.
The shifting landscape of terrorism
The impact of terrorism is receding in the Middle East, new threats are emerging elsewhere, most notably in Africa and Southeast Asia.
Deaths from terrorism in Iraq fell 56 per cent between 2016 and 2017, with preliminary data suggesting an even greater fall in 2018. While it still remains the world’s deadliest terrorist group, ISIL’s decline contributed to a 56 per cent reduction in deaths in Iraq between 2016 and 2017.
ISIL’s control of territory and associated revenue streams have plunged over the past two years. ISIL lost 60 per cent of its territory and 80 per cent of its financial capacity between 2015 and 2017. Latest estimates suggest that ISIL now holds just one per cent of its former territory. The main financial losses suffered by the group consisted of foregone tax and oil revenue. Currently, the group’s primary revenue stream is extortion.
Today, ISIL holds control over only scattered territories along the Syria-Iraq border. As the prospects for a territorial caliphate have diminished severely, so has the feasibility of ISIL-related recruitment to Iraq and Syria. However, the group’s ideology, frequency of attacks and the underlying reasons for its existence continue to persist.
Al-Qa’ida has historically been most active in the Middle East, but its focus has now turned towards Africa. Between 2015 and 2017, 69 per cent of terror-related deaths caused by the group occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Seizing on the power vacuum left by the Arab Spring, Al-Qa’ida’s movement into Africa has been the result of careful planning under the leadership of Ayman al-Zawahiri. Outside of the Middle East, the group’s affiliates have gained traction throughout Africa, most notably in the Maghreb and Sahel regions and at the Horn of Africa.
Over the past three years, many Southeast Asian countries have experienced a second wave of Islamist terrorism. The first wave came between 2002-2008 when the Philippines’ Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Indonesia’s Jemaah Islamiya (JI) were responsible for 301 and 274 deaths respectively. The second wave has come from ISIL-affiliated groups and separatist movements in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines and Thailand, with 292 deaths across 348 incidents recorded in 2017 alone.
The Philippines and Myanmar both experienced their deadliest years on record in 2017, and Southeast Asia as a whole recorded a 36 per cent increase in deaths from terrorism from 2016 to 2017. Just under 97 per cent of deaths in the broader Asia-Pacific region occurred in Southeast Asia.