However, ISIL defied this positive trend killing 50% more people in 2016 as compared to 2015. In fact last year was their deadliest to-date with over 9,000 deaths. Most of these deaths occurred in Iraq and ISIL’s terrorism activity saw Iraq again ranked as the country most impacted by terrorism.
ISIL has also been the driver behind an increase in terrorism in developed countries. There has been a 67% increase in attacks and a nearly 600% increase in deaths since 2014. But many of these deaths were caused by a small number of attacks that inflicted very high casualties. In fact just three attacks accounted for 44% of all deaths from terrorism in the West between 2014 and June 2017. These attacks included the November 2015 Paris attacks that killed 137 people, the July 2016 Nice truck attack that killed 87 and the June 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting that resulted in 50 deaths.
Yet in what appears to be an encouraging trend, the preliminary data for 2017 suggests ISIL has been responsible for fewer deaths in developed countries so far this year. This apparent decline coincides with ISIL’s diminishing capacity following its territorial losses in Iraq and Syria.
Globally, the downward trend in the number of terrorism deaths has been driven by significant declines in four of the five countries most impacted by terrorism. Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria all recorded 33% fewer deaths.
The largest reduction occurred in Nigeria where deaths attributed to Boko Haram decreased by 80% in 2016. This decline has been in direct response to the mounting pressure faced by the group from the Multinational Joint Task Force. This military intervention is also having a positive ripple effect on neighbouring countries with Cameroon, Chad and Niger collectively recording 75% fewer terrorism deaths.
The activity of Al-Qa’ida and the Taliban also declined in terms of the number of deaths attributed to these two terror groups. This decline reflects the changing tactics of both groups. The Taliban has increasingly seized more territory in Afghanistan and as such it is focusing more on traditional armed conflict rather than relying on terrorist activity. Terror attacks attributed to the group reduced by 23%. The change in tactics used by the Taliban also saw an increase in attacks against civilians. Previously the Taliban frequently targeted police yet as the group gains control of more territory, the local police have fled. This has seen civilians increasingly targeted and these types of attack now account for 30% of Taliban attacks. When compared to the previous year, this is a 16% increase in attacks and a 24% increase in deaths.
The tactics of al Qa’ida and its affiliate groups have also changed. This saw 35% fewer deaths in 2016. This reduction was mostly driven by fewer terrorist attacks undertaken by its Syrian affiliate, the al-Nusra Front. The Syrian group has repositioned itself to obtain greater political leverage within the Syrian conflict and so is conducting less attacks.
The positive trends outlined in this year’s Global Terrorism Index are encouraging. However, there are still serious areas of concern.
The future stability of Syria and Iraq will play a critical role in determining the impact of terrorism in the years ahead. In Iraq, the government will face challenges in maintaining a lasting peace that is underscored by an inclusive society and which addresses the grievances fuelling sectarian violence. The evolving threat of ISIL also remains. While it has suffered significant setbacks to its territory, military strength and funding, the potential for hardened fighters to leave and join new permutations in other conflict areas around the world is very real. OECD countries face this challenge as foreign fighters return from Syria and Iraq and ISIL directed attacks have increased from 11 countries in 2015 to 15 in 2016.
However, despite the high media profile of terror attacks in OECD countries, a key finding of the report shows that 99% of all terrorism deaths in the past 17 years have occurred in countries that either are in conflict or have high levels of political terror. Political terror signifies the presence of extra-judicial killings, torture and imprisonment without trial. This finding demonstrates the risks associated with counterterrorism strategies that can exacerbate existing grievances that fuel extremism and terrorism.
Citizens can also take comfort from the improvements in counterterrorism strategies that have thwarted more attacks than in previous years. This in part reflects a greater resource allocation for counterterrorism as well as more effective strategies. Two in 10 attacks were thwarted in 2014 and 2015 while three in 10 attacks were foiled in 2016. The type of attack affects the likelihood of success in preventing it. Nearly half of all attacks using bombings and explosions were foiled, but low cost, low-tech attacks, such as using vehicles are harder to thwart.
The yearly report, developed by the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP) based on the Global Terrorism Database by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) as well as other sources, provides the most comprehensive resource on global terrorism trends.