The statistics are from the 2017 Global Terrorism Index, released by the Sydney, Australia-based Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP) on November 15.
Four of the five countries that are most affected by terrorism – Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria – saw the number of terrorist deaths drop last year. The biggest improvement was in Nigeria, where deaths attributed to Boko Haram fell by 80% in 2016 compared to 2015, due to the efforts by the Multinational Joint Task Force and the splintering of the group.
“This year’s report marks a landmark moment in the fight against radical Islamist extremism,” says Steve Killelea, executive chairman of IEP. “Together, Boko Haram, the Taliban and Al Qaeda killed 6,000 fewer people in 2016 than in 2015.”
However, things did not improve across the board. Iraq continued to see the number of deaths climb in 2016, with more than 9,765 people killed in terrorist atrocities, 49% more than in the previous year. That is largely down to the actions of Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL), which claimed 9,132 deaths, most of which were in Iraq. Of the 15 most deadly attacks in the world in 2016, ISIS was responsible for 12 of them: 11 in Iraq and one in Syria.
ISIS in decline
The tally from last year may well prove to be a high water mark for ISIS, with the continued losses of territory this year reducing its revenue-raising powers which, in turn, has weakened its ability to plan and direct attacks.
“In 2016 we saw an increase in the use of terrorist tactics in Iraq by ISIL. That was really in response to the fact they were losing on the battlefield,” says Daniel Hyslop, research director of the IEP. “If you look at 2017, we know that the group’s lost a lot of territory, it’s lost a lot of revenue. Its ability to project terrorism is directly linked to its control of territory. So that’s very damaging for the group’s ability to continue more terrorist attacks.
“For 2017 it’s uncertain what the data will show, but I suspect if ISIL is completely militarily defeated, which looks like it’s going to be the case, there’s going to be an improvement.”
ISIS was the deadliest terrorist group in the world in 2016, followed by Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. But notwithstanding the fact that ISIS was responsible for attacks in 15 countries, from Belgium to Indonesia, the scourge of terrorism is actually heavily concentrated.
According to the IEP, over the past 17 years 99% of all terrorism deaths have occurred in countries that either are in conflict or have high levels of political terror, including extra-judicial killings, torture and imprisonment without trial. In geographic terms, 94% of all terrorist deaths have been in the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
But terrorism’s tentacles are spreading. While the numbers of deaths and attacks fell globally in 2016, more places were affected. Overall, 77 countries suffered at least one death from terrorism last year, up from 65 the year before; and 106 countries recorded at least one terrorism attack in 2016, compared to 95 in 2015.
And while the level of violence in the worst-affected countries may be in decline, European and other developed countries have seen their situations get worse, often as a result of attacks by ISIS militants – most of whom have been home-grown killers rather than fighters returning from the shrinking caliphate. Excluding the September 11 attacks in the US, 2016 was the deadliest year for terrorism in OECD member states (a group of rich world countries) since 1988.
Killelea describes ISIS as an “evolving threat” for these countries. “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,” he says.
The good news is that the intelligence and police forces are improving. Better counter-terrorism strategies mean more attacks are being foiled than in the recent past. While two in every ten attacks were prevented in 2014 and 2015, last year the proportion rose to three in ten.
The nature of attacks is changing, however, and some of the terrorists’ newer tactics are proving hard to counter. While around half of all attacks using bombs and explosions were foiled, low cost and low-tech attacks, such as those using vehicles, are proving harder to stop. Following the July 2016 truck attack in Nice, France, in which 87 were killed, there have been at least a dozen other attacks using vehicles in OECD countries, 11 of which explicitly targeted civilians.
The increase in truck attacks appears to be a direct response to the increasing success by counter-terrorism forces in intercepting and preventing more sophisticated attacks involving a large number of people.
“The tactics have changed,” says Hyslop. “It’s very hard for the counter-terrorism forces to stay ahead of what particular individuals or groups are going to do, but they seem to have caught up with a lot of the tactics that have been previously deployed in terms of the use of bombings or armed assaults.”
The cost of all these attacks is high. According to the IEP, the global economic impact of terrorism in 2016 was $84bn, a reduction of nearly $6bn compared to 2015. However, that is still just a small fraction of the cost of other forms of violence. The think-tank says the total global economic impact of violence reached $14.3 trillion in 2016.
The Five Countries Most Affected By Terrorism
Overall, the countries most affected by terrorism in 2016 were:
Iraq was the country worst hit by terrorism, with 9,765 deaths in 2016, along with 13,314 injuries. The total number of deaths since 2000 has now surpassed 60,000. There were 2,965 terrorist incidents in Iraq in 2016 and three quarters of the deaths were carried out by ISIS.
Some 4,574 people lost their lives in 1,342 terrorist incidents in Afghanistan in 2016, with a further 5,057 injured. The deadliest attack happened in October 2016, when 154 people were killed by the Taliban in Kunduz. The Taliban was responsible for 94% of attacks by known groups in Afghanistan in 2016
The number of deaths fell in Nigeria in 2016 for the second year running, with the total of 1,832 deaths comparing to 4,940 in 2015 and more than 7,500 in 2014. The main reason was the declining threat posed by Boko Haram, which has been put under pressure by the Multinational Joint Task Force of Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria.
2,102 people were killed in terrorist attacks in Syria in 2016, while 2,660 were injured. While still very high it is at least a decline from the year before. However, these figures still only capture a fraction of the violence that is happening in the country – a further 50,000 deaths were classified as a result of warfare rather than terrorism.
Groups including the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Khorasan Chapter of the Islamic State and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi were responsible for 736 terrorist incidents in 2016, causing 956 deaths and 1,729 injuries. That meant that it was the third successive year in which Pakistan has seen a decline in terrorist attacks and deaths.