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Executive Summary

This is the eighth edition of the Global Terrorism Index (GTI). The report provides a comprehensive summary of the key global trends and patterns in terrorism over the last 50 years, placing a special emphasis on trends over the past decade. This period corresponds with the rise and fall of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Download the full report here.

The GTI report is produced by the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP) using data from the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) and other sources. Data for the GTD is collected and collated by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland. The GTD contains over 170,000 terrorist incidents for the period 1970 to 2019.

In 2019, deaths from terrorism fell for the fifth consecutive year, after peaking in 2014. The total number of deaths fell by 15.5% to 13,826. The fall in deaths was mirrored by a reduction in the impact of terrorism, with 103 countries recording an improvement on their GTI score, compared to 35 that recorded a deterioration. The full GTI score takes into account not only deaths, but also incidents, injuries, and property damage from terrorism, over a five-year period.

The largest fall in the impact of terrorism occurred in Afghanistan, which recorded 1,654 fewer deaths from terrorism in 2018, a 22.4% decrease from the prior year. However, Afghanistan remains the country most impacted by terrorism, after overtaking Iraq in 2018.

Nigeria recorded the second largest reduction in deaths from terrorism in 2019, with the number falling from 2,043 to 1,245, a 39.1% reduction, which was mainly due to a fall in terrorism deaths attributed to Fulani extremists. This reduction occurred despite a small increase in deaths attributed to Boko Haram, which has the been the most active terrorist group in the country over the past decade. Deaths from terrorism in Nigeria are now 83% lower than at their peak in 2014.

Conflict remains the primary driver of terrorism, with over 96% of deaths from terrorism in 2019 occurring in countries already in conflict. The ten countries with the highest impact of terrorism are all engaged in at least one armed conflict.

Despite the overall fall in the impact of terrorism across the world, it remains a significant and serious problem in many countries. There were 63 countries in 2019 that recorded at least one death from a terrorist attack and seventeen countries that recorded over 100 deaths from terrorism. However, only Afghanistan and Nigeria recorded over 1,000 deaths and both countries had significant reductions in the number of people killed in 2019. By contrast, in 2015 there were six countries that recorded over a thousand deaths from terrorism.

ISIL’s strength and influence continued to decline, with deaths attributed to the group in 2019 falling to 942, down from 1,571 in the previous year. This is the first time since the group became active in 2013, that it was responsible for less than a thousand deaths from terrorism in any one year. The number of terrorist attacks attributed to the group also fell to the lowest level since it was formed, with 339 incidents attributed to the group in 2019. However, despite the decrease in activity from ISIL in the Middle East and North Africa, ISIL’s affiliate groups remain active across the world, and have become especially prominent in sub-Saharan Africa where deaths attributed to ISIL affiliates increased. Twenty-seven countries experienced a terrorist attack caused by ISIL or one of its affiliates.

The expansion of ISIL affiliates into sub-Saharan Africa led to a surge in terrorism in many countries in the region. Seven of the ten countries with the largest increase in terrorism were in sub-Saharan Africa: Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mali, Niger, Cameron and Ethiopia. These countries are also facing various ecological threats, are amongst the countries with the highest population growth and suffer from low societal resilience.

The largest increase in deaths from terrorism occurred in Burkina Faso, where deaths rose from 86 to 593, a 590% increase. The rise was mainly driven by three groups: the Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS), Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) and the Burkina Faso branch of Ansar al- Islam.

Sri Lanka recorded the second largest increase in 2019, with the Easter Sunday bombings accounting for the entirety of this increase. Sri Lanka recorded the deadliest attack of 2019 when eight coordinated suicide attacks across the country targeted churches and hotels on Easter Sunday, killing 266 people and injuring at least 500. ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack, with the perpetrators pledging allegiance to former ISIL-leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi online.

South Asia remains the region most impacted by terrorism in 2019, despite the improvements in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. This is the second year in a row that South Asia has recorded more deaths from terrorism than any other region.

ISIL’s shift to sub-Saharan Africa meant that the region recorded the second highest number of terrorism deaths, even after accounting for the substantial fall in Nigeria. Deaths attributed to ISIL affiliates in the region were recorded as far south as Mozambique and 41% of all ISIL-related attacks in 2019 occurred in sub-Saharan Africa.

Terrorism comes with a heavy financial cost. The global economic impact of terrorism was US$26.4 billion in 2019, 25% lower than in 2018. Whilst this figure is a small percentage of the total impact of violence on the global economy, it should be noted that the figures for terrorism are highly conservative as they do not account for many items, including the indirect impacts on business and investment, insurance costs, lost opportunity and the costs associated with security agencies in countering terrorism.

One of the more worrying trends in the last five years is the surge in far-right political terrorism, even though the absolute number of far-right attacks remains low when compared to other forms of terrorism. In North America, Western Europe, and Oceania, far-right attacks have increased by 250% since 2014, with deaths increasing by 709% over the same period. There were 89 deaths attributed to far-right terrorists in 2019, with 51 of those occurring in the Christchurch mosque attacks in New Zealand. There have been over 35 far-right terrorist incidents in the West every year for the past five years.

Far-right terrorism tends to be more lethal than far-left terrorism, but not as lethal as Islamist terrorism in the West. There have been 13 far-right terrorist attacks that have each killed more than ten people over the past 50 years, compared to 24 Islamist attacks, and three from other ideologies. Far-right terrorism is also more likely to be carried out by individuals unaffiliated with a specific terrorist group. Nearly 60% of far-right attacks from 1970 to 2019 were carried out by unaffiliated individuals, compared to under ten per cent for both far-left and separatist terrorist groups.

There are some signs that political violence is becoming more publically acceptable, as the level of polarisation in society continues to rise. In the US, where the majority of far-right terrorism has taken place, nearly 40% of both Democrat and Republican poll respondents in 2020 felt that violence for political ends was at least partially justifiable, up from less than ten percent just two and half years earlier. Social and political instability has also been on the rise in the West, even prior to the widespread demonstrations seen in 2020. Nearly 70 violent demonstrations were recorded in the West in 2019, compared to 19 in 2011.

The rise in far-right terrorism comes at a time when Positive Peace is declining in many Western countries. The US had one of the largest deteriorations in Positive Peace, with its score deteriorating by 6.7% over the past decade.

If the deterioration in Positive Peace in the West continues unchecked over the coming years, the background conditions are set for further social discontent, which may increase the likelihood for violence and terrorism.

The report also looks at the application of systems thinking to terrorism, using mainly statistical techniques and mathematical models to better understand the dynamics of terrorism and its subsequent impact on society. Terrorist groups flourish when they can increase their influence. The major drivers of influence are media coverage, recruitment of sympathisers, and finances. All of these different facets need to be tackled together to break up terrorist organisations.

There are many socio-economic factors that are associated with terrorism that are common to all countries. However, there are also notable differences between economically developed and developing countries. Some socio-economic factors associated with terrorism include:

  • High levels of group grievance and a weak rule of law is correlated with terrorism across all countries.
  • In the more economically developed countries, social disenfranchisement and exclusion play an important role in terrorism.
  • In less economically developed countries, religious or ethnic ruptures, and corruption are more strongly associated with high levels of terrorism.

As the threat of terrorism continues to change, policymakers need to be aware of novel approaches to counter-terrorism. The European Leadership Network is developing the concept of social impact bonds in relation to terrorism, with a particular focus on securing dangerous materials that could be used in sophisticated terrorist attacks, such as radioactive medical waste. There are already over 100 development or social impact bonds globally, but to date they have not been used for security purposes. An expert contribution in this edition of the GTI looks in detail at the prospect of using social impact bonds in counter-terrorism.

The Countries Most Impacted by Terrorism in 2020

 

  1. 🇦🇫 1. Afghanistan
  2. 🇮🇶 2. Iraq
  3. 🇳🇬 3. Nigeria
  4. 🇸🇾 4. Syria
  5. 🇸🇴 5. Somalia
  6. 🇾🇪 6. Yemen
  7. 🇵🇰 7. Pakistan
  8. 🇮🇳 8. India
  9. 🇨🇩 9. Democratic Republic of the Congo
  10. 🇵🇭 10. Philippines

Download the full GTI 2020 report here.

2020 Global Terrorism Index: Summary & Key Findings

Section 1: Results from 2020 GTI

  • Deaths from terrorism fell for the fifth consecutive year in 2019 to 13,826 deaths, representing a 15% decrease from the prior year.
  • The Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Russia and Eurasia, South America and South Asia regions all recorded falls in deaths from terrorism of at least 20 per cent.
  • Although terrorism has fallen in most regions, it has become more widespread in others. Seven of the ten countries with the largest increase in terrorism were in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Burkina Faso had the largest increase in terrorism, where deaths increased by 590% to 593. This was followed by Sri Lanka where terrorism deaths increased from one in 2018 to 266 in 2019.
  • Afghanistan remains the country with the highest impact from terrorism. However, terrorism deaths in the country declined in 2019 for the first time in three years.
  • The Taliban remained the world’s deadliest terrorist group in 2019. However, terrorist deaths attributed to the group declined by 18% to 4,990. Whether the peace talks in Afghanistan have a substantial impact on terrorist activity remains to be seen.

Section 2: Global Impact of Terrorism

  • The global economic impact of terrorism in 2019 amounted to US$26.4 billion, a fall of 25% from 2018. This was mainly driven by a fall in terrorism deaths in the Middle East and North Africa.
  • The economic impact of terrorism has fallen each year for the last five years. It is now 77% lower than at its peak in 2014.
  • Afghanistan was the country with the highest economic impact, equivalent to 16.7% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
  • Nine of the ten countries with the highest economic impact of terrorism suffer from ongoing conflict.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have the highest regional economic impact, at US$12.5 and US$5.6 billion, respectively.
  • North America had the largest regional percentage increase in its economic impact, increasing by 44.9% from the previous year, owing largely to an increase in far-right terrorism.

Section 3: Trends in Terrorism

  • Deaths from terrorism are now 59% lower than their peak in 2014. The fall in deaths has been largest in Iraq, Syria and Nigeria.
  • The overall fall in deaths from terrorism has also led to a reduction in the number of countries experiencing deaths from terrorism. In 2019, 63 countries recorded at least one death from terrorism, the lowest number since 2013.
  • The impact of terrorism lessened in seven of the nine regions of the world in 2019.
  • South Asia recorded the largest deterioration, followed by Central America and the Caribbean. However, Central America and the Caribbean remains the region with the lowest impact of terrorism, a position it has held for the past 17 years.
  • MENA recorded the largest regional improvement for the second consecutive year. Deaths in MENA have fallen by 87% since 2016, reaching the lowest level since 2003.
  • More recently, terrorist activity has been concentrated in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa with both regions having recorded more terrorism deaths than MENA since 2018.

Section 4: The Shifting Landscape

  • As the level of terrorist activity continues to fall in the Middle East and South Asia, new terrorist threats are beginning to emerge. The most prominent of these are the spread of ISIL affiliate groups in sub-Saharan Africa, and the emergence of far-right terrorism in Western Europe and North America.
  • ISIL’s global reach has steadily expanded with ISIL- related attacks recorded across seven regions: Asia- Pacific, Europe, MENA, North America, Russia and Eurasia, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Outside of Iraq and Syria, ISIL-affiliated groups and individuals have perpetrated over 3,000 attacks in 48 countries since 2013.
  • The number of countries recording an ISIL-related attack increased from two in 2013, to 27 in 2019.
  • In the West, ISIL directed or inspired at least 78 terror attacks between 2014 and 2019, resulting in 471 fatalities. France recorded the most ISIL-related terrorism deaths, followed by the United States and Belgium. However, there was only one attack recorded in the West in 2019.
  • Forty-one per cent of total ISIL-related attacks in 2019 occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, highlighting the shift in ISIL-related attacks away from the Middle East.
  • Far-right terrorism has increased substantially in the West. There was one recorded far-right terrorist attack in 2010, this had increased to 49 in 2019.

Section 5: Systems and Terrorism

  • There are many factors that are associated with increased levels of terrorism. High levels of group grievance and weak rule of law are correlated with terrorism across all countries.
  • The socio-economic factors linked with terrorism in more economically developed countries mostly reflect social disenfranchisement and exclusion.
  • Among developing nations, terrorism is associated with religious or ethnic ruptures and corruption.
  • Social systems are vulnerable to shocks. A large scale terrorist attack is a shock that can change a system in long-lasting and often unexpected ways.
  • The 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 triggered profound changes in the US social and governance systems that have persevered for almost two decades.
  • Following these attacks, indicators of perceived human rights protections, rule of law, media monitoring and regulation and judicial review and oversight deteriorated markedly.
  • Influence over society and its governance is the most important factor that determines the size, longevity, and success of a terrorist group. Programs and policies that reduce the influence of groups will have the most power to disrupt terror networks.
  • In order to disrupt recruitment by terrorist groups, nations need to address both recruitment methods and motivation.
  • To address the motivations to join a terrorist group, both social and economic inclusion need to be promoted.
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Global Terrorism Index 2020

This is an excerpt from the Global Terrorism Index 2020, which is a comprehensive study analysing the impact of terrorism for 163 countries covering 99.7 per cent of the world’s population.

Read the report