Terrorism is an opportunistic form of violence that evolves in response to attempts to counter it. This opportunism has been seen in 2015 in two ways: the spread of terrorism away from their heartlands by the two deadliest groups; and the rise in terrorism in OECD countries with inspired attacks.
In 2015 successes by international military coalitions targeting ISIL and Boko Haram corresponded with the intensification of terrorism in many countries. ISIL and Boko Haram, the two deadliest groups, had significant reductions in terrorism in their home territories. However, both groups spread into neighbouring countries and beyond. As such, the ten per cent overall decline in deaths from terrorism in 2015 was offset by increased intensity in many countries. This decline has been largely concentrated in two countries: Iraq which had a 30 per cent reduction in deaths; and Nigeria with a 34 per cent reduction.
As such, the ten per cent overall decline in deaths from terrorism in 2015 was offset by increased intensity in many countries.
ISIL, the deadliest and wealthiest terrorist group, had a one per cent increase in deaths from the previous year to 6,141 deaths in 2015. The 20 per cent reduction in Iraq corresponded with a 174 per cent increase in other countries. ISIL was directly involved in attacks in 11 countries in 2015, up from six in 2014. However, ISIL and its affiliates were active in 28 countries which is an increase of 15 countries in just 12 months. This reflects both the ideology of ISIL, and its opportunistic nature.
As opposed to al-Qa’ida, which still maintains control of messaging and requires ideological consistency with its different branches, ISIL has less restrictive requirements. As a result, there are many more affiliates of ISIL than al-Qa’ida.
Boko Haram, the second deadliest group, also expanded its activity to surrounding countries. Boko Haram were responsible for 5,478 deaths from terrorism in 2015 with a 33 per cent reduction in Nigeria offset by a 163 per cent increase in other countries. Niger, Cameroon and Chad all had their worst year for terrorism in 2015 solely due to the activity of Boko Haram. The tactics used by Boko Haram have also altered, with increases in bombings and the use of women and children for suicide bombings. These attacks tend to be deadlier than armed assaults and increased after Boko Haram allegedly received training from other jihadist terrorist groups in Africa. The intention of these attacks is to show the local population that, despite Boko Haram’s loss of territory due to the activity of an international military coalition, they still pose a significant security threat.
As a result of the spread by ISIL and Boko Haram in 2015, 23 countries had the most deaths from terrorism since at least 2000. These include countries which previously experienced limited levels of terrorism such as France, Kuwait, Niger, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia. These two groups were responsible for 40 per cent of deaths from terrorism in 2015.
Opportunistic attacks in OECD countries
As well as expanding to other areas, ISIL in particular has encouraged attacks in OECD countries. From 2014 to July 2016, there have been 125 attacks in OECD countries with some ISIL involvement which have resulted in 586 deaths. The level of support that ISIL plays in attacks and plots differs. Half of all ISIL related plots in OECD countries were by lone actors who showed sympathy to ISIL without having any direct contact. These types of attacks have increased since the call by ISIL on 22 September 2014 to directly target many OECD countries. In 2014 there were 13 lone actor attacks inspired by ISIL, which increased to 33 in 2015. Up until the end of July 2016 there have been 22 attacks. This includes two of the largest attacks in recent years which are the Nice truck attack and the Orlando night club shooting. The other largest lone actor attack was the Suruç bombing in 20 July 2015 which killed 33 people.
Even though there were some very deadly attacks by lone actors, generally the deadliest attacks had greater ISIL involvement. Lone actors tend to be more opportunistic carrying out attacks without elaborate planning such as knife attacks against police. Four of the ten deadliest attacks in the OECD since 2015 were directed by ISIL. These attacks were the Paris Attacks, the 2015 Ankara bombings, Atatürk Airport attack and the Brussels attacks which killed a combined 327 people and injured over 1,300 people.
Attacks by small groups of people that have received training and directives by senior ISIL members have increased. In 2014 there were two such attacks which had no deaths. In 2015 this increased to 19 attacks which resulted in 281 deaths. In the first half of 2016 there have been 12 ISIL directed attacks with 105 deaths.
This demonstrates that the nature of terrorism is evolving. Both Boko Haram and ISIL have changed their tactics in response to military pressure and spread out to surrounding countries. ISIL in particular has also increased attacks and inspired lone actors to carry out attacks in their name across the world. These changes suggest that, despite the ten per cent reduction in deaths from terrorism in 2015, greater international focus on peacebuilding and challenging the drivers of terrorism will be essential for increasing peace. The Global Terrorism Index 2016 outlines the trends of terrorism in 2015, as well as case studies on the deadliest groups and terrorism in OECD countries.