The Taliban were overtaken by IS as the world’s deadliest terrorist group in 2021, despite deaths attributed to the group and its affiliates slightly declining from 2,100 to 2,066 deaths.

The past decade has seen the largest surge in terrorist activity in the past fifty years. The deadliest attack of 2021 occurred when an Islamic State (IS) suicide bomber detonated two suicide bombs at Afghanistan’s Kabul International Airport, resulting in 170 deaths and over 200 injuries.

The four deadliest terrorist group responsible for the most deaths in 2021 were Islamic State (IS), Al-Shabaab, the Taliban and Jamaat Nusrat Al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM). These four groups were responsible for 3,364 deaths from terrorism, representing 47 percent of total deaths in 2021. Another 2,775 of terrorism deaths were not attributed to any organisation. Three of these four groups were also the deadliest groups last year, with JNIM replacing Boko Haram this year.

In 2012, just prior to the large global increase in terrorist activity, these four groups were responsible for just under 16 percent of all deaths from terrorism.

Islamic State (IS) alongside its affiliate groups, were the deadliest terrorist group of 2021.

Islamic State (IS) and its affiliate groups Islamic State – Khorasan Province (ISK), Islamic State Sinai Province (IS-SP) and Islamic State West Africa (ISWA) recorded the most attacks and deaths of any terrorist group in 2021. 

IS deaths represented 29 percent of all deaths from terrorism globally in 2021. Despite this, IS attacks fell from 837 in 2020 to 794 in 2021, a decrease of five percent. Deaths as a result of IS attacks mirrored this trend, declining almost two percent between 2020 and 2021. IS recorded attacks in 21 countries in 2021 compared with 30 in 2020. In 2021, IS attacks occurred in every region in the world apart from North America and Russia and Eurasia. The deadliest attack of 2021 occurred when an Islamic State (IS) suicide bomber detonated two suicide bombs at Afghanistan’s Kabul International Airport, resulting in 170 deaths and over 200 injuries.


The Taliban

The withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan as outlined in the 2020 peace agreement between the US and Afghanistan made for the ideal conditions for the Taliban to reassume control of the country after 20 years of US-backed coalition rule.

The Taliban were responsible for 376 deaths in 2021, marking a 32 per cent decrease from 2020 and the lowest number of deaths since 2016. There was a minor decrease in the total number of terrorist attacks by the Taliban, decreasing from 242 in 2020 to 232 in 2021. Attacks became less deadly in 2021, with an average of 1.6 deaths per attack, compared to 2.4 in 2020. Of the 232 attacks attributed to the Taliban in 2021, 56 per cent did not result in any fatalities while only three attacks resulted in more than 10 deaths.

Al Shabaab

Al-Shabaab, a Salafist militant group active in East Africa, first emerged in a battle over Somalia’s capital in the summer of 2006. As an Al Qaeda affiliate based in Somalia and Kenya, Al-Shabaab pursues Islamist statehood aspirations in Somalia.

In 2021, terrorism deaths attributed to Al-Shabaab continued to decline, falling 17 percent from the prior year. Of the 571 deaths attributed to Al-Shabaab in 2021, 93 percent occurred in Somalia, compared to six percent in Kenya. The total number of terror incidents fell by 56 attacks to 303 attacks from 2020 to 2021. Over 51 percent of the attacks in 2021 resulted in at least one fatality. This marks a significant decline from 2020, where 81 percent of attacks resulted in at least one death. 

Al-Jamaat Nusrat

Since its emergence in 2017, JNIM has expanded across West Africa while committing acts of violence against civilians, local security forces and counter-terrorism operations comprising of international militaries and UN peacekeepers. 

Jamaat Nusrat Al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM) is the fastest growing terrorist group and was responsible for 351 deaths in 2021, a 69 per cent increase. Of the four deadliest terrorist groups in 2021 only JNIM recorded an increase in the level of terrorism incidents over the prior year.




Vision of Humanity

Editorial Staff

Vision of Humanity

Vision of Humanity is brought to you by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), by staff in our global offices in Sydney, New York, The Hague, Harare and Mexico. Alongside maps and global indices, we present fresh perspectives on current affairs reflecting our editorial philosophy.