Is terrorism on the decline? Here is what the data tells us!

November 17, 2017

The Institute for Economics and Peace, an Alliance for Peacebuilding member, has recently release the 2017 Global Terrorism Index (GTI). Produced annually, the GTI analyses and studies the direct and indirect impact of terrorism on 163 countries.

The index covers 99 per cent of the world’s population and examines the conditions under which terrorism occurs, the longer-term trends and geopolitical drivers, as well as the ideological aims and strategies deployed by terrorists. These factors have been measured over the past 17 years, with the intention of deepening our collective understanding how this form of violence occurs.

In welcome news, for the second consecutive year, the total number of terrorism deaths is down. The index, which was released globally on November 15, shows a 22 per cent reduction in terrorism deaths compared to the peak of terror activity in 2014. Four of the five countries most impacted by terrorism – Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria – collectively recorded 33 per cent fewer deaths.

However, ISIL defied this positive trend killing 50 per cent more people in 2016 as compared to 2015. In fact last year was their deadliest to-date with over 9,000 deaths, primarily in Iraq. Total deaths attributed to ISIL in Iraq increased by 50 per cent in 2016 and Iraq was ranked as the country most impacted by terrorism.

ISIL has also been the primary driver behind an increase in terrorism in OECD member countries since 2014. There has been a 67 per cent increase in attacks and a nearly 600 per cent increase in deaths from terrorism in OECD countries since 2014. But a significant portion of these deaths resulted from a small number of attacks that inflicted very high casualties. Further, in what appears to be an encouraging trend, the preliminary data for 2017 suggests ISIL killed fewer people in OECD countries this year. This apparent decline coincides with ISIL’s diminishing capacity following its territorial losses in Iraq and Syria.

The largest reduction in the number of deaths occurred in Nigeria with deaths by Boko Haram down 80 per cent in 2016. The group has been facing mounting pressure from the Multinational Joint Task Force and its decline in Nigeria is also having a positive ripple effect on neighbouring countries with Cameroon, Chad and Niger collectively recording 75 per cent fewer terrorism deaths.

Deaths attributed to Al-Qa’ida and the Taliban as the tactics of both groups changed. As the Taliban has increasingly seized territory in Afghanistan it has renewed its focus on traditional armed conflict rather than relying on terrorist activity. Terror attacks attributed to the group reduced by 23 per cent although this decline was offset by an increase in battle-related deaths.

The tactics of Al-Qa’ida and its affiliates have also changed and this has resulted in 35 per cent fewer fatalities in 2016. This reduction was mostly driven by fewer terrorist attacks conducted by its affiliate in Syria, the al-Nusra Front as it repositioned itself to obtain greater political leverage within the Syrian conflict.

The positive trends outlined in this year’s 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. There is also a real potential for hardened fighters to leave and join new permutations in other conflict areas or to carry out attacks in their home country. In reflecting this, ISIL directed attacks in OECD countries have increased will attacks carried out in 15 member states in 2016.

However, despite the high media profile of terror attacks in OECD countries, a key finding of the report shows that 99 per cent 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. 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.

To access interactive maps on the Global Terrorism Index and to view the full report go to

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