Terrorism In Decline: Number Of Deaths By Terrorist Groups Falls For Third Year In A Row
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Members of Iraq’s Rapid Response military unit take part in counter-terrorism training at a military base inside Baghdad International Airport on December 4, 2018. (Photo: AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
Is the world starting to get to grips with the scourge of terrorism? There are at least some hopeful signs. Last year, the number of deaths caused by terrorist groups was 18,814, 27% less than the year before and the third consecutive year of improvement. At the same time, the number of attacks fell by 23%.
These numbers come from the Global Terrorism Index 2018, compiled by the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP) and published today. According to the index, most countries saw their situation improve last year, with 94 countries showing a decline in the impact of terrorism, compared to 46 countries where the problem got worse.
The countries with the greatest improvements were Iraq and Syria where the number of deaths fell by 5,500 and 1,000 respectively. The situation was also markedly better in Europe, where the number of deaths fell by 75%. France, Belgium and Germany all saw significant improvements, although Spain deteriorated.
The positive developments in these regions is in large part a consequence of the decline of Islamic State (also known as ISIL or ISIS), which has now been largely defeated in its home territory of Iraq and Syria and is, as a consequence, less able to mount deadly attacks in Europe.
“ISIL has lost much of its attractiveness due to its military defeats and weakened capabilities to mount attacks in Europe,” says Steve Killelea, chairman of IEP.
“Increases in counter-terrorism funding, combined with better surveillance techniques, have also contributed to the steep reduction of deaths in Europe from terrorism. ISIL is losing its ability to plan and coordinate larger scale terrorist attacks, as a result of lessened capabilities and increased counterterrorism measures.”
Rise of the Far Right
However, while some Islamic fundamentalist groups may be declining in power, other groups and ideologies are rising in their place. One notable trend in recent years has been the increase in far-right terrorism in North America and Western Europe. Last year these extremists carried out 59 attacks and were responsible for 17 deaths. Most of the attacks were carried out by individuals with far-right, white nationalist or anti-Muslim beliefs.
This is part of the continually shifting terrorism landscape, which can make it hard for police and security forces to identify and pursue dangerous groups and individuals. Of the 169 terrorist groups responsible for at least one death in 2017, 42 were either previously unknown or had not caused any deaths in the three previous years.
The constant evolution of the threat means that, for all the gains made in recent years, terrorism still remains a widespread problem. Last year 67 countries recorded at least one death from terrorism and 98 countries suffered at least one attack.
As in previous years, the violence was concentrated in a relatively small number of countries. Five states – Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia and Syria – recorded more than 1,000 deaths each and accounted for 84% of the worldwide total.
Afghanistan alone suffered 4,653 fatalities, or 25% of the total. In the process it became the most dangerous country, overtaking Iraq which suffered 4,271 terrorist deaths last year.
Despite the improvements in many parts of the Middle East and Europe, some places are getting more dangerous. In Somalia, the number of deaths from terrorism increased by 93 per cent from 2016 to 2017. One attack in Mogadishu in October 2017 killed 587 people, when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden truck outside the Safari Hotel. That was the deadliest attack anywhere in the world last year and one of 11 incidents in which at least 100 people were killed.
The economic impact of all this carnage is estimated by the IEP to have been $52bn last year. While large, that is 42% less than the year before. This sum is calculated from the direct and indirect cost of deaths and injuries (including medical costs and lost earnings), declines in national output and property destruction. However, by the IEP’s own admission, this almost certainly underestimates the scale of damage caused.
“The true economic impact of terrorism is likely to be much higher as these figures do not account for the indirect impacts on business, investment and the costs associated with security agencies in countering terrorism,” says Killelea.
The indications are that the situation has continued to improve around the world this year, according to the IEP. However, terrorist activity still poses a significant security
threat. “We’re a long way from seeing the end of terrorism,” says Killelea.