Terrorism: Numbers, trends, outlook

Terrorism in the OECD
In 2016, OECD countries experienced the most deaths from terrorism since the September 11 attacks in 2001. There has been a 67 percent increase in attacks and a nearly 600 percent increase in deaths from terrorism since 2014. However, the index shows that a significant portion of these deaths resulted from a small number of attacks that inflicted very high casualties. Three attacks accounted for 44 percent of all deaths from terrorism in OECD countries between 2014 and June 2017.

ISIL has been driving this increase in deaths, but attacks attributed to the group appear to have peaked in 2016 with a notable decrease in the first six months of this year. A similar trend can been seen with ISIL inspired attacks. This apparent decline coincides with ISIL’s diminishing capacity following its territorial losses in Iraq and Syria. France has suffered from this rise in terrorism, and among OECD countries, the country has witnessed the highest number of fatalities over the last three years and accounts for 43 percent of all deaths. Terrorist attacks related to ISIL caused 92 percent of deaths in France.

Since the September 11 attacks, terrorism in the United States has remained relatively low although the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando resulted in 50 deaths. However, there has been a notable increase in attacks by lone actors, with the country suffering more of this type of attack than any other OECD country. Greater investment in counterterrorism by OECD nations is paying dividends, with more ISIL attacks being thwarted. In 2016, two out of three ISIL involved attacks were foiled compared to about 50 percent of ISIL inspired attacks.

The impact of ISIL
Three of the four deadliest terrorist groups – Boko Haram, the Taliban and al Qaeda – all caused fewer fatalities in 2016. However, ISIL was an exception to this trend and was responsible for killing 9,132 people last year. If deaths attributed to ISIL affiliates are included, then ISIL actually caused the deaths of over 11,500 people. The majority of these deaths occurred in Iraq, where they are responsible for over 18,000 deaths between 2013 and 2016. To put this in perspective, 40 percent of these deaths occurred in 2016.

In 2016, the terrorist organization’s activities affected 308 cities in 15 countries around the world, four more than the previous year. ISIL affiliated groups killed a further 2,417 people and undertook attacks in another 11 countries, although this is six less than the previous year. The group’s most devastating presence was in Iraq and Syria, which together accounted for over 93 percent of ISIL’s attacks. ISIL has primarily been responsible for driving an increase in deaths throughout developed countries, including a number of those in Europe. The group has successfully carried out attacks in 18 of the 33 OECD countries since 2014, which now accounts for three quarters of all deaths from terrorism.

Global outlook
Just five countries account for three quarters of all deaths from terrorism: Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Nigeria, and Pakistan. These same countries have been the most affected by terrorism every year since 2013. For the first time Turkey was one of the ten most affected countries, due to the increased activity of ISIL and the Kurdistan Worker’s Party.

Six of the ten most impacted countries were involved in internal conflict, which has facilitated and led to an increase in terrorism. With the exception of India, each of the ten countries has a single terrorist group that is responsible for the majority of deaths. Some countries, such as Yemen, have been impacted by events which have led to the rise of terrorist groups. In other countries, such as Libya and Syria, terrorism has followed the destabilization of the government, while in others, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, terrorism has resulted from a foreign power invasion.

The index shows there is a strong statistical relationship between the intensity of a conflict and the impact of terrorism. Countries with the highest number of battle-related deaths such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen also have very high levels of terrorism. This correlation helps explain why the largest increase in the impact of terrorism occurred in the Middle East and North African region, yet the Central America and the Caribbean region has consistently had the lowest impact from terrorism since 2002.

IEP notes that data for the GTD is collected and collated by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START); a Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence led by the University of Maryland. The GTD is considered to be the most comprehensive global dataset on terrorist activity, and has now codified over 170,000 terrorist incidents.

Key findings
· Deaths caused by terrorism decreased by 13 per cent from 2015 to 2016. There were 25,673 deaths in 2016. This is the second consecutive year that the number of deaths from terrorism have decreased. Deaths have now fallen by 22 per cent since the peak in 2014.

 · Four of the five countries with the highest impact from terrorism recorded a reduction in the number of deaths; Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria and Pakistan. Together with Iraq, these five countries accounted for three quarters of all deaths from terrorism in 2016.

 · Nigeria saw the greatest reduction in deaths, with 3,100 fewer people killed by terrorism in 2016 than in 2015. This was due to an 80 per cent reduction in the number of people killed by Boko Haram.

 · There were also substantial decreases in deaths from terrorism in Yemen, Afghanistan and Syria, which collectively witnessed over 500 fewer deaths in 2016 than in the prior year.

· However, the global GTI score deteriorated by 4 four per cent between 2015 and 2016 due to a record number of countries experiencing at least one death from terrorism.

 · A total of 77 countries recorded at least one death.  This is an increase from 65 countries in 2015.

 · Iraq experienced a 40 per cent increase in deaths in 2016 in reflecting the increased intensity of ISIL activity following attacks by the Iraqi Armed Forces to reclaim several major urban centers.


· Since 2002, eight of the nine regions in the world experienced an increase in terrorism.  North America was the only region to experience a reduced impact.

· Over the last 15 years, South Asia experienced the most terrorist activity while Central and South America were least affected. The MENA region had the sharpest increase in terrorism.

 · Egypt and Turkey witnessed very large increases in terrorism following government crackdowns. In Egypt, terrorism deaths increased nine-fold and in Turkey this figure has increased by 16 times.

 · Globally, attacks against civilians increased by 17 per cent from 2015 to 2016. The primary targets of terrorists are private citizens and property.

 · Deaths from terrorism have risen in tandem with battle-related deaths. From 2006 to 2016, deaths from terrorism increased 67 per cent while battle deaths increased by 66 per cent.

 · Terrorist attacks are deadlier in conflict-affected countries where there is an average of 2.4 fatalities per attack in 2016 compared to 1.3 fatalities in non-conflict countries.

Terrorism in OECD countries

 · There have been nearly 10,000 deaths from terrorism in OECD countries between 1970 and 2016 with 58 per cent of these deaths occurring prior to 2000.

 · The OECD accounted for one per cent of global deaths from terrorism in 2016. This is an increase from 0.1 per cent in 2010. 

· The first six months of 2017 recorded fewer deaths than the corresponding period for 2016. The first half of 2017 recorded 82 deaths compared to 265 for the whole of 2016.

 · Since 2014, there has been a shift in tactics toward simpler attacks against non-traditional targets. ISIL has also shown that attacks against soft targets using unconventional tactics are more likely to be effective than elaborate schemes.

· Since 2014, ISIL-directed or ISIL-inspired attacks have occurred in 18 of the 33 OECD countries and account for three quarters of all deaths.

Characteristics of terrorists

 · Over the last 17 years, 99 per cent of all terrorist deaths occurred in countries that are either in conflict or have high levels of political terror.

 · There are multiple paths to radicalization and individuals can exhibit both high and low levels of education, income, religious or political knowledge.

 · Relative deprivation can also be a driver of terrorist recruitment as it leads to the creation of an ‘us vs them’ mentality.

·  In the last ten years lone actor terror attacks have increased in OECD countries, from one in 2008 to 56 in 2016. The greatest number of these attacks have occurred in the United States.

Terrorist groups

 · The four deadliest terrorist groups were responsible for 59 per cent of all deaths in 2016.

 · ISIL was the deadliest group in 2016 with a 50 per cent increase in deaths from its previous peak in 2015. The group killed 9,132 people in 2016 with the majority of these deaths occurring in Iraq.

· However, ISIL is now near complete military defeat in Iraq and Syria and has a greatly diminished revenue base and capacity. ISIL’s revenue is estimated to have declined threefold from $81 million per month in 2015 to $16 million per month in 2016.

 · ISIL undertook directed attacks in 15 countries, which is four more than the previous year. ISIL-affiliated groups killed a further 2,417 people and undertook attacks in 11 other countries, although this is fewer than in 2015.

 · The three other most deadly terrorist groups, Boko Haram, al-Qa’ida and the Taliban, were each responsible for fewer deaths from terrorism in 2016.

· There are many ways in which terrorist groups end. Since 1970, around a third of groups have ended following the attainment of their political goals, a third due to internal splintering and a third following defeat by the military or police.

Economic terrorism

 · The global economic impact of terrorism was $84 billion in 2016.  This represents a seven per cent decline from the previous year and a 19 per cent decline from the peak in 2014.

 · This calculation is conservative and does not include costs associated with countering terrorism and countering and preventing violent extremism nor the indirect costs on business from terrorism.

 · The four largest terrorist groups have diverse revenue sources including money transfers, donations, trafficking, taxation and extortion.

 · The cost of conducting an attack in Europe has decreased significantly with a shift towards simpler attacks. Most attacks in Europe cost less than $10,000 in total. This means most attacks are self-funded and do not require any external support.

— Read more in Global Terrorism Index 2017: Measuring and understanding the impact of terrorism (Institute of Economics & Peace and the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), 2017)