2019: Global Terrorism Overview

Published 10 July 2020

The new  Global Terrorism Overview highlights trends in worldwide terrorism in 2019. In 2019, there were nearly 8,500 terrorist attacks around the world, which killed more than 20,300 people, including 5,460 perpetrators and 14,840 victims. 2019 was the fifth consecutive year of declining global terrorism since terrorist violence peaked in 2014 at nearly 17,000 attacks and more than 44,000 total deaths. The total number of terrorist attacks worldwide decreased 50 percent between 2014 and 2019, and the total number of deaths decreased 54 percent.

▪ Global statistical trends continued to be heavily impacted by patterns of terrorism in Iraq, which suffered more terrorist attacks than any other country each year from 2013 to 2017. The number of terrorist attacks in Iraq decreased 53% between 2018 and 2019 and the number of people killed in terrorist attacks decreased 44%. However, monthly trends in Iraq in 2019 indicate that terrorist violence persists, and the rate of decline may be slowing.

▪ In particular, from the declaration of the caliphate in June 2014 to the liberation of Mosul in July 2017, Islamic State carried out more than 100 terrorist attacks in Iraq and killed more than 500 victims each month, on average. The group’s violence in Iraq subsequently decreased dramatically and continued to decline throughout 2019, but remained deadly. More than 350 Islamic State attacks in Iraq killed more than 500 victims and 70 perpetrators in 2019, and Islamic State caused hundreds of additional casualties in Syria and other locations.3

▪ While Islamic State violence declined in Iraq, the group’s influence continued to expand geographically. Attacks carried out by Islamic State “core” operatives, affiliated organizations, or unaffiliated individuals who indicated allegiance to the group took place in 31 countries in 2019, compared to 35 in 2018. However, three new countries—Mozambique, the Netherlands, and Sri Lanka—experienced Islamic State-related attacks in 2019, bringing the total number of countries that have ever experienced Islamic State-related terrorist attacks to 57.

▪ Several important trends emerged in African countries in 2019, including in Nigeria, where terrorist violence overall decreased due to a reduction in attacks by Fulani extremists, but terrorist violence carried out by Boko Haram increased. Boko Haram also increased terrorist activity in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. In addition, Mali saw a 16% decrease in attacks in 2019, but a 41% increase in total deaths due to multiple (6) mass casualty terrorist attacks in which more than 30 people were killed, compared to zero such attacks in previous years.

▪ The number of terrorist attacks in Western Europe declined 6% from 2018 (203 attacks) to 2019 (191 attacks), continuing a pattern of decline since 2015. The number of casualties of terrorist attacks in Western Europe, which has also declined dramatically since 2015 and 2016, remained stable in 2019 with 18 victims killed and approximately 100 victims injured.

▪ Mass casualty terrorist attacks remained relatively rare in Western Europe in 2019. Out of 191 terrorist attacks, there were nine attacks in which at least four people were injured or killed.4

- These mass casualty attacks took place in France (3), the United Kingdom (2), Finland (1), Germany (1), Italy (1), and the Netherlands (1).

- Five of the mass casualty attacks in Western Europe involved knives or bladed weapons, two involved firearms (although they were not discharged in one attack), two involved vehicles as contact weapons, one involved explosives, one involved incendiary weapons, and one was an unarmed assault in which four people were injured.

▪ In 2019, there were 64 terrorist attacks, killing 51 people in the United States. Terrorism in the United States continued to be characterized by diverse, sometimes complex, and often ambiguous ideological influences, typically without clear ties to formal, named organizations.

- Perpetrators of the 10 lethal terrorist attacks in the United States in 2019 included white

supremacists/nationalists, anti-Semitic extremists linked to the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, an al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula operative, and a conspiracy theory extremist.5

- However, the vast majority of terrorist attacks in the United States in 2019 were non-lethal (84%, excluding perpetrator deaths), and these attacks were also motivated by diverse ideological influences, including antifascist, anti-government, anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, anti-white, left-wing, pro-choice, and white supremacist/nationalist extremism.

▪ Between 2015 and 2019, 286 people were killed in terrorist attacks in the United States (excluding assailants). Nearly all of the victims (95%) were killed in attacks involving firearms. Firearms were used in 27% of terrorist attacks in the United States during this time period.

▪ Exceptionally deadly attacks targeting Hispanic Americans in the United States and Muslims in New Zealand in 2019 marked a sharp increase in the lethality of “racially and ethnically motivated terrorist attacks” (REMT), many of which were motivated by white supremacy, xenophobia, and anti-immigrant beliefs. At least 86 people were killed in such attacks in Australasia, North America, and Western Europe in 2019, compared to 52 in 2018.

▪ The deadliest terrorist attacks in 2019 took place on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka. More than 250 people were killed and at least 500 others were injured when eight assailants carried out suicide bombings at seven different crowded locations, including hotels and churches. A pipe bomb was defused at an eighth location. Sri Lankan authorities indicated that National Thowheeth Jama’ath and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim operatives were responsible for the attacks. However, Islamic State reportedly posted a video purportedly showing the assailants pledge allegiance to the group, and reports indicate that one or more of the assailants trained with Islamic State.6

1 See the Methodological Note at the end of this report for important information about the potential impact of changes in access to translated source materials.

2 Maizland, L. (2020, March 2). U.S.-Taliban Peace Deal: What to Know. Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved from https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/us-taliban-peace-deal-agreement-afghani…

3 Consistent with START’s practice of including in the GTD only those attacks that have been reported by at least one highvalidity source, these statistics represent those incidents that were reported by independent news outlets. These data provide conservative estimates of terrorism in locations where unbiased media coverage is limited, such as Syria and Yemen.

4 Note that two of the nine mass casualty attacks in Western Europe were marked as “doubt terrorism proper” in the GTD, meaning there is conflicting information about whether the definitional criteria were satisfied.

5 Note that three of the ten lethal attacks in the United States were marked as “doubt terrorism proper” in the GTD, meaning there is conflicting information about whether the definitional criteria were satisfied.

6 Mandhana, N., Taylor, R., and Shah, S. (2019, April 29). Sri Lanka Bomber Trained in Syria with Islamic State. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/sri-lanka-attacks-show-isiss-reach-even-aft…