Deaths from terrorism fell for the fourth consecutive year, after peaking in 2014. The number of deaths has now decreased by 52 percent since 2014, falling from 33,555 to 15,952, says the 2019 Global Terrorism Index.

The annual Index, now in its seventh year, is developed by the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP) and provides the most comprehensive resource on global terrorist trends. 

The total number of deaths fell by 15 percent in 2018, with the largest falls occurring in Iraq and Somalia on the back of the defeat of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq and US-led airstrikes on Al-Shabaab. The fall in deaths was also reflected in country scores, with 98 countries improving compared to 40 that deteriorated, the Index says. This is the highest number of countries to record a year-on-year improvement since 2004, it notes.

However, while the GTI finds that the intensity of terrorism has declined, it also shows that terrorism is still widespread and increasing, with 71 countries suffering from at least one death. This is the second highest number since the beginning of the century, according to the Index.

  • The number of countries recording a death from terrorism increased from 67 countries to 71 in 2018.
  • Afghanistan had the largest increase in deaths from terrorism, up by 59 percent from the prior year, and is now at the bottom of the index.
  • For the first time since 2003, Iraq was not the country most impacted by terrorism.
  • Other than Afghanistan only three other countries — Nigeria, Mali and Mozambique — recorded a substantial increase in deaths from terrorism in 2018. Each of these countries recorded more than 100 additional deaths.
  • South Asia has had the highest impact from terrorism since 2002, while Central America and the Caribbean region has had the lowest impact.

Steve Killelea, Executive Chairman of IEP, says: "IEP's research finds that conflict and state sponsored terror are the key causes of terrorism. In 2018, over 95 percent of deaths from terrorism were occurring in countries that were already in conflict. When combined with countries with high levels of political terror the number jumps to more than 99 percent. Of the 10 countries most impacted by terrorism, all were involved in at least one violent conflict last year."

For North America, Western Europe, and Oceania, the threat of far-right political terrorism has been rising over the past five years, with 19 countries affected by attacks in the period, the Index says. In these regions far-right attacks increased by 320 percent between 2014 and 2018. This trend has continued into 2019, with 77 deaths attributed to far-right terrorism from the start of the year until the end of September. Unlike Islamist terrorism, none of the perpetrators in 2018 claimed to be a member of an organized terrorist group, according to the Index, which makes it difficult for security enterprises to prevent attacks.  

The rise in terrorist activity in Afghanistan, coupled with the winding down of the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, resulted in the Taliban overtaking ISIL as the world's deadliest terrorist group in 2018. The number of deaths attributed to the Taliban rose by just under 71 percent, to 6,103, and accounted for 38 per cent of all deaths globally. In contrast, deaths attributed to ISIL fell globally by just less than 70 percent, falling from 4,350 in 2017, to 1,328 in 2018.

However, some ISIL affiliate groups have recorded increased levels of terrorist activity, the Index says. The Khorasan Chapter of the Islamic State was the fourth deadliest terrorist group in 2018, with more than 1,000 recorded deaths, with the majority of the deaths occurring in Afghanistan. In total, there were 13 groups or movements who each killed more than hundred people in 2018.

There has also been an increase in female participation in terrorism, although it still accounts for a small percentage of all attacks,  according to the Index. The trend has intensified over the past five years, with the number of female suicide attacks increasing by 450 percent between 2013 and 2018. In contrast, male suicide attacks fell by 47 percent over the same period. Most of the increase, says the Index, can be attributed to Boko Haram, accounting for nearly 80 percent of all female suicide attacks in the last five years.

In Europe, the number of deaths from terrorism fell for the second successive year, from over two hundred in 2017 to 62 in 2018. Only two attacks killed five or more people.

According to the Index, the fall in terrorism has also been accompanied by a reduction in the global economic impact of terrorism, decreasing by 38 percent to $33 billion in 2018. Compared to other forms of violence such as homicide, armed conflict, and military expenditure, terrorism is a small percentage of the total global cost of violence, which was equal to $14.1 trillion in 2018. However, the true economic impact of terrorism is likely to be much higher, says the Index, as the figures do not account for the indirect impacts on business, investment, and the costs associated with security agencies in countering terrorism.