This is the fourth edition of the Global Terrorism Index which provides a comprehensive summary of the key global trends and patterns in terrorism over the last 16 years, covering the period from the beginning of 2000 to the end of 2015.
Produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace, the GTI is based on data from the Global Terrorism Database which is collected and collated by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), a Department of Homeland Security Centre of Excellence led by the University of Maryland. The Global Terrorism Database is considered to be the most comprehensive dataset on terrorist activity globally and has now codified over 150,000 terrorist incidents.
The research presented in this report highlights a complex and rapidly changing set of dynamics in global terrorism. While on the one hand the top-line statistics highlight an improvement in the levels of global terrorism, the continued intensification of terrorism in some countries is a cause for serious concern, and highlights the fluid nature of modern terrorist activity. The complexity of this year’s GTI is underscored by the fact that although 76 countries improved their GTI scores compared to 53 countries that worsened, the overall global GTI score deteriorated by six per cent since last year as many moderately affected countries experienced record levels of terrorism.
The 2016 GTI finds there has been a change from the pattern of the previous four years. 2015 saw the total number of deaths decrease by ten per cent, the first decline since 2010. The number of countries recording a death from terrorism also decreased by one. This decline in terrorism deaths is mainly attributed to a weakened Boko Haram and ISIL in both Nigeria and Iraq due to the military operations against them. However, expanded activities by both of these groups in other countries is posing new threats in other parts of the world. Boko Haram has expanded into Niger, Cameroon and Chad, increasing the number of people they have killed through terrorism in these three countries by 157 per cent. Meanwhile ISIL and its affiliates were active in 15 new countries, bringing the total number of countries they were active in to 28. This is largely why a record number of countries recorded their highest levels of terrorism in any year in the past 16 years.
There was a ten per cent decline from 2014 in the number of terrorism deaths in 2015 resulting in 3,389 fewer people being killed. Iraq and Nigeria together recorded 5,556 fewer deaths and 1,030 fewer attacks than in 2014. However, with a global total of 29,376 deaths, 2015 was still the second deadliest year on record.
While the weakening of ISIL and Boko Haram in their central areas of operations in Iraq and Nigeria is positive, this change has coincided with two key negative trends which have driven up terrorism in the rest of the world. The first is ISIL’s shift in tactics to transnational terrorism, not just to other parts of the Middle East but to Europe as well. The second key negative trend is Boko Haram’s extension into neighbouring West African countries which has led to Cameroon and Niger rising to 13th and 16th in the GTI.
Accompanied with these two key negative trends was an increase in the number of ISIL-affiliated groups that undertook attacks. The research found that the number of countries with greater than 25 deaths rose to 34, an increase of seven to the highest numbers ever recorded. At least six countries saw very significant deteriorations in their GTI scores in 2015 leading to large rank changes from the previous year. This accounted for the overall deterioration in the global GTI score of six per cent as these falls outweighed the substantial gains in Nigeria and Iraq. These countries include; France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia,
Kuwait, Tunisia and Burundi.
In Europe, ISIL’s transnational tactics in combination with lone actor attacks inspired by the group drove an increase in terrorism to its highest levels ever. This increase was seen in many OECD countries resulting in a 650 per cent increase in deaths to 577 from 77 in 2014. ISIL’s role in this increase was significant as more than half of the 577 deaths were in connection to the group. The attacks by ISIL in Paris, Brussels and in Turkey’s capital Ankara, were amongst the most devastating in the history of these countries and reflect a disturbing return of the transnational group-based terrorism more associated with al-Qa’ida before and immediately after September 11.
It is important to note that while the international community’s focus has intensified on ISIL and its activities in Iraq and Syria, last year recorded the deadliest year for the Taliban in Afghanistan. Both terrorist deaths and battlefield deaths committed by the Taliban significantly increased in 2015.
Terrorism increased 29 per cent to 4,502 deaths and battlefield deaths increased 34 per cent to over 15,000.
This complex global picture was rounded out by pockets of more positive news whereby many other countries saw improvements in their levels of terrorist activity. One less country recorded a terrorist attack in 2015 than 2014, which halted the prior four-year trend of yearly increases in the number of countries experiencing terrorist activity. There was also progress in countering terrorist groups through international coalitions which led to reductions in deaths in the Central African Republic, Somalia and Sudan. Pakistan continued to see declines in its levels of terrorism due to infighting within the largest active group, the Tehrik I Taliban Pakistan (TTP), as well as to the operations of the Pakistan Army in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Improvements continued to be recorded in India which historically has had high levels of terrorist activity. Similarly, Thailand had the lowest number of deaths from terrorism since 2005, despite the 2015 Bangkok bombing which killed 20.
The global economic impact of terrorism in 2015 was broadly comparable to the previous year, costing the global economy US$89.6 billion. While this is a significant number in its own right, it is important to note that the economic impact of terrorism is small compared to other major forms of violence. This amount is only one per cent of the total global economic impact of violence which reached $13.6 trillion in 2015 (PPP). Only in situations of intense terrorist activity like Iraq are the costs of terrorism very significant.
The cost of terrorism to the Iraqi economy were equivalent to 17 per cent of its GDP in 2015.
Statistical analysis of the drivers of terrorist activity show there are two distinct sets of factors associated with terrorism, depending on whether the country is developed or developing.
The first set of factors which are closely linked to terrorist activity are political violence committed by the state and the presence of a conflict. The research finds that 93 per cent of all terrorist attacks between 1989 and 2014 occurred in countries with high levels of state sponsored terror, involving extrajudicial killing, torture, and imprisonment without trial. Similarly, over 90 per cent of all terrorist deaths occurred in countries already engaged in some form of conflict whether internal or international. This means only 0.5 per cent of terrorist attacks occurred in countries that did not suffer from conflict or political terror. This underlines the close link between existing conflicts, grievances and political violence with terrorist activity.
When analysing the correlates of terrorism there are different factors that are statistically significant depending on the level of development. In the OECD countries, socio-economic factors such as youth unemployment, militarisation, levels of criminality, access to weapons and distrust in the electoral process are the most statistically significant factors correlating with terrorism. This reinforces some of the well-known drivers of radicalisation and extremism. In developing countries, the history of conflict, levels of corruption, acceptance of the rights of others and group based inequalities are more significantly related to terrorist activity.
Individual terrorist acts are unpredictable but the report highlights some common statistical patterns. These patterns help inform the future deadliness of terrorist organisations, the trends in their tactics and the effectiveness of counterterrorism operations.
The 2016 GTI report reinforces the fact terrorism is a highly concentrated form of violence, mostly committed in a small number of countries and by a small number of groups. The five countries suffering the highest impact from terrorism as measured by the GTI; Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria, accounted for 72 per cent of all deaths from terrorism in 2015. Similarly, only four groups were responsible for 74 per cent of all these deaths; ISIL, Boko Haram, the Taliban and al-Qa’ida.
This report also includes commentary on various aspects of terrorism. This includes efforts to understand terrorism such as Maggiolini and Varvelli from ISPI who explore why there are hotbeds of radicalisation, and Schori Liang from GCSP who looks at the connection between criminal networks and terrorism. There are also explanations of what is being done to discourage and prevent the spread of terrorism. The Victoria Police Counter Terrorism Command’s Specialist Intelligence Team describe their experiences with community driven prevention, Cunningham and Koser from GCERF outline the role the private sector can play in preventing violent extremism, and von Einsiedel from the United Nations University Center for Policy Research describes the history of the UN’s work to resolve conflicts is stemming terrorism.
While terrorism as a form of violence has a major psychological impact on the societies it touches, there are other forms of violence which are more devastating. Major armed conflicts resulted in more deaths in 2015 as well as the wholesale destruction of economies. The global homicide rate is 15 times the death rate from terrorism.