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Despite news coverage which often seems to suggest that terrorism is an ever-present threat all around the world, the reality is that a small number of countries suffer disproportionately.
On the basis of the IEP’s definition of terrorism – illegal violence by non-state actors designed to intimidate or coerce others, or in pursuit of a political, economic, religious or social goal – more than 72% of terrorist deaths last year occurred in just five countries, and although there were 274 known groups that carried out terrorist attacks, just four of them (Islamic State / ISIS, Boko Haram, the Taliban and Al Qaeda) were responsible for 74% of all deaths.
In addition, it is often countries that are already consumed by civil wars or other conflicts that suffer the most – more than 90% of terrorist deaths in 2015 occurred in countries engaged in violent conflicts. The costs resulting from these attacks is huge, estimated at $89.6bn last year alone.
The ten worst affected countries in 2015 were all in the Middle East, Asia and Africa and, in almost all cases, it was Islamist extremists who were responsible for most of the deaths – the one exception to this was India.
In reverse order, the countries ranked highest in the Global Terrorism Index, based on the number of incidents, deaths and injuries and the amount of property damage, were as follows:
There were 432 terrorist incidents in the North African country last year, resulting in 454 deaths and 660 injuries. The worst incident was in the coastal town of Sirte, where Islamic State militants set fire to a hospital, killing at least 22 people. The problems in Libya are a consequence of the political vacuum that has persisted since the overthrow of Muammar Gadaffi in 2011 – prior to that there had been no recorded incidents of terrorist deaths.
The downing of a Metrojet plane soon after taking off from Sharm el Sheikh airport in October 2015 highlighted the political instability in Egypt, which continues to have grave economic consequences for the country’s economy. The incident was claimed by the local affiliate of Islamic State and killed 224 passengers and crew. Overall, some 662 people lost their lives and 835 were injured in 493 separate terrorist incidents in Egypt in 2015.
The number of terrorist deaths actually fell in Somalia last year, decreasing by 18% to 659 casualties, although that was still the second worst year on record. Once concerning trend was that the number of groups carrying out attacks increased from two to four, with the Awdal Regional Administration Army and Islamic State both launching attacks in the country for the first time. Al Shabaab militants were responsible for the vast majority of the 241 incidents. Alongside the deaths, a further 463 people were injured.
Most terrorist attacks in India have relatively low casualty rates, a consequence of the fact that they are usually carried out by groups that are seeking political recognition rather than large numbers of deaths. Indeed, 80% of attacks in 2015 were non-lethal and, of the 49 groups that carried out attacks, 31 of them did not kill anyone. Even so, there were 289 deaths and 501 injuries from the 797 incidents during the year. The most dangerous organisations were Maoist communist groups, which claimed 176 of the deaths.
Last year was the worst ever in terms of terrorist attacks in Yemen, with 1,519 killed and 2,599 injured in 467 incidents. The country is beset by a civil war which has seen Houthi rebels and allies of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh take on a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states. Atrocities have been committed by both sides, with numerous allegations of human rights abuses by the Saudi forces. In terms of terrorist attacks, the most active groups are Houthi extremists, followed by the local affiliates of Islamic State and Al Qaeda.