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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.
The most lethal conflagration in the Middle East continues to cause huge suffering and loss of life, with more than 400,000 deaths to date. Much of the carnage is due to the actions of President Bashar Al-Assad’s forces and his Russian and Iranian allies – but these are not counted in the terrorism figures as they are state actors. Excluding them, there were 384 terrorist incidents last year, causing 2,761 deaths and 2,830 injuries. That was a 63% increase in the death toll compared with the year before.
There was a substantial drop in terrorism in Pakistan last year, with 45% fewer attacks and 38% fewer deaths. Even so, some 1,086 people still lost their lives and 1,337 were injured in the 1,008 incidents recorded in 2015. Terrorism is now at its lowest level since 2006, in part because of the army’s Zarb-e-Azb operation which has removed militant safe havens in the North Waziristan region. The deadliest group is the Tehrik-i-Taliban, which was responsible for 36% of the deaths last year.
Nigeria also saw a decline in terrorist incidents last year, with 34% fewer attacks in 2015 compared to 2014. That is largely because of a decline in activity by Boko Haram, after the group came under sustained pressure from the Nigerian military and forces from neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Overall, there were 588 terrorist attacks, resulting in 4,950 deaths and 2,786 injuries.
While the situation may have improved in Pakistan, in neighboring Afghanistan it has got much worse. Last year there were 1,715 terrorist incidents, which caused 5,312 deaths and 6,249 injuries. The deadliest came in September 2015, when Taliban forces stormed a prison in Kunduz in the north of the country, resulting in 240 deaths. The total number of deaths since 2000 from such incidents has now reached 22,730.
There were 2,415 terrorist incidents in Iraq last year, causing 6,960 deaths and 11,900 injuries. The death toll was actually 30% lower than in 2014, but it still means that Iraq suffered more from terrorism than any other country. More than 40 different groups have launched terrorist attacks in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003, but two of them have proved particularly deadly: Islamic State and Al Qaeda. To date, Islamic State forces have been responsible for at least 11,000 deaths, although the actual figure may be far higher – around two thirds of the 50,538 deaths caused by terrorism since 2000 have gone unclaimed.
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