2017 Global Terrorism Index reports overall fall in terrorism related deaths

The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) has published its 5th annual Global Terrorism Index (GTI). The index is a detailed assessment of terrorist incidents that took place across 163 countries in 2016. Reports are available in extended and snapshot editions. Key findings were recently presented to defence think-tank, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London by IEP Research Director Daniel Hyslop.

The IEP works in partnership with the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland. START provides the underlying terrorism incident data set, the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) for the IEP analysis. The GTD is a rich and comprehensive open source repository of over 170,000 terrorism incidents. The definition of terrorism used in the Global Terrorism Index is “the use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious or social goal.” State sponsored violence is assessed in separate IEP research products.

An expert panel chaired by Professor Malcolm Chalmers, including Selena Victor, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Mercy Corps and Emily Winterbotham, Senior Research Fellow in the National Security and Resilience programme at RUSI, debated the IEP findings.

Mr Hyslop said that a 13% decrease in terrorism related deaths had occurred since 2015. This he attributed to declining terrorist violence in Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria and Pakistan. The lethality of Boko Haram had been reduced by 80% through actions of coalition forces from Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon. A similar, but perhaps less dramatic weakening of ISIL’s capabilities and the Taliban increasingly shifting to conventional military tactics were also important factors.

With 75% of the world’s terrorism (in 2016) centred in Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria and Pakistan, improving or worsening conditions in those countries is globally significant. A 40% increase in terrorism related deaths in Iraq, largely attributable to ISIL, underscores their cruelty and lethality.

In OECD countries, terrorism deaths are at their highest level since 2001. The growth of terrorism in Turkey is notable (the death rate has doubled since 2015), with Kurdish nationalist groups, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (FAK) constituting significant threat.

Globally (on 2016 statistics), the 4 deadliest terrorist groups were ISIL, Boko Haram, the Taliban and Al-Qaida. Of the 15 most lethal attacks in 2016, ISIL was responsible for all but three. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (in opposition), the SPLM-IO killed 283 in an armed assault in Pajut. The Taliban killed 154 in an attack in Kunduz and 90 in an attack in Chah Anjeer. The worst attack of 2016 took place in Palmyra in Syria where ISIL killed 433.

The 2017 GTI estimates the global economic impact of terrorism to be $84bn (US Dollars). The 5 countries most impacted (measured in % of GDP) are Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and Libya. This is hardly surprising given their levels of internal strife and civil war.

The link between conflict and terrorism is strongly indicated in the GTI, which states “the 22 countries most impacted by terrorism were all defined as in conflict.” Selena Victor from Mercy Corps agreed with the significance of the ‘conflict-terrorism nexus’.

The GTI further assessed the determining factors in terrorist radicalisation, highlighting key differences in OECD and non-OECD countries. In more politically stable and affluent countries, cultural alienation, lack of opportunity and involvement in external conflict are key. In non-OECD countries, the prevalence of political terror and internal conflict are important determinants. The GTI is correlated with the Political Terror Scale, high levels of political violence reportedly having a significant causative effect on radicalisation and terrorism.

Data in the 2017 GTI therefore reinforces the logic of designing ethical and robust counter-terrorism policy and using measured military counter-terrorism techniques. Reducing political terror and human rights abuses, at the same time interdicting funding, weapons and recruitment and disrupting terrorist plots through intelligence led policing, criminal prosecution and on occasion military intervention, requires sophisticated and tailored security policy. In certain states, the abuse of counter-terrorism powers to suppress political rivals and citizen freedom is notable. The likelihood of this exacerbating grievances and perpetuating terrorism was struck, as a closing, cautionary note.


Steve Nimmons is a freelance journalist and consultant. He is a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, a Chartered Engineer, Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, Royal Society of Arts, Linnean Society and Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists, writes about technology, defence, security and public affairs and has academic interests in terrorism, security and policing. You can connect with him on Twitter @stevenimmons and LinkedIn.

About the Author
Steve Nimmons is a technology entrepreneur and writer with interests in Innovation and Digital Transformation in Defence, Security and Policing.
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