The number of deaths from terrorism fell again in 2018, the fourth year in a row that has happened. In 2018, 15,952 people lost their lives in terrorist attacks according to the latest Global Terrorism Index, released by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) today.
That is a large number, but it is less than half what it was at its peak in 2014, when 32,685 people lost their lives.
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As in earlier years, a small handful of groups was responsible for the majority of the killing in 2018. Between them, the four deadliest groups were responsible for 9,223 deaths last year, representing 57.8% of all terrorism-related fatalities.
However, some of them are at least less deadly now than in the recent past. Deaths attributed to Islamic State, for example, declined 69% in 2018 to 1,328 and the number of attacks by the fundamentalist group fell by 63%. Two years earlier, in 2016, Islamic State had been responsible for more than 9,000 deaths.
Other violent groups were also less active last year than they have been. Outrages by the Somalia-based Al-Shabaab fell by 24%, for example, following an increase in U.S.-led airstrikes against the group.
However, other groups are becoming more dangerous. Afghanistan’s Taliban killed 71% more people last year, with 6,103 fatalities. And while Islamic State may have been largely defeated, in territorial terms at least, its influence is far from over. Some groups affiliated to Islamic State are becoming more active, such as the Khorasan Chapter of Islamic State which was responsible for more than 1,000 deaths last year, mostly in Afghanistan.
That toll made the Khorasan Chapter among the four deadliest terrorist groups in the world last year, the first time it has been included among that ill-famed cohort.
The most dangerous groups tend to be fairly young organisations. The likes of Islamic State, the Khorasan Chapter and Boko Haram did not even exist a decade ago.
Beyond this band of extremists, there are numerous other deadly groups, such as the Allied Democratic Forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the New People’s Army in the Philippines, and Maoist groups in India. Some have been increasingly active, such as the Fulani groups in Nigeria.
Based on their actions in 2018, the deadliest groups are, in reverse order:
The Islamist extremist group was formed in 2009 and has been responsible for more than 15,000 deaths in the past five years. It is most active in the north-eastern Nigerian state of Borno, but has also carried out attacks in Burkina Faso and Cameroon.
The group was responsible for 732 deaths in 2018. That toll was 42% lower than a year earlier and 89% less than the peak in 2014 when it had been responsible for more than 6,600 killings. The vast majority of its attacks (85%) last year were in Nigeria.
Its assaults have become less lethal in recent years. Four years ago it killed an average of 15 people per attack, but the figure last year was four per attack. Boko Haram is unusual in its reliance on women and children to carry out its attacks. Two-thirds of the group’s suicide attackers are female and, of those, a third are children. However, its conventional bombings tend to be more lethal.
The group has been put under pressure by the Multinational Joint Task Forces which has regained land controlled by the group. That has led to Boko Haram breaking up into smaller factions. The largest splinter group to emerge has been the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) led by Musab al-Barnawi, which controls territory around Lake Chad. Another sub-group is the Shekau faction, led by Abubakar Shekau.
Khorasan Chapter of Islamic State
This group is mainly active in Afghanistan and Pakistan but it has also carried out attacks in India and tried to do the same in Europe. Last year was its deadliest year to date, with 1,060 deaths attributed to the group, up from 891 a year earlier – enough to place it among the four deadliest terrorist organisations in the world for the first time.
The group has its stronghold in north and east Afghanistan but is also said to have sleeper cells in the capital Kabul and other major cities such as Herat and Jalalabad. It takes its name from the Khorasan region, which covers the northeast of modern-day Iran as well as swathes of Afghanistan and parts of several central Asian republics including Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
The number of attacks carried out by the group declined last year, but the incidents were more lethal on average. The deadliest was the suicide bombing of an election rally for the Balochistan Awami Party in Pakistan in July 2018, which left 150 people dead. The group also killed at least 70 people in an attack on a voter registration centre in Kabul in April last year.
The concerted campaign against Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria – alongside an upsurge in violence in Afghanistan – has meant the group (also variously known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh) is no longer the world’s deadliest terrorist organisation. It is the first time it has not been able to claim that infamous title since 2014, when Boko Haram was the most lethal group in the world.
Last year, Islamic State was responsible for 1,328 deaths. This is a 69% drop from the previous year when it had killed 4,350 people and an 85% drop from its peak in 2016 when it was responsible for the deaths of 9,132 people. Its international reach also appears to be on the wane. Last year Islamic State was only active in five countries, down from 15 in 2016.
However, it is far from being a spent force. Hundreds of Islamic State militants are Terrorism, terrorists, terrorist groups, Taliban, boko haram, Islamic state, isis, isil, daesh, Al-Shabaab, Khorasan Chapter, ADF, Fulani, new people’s army, repoted to have escaped custody following the U.S. withdrawal from northern Syria in late 2019 and the subsequent invasion of the area by Turkish forces. The group also continues to have active affiliates such as the Khorasan Chapter in Afghanistan and, in north and west Africa, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.
Last year, the Taliban overtook Islamic State as the world’s deadliest terrorist group – a position it last held in 2013. The Afghan group was responsible for a 71% increase in the number of deaths last year, with 6,103 killed. Dating back to 1994, the Taliban has its roots in groups which fought the Soviet invasion of 1979 as well as Pashtun tribesmen. It has at times held significant political power in Afghanistan, ruling the country between 1996 and 2001, at which point it was ousted by a U.S.-led invasion.
Over the past year the group has intensified its campaign of violence, particularly against military and police targets, in a bid to give itself as stronger starting point in any peace negotiations. In 2018, over 3,600 military and police personnel were killed in attacks attributed to the Taliban.
The total number of terrorist attacks by the Taliban increased by 39% in 2018, rising to 972. Attacks also became more deadly, with an average of 6.3 deaths per attack, compared to 5.1 in 2017, according to the IEP. Among them was the deadliest terror attack in the world last year, when as assault on the city of Ghazni in August 2018 caused 466 fatalities. Overall, the Taliban has been responsible for more than 21,000 deaths over the past five years.