The report provides a comprehensive summary of the key global trends and patterns in terrorism over the last decade. The calculation of the GTI score takes into account not only deaths, but also incidents, hostages, and injuries from terrorism, weighted over a five-year period. The GTI report is produced by the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP) using data from TerrorismTracker and other sources. TerrorismTracker provides event records on terrorist attacks since 1 January 2007. The dataset contains over 60,500 terrorist incidents for the period 2007 to 2021.
In 2021, deaths from terrorism fell by 1.2 per cent to 7,142 deaths and are now a third of what they were at their peak in 2015. The minor fall in deaths was mirrored by a reduction in the impact of terrorism, with 86 countries recording an improvement, compared to 19 that deteriorated. However, the number of attacks globally increased by 17 per cent to 5,226. As such, the lethality of attacks decreased from 1.6 deaths per attack to 1.4 deaths per attack over the 12-month period. Russia and Eurasia had the largest regional improvement.
The number of countries experiencing at least one death from terrorism in the past year was 44, a slight increase compared with the 43 countries in 2020. Another 105 countries had no deaths or attacks from terrorism in 2021. This is the highest number of countries since 2007.
The data shows a shift in the dynamics of terrorism, with it becoming more concentrated in regions and countries suffering from political instability and conflict, such as the Sahel, Afghanistan and Myanmar. Violent conflict remains a primary driver of terrorism, with over 97 per cent of terrorist attacks in 2021 taking place in countries in conflict. All of the ten countries most impacted by terrorism in 2021 were involved in an armed conflict in 2020.1 Attacks in countries involved in conflict are six times deadlier than attacks in peaceful countries.
There were serious deteriorations in many countries in SubSaharan Africa (SSA), especially the Sahel. Forty-eight per cent, or 3,461, of all terrorism deaths globally occurred in SSA with four of the ten countries with the largest increases in deaths from terrorism residing in SSA: Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, and Niger. Three of these countries are in the Sahel.
On a more positive note, there was a ten per cent improvement in terrorism deaths in SSA. The improvement can be attributed to the successful counter insurgency operations targeting Boko Haram where deaths caused by the group declined by 72 per cent between 2020 and 2021 from 629 deaths to 178 deaths. Nigeria recorded the second biggest reduction in deaths. This is more than the overall decrease in terrorism deaths in SSA. Attacks by the group also significantly decreased, halving from the prior year to 64 attacks.
The Sahel is of serious concern. The expansion of Islamic State (IS) affiliates led to a surge in terrorism in many countries in the Sahel. Highlighting the magnitude of the problem, terrorism deaths have risen by over one thousand per cent between 2007 and 2021 in the Sahel. Terrorism deaths in Niger more than doubled in 2020, rising to 588. Deaths attributed to Islamic extremist groups such as Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA), Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab recorded deaths as far south as Mozambique, with 43 per cent occurring in the Sahel.
The situation in the Sahel is rapidly deteriorating, with eight attempted coups in Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea and Chad in the last eighteen months. The underlying drivers are complex and systemic, including poor water utilisation, lack of food, malnutrition, strong population growth, and weak governments, with most of the terrorist activity occurring along borders where government control is weakest. Adding to the complexity, many criminal organizations increasingly represent themselves as Islamic insurgents.
JNIM is the fastest growing group globally, recording the largest increase in the number of attacks and deaths in 2021. It was responsible for 351 deaths in 2021, an increase of 69 per cent. In contrast ISWA is the most lethal group in the Sahel, with the group responsible for on average 15.2 deaths per attack in Niger.
In the West, the number of attacks has fallen substantially over the last three years, with successive falls each year. Fifty-nine attacks and ten deaths were recorded in 2021, a decrease of 68 and 70 percent respectively since the peak in 2018. In Europe, Islamist extremists carried out three attacks in 2021. Attacks in the US also dropped to the lowest level since 2015, with only seven attacks recorded in 2021. None were attributed to any known terrorist group.Fatalities in the US increased slightly, from two to three between 2020 and 2021.
Politically motivated terrorism has now overtaken religiously motivated terrorism, with the latter declining by 82 per cent in 2021. In the last five years, there have been five times more politically motivated terrorist attacks than religiously motivated attacks. There are now noticeable similarities between far left and far-right extremist ideologies, with both targeting government and political figures. Since 2007, 17 per cent of terrorist attacks by these groups have targeted this category.
Additionally, while the motivation can be inferred, most attacks attributed to left or right ideologies are perpetrated by individuals or groups with no formal affiliation to a recognised organization, with many of the underlying motivational factors being similar. IS remained the deadliest terror group globally, recording the most attacks and deaths of any group in 2021. However, globally 52 per cent of all terrorist incidents are not ascribed to a group. Despite this, the strength and influence of IS and its affiliate groups, Islamic State – Khorasan Province (ISKP), Islamic State – Sinai Province (ISSP) and ISWA, are showing signs of decline. Twenty countries experienced a death from terrorism caused by IS in 2021, a decrease from 26 countries the year prior. Deaths attributed to IS also declined in 2021, falling by 1.6 percent to 2,066.
Deaths in The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) dropped by 14 per cent to 1,139 fatalities, the lowest since 2007, although attacks remained steady at 1,271. Therefore, terrorist attacks are becoming less deadly in the region, with less than 1 person killed on average per terrorist attack in 2021, the lowest lethality rate in the last decade. In contrast, SSA and South Asia recorded more deaths than MENA. The report also looks at the relationship between insurgency, conflict and terrorism as well as the application of systems thinking to better understand the dynamics of terrorism and its impact on society. Once groups exist for more than 12 years they are very hard to stop. In contrast to this, over half of all terrorist groups do not survive beyond three years. This emphasises the need to focus counter-terrorism operations while the groups are still nascent. Myanmar had the largest increase in terrorism deaths, rising twenty-fold from 24 to 521 in 2021. This year marks Myanmar’s first appearance amongst the ten most impacted countries by terrorism, with the current political unrest being responsible for this increase and is likely to grow in 2022.
Niger recorded the second largest increase in terrorism deaths, increasing by 129 per cent to 588 while attacks remained consistent. The increased lethality is largely driven by the growing sophistication and organizational capabilities of ISWA. Mozambique recorded the largest drop in terrorism deaths with 414 fewer deaths in 2021, an 82 percent decrease from the previous year. The fall was driven by successful counterterrorism measures against IS performed by the Mozambican forces in conjunction with Rwanda and the Southern African Development Community.
South Asia remains the region with the worst average GTI score in 2021, with the region recording 1,829 deaths from terrorism in 2021, an increase of eight per cent or 137 deaths. Pakistan remains one of the ten most affected countries in 2021. Terrorism deaths in Pakistan rose slightly to 275, a five percent increase from 263 deaths in 2020. There have been no terrorist attacks or deaths in Sri Lanka for the second year. The worst year for terrorism was 2019 when 197 people were killed in 11 attacks.
As new technologies have become more pervasive, so has their use by terrorist organizations. The advent of the IED in Iraq is a good example, and resulted in more than 70 per cent of US forces deaths in the five years from 2001. Smart phones using GPS systems are capable of guiding cheap drones with deadly precision, with attacks by missiles and drones becoming more common. Advancements, such as AI, 3D printing or autonomous vehicles may in the future be weaponized. These new risks will drive future advancements in counter-terrorism tactics.
The factors that are most closely statistically associated with terrorism vary depending on the socio-economic development of a country. Political terror and acceptance of basic rights are common globally. For OECD countries there are two statistical clusters. They are measures associated with social equity and acceptance of violence within a society. The latter
being associated with political terror, access to weapons and militarization. For less economically developed countries the statistical clusters are weak institutions and societal fractionalization. The two strongest correlations for this group were Political Terror Scale and Group Grievances.
The decline is terrorism in the West coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic. Restrictions on freedom of movement, public gatherings, travel and an immediate threat to personal health may help to explain some of this fall. Once the emergency measures are removed and societies begin to live with COVID-19, there is the possibility of an uptake in terrorism activity. This would require addressing the underlying issues of alienation.
“Political terrorism has now overtaken religious terrorism in the West, with religiously motivated attacks declining 82 percent in 2021.”
- Deaths from terrorism fell to 7,142 deaths in 2021, representing a 1.1 percent decrease from the prior Year.
- However, attacks increased by 17 per cent to 5,226 in 2021, largely due to violence in the Sahel region and instability in countries such as Afghanistan and Myanmar.
- Seven of the ten countries most impacted by terrorism deteriorated in 2021. MENA, Europe, Russia and Eurasia, South America and sub-Saharan Africa regions all recorded falls in deaths from terrorism of at least ten per cent.
- Three of the ten most impacted countries by terrorism in 2021 were in the Sahel region. Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso recorded substantial increases in terrorism deaths of 81, 174 and 74 respectively.
- Myanmar had the largest increase in terrorism, where deaths increased from 24 to 521. This was followed by Niger where terrorism deaths increased from 257 in 2020 to 588 in 2021.
- Afghanistan remains the country with the highest impact from terrorism for the third year followed by Iraq and Somalia. Deaths increased by 14 per cent to 1,426.
- The deadliest attack of 2021 occurred when an Islamic State (IS) suicide bomber detonated two suicide bombs at Afghanistan’s Kabul International Airport, resulting in 170 deaths and over 200 injuries.It was the deadliest attack in Afghanistan since 2007.
- The Taliban were overtaken by IS as the world’s deadliest terrorist group in 2021, despite deaths attributed to the group and its affiliates slightly declining from 2,100 to 2,066 deaths.
- Jamaat Nusrat Al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM) is the fastest growing terrorist organization and was responsible for 351 deaths in 2021, a 69 per cent increase.
- Of the 5,226 terrorist attacks recorded in 2021 only 52 per cent were attributed to a group
- COVID-19 has affected the tactics used by terror groups to spread their ideology and their radicalization and recruitment processes.
2 Trends in Terrorism
- Deaths from terrorism have fallen by over a third since the peak in 2015, with two of the largest decreases occurring in Iraq and Pakistan.
- 44 countries recorded at least one death from terrorism. This is down from the peak of 55 countries in 2015.
- Of the 163 countries included in the analysis, nearly two thirds or 105 recorded no attacks or deaths from terrorism in 2020 and 2021, the highest number since 2007.
- Terrorist activity has been concentrated in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa with both regions recording more terrorism deaths than MENA for the last three years.
- In MENA deaths from terrorism have fallen by 39 per cent in the last three years.
- As the conflict in Syria subsided, IS and its affiliates have shifted their focus to sub-Saharan Africa and the Sahel region in particular.
- Deaths in the Sahel region account for 35 per cent of global terrorism deaths in 2021, compared with just one percent in 2007.
- In most regions, the weapon used in the majority of attacks were firearms, followed by explosives.
- After many years of improvement, Iraq recorded more deaths in 2021 than the prior year, with an increase of 15 per cent to 524 terrorism deaths. Attacks increased by a third, driven by an increase in activity by Islamic extremists.
- There were three attacks by Islamic extremists in Europe. This is the lowest level since 2012. In total there were 113 attacks in Europe in 2021. The US recorded a significant improvement in the impact of terrorism in 2021, recording its lowest GTI score since 2015. In 2021, there were seven attacks and three deaths in the US.
- Terrorist attacks in the West have fallen every year since 2018 and decreased by 68 per cent. In 2021 there were only 59 attacks.
- Political terrorism has now overtaken religious terrorism in the West, with religiously motivated attacks declining 82 per cent in 2021. There were 40 politically motivated attacks, compared with just three religiously motivated attacks. Eight countries in the West experienced at least one instance of political terrorism in 2021, with Germany recording 19 attacks, the highest of any Western country, followed by Italy who recorded six attacks.
- While the motivation can be inferred, most attacks driven by a left or right ideology are perpetrated by individuals or groups with no formal affiliation to a recognized organization.
3 Terrorism in the Sahel
- The Sahel has become increasingly more violent over the past 15 years, with deaths rising by over one thousand per cent between 2007 and 2021. The increase in violence shows no sign of abating.
- The underlying drivers are complex and systemic, including poor water utilization, lack of food, malnutrition, strong population growth, and weak governments.
- Ten per cent or more of young males suffer from very high levels of thinness in eight of the ten countries in the Sahel.
- In conflict environments terrorists groups prefer to target police, military and domestic government.
- Water and food utilities and/or infrastructure are the preferred targets of terrorist groups in non-conflict environment.
- Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) is the most lethal group in the Sahel. In Niger it was responsible for 23 attacks killing on average 15.2 people per attack.
- The increase in terrorist activity in Niger is part of a larger increase across the Sahel region, with similar surges seen in Mali and Burkina Faso over the past few years.
- Most terrorist activity is in border regions where government activities are at a minimum.
- There is a strong statistical relationship between criminal activity and terrorism in the Sahel.
4 Terrorism and Conflict
- In 2020, 97.6 per cent of deaths from terrorism occurred in conflict affected countries.
- 80 per cent of all terrorist incidents have occurred within 50 kilometers of a zone where a conflict is taking place.
- As the intensity of conflict increases, so does the lethality of terrorist actions. Terrorist attacks in conflict countries are more than six times deadlier than attacks in peaceful countries.
- In armed conflicts, the intensity of terrorist activity in a given year is proportional to the number of battle deaths. On average, every 4.7 per cent increase in battle deaths is associated with a ten per cent rise in terrorist attacks.
- Terrorism appears to be contracting into conflict areas with a higher percentage of attacks happening in conflict areas.
- On average, terrorist groups that are classified as insurgent groups remain active for 11.8 years.
- Once a terrorist organization has operated for 12 years or more they are difficult to eradicate.
- Half of all terrorist groups cease to exist in three years. Of the 84 active terrorist groups studied in 2015, only 32 were active in 2021.
- The factors that correlate with terrorism are distinctly different for OECD countries and less developed countries, highlighting that different approaches are needed depending on the situational context of a particular country.
- For OECD countries there are two statistical factors associated with terrorism – social equity and acceptance of violence within a society. The latter being higher levels of political terror, access to weapons, and militarization.
- The factors that correlated the strongest for the Rest of the World could loosely be classified as weak institutions and societal fractionalization. The two strongest correlations were political terror scale and group grievances.
GLOBAL TERRORISM INDEX 2022 GTI-2022-web
March 4, 2022 Published by The Institute for Economics & Peace.