The survey of terrorist incidents over the past year found that the Taliban has surpassed the Islamic State as the world’s deadliest terrorist group. The Islamic State (ISIS) was seen as the deadliest threat in every edition of the report since 2013.
The rise of the Taliban and fall of ISIS in the 2019 report, which uses data from the calendar year 2018, were almost perfectly symmetrical: the Taliban racked up 70 percent more murders to reach 6,103, while the Islamic State killed 70 percent fewer people and sank to 1,328 kills. The Taliban is now responsible for about 38 percent of all terrorism-related deaths around the globe.
IEP noted the decline of the Islamic State is not even across all of its branches. Some ISIS affiliates, notably including the Khorasan Chapter that is battling the Taliban to control parts of Afghanistan, increased their level of activity during 2018. If the Khorasan Chapter is broken out from the Islamic State as a separate group, it would be the deadliest terrorist threat over the ten-year period ending in 2018, followed by Nigeria’s Boko Haram (an ISIS affiliate), the rest of ISIS, and the Taliban.
The overall outlook for global terrorism in the 2019 index was mildly encouraging, with a 15 percent decrease in deaths during 2018 and a 38 percent reduction in the economic impact of terrorism. Deaths have decreased by 52 percent since the all-time high reached in 2014 during the bloody salad days of the Islamic State. 98 individual nations saw a decrease in terrorism last year compared to 40 with an increase, the best ratio of improvements recorded since 2004.
IEP found a dark cloud amid this silver lining by positing that the “intensity” of terrorism declined last year, but lower-level terrorist activity is spreading more widely across the world, with a growing number of countries reporting small numbers of fatalities and non-fatal terrorist incidents. This was reflected by the rise of “far-right terrorism” in America and Europe:
For North America, Western Europe, and Oceania, the threat of far-right political terrorism has been rising over the past five years, with 19 countries affected by attacks in this period. In these regions far-right attacks increased by 320 per cent between 2014 and 2018. This trend has continued into 2019, with 77 deaths attributed to far-right terrorism from the start of the year until the end of September. Unlike Islamist terrorism, none of the perpetrators in 2018 claimed to be a member of an organised terrorist group, making it difficult for security organisations to prevent such attacks.
The report also mentions “far-left” terrorism, which is more likely to be associated with defined groups and coherent agendas, and concedes that both forms of terrorism are small in terms of deaths and economic impact compared to other sources.
“Even in the West, historically nationalist or separatist, Islamist, and far-left terrorism has been much more common” than far-right terrorism, the report noted, observing that political terrorism in the West declined tremendously after the breakup of Marxist and Communist organizations in the 1980s and has only fitfully surged in the years since.
The IEP promotes a metric it calls “Positive Peace,” defined as “the attitudes, institutions, and structures that help build and maintain peaceful societies.” The 2019 Global Terrorism Index tracked a decline in these Positive Peace indicators in America and Europe, a trend the IEP sees as a harbinger of political instability, and possibly increased political violence, in the years to come.
In essence, since widespread terrorism is usually associated with organized conflicts such as wars and insurgencies, the Positive Peace model suggests terrorism grows more likely when the perpetrators believe their actions could lead to the imposition of a defined political agenda and violence moves them closer to achieving specific goals.
The 2019 Global Terrorism Index revealed a significant increase in female perpetrators, spearheaded by Boko Haram’s frequent use of female suicide bombers. Boko Haram killed over 900 people since 2014 using women and young girls as suicide bombers. Several branches of the Islamic State have also grown more interested in using women as weapons, perhaps because ISIS strategists have noticed female bombings tend to be more deadly than those perpetrated by men, and the Islamic State has a sizable number of foreign-born female recruits it can weaponize.