A Deadly Year: Key findings from the Global Terrorism Index 2024

Line of Defence Magazine - Update

Terrorism death count is at a seven-year high. Image: Photoshop generated.

In the latest Global Terrorism Index 2024 report from the Institute for Economics and Peace, terrorism deaths spike internationally despite a drop in incidents in the West.

While terrorism deaths in the West have hit a 15-year low, the global terrorism death count is at a seven-year high, and Central Sahel is the new epicentre of international terrorism. That’s according to the latest Global Terrorism Index Report.

Now in its eleventh year, the annual Global Terrorism Index (GTI) is developed by the Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP) and provides the most comprehensive resource on global terrorism trends.

“The last twelve months resulted in the most lives lost to terrorism than in any period since 2017,” stated Steve Killelea, Founder & Executive Chairman, IEP.

“Conflict remains the primary driver of terrorism, yet most wars in the 21st century have been unwinnable and very costly. Terrorism also thrives in areas of political instability; it is imperative that current political tensions and minor conflicts do not escalate and that current conflicts are resolved, otherwise further increases in terrorism are likely.”

The Global Terrorism Index 2024 report provides a summary of the key global trends and patterns in terrorism over the last decade, up to and including 2023. Among the report’s key findings:

Terrorism deaths highest since 2017

Deaths caused by terrorism increased by 22% to 8,352 in 2023, the highest level since 2017. Even when excluding the October 7th Hamas attacks on Israel, deaths would still have increased by 5%.

This is despite terrorist incidents decreasing by 22% to 3,350, resulting in a 56% increase in the average number of people killed per attack. This is the worst rate in almost ten years.

“Terrorism had been falling or remaining steady for several years prior to 2023, with substantial falls from 2015 to 2019 followed by several years of minor fluctuations,” states the Report. “However, the last 12 months saw the largest percentage increase in terrorism since the inception of the GTI, even as total attacks fell considerably.

Steve Killelea, Founder & Executive Chairman, IEP. Image: peaceintheageofchaos.org

Fewer terrorism deaths in the West

In 2023, the US accounted for 76% of terrorism-related deaths in Western democracies, amid a 15-year low in incidents.

Terrorism incidents in Western democracies recorded a drop of 55% compared to the previous year. There were 23 attacks that resulted in 21 fatalities, marking a 15-year low. However, the US recorded 76% of these fatalities from seven attacks. Five of these attacks were linked to individuals with far-right beliefs yet none had an affiliation with a far-right group.

In OECD countries, many of which are Western democracies, socio-economic factors such as youth unemployment, military expenditure, lack of confidence in the press and lower inequality-adjusted life expectancy correlate significantly with the GTI.

Central Sahel now terrorism epicentre

The epicentre of terrorism has shifted out of the Middle East and into the Central Sahel region of sub-Saharan Africa, which now accounts for over half of all deaths from terrorism

Despite the Hamas attacks of October 7th, the number of terrorist incidents fell in the Middle East, along with North Africa, Europe, and North America.

The central Sahel region has conclusively overtaken the Middle East as terrorism’s epicentre with Islamic State (IS) and Jamaat Nusrat Al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), a franchise of Al-Qaeda, being the most active terrorist organisations.

Organised crime and terrorism have merged in the Sahel with groups forming complex alliances and fuelling the persistence of terrorist activities in the region.

Terrorist organisations sometimes integrate with organised crime groups or provide protection and safe passage for illicit trade in drugs, human trafficking and precious metals. The region has seen a surge of kidnapping since 2017, with incidents increasing from 78 to over 1,000 in 2023 and generating significant revenues for terrorist organisations.

Burkina Faso most impacted

Burkina Faso suffered the worst impact from terrorism in 2023, with deaths increasing by 68% despite attacks decreasing by 17%. Terrorism in the country has deteriorated every year since 2014. Neighbouring Mali and Niger also deteriorated in 2023.

“In the 13 years that the GTI covers, it is the first time a country other than Afghanistan or Iraq has been top of the index,” states the Report. “Almost 2,000 people were killed in terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso from 258 incidents, accounting for nearly a quarter of all terrorist deaths globally.”

Pakistan recorded the most incidents of any country, with 490 attacks that resulted in 689 deaths. This is the fourth successive year where both deaths and incidents have increased in the country.

Ten countries account for most deaths

Terrorist activity remains highly concentrated in a small number of countries, with just ten countries accounting for 87% of all terrorism deaths in 2023. These include Burkina Faso, Israel, Mali, Pakistan, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Nigeria, Myanmar, and Niger.

The concentration of terrorist activity has intensified over the past decade, with the number of countries recording at least one death from terrorism falling from 57 in 2015 to 41 in 2023.

Conflict remains primary driver of terrorism

Violent conflict remains the primary driver of terrorism, with over 90% of attacks and 98% of terrorism deaths in 2023 taking place in countries in conflict. All ten countries most impacted by terrorism in 2022 were also involved in an armed conflict.

The intensity of terrorism in conflict is also much higher than in non-conflict countries, with an average of 2.7 fatalities per attack compared to 0.48 fatalities.

Iraq shows biggest improvement

Iraq recorded the largest improvement in the last decade with deaths from terrorism falling by 99% since the 2007 peak, to 69 in 2023.

Iraq is no longer amongst the ten countries most impacted by terrorism, with total deaths falling 65% in the past year. Prior to 2023, Iraq had been ranked in the top ten every year since the inception of the Global Terrorism Index. Total deaths have fallen 99% since their peak in 2007, with incidents falling 90%.

“Afghanistan has also seen a significant improvement in the impact of terrorism, with deaths and incidents falling 84 percent and 75 per cent respectively since 2007,” states the report.

The GTI Report noted that because it does not include acts of state repression and violence by state actors, acts committed by the Taliban are no longer included in the scope of the report since the group’s ascension to power.

Israel and Palestine

The deadliest terrorist incident in 2023 was the October 7th Hamas-led attack in Israel which killed 1,200 people. It was the largest single terrorist attack since 9/11, and one of the largest terrorist attacks in history. Its consequences are still unfolding, with more than 30,000 Palestinians killed by Israel’s retaliatory military operation by mid-February 2024.

Tensions between Palestine and Israel prior to the conflict were already at an all-time high and the security situation in Israel had been deteriorating. Over 2,500 instances of communal violence in Israel and Palestine were recorded in the first ten months of 2023, compared to less than 500 in 2016.

“Globally, we have seen real gains in recent years in our fight against terrorism, particularly in Western democracies,” stated Steve Killelea. “However, left unchecked regional instabilities could fan the flames of a new wave of terrorism. It is therefore important that global policymakers focus international efforts to address the current global conflicts and prevent the Gaza conflict from spreading.”

Increased attribution

Of the 3,350 terrorist attacks recorded in 2023, 54% were attributed to a group. IS and its affiliates remained the world’s deadliest terrorist group, responsible for 1,636 deaths, despite its attributed deaths falling by 17%. IS was followed by Hamas, JNIM, and Al-Shabaab. Together, they were responsible for over 75% of terrorism-related deaths globally. A decade ago, they were responsible for less than 25%.

In 2023, IS attacks occurred in six of the nine GTI regions: Asia-Pacific, Europe, MENA, sub-Saharan Africa, Russia and Eurasia and South Asia. In the Middle East, Syria was the country most affected by IS attacks. It recorded 224 attacks, an increase from 152 in 2022, and a quarter of all IS related deaths.

Using machine learning techniques, researchers were able to attribute an additional 15,000 deaths to IS since 2007, increasing the total number of attributed deaths from 25,000 to 40,000.

Terrorism is not the deadliest form of violence in the world. Armed conflict results in nine times more fatalities than terrorism, homicide over 45 times more, and deaths from suicide 72 times higher. However, terrorism has a uniquely disturbing psychological and social impact intended to traumatize the whole of society, rather than the individual.

The GTI, developed by the Institute for Economics & Peace, provides a comprehensive summary of the key global trends and patterns in terrorism over the last 15 years. The report ranks 163 countries (99.7 % of the world’s population) according to the impact of terrorism, and is produced using data from TerrorismTracker and other sources.