Global Terrorism Index 2023: Afghanistan Most Impacted for Fourth Straight Year
This is the tenth edition of the Global Terrorism Index (GTI). This report provides a comprehensive summary of the key global trends and patterns in terrorism over the last decade. The calculation of the GTI score considers 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 almost 66,000 terrorist incidents for the period 2007 to 2022.
In 2022, deaths from terrorism fell by nine per cent to 6,701 deaths and is now 38 per cent lower than at its peak in 2015. The fall in deaths was mirrored by a reduction in the number of incidents, with attacks declining by almost 28 per cent from 5,463 in 2021 to 3,955 in 2022. However, if Afghanistan was removed from the index, terrorism deaths would have increased by four per cent.
Afghanistan remained the country most impacted by terrorism for the fourth consecutive year, despite attacks and deaths falling by 75 per cent and 58 per cent respectively. The GTI does not include acts of state repression and violence by state actors and, as such, acts committed by the Taliban are no longer included in the scope of the report since they took control of the government.
The deadliest terrorist groups in the world in 2022 were Islamic State (IS) and its affiliates, followed by al-Shabaab, Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and Jamaat Nusrat Al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM).
IS remained the deadliest terror group globally for the eighth consecutive year, recording the most attacks and deaths of any group in 2022. Despite this, terrorism deaths attributed to IS and its affiliate groups, Islamic State – Khorasan Province (ISK), Islamic State – Sinai Province (ISS) and Islamic State West Africa (ISWA), declined by 16 per cent.
However, there has been a rapid increase in deaths attributed to unknown jihadists in the countries where ISWA operates, increasing by 17 times since 2017 to 1,766 terrorism deaths. Given the location, many of these are likely unclaimed attacks by ISWA.
If most of the deaths caused by unknown jihadists were included as IS terrorism deaths, then the outcome would have been similar to 2021. Eighteen countries experienced a death from terrorism caused by IS in 2022, a slight decrease from 20 countries the year prior.
After the substantial falls in terrorism between 2015 and 2019, improvements have plateaued in the last three years. Highlighting the point, the number of countries experiencing deaths has remained almost constant for the last three years, ranging from 43 in 2020 to 42 in 2022. This is down from the peak of 56 countries in 2015.
The number of countries experiencing increases and decreases in terrorism deaths remained roughly the same in 2022, with 25 countries recording reductions, while another 24 countries recorded increases. Terrorism is dynamic and, although the overall change in the last three years has been minimal, there have been sharp rises and falls in terrorism in many countries during this period, notably Niger, Myanmar and Iraq.
Terrorist attacks became more deadly in 2022, killing on average 1.7 people per attack in 2022 compared to 1.3 deaths per attack in 2021. This is the first increase in lethality rate in five years.
Violent conflict remains the primary driver of terrorism, with over 88 per cent of attacks and 98 per cent of terrorism deaths in 2022 taking place in countries in conflict. All ten countries most impacted by terrorism in 2022 were also involved in an armed conflict. Attacks in countries involved in conflict are seven times deadlier than attacks in peaceful countries.
The Sahel region in sub-Saharan Africa is now the epicentre of terrorism, with the Sahel accounting for more terrorism deaths in 2022 than both South Asia and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) combined. Deaths in the Sahel constituted 43 per cent of the global total in 2022, compared to just one per cent in 2007.
Of particular concern are two countries, Burkina Faso and Mali, which accounted for 73 per cent of terrorism deaths in the Sahel in 2022 and 52 per cent of all deaths from terrorism in sub-Saharan Africa. Both countries recorded substantial increases in terrorism, with deaths in Burkina Faso increasing by 50 per cent to 1,135 and in Mali by 56 per cent to 944.
Attacks in these countries are also becoming more deadly, with the number of people killed per attack increasing by 48 per cent from 2021. Most attacks in these countries are attributed to unknown jihadists though both IS and JNIM operate in these countries. The escalation in violence in Burkina Faso has also spread to neighbouring countries, with Togo and Benin recording their worst GTI scores on record.
The increase in terrorism in the Sahel has been dramatic, rising by over 2,000 percent in the last 15 years. The political situation in the Sahel compounds this increase, with six coup attempts since 2021, of which four were successful. The underlying drivers are complex and systemic including poor water utilisation, lack of food, ethnic polarisation, strong population growth, external interventions, geopolitical competition, pastoral conflict, the growth of transnational Salafi-Islam ideology and weak governments.
Most of the terrorist activity occurs along borders where government control is weakest. Significantly, of the 830 million people facing food insecurity globally, 58 per cent live in the 20 countries most affected by terrorism. Adding to the complexity, many criminal organisations increasingly represent themselves as Islamic insurgents, which partly accounts for attacks attributed to unknown jihadists.
North America had the largest regional improvement in score, while sub-Saharan Africa recorded the largest deterioration. North America consists of two countries, the US and Canada, with neither country having a high score; however, the region is the only region where no countries have a nil GTI score.
Sub-Saharan Africa recorded the largest increase in terrorism deaths, rising by eight per cent. Sixty per cent, or 4,023, of all terrorism deaths globally occurred in sub-Saharan Africa. Four of the ten countries with the largest deteriorations in GTI score are located in sub-Saharan Africa: Togo, Djibouti, Central African Republic and Benin. Terrorism deaths in subSaharan Africa increased by eight per cent, reversing the small improvement recorded in 2021.
The MENA region recorded only 791 deaths in 2022, a fall of 32 per cent and the lowest number in the region since 2013. Attacks almost halved in the last year, from 1,331 in 2021 to 695 in 2022. Underscoring the changing dynamics in terrorism, the region has dropped from 57 per cent of global terrorism deaths in 2016 to just 12 per cent in 2022. There has also been a substantial drop in suicide bombings in MENA. In 2016, suicide bombings resulted in 1,947 deaths; while in 2022, MENA recorded only six suicide bombings that killed eight people.
South Asia remains the region with the worst average GTI score in 2022. The region recorded 1,354 deaths from terrorism in 2022, a decrease of 30 per cent when compared to the previous year; however, if the improvement in Afghanistan was excluded, then terrorism deaths would have increased by 71 per cent.
In Afghanistan, both the Khorasan chapter of IS and the emerging National Resistance Front (NRF) pose a serious threat. Afghanistan and Pakistan remain amongst the ten countries most affected by terrorism in 2022, with deaths in Pakistan rising significantly to 643, a 120 per cent increase from 292 deaths in 2021. The BLA were responsible for a third of these deaths in Pakistan, a ninefold increase from the prior year, making it the fastest growing terrorist group in the world.
In the West, the number of attacks continues to fall, with successive falls each year since 2017. Forty attacks were recorded in 2022, a decrease of 27 per cent when compared to the 55 attacks in 2021. However, the number of deaths more than doubled, albeit from a low base; from nine deaths in 2021 to 19 in 2022, with 11 of these occurring in the US. This was the first increase in terrorism deaths in the West since 2019.
In Europe, Islamist extremists carried out two attacks in 2022. Attacks in the US remained low, with only eight attacks recorded in 2022. None were attributed to any known terrorist group. The UK recorded only four attacks and no deaths this year, the first year since 2014 that no deaths have been recorded; while Germany recorded the lowest number of attacks since 2015.
Ideologically motivated terrorism continues to be the most common type of terrorism in the West, with religiously – motivated terrorism declining by 95 per cent since its peak in 2016. All 14 ideologically-motivated deaths can be attributed to far-right terrorism.
Drones are rapidly evolving and changing the way conflicts are conducted. It is also an emerging trend in terrorist attacks, with groups such as IS, Boko Haram and Houthi rebels using the technology for attacks. Current estimates suggest that 65 non-state actors are now able to deploy drones, which can be easily accessible in public marketplaces.
They can travel up to 1,500 kilometres, be deployed in swarms, be used in targeted assassinations, hold biological weapons, require little training, and are highly accessible. Additionally, advances in AI will provide the crafts with launch-and-forget capabilities. At the time of writing, counter-measures to the use of drones by terrorists have not been sufficiently considered and will be an emerging area of concern in the near future.