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Terrorist attack deaths increase in Iraq, the West, despite decrease worldwide

ISIL remains deadliest terrorist group in the world

The number of terrorist attacks and resulting deaths worldwide decreased in 2016, but an increase in activity in Iraq and the ongoing violence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) curbed the reduction, according to a new report from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism’s Global Terrorism Database (GTD), which is headquartered at the University of Maryland.

In 2016, more than 13,400 terrorist attacks took place around the world, resulting in more than 34,000 total deaths, including more than 11,600 perpetrator deaths. This represents a 9 percent decrease in the total number of terrorist attacks, and a 10 percent decrease in the total number of deaths, in comparison to 2015.

Despite the decreases in worldwide totals, the number of people killed in attacks increased in North America by 38 percent, Western Europe by 39 percent and Central Asia by 54 percent from 2015 to 2016. In fact, with 238 deaths in the region, 2016 was the deadliest year in Western Europe with respect to terrorist attacks since 1988, when Pan American flight 103 crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland after an explosive device detonated on board.

The increases in deaths in North America and Western Europe were both heavily influenced by mass casualty attacks carried out by ISIL operatives or ISIL-inspired individuals in Orlando (49 victim deaths), Nice (86), Brussels (32) and Berlin (12).

In 2016, ISIL remained the deadliest terrorist organization in the world, with its “core” operatives responsible for 1,400 terrorist attacks that resulted in more than 11,700 total deaths—more than one third of the year’s total deaths—which represents a 39 percent increase in ISIL’s lethality.

ISIL-affiliated perpetrator groups—those organizations that have declared allegiance to ISIL—carried out more than 950 additional attacks that resulted in nearly 3,900 total deaths.

“In mid-2015 and early 2016 terrorist violence carried out by ISIL affiliates was comparable to that of ISIL itself, if not more severe at times,” said Erin Miller, GTD program manager and author of the report. “The collective terrorist activity of ISIL-affiliated perpetrators gradually declined throughout the remainder of 2015 and 2016, but during this same time period we saw an increase in the number of individual assailants who were not members of a group, but claimed that they were motivated by allegiance to ISIL.”

Miller noted that patterns of terrorist activity attributed to ISIL-affiliated perpetrator groups were heavily influenced by the 2015 declaration of allegiance by the leader of Boko Haram in Nigeria. In 2015 Boko Haram—a long-established and deadly organization in its own right—was responsible for more than one-third of all attacks by ISIL-affiliated perpetrators, and two-thirds of the resulting deaths. In 2016, the frequency of attacks carried out by Boko Haram declined 54 percent and the total number of deaths caused by Boko Haram’s terrorist attacks decreased 77 percent.

“While still a significant driver of terrorist activity by ISIL-affiliated perpetrators, Boko Haram’s influence declined as the number and geographic reach of other ISIL-affiliated perpetrator groups expanded,” Miller said.

Though comprising less than 2 percent of all ISIL-related attacks and deaths in 2016, the number of ISIL-inspired attacks more than doubled, from 14 attacks across seven countries in 2015 to 35 attacks across 16 countries in 2016. The number of people killed in terrorist attacks carried out by ISIL-inspired individuals increased from 35 in 2015 to 172 in 2016. Unlike the attacks by ISIL and ISIL-affiliated perpetrator groups, which were concentrated in the Middle East & North Africa, attacks by ISIL-inspired individuals were concentrated in Western Europe (54 percent of all ISIL-inspired attacks; 65 percent of all deaths) and North America (23 percent of all ISIL-inspired attacks; 30 percent of all deaths).

The new report also details patterns of terrorism in key regions in 2016, focusing on trends over time, tactics and perpetrators.

Since 2014, the Middle East & North Africa region has experienced more terrorist violence than any other region. Although terrorism declined worldwide between 2015 and 2016, attacks in this region increased 2 percent to more than 6,000 and total deaths increased 8 percent to more than 19,100. More than half (55%) of all terrorist attacks in the Middle East & North Africa in 2016 took place in Iraq, which remained the country with the most attacks and deaths. Compared to 2015, Iraq saw a 22 percent increase in terrorist attacks and 38 percent increase in deaths due to terrorist attacks, comprising nearly two-thirds (64%) of all deaths from terrorist attacks in the Middle East & North Africa in 2016.

Ten of the 11 deadliest terrorist attacks in 2016 took place in the Middle East & North Africa, including nine in Iraq and one in Syria. Each of these attacks was carried out by ISIL and killed nearly 100 or more victims. Three of these exceptionally deadly terrorist attacks were bombings, including the deadliest attack in 2016, in which a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden vehicle at a shopping center in the Karada neighborhood of Baghdad in July, killing at least 382 people and wounding 200 others.

The number of terrorist attacks in South Asia declined 21 percent in 2016, while the number of people killed declined 6 percent. The frequency of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and Bangladesh increased between 2012 and 2015 before declining in 2016. However, terrorist violence in Pakistan declined sharply between 2014 and 2016, and both attacks and fatalities in India have increased steadily during the same period. In fact, in 2016 these diverging trends led to the number of terrorist attacks in India (1,019) surpassing the number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan (861). Terrorism in Pakistan in 2016 remained considerably more deadly, however, resulting in more than 1,100 total deaths compared to more than 400 deaths due to terrorism in India.

The number of terrorist attacks in Sub-Saharan Africa increased slightly (6%) in 2016, compared to 2015. However, the total number of deaths that resulted from terrorist attacks in this region declined 37 percent. This marks a continuation of the decline in overall lethality of terrorism in Sub-Saharan Africa that has occurred since 2014. Two countries—Nigeria and Somalia—experienced the majority of terrorist violence in Sub-Saharan Africa, with 55 percent of all attacks and 56 percent of all deaths.

In 2016 terrorist violence in Southeast Asia comprised 8 percent of all attacks worldwide, but 2 percent of all deaths that occurred worldwide. The average number of victims killed in terrorist attacks in Southeast Asia in 2016 was 0.5—or approximately one death for every two attacks that occurred in the region. This is far lower than the global average of 1.71 deaths per attack. In fact, the only regions that observed lower average lethality of terrorist attacks in 2016 were Eastern Europe, which saw one death for every three attacks, and Australasia and Oceania where no deaths resulted from terrorist attacks in 2016.

Terrorism in Western Europe continued to comprise a very small proportion of global terrorism in 2016—2 percent of all attacks, and less than 1 percent of all deaths that resulted from terrorist attacks around the world. Several terrorist attacks in the region in 2016, including two of the mass-casualty ISIL-related attacks in France and Germany, involved vehicles used as contact weapons (rather than as vehicle-borne IEDs). Although this tactic is not unprecedented, there has been a marked increase in the frequency and lethality of these attacks.

In 2016 the number of terrorist attacks in North America increased 14 percent compared to 2015. There were six terrorist attacks in Canada, resulting in the death of one assailant and no victims. Five terrorist attacks took place in Mexico, resulting in the deaths of four victims. The majority of the terrorism in North America took place in the United States, where 61 attacks occurred resulting in the deaths of 61 victims and seven perpetrators.

The majority (85%) of the terrorist attacks that took place in the United States in 2016 were non-lethal, and in three additional attacks, the only people killed were the assailants. A total of 61 victims were killed in attacks that took place in Orlando (49 victim deaths), Dallas (5), Baton Rouge (3), New York City (2), Philadelphia (1), and Bristol (1).

Religious figures and institutions were most frequently targeted in terrorist attacks in the United States in 2016. These attacks mainly involved churches, mosques, and synagogues, typically using incendiary weapons. Nine attacks targeted police in the United States in 2016, four of which resulted in the deaths of nine police officers and one bystander. The assailants in these cases were not affiliated with formal perpetrator organizations, but espoused racist (anti-white), anti-police, or jihad-inspired motivations.

Read the full report, “Overview: Terrorism in 2016,” on START’s website here.