Global Terrorism Overview: Terrorism in 2019

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Feature Desk

  • Increasing terrorist violence in Afghanistan sustained amid peace talks
  • Islamic State’s decline in Iraq and expanding global impact
  • Deadly increases in racially and ethnically motivated terrorism

OVERVIEW

In 2019, there were nearly 8,500 terrorist attacks around the world, which killed more than 20,300 people, including 5,460 perpetrators and 14,840 victims. The patterns described here provide a general overview. We encourage readers to explore the Global Terrorism Database TM and consider contextual information for a comprehensive assessment.

  • 2019 was the fifth consecutive year of declining global terrorism since terrorist violence peaked in 2014 at nearly 17,000 attacks and more than 44,000 total deaths. The total number of terrorist attacks worldwide decreased 50% between 2014 and 2019, and the total number of deaths decreased 54%. Regional trends varied substantially.
  • While the Taliban engaged in peace talks with the United States, Afghanistan experienced 21% of all terrorist attacks worldwide in 2019, and 41% of all people killed in terrorist attacks (including assailants) in 2019 were killed in Afghanistan[1].
  • The number of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan increased 2% between 2018 and 2019.
  • The total number of deaths due to terrorism in Afghanistan decreased 16%; however, this change was largely a result of the 32% decline in the number of assailants killed during attacks, which is typically especially high in Afghanistan (38% of all deaths in 2019). The number of victims killed in terrorist attacks in Afghanistan declined 2% and the number of victims killed in attacks carried out by the Taliban increased 9% between 2018 and 2019, essentially sustaining the escalation that has taken place in Afghanistan in recent years.

  • Global statistical trends continued to be heavily impacted by patterns of terrorism in Iraq, which suffered more terrorist attacks than any other country each year from 2013 to 2017. The number of terrorist attacks in Iraq decreased 53% between 2018 and 2019 and the number of people killed in terrorist attacks decreased 44%. However, monthly trends in Iraq in 2019 indicate that terrorist violence persists, and the rate of decline may be slowing.
  • In particular, from the declaration of the caliphate in June 2014 to the liberation of Mosul in July 2017, Islamic State carried out more than 100 terrorist attacks in Iraq and killed more than 500 victims each month, on average. The group’s violence in Iraq subsequently decreased dramatically and continued to decline throughout 2019, but remained deadly. More than 350 Islamic State attacks in Iraq killed more than 500 victims and 70 perpetrators in 2019, and Islamic State caused hundreds of additional casualties in Syria and other locations[2].
  • While Islamic State violence declined in Iraq, the group’s influence continued to expand geographically. Attacks carried out by Islamic State “core” operatives, affiliated organizations, or unaffiliated individuals who indicated allegiance to the group took place in 31 countries in 2019, compared to 35 in 2018. However, three new countries—Mozambique, the Netherlands, and Sri Lanka—experienced Islamic State-related attacks in 2019, bringing the total number of countries that have ever experienced Islamic State-related terrorist attacks to 57.
  • Several important trends emerged in African countries in 2019, including in Nigeria, where terrorist violence overall decreased due to a reduction in attacks by Fulani extremists, but terrorist violence carried out by Boko Haram increased. Boko Haram also increased terrorist activity in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. In addition, Mali saw a 16% decrease in attacks in 2019, but a 41% increase in total deaths due to multiple (6) mass casualty terrorist attacks in which more than 30 people were killed, compared to zero such attacks in previous years.
  • The number of terrorist attacks in Western Europe declined 6% from 2018 (203 attacks) to 2019 (191 attacks), continuing a pattern of decline since 2015. The number of casualties of terrorist attacks in Western Europe, which has also declined dramatically since 2015 and 2016, remained stable in 2019 with 18 victims killed and approximately 100 victims injured.
  • Mass casualty terrorist attacks remained relatively rare in Western Europe in 2019. Out of 191 terrorist attacks, there were nine attacks in which at least four people were injured or killed[3].
  • These mass casualty attacks took place in France (3), the United Kingdom (2), Finland (1), Germany (1), Italy (1), and the Netherlands (1).
  • Five of the mass casualty attacks in Western Europe involved knives or bladed weapons, two involved firearms (although they were not discharged in one attack), two involved vehicles as contact weapons, one involved explosives, one involved incendiary weapons, and one was an unarmed assault in which four people were injured.
  • In 2019, there were 64 terrorist attacks, killing 51 people in the United States. Terrorism in the United States continued to be characterized by diverse, sometimes complex, and often ambiguous ideological influences, typically without clear ties to formal, named organizations.
  • Perpetrators of the 10 lethal terrorist attacks in the United States in 2019 included white supremacists/nationalists, anti-Semitic extremists linked to the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, an al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula operative, and a conspiracy theory extremist[4]. However, the vast majority of terrorist attacks in the United States in 2019 were non-lethal (84%, excluding perpetrator deaths), and these attacks were also motivated by diverse ideological influences, including antifascist, anti-government, anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, anti-white, left-wing, pro-choice, and white supremacist/nationalist extremism.
  • Between 2015 and 2019, 286 people were killed in terrorist attacks in the United States (excluding assailants). Nearly all of the victims (95%) were killed in attacks involving firearms. Firearms were used in 27% of terrorist attacks in the United States during this time period.
  • Exceptionally deadly attacks targeting Hispanic Americans in the United States and Muslims in New Zealand in 2019 marked a sharp increase in the lethality of “racially and ethnically motivated terrorist attacks” (REMT), many of which were motivated by white supremacy, xenophobia, and anti-immigrant beliefs. At least 86 people were killed in such attacks in Australasia, North America, and Western Europe in 2019, compared to 52 in 2018.
  • The deadliest terrorist attacks in 2019 took place on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka. More than 250 people were killed and at least 500 others were injured when eight assailants carried out suicide bombings at seven different crowded locations, including hotels and churches. A pipe bomb was defused at an eighth location. Sri Lankan authorities indicated that National Thowheeth Jama’ath and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim operatives were responsible for the attacks. However, Islamic State reportedly posted a video purportedly showing the assailants pledge allegiance to the group, and reports indicate that one or more of the assailants trained with Islamic State[5].

KEY REGIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

Terrorist violence remained heavily concentrated in certain locations and coincided with other types of political violence. More than half of all attacks took place in five countries: Afghanistan (21%), Yemen (9%), Iraq (8%), India (7%), and Nigeria (6%). As in 2018, half of all deaths due to terrorist attacks in 2019 took place in two countries: Afghanistan (41%), and Nigeria (8%).

Several locations experienced especially large decreases in terrorist violence between 2018 and 2019. These include:

  • Libya, where the number of terrorist attacks continued to decline dramatically from a peak of 729 in 2014 when multiple Islamic State affiliates emerged to 70 in 2019. Likewise, the total number of deaths that resulted from terrorist attacks declined from 694 to 90 during the same time period.
  • Iraq, which previously experienced thousands of terrorist attacks annually. In 2019, the number of attacks further declined by 53% to 642 and the total number of deaths by 44% to 798. Although Iraq remains among the countries most heavily impacted by terrorism, the threat has evolved since the fall of the Islamic State caliphate.
  • Pakistan, where the number of terrorist attacks peaked at more than 2,200 in 2013 (2,800 people were killed that year), continued to see dramatic reductions in terrorist violence. There were 362 attacks in Pakistan in 2019, a 25% reduction from 2018, and 416 people (including 38 assailants) were killed in 2019, 40% fewer than in 2018.
  • Several locations experienced especially large increases in terrorist violence between 2018 and 2019. These include: Yemen, where terrorist violence in the context of a devastating war increased 55% with respect to the number of attacks (771 in 2019) and 54% with respect to victim deaths (903 in 2019). Despite the drastic increase in victim deaths, total deaths increased by 9% in Yemen as a result of the number of perpetrator deaths in Yemen declining 41% between 2018 and 2019.
  • Nepal experienced 200 attacks in 2019; however, nearly all of them (98%) were non-lethal and not intended to cause physical injuries. This 102% increase in attacks was largely the result of a campaign targeting communications infrastructure by the Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist (CPN-Maoist-Chand), who set fire to dozens of telecommunication towers, primarily in February, July, and August.
  • Burkina Faso, where terrorist violence has been steadily increasing since 2015, saw a 127% increase in the number of terrorist attacks in 2019 and a 587% increase in the total number of deaths in 2019. This sharp increase in lethality was largely due to an increase in the number of attacks in which 10 or more people were killed, from two in 2018 to 25 in 2019. At least nine of these exceptionally lethal attacks were carried out by Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) or Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS).
  • Cameroon, where violence erupted after Anglophone separatists declared independence in 2017[6].Although the number of attacks in Cameroon (which had more than doubled in 2018) decreased by 38% in 2019, the number of victims killed in terrorist attacks increased 28% between 2018 and 2019, from 167 deaths to 214.

 

Reference: START (Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism)

 

[1] Maizland, L. (2020, March 2). U.S.-Taliban Peace Deal: What to Know. Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved from https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/us-taliban-peace-deal-agreement-afghanistan-war
[2] Consistent with START’s practice of including in the GTD only those attacks that have been reported by at least one high validity source, these statistics represent those incidents that were reported by independent news outlets. These data provide conservative estimates of terrorism in locations where unbiased media coverage is limited, such as Syria and Yemen.
[3] Note that two of the nine mass casualty attacks in Western Europe were marked as “doubt terrorism proper” in the GTD, meaning there is conflicting information about whether the definitional criteria were satisfied.
[4] Note that three of the ten lethal attacks in the United States were marked as “doubt terrorism proper” in the GTD, meaning there is conflicting information about whether the definitional criteria were satisfied
[5] Mandhana, N., Taylor, R., and Shah, S. (2019, April 29). Sri Lanka Bomber Trained in Syria with Islamic State. Wall Street
Journal. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/sri-lanka-attacks-show-isiss-reach-even-after-defeat-11556561912
[6] Inside Cameroon’s 100-year old Anglophone conflict. (2019, October 1). Agence France Presse. Retrieved from
https://www.africanews.com/2019/10/01/inside-cameroon-s-100-year-old-anglophone-conflict/
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