Of the 18,814 deaths caused by terrorists around the world last year, well over half were due to the actions of just four groups: Islamic State, the Taliban, Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram.
According to Global Terrorism Index 2018, compiled by the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP), these four organisations were responsible for 10,632 deaths in 2017. Their actions contribute to the instability of what are some of the most dangerous countries in the world, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia and Syria. Over the past decade they have accounted for 44% of all terrorist deaths.
Boko Haram – 1,254 deaths in 2017
The Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram (also known by the far longer name Jama’tu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad) was once the world’s deadliest terror group but it has been in decline since 2014 and has recently started to splinter into different factions, the largest of which is the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP).
Since it emerged in the northeast of the country in 2002 it has spread out to other nearby countries including Chad, Cameroon and Niger and the group has sworn allegiance to Islamic State.
The fall in terrorist deaths in Nigeria in recent years – the number of deaths is down 83% from the 2014 peak – indicates that the region’s security forces, assisted by international allies, are having an impact on groups such as Boko Haram. The battle is far from won, though. Boko Haram carried out 40% more attacks and was responsible for 15% more deaths in 2017 than in the year before.
Most of the group’s attacks last year were carried out in Nigeria – particularly in Borno State – with smaller numbers in Cameroon and Niger. The group has gained notoriety for mass hostage takings and the extensive use of children and women as suicide bombers.
Islamic State – 4,350 deaths in 2017
Also known in the Arab world as Daesh and by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL, Islamic State has been the deadliest terrorist group in the world for the past three years. It has been largely defeated in its home territory of Syria and Iraq but it remains capable of launching attacks in those countries and has also inspired individuals and affiliated groups to stage attacks in other parts of the Middle East as well as Europe and Asia.
ISIS tends to prefer bombings or explosions – these accounted for 69% of its attacks last year. However, it also carries out hostage takings and assassinations.
However, Islamic State’s powers now look to be on the wane. Last year it carried out 22% fewer attacks than the year before, with the number of deaths dropping from 9,150 in 2016 to 4,350 in 2017. The number of deaths per attack also dropped from eight in 2016 to 4.9 in 2017.
The Taliban – 3,571 deaths in 2017
The Afghan group has been waging a war of attrition with the U.S.-backed coalition since 2001 and has proven remarkably resilient. As of mid-2017, it controlled an estimated 11% of the country and was contesting a further 29% of Afghanistan’s 398 districts. It is active in 70% of Afghanistan’s provinces.
In 2017, Taliban forces were responsible for 699 attacks, causing 3,571 deaths, with armed assaults and bombings the most common form of attack. In addition, its affiliate in neighbouring Pakistan, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, was responsible for a further 56 attacks and 233 deaths.
The Taliban’s actions have become more deadly in the past year, killing an average of 5.1 people per attack in 2017 (up from 4.2 people the year before). The group has adjusted its tactics in recent years, switching its focus away from attacks on civilian targets and towards police and military personnel.
The Taliban killed 2,419 police and military personnel in 2017, up from 1,782 the year before. The number of attacks on such targets also increased from 369 in 2016 to 386 in 2017. At the same time, the number of civilian deaths caused by the Taliban fell to 548 in 2017, compared to 1,223 in 2016.
Al-Shabaab – 1,457 deaths in 2017
The extremist militant group Al-Shabaab emerged in 2006. It is an affiliate of Al-Qaida and while its main area of operations is Somalia, it has also carried out attacks in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.
Al-Shabaab was the deadliest terror group in sub-Saharan Africa in 2017, being responsible for 1,457 deaths, a rise of 93% on the year before. Two-thirds of the deaths were in the Somali capital Mogadishu. The worst incident was in October 2017, when 588 people were killed and 316 injured in an explosion outside the Safari Hotel in the Hodan area of the city.
Many of the countries worst affected by terrorism have seen a decline in the number of deaths over recent years, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Nigeria and Pakistan. Somalia, however, has been an unfortunate exception to that trend, due to the actions of Al-Shabaab. There have been almost 6,000 deaths from terrorism in the country since 2001.