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Worldwide Terror Attacks Shrink to Lowest Level Since 2011

23 January 2019 Matthew Henman

Worldwide terror attacks decreased by one-third in 2018 compared to 2017, while resulting non-militant fatalities fell by more than one-quarter, according to the annual Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre (JTIC) Global Attack Index.

Over the course of 2018 JTIC recorded a worldwide total of 15,321 attacks by non-state armed groups, which resulted in a total of 13,483 non-militant fatalities. The attack figure represents a significant 33.2% decrease from the recorded number of attacks in 2017.

The figures represented the lowest annual attack total since 2011 and the lowest annual fatality figures since JTIC began collecting comprehensive event data in 2009.

Key findings from the 2018 report

  • Islamic State attacks decreased by almost three-quarters and resultant fatalities by over 50%, although the group remained the deadliest worldwide in terms of number of non-militant fatalities caused.
  • Syria dropped to the second highest country in terms of recorded attacks, with attacks falling by almost two-thirds and resultant fatalities falling by almost half.
  • In contrast to the overall downward trend, attacks in Ukraine increased by almost one-fifth as it rose to be the most violent country in terms of recorded attacks.
  • Afghanistan became the deadliest country worldwide in terms of recorded non-militant fatalities, with attacks rising by almost one-third and a significant 80% increase in fatalities.
  • JTIC recorded violent activity by non-state armed groups in 90 countries worldwide in 2018, down from 116 in 2017.

Attacks by Islamic State decrease by almost three-quarters, with resultant fatalities halving

The Islamic State dropped to the second most-active non-state armed group in 2018, with attacks decreasing 71.1% from 2017. Despite a significant 51.5% decrease in fatalities, the group remained the deadliest group in 2018 in terms of recorded non-militant fatalities.

The major decrease in attacks reflected the fact that the territorial losses suffered by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria across 2017 noticeably reduced the group's capacity to operate territorially, switching instead to lower intensity insurgent operations, interspersed by sporadic high-profile assaults - particularly in Syria. The smaller reduction in fatalities also reflected the Islamic State's continuing capacity to conduct periodic incidences of mass-casualty violence, most notably in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and West Africa.

Attacks in Syria down by almost two-thirds as it is supplanted as most violent country in the world

Between 2017 and 2018, JTIC recorded a 63.6% decrease in the number of attacks by non-state armed groups in Syria, in addition to a significant 44.7% decrease in resultant fatalities.

As highlighted earlier, Islamic State territorial losses were a central reason for decreasing attacks in Syria. Another key element in the downturn in violence in Syria was the increase in government control of territory. Pro-government forces re-established state control over key areas of territory in and around Damascus, and in southern and central Syria.

Ukraine attacks jumped nearly 20%, but subsequent fatalities fell sharply

Going against the grain, there was a notable 18.4% increase in attacks in Ukraine, rising to 4,422 in 2018 from 3,735 in 2017, and representing the most violent country in terms of the number of recorded attacks. Despite this, only 92 non-militant fatalities were recorded, representing a 48.0% decrease from the 177 non-militant fatalities in 2017.

This was almost entirely attributable to increasing operational activity by the two pro-Russia separatist militant groups operating in the eastern Donbass region of the country. Attacks by the Donetsk People's Republic increased by more than one-eighth in 2018 to 3,196, resulting in the group supplanting the Islamic State as the most violent group in terms of recorded attacks.

Afghanistan becomes deadliest country in the world

Although attacks increased by 31.5%, resultant non-militant casualties in Afghanistan rose by 81.8% to 4,180 in 2018, making the country the deadliest country in the world in terms of recorded fatalities from non-state armed group attacks.

In addition to periodic mass-casualty attacks by local Islamic State forces, the increases in both attacks and fatalities were representative of the growing strength of the Taliban, which intensified its territorial threat to the Kabul government in both rural areas and increasingly in urban centres.

Posted 23 January 2019 by Matthew Henman, Associate Director, Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center (JTIC)

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