Deaths from terrorism have fallen for the fifth consecutive year, according to a report on global terror, despite far-right attacks increasing by 250 per cent during the same time.
However, the report warns new terror threats are emerging, including the rise of the far-right in the west and a trend which has seen Isis shift its focus from attacks in the Middle East and North Africa to sub-Saharan Africa. Similarly, recent terror attacks in France and Austria suggest smaller groups sympathetic to the Islamist terror group are still active in Europe and represent an ongoing threat.
Despite the “good news” that terrorism is falling, the threat it poses “is very real”, Steve Killelea, executive chairman of the IEP, told The Independent.
“We can observe what has happened in France and Austria. We can see the global grief from terrorist attacks in New Zealand. So even though the likelihood of jihadist terrorist attacks has decreased, still when they do occur they are a major concern to most citizens in most western nations.”
Last year saw a further decline in the strength of Isis, the report found, with the terror group and its affiliates killing fewer than 1,000 people for the first time in its existence. However, it was still responsible for attacks in 27 countries around the world, with a shift in focus from the Middle East and North Africa to sub-Saharan Africa, where 41 per cent of all Isis-related deaths occurred.
Similarly, the group’s waning influence has affected its abilities to carry out large-scale terror attacks in the west, Mr Killelea said, though he warned more attacks are expected in the coming years.
“If we look at the demise of Isis, it hasn’t got the social media or the finances or the soldiers to really be able to deploy sophisticated attacks in the west like it did in the past,” Mr Killelea said. “What we’ve seen in the last two years, when attacks have come they’ve come from sympathisers or Isis rather than soldiers of Isis. So if we look at the patterns with sympathisers, we expect there will be more attacks in the coming years in Europe.”
He said counterintelligence agencies in the west would need to work to break the group’s influence on social media, as well as target its finances and reduce the number of sympathisers who could convert into members of the group. “Any counterintelligence strategy needs to be able to attack all of these three things simultaneously because they all feed into each other.”
The Taliban were still the world’s deadliest terrorist group last year, though deaths attributed to the group fell by 18 per cent. Commenting on a decision made by the outgoing US president, Donald Trump, to pull US troops out of Afghanistan, Mr Killelea warned the move was “likely to radically destabilise the Afghan government,” adding: “Without American troops there, obviously there’s a war going on there, the less soldiers you’ve got fighting the Taliban then the more likely the Taliban is to be stronger.”
Despite the overall fall in terrorism deaths, the report found a 250 per cent increase in far-right attacks between 2014 and 2019, with 89 deaths attributed to far-right terrorists last year.
The IEP warns that the ongoing economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic is likely to increase political instability and violence, potentially leading more people to subscribe to extremist ideologies.
Thomas Morgan, senior research fellow at IEP, explained: “Between 2011 and 2019, riots and violent demonstrations in the West increased by 277 per cent. There are serious concerns that the deteriorating economic conditions will lead to more people becoming alienated and susceptible to extremist propaganda.”
In addition to fewer people being killed by terrorists, the fall in terrorism has also seen a reduction in the global economic impact of terrorism, which dropped by 25 per cent to $16.4bn (£12.3bn) in 2019. When compared to other forms of violence such as homicide, armed conflict and military expenditure, terrorism represents a small percentage of the total global cost of violence, which stood at $14.5trn (£10.9trn) in 2019, the report said.
However, it warned the true economic impact of terrorism is likely much higher, as the report’s figures do not account for the indirect impact on business, investment and the costs associated with security agencies in countering terrorism.