Terror Deaths Down 44 Percent in Three Years, but Terrorism Still Widespread

December 5, 2018 Updated: December 5, 2018

A new study into terrorism across the globe reveals a notable drop in terror-related deaths, but shows that violence associated with extremism remains a significant threat.

Researchers at the Institute for Economics and Peace, a think tank that works to “develop metrics to analyze peace and to quantify its economic value,” compiled the newly published report, known as the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) 2018.

Terrorism By the Numbers

94: The number of countries that recorded improvements in the Global Terrorism Index

27 percent: The drop in terrorism deaths compared to 2016

5: The number of countries that recorded over 1000 deaths from terrorism.

46: The number of countries that deteriorated in the Index

487: The number of people killed in 2017’s worst terrorist attack, committed by Al-Shabaab

$52 billion: The total global economic impact of terrorism

Terrorism-related deaths dropped for the third straight year after hitting a peak in 2014, the report said, with the total number of terror-related deaths in 2017 amounting to 18,814.

investigators at suicide bomb attack site in Afghanistan
Afghan security forces and investigators gather at the site of a suicide bomb attack outside a British security firm’s compound in Kabul, Afghanistan, a day after the blast on Nov. 29, 2018. Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images)

5 Countries With Biggest Impact

Iraq: The total number of deaths from terrorism in Iraq fell from 9,783 to 4,271 between 2016 and 2017, which amounts to a drop of 56 percent.

Afghanistan: In 2017, Afghanistan was the country that recorded the highest number of deaths from terrorism.

Nigeria: Total terror-driven deaths in Nigeria fell to 1,532 in 2017, a decline of 16% compared to a year earlier.

Syria: Deaths from terrorism in Syria decreased by 48%, with the gradual winding down of the Syrian civil war.

Pakistan: In 2017, Pakistan recorded its lowest number of terror-related deaths since 2006.

Pakistani mourners
Pakistani mourners carry the coffins of victims who were killed in an attack at the Chinese consulate, during a funeral ceremony in Quetta on Nov. 24, 2018. (Banaras Khan/AFP/Getty Images)

Terrorism In Europe

In Europe, the total deaths from terrorism fell by 75 percent, with “significant falls” noted in Belgium, France, and Germany.

Spain’s rank on the terrorism index, however, deteriorated significantly.

Steve Killelea, executive chairman of the Institute for Economics and Peace, said that the marked improvements in Europe can be attributed to several reasons.

“ISIL has lost much of its attractiveness due to its military defeats and weakened capabilities to mount attacks in Europe,” he said, referring to the ISIS terrorist group. “Increases in counter-terrorism funding, combined with better surveillance techniques, have also contributed to the steep reduction of deaths in Europe from terrorism. However, interestingly, although deaths from terrorism in Europe have decreased, the number of terrorist incidents increased in this period.”

Killelea said the findings show that ISIS is “losing its ability to plan and coordinate larger scale terrorist attacks, as a result of lessened capabilities and increased counterterrorism measures.”

a commemorative ceremony for terror attack in Paris
A woman touches the commemorative plaque at the entrance of the Bataclan in Paris on Nov. 13, 2018, during a ceremony held for the victims of the Paris attacks of November 2015, which targeted the Bataclan concert hall as well as a series of bars and killed 130 people. (Tessier/AFP/Getty Images)

ISIS Biggest Threat

While ISIS continued to decline, it remained the deadliest terrorist group globally in 2017.

The number of deaths from terrorist attacks attributed to ISIS fell by 52 percent in 2017, and the report noted a corresponding decrease in the lethality of attacks.

The report said that the Taliban reoriented its focus last year from attacks on civilians to attacks on the police and military. The Taliban killed 2,419 police and military personnel in 2017, up from the 1,782 in the prior year. The number of Taliban-attributed attacks also increased from 369 to 386 in 2017.

Iraqi counter-terrorism forces train
Members of Iraq’s Rapid Response military unit take part in a “counter-terrorism” training at a military base inside Baghdad International Airport on Dec. 4, 2018. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)

Economic Impact of Terrorism

The global economic impact of terrorism was $52 billion in 2017—a decrease of 42 percent from the previous year.

Deaths accounted for 72 percent of the economic impact of terrorism, with the remainder stemming from GDP losses, property destruction, and non-fatal injuries.

The report’s authors point out, however, the true economic impact of terrorism is likely to be much higher as these figures do not account for the indirect impact on business and investment. The numbers also do not factor in the costs incurred by security agencies in countering terrorism.

Iraqi counter-terrorism forces train
Members of Iraq’s Rapid Response military unit take part in a “counter-terrorism” training at a military base inside Baghdad International Airport on Dec. 4, 2018. The exercises are being held over a period of four months in cooperation with the Italian forces in Iraq. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)

Principal Causes of Terrorism

Killelea said the research revealed that “conflict and state terror are the principal causes of terrorism.”

He said that of the 10 countries most impacted by terrorism, all were involved in at least one violent conflict and eight were involved in a major war with at least 1,000 battle deaths. The report showed that the 10 countries most marked by terrorism are: Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, Syria, Pakistan, Egypt, Congo, Central African Republic, and India. These 10 countries accounted for 84 percent of all deaths from terrorism in 2017.

Killelea added that when the 10 most conflict-related terror-afflicted countries are combined with countries with high levels of political terror, the number jumps to over 99 percent.

“Political terror involves extra-judicial killings, torture, and imprisonment without trial,” he said.

A Global Phenomenon

Terrorism remains a widespread, global phenomenon with 67 countries recording at least one death in 2017. This is the second highest number of countries in the past 20 years to record one or more deaths due to terror.

However, it is a fall from the peak of 79 countries in 2016.

There were 19 countries that recorded over a hundred deaths from terrorism in 2017, and five that recorded more than a thousand.


Authors of the terror tables derived their results from data from the Global Terrorism Database (GTD), which is collected by people at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) and the University of Maryland.

Index scores were generated by looking at four factors in a given year: the number of terror incidents, the number of deaths caused by terrorists, the number of terror-caused injuries and the amount of property damage from terror incidents.

Those factors were then weighed with scores between zero and three and a five-year weighted average was applied to them to show the “latent psychological effect of terrorist acts over time.”

The study, which ranks 163 countries, and accounts for 99.6 percent of the world’s population, has been conducted annually by the Institute for Economics and Peace for the last 17 years.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @OZImekTOM