Afghanistan's Taliban has overtaken the Islamic State armed group to become the world's most dangerous terrorist organisation, a survey of global terrorism trends has found.
Figures in the Global Terrorism Index – published by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) think tank – show Afghanistan had the largest increase in terror-related deaths (6,103) in 2018.
“The situation in Afghanistan in remarkable because the Taliban and the local IS chapter there are only active in that one country,” says Serge Stroobants, the IEP's Europe, Middle East and North Africa director – adding that Afghanistan's unstable political environment has allowed insurgency activity to flourish.
“The figures are really mind-blowing…we've seen an increase of 70 percent in the number of deaths the Taliban has produced – a group that's responsible for 38 percent of all [global] deaths by terrorism.”
For the first time since 2003, Iraq is no longer the country most impacted by terrorism. Islamic State losses in Iraq and Syria have seen a tactical shift, pushing insurgents elsewhere.
“When you look, for example, at this current chapter of IS in Afghanistan, you see a clear local recruitment, and you also see a redistribution of certain assets coming from the Middle East and moving towards Afghanistan.”
Fall of the 'caliphate'
On the flipside, deaths attributed to IS fell globally by just under 70 percent. There were no deaths attributed to IS in Western Europe in 2018.
Although the collapse of IS in Syria and Iraq has helped Western Europe to record its lowest number of incidents since 2012, IEP founder and chief executive Steve Killelea says Europe needs to stay vigilant.
“The situation remains volatile, with large parts of Syria contested and many smaller groups sympathetic to IS philosophies active, leaving the possibility of further Islamist attacks in Europe,” Killelea says.
While the number of deaths from terrorism have halved in the last four years, the number of countries affected is growing – meaning that terrorism is becoming more widespread.
Far-right political terrorism growing
For the third year running, there has been an increase in far-right terrorism in Western Europe, North America, and Oceania. Attacks such as these can be harder to police because the perpetrators do not belong to organised groups.
“Far-right terrorism has grown exponentially over the past four years – we've seen an increase by 320 percent in the number of casualties coming out of far-right terrorist activities,” says Stroobants.
“The difficulty is for security and intelligence services to redistribute their attention to this other form of terrorism, because even if the figures are marginal compared to Islamist terrorism, it's very important for the Western world to dedicate the necessary resources to fighting it.”