Taliban replaces Isis as world’s deadliest terror group

Global Terrorism Index also warns of worrying surge in attacks from far right groups

Islamic State is no longer the deadliest terrorist group in the world having held the title since 2014, but there has been a “worrying surge” in attacks from far right groups, the latest edition of the Global Terrorism Index shows.

The index, which is compiled by the Institute for Economics & Peace, analyses key global trends in terrorism over the last 50 years. Its 2019 edition has found that total deaths from terrorism are down over 52 per cent from their peak in 2014.

The fall in the total number of deaths from terrorism was mirrored by a reduction in the impact of terrorism globally, as 98 countries recorded an improvement compared to 40 that recorded a deterioration.

Although the intensity of terrorism has diminished, its breadth has not, as 103 countries recorded at least one terrorist incident in 2018 – the second worst year on record – and 71 countries suffered at least one fatality in the same year.


Deaths from terrorism fell for the fourth consecutive year with the total number falling by 15.2 per cent between 2017 and 2018 to 15,952. The index pointed to military successes against Islamic State (also known as Isis) and Boko Haram as the driver for the reduction.

The largest fall occurred in Iraq, which recorded 3,217 fewer deaths from terrorism in 2018, a 75 per cent decrease from the prior year. For the first time since 2003, Iraq was no longer the country most impacted by terrorism.

Isis attacks

Deaths attributed to Isis declined 69 per cent, with attacks declining 63 per cent in 2018. Isis now has an estimated 18,000 fighters left in Iraq and Syria, down from over 70,000 in 2014.

The deadliest attack attributed to Isis in 2018 was in Deir ez-Zor, Syria, where at least 10 suicide bombers with four explosive-laden vehicles attacked and killed at least 51 people.

The collapse of Isis was also reflected in Europe, with no deaths attributed to the group in 2018, although 16 deaths were attributed to “jihadi-inspired extremists”.

Europe and the Middle East-North Africa were the two regions that recorded the biggest improvement in the impact of terrorism, with the number of deaths falling by 70 per cent and 65 per cent respectively.

In Europe, the number of deaths from terrorism fell for the second successive year, from more than 200 in 2017 to 62 in 2018. Only two attacks killed five or more people, compared with 11 in 2015.

However, the index said that “one of the more worrying trends” was the “surge in far-right political terrorism” over the past five years, although the absolute number of far-right attacks remains low when compared to other forms of terrorism.

In North America, western Europe, and Oceania, far-right attacks increased by 320 per cent over the past five years. This trend has continued into 2019, with 77 deaths attributed to far-right terrorists to September 2019.

The number of arrests linked to right-wing terrorism in Europe in 2019 increased for the third year in a row.


In overall terms, Afghanistan replaced Iraq as the country most affected by terrorism, as it recorded a 59 per cent increase in terrorism deaths to 7,379 in 2018. The index said the increase was “closely aligned” with the increasing intensity of the civil war.

There has been a constant increase in both terrorism and battlefield deaths over the past decade in Afghanistan as the security situation has continued to deteriorate. Total deaths from terrorism have increased by 631 per cent since 2008.

The rise in terrorist activity in Afghanistan, coupled with the winding down of the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, meant the Taliban overtook Isis as the world's deadliest terrorist group in 2018.

The number of deaths attributed to the Taliban rose by just under 71 per cent, to 6,103. In contrast, deaths attributed to Isis fell globally by just under 70 per cent, falling from 4,350 in 2017, to 1,328 in 2018.

Other than Afghanistan, only three other countries recorded a substantial increase in deaths from terrorism in 2018: Nigeria, Mali, and Mozambique. Each of these countries recorded more than 100 additional deaths.

Somalia recorded the second largest reduction in deaths for the second year in a row, with 824 fewer deaths recorded than in 2017. Attacks by jihadist group Al-Shabaab declined by 24 per cent following an increase in US-led air strikes targeting it.

The global economic impact of terrorism in 2018 totalled $33 billion, which was 38 per cent lower than in 2017. However, the figure does not include indirect impacts on business, investment, and costs associated with countering terrorism agencies.

The 10 countries most impacted by terrorism in 2018:

(The list is based on a composite score of a range of factors determined by the index and is not based exclusively on fatalities)

1. Afghanistan
Incidents: 1,443
eaths: 7,379
Injured: 6,514
Most deadly group: Taliban

2. Iraq
Incidents: 1,131
Deaths: 1,054
Injured: 1,723
Most deadly group: ISIS

3. Nigeria
Incidents: 562
Deaths: 2,040
Injured: 772
Most deadly group: Boko Haram

4. Syria
Incidents: 131
Deaths: 662
Injured: 725
Most deadly group: Isis

5. Pakistan
Incidents: 366
Deaths: 537
Injured: 1,016
Most deadly group: Khorasan Chapter of ISIS

6. Somalia
Incidents: 286
Deaths: 646
Injured: 638
Most deadly group: Al-Shabaab

7. India
Incidents: 748
Deaths: 350
Injured: 540
Most deadly group: Maoists

8. Yemen
Incidents: 227
Deaths: 301
Injured: 325
Most deadly group: Houthi extremists (Ansar Allah)

9. Philippines
Incidents: 424
Deaths: 297
Injured: 343
Most deadly group: New People's Army

10. Democratic Republic of Congo
Incidents: 135
Deaths: 410
Injured: 145
Most deadly group: Allied Democratic Forces

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter