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Terrorism deaths decline, but are we any safer?

BOMBING - SOMALIA
MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB / AFP
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Report shows drop in Islamist attacks worldwide

Three or four years ago, it seemed like hardly a week passed when there wasn’t another breaking news story out of Iraq, Syria, Paris or New York that involved a terrorist attack. A new report has shown a marked decline in the number of terrorist-related deaths worldwide.

But the chairman of the organization that issued the report warned that, although groups like the Islamic State and Boko Haram are not the big threats they once were, al Qaeda is “still very active.”

The Global Terrorism Index, scheduled to be released Wednesday by the London-based Institute of Economics & Peace, shows that terror-related deaths have fallen for the third consecutive year around the globe, “while far-right political terrorism is on the rise in North America and Western Europe,” USA Today reported. After peaking at about 34,000 deaths in 2014, terrorism-related deaths fell by 44 percent last year to 18,800, according to Steve Killelea, Executive Chairman of the Institute of Economics & Peace, which publishes the annual report. According to the news report:

Military defeats of the Islamic State, or ISIS, in Iraq and Syria, and the Nigerian government “breaking the back” of Boko Haram are seen as the main reasons why there was a significant drop in deaths related to terrorism, Killelea said. Afghanistan recorded the highest number of terror-related deaths among all countries.

Key findings include:

  • In Iraq, terror-related deaths dropped by 56 percent, from 7,368 to 3,554. That represents the largest year-to-year reduction of a single country and the lowest number of deaths from terrorism the country has seen since 2012.
  • Overall, deaths at the hands of ISIS dropped by 52 percent in 2017.
  • Five countries—Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia and Syria—saw more than 1,000 deaths from deaths from terrorism. And 19 countries saw more than 100 deaths.
  • 67 countries suffered at least one death from terrorism in 2017.
  • 46 countries saw lower scores and 96 countries improved—the highest number to report a year-to-year improvement since 2004.
  • The biggest jumps in deaths from terrorism were in Egypt and Somalia, which saw 123 percent and 93 percent increases, respectively.
  • Total year-to-year deaths fell by 75 percent in Europe, making for the biggest rate of improvement.
  • The two deadliest attacks in 2017 occurred in Somalia, where Al-Shabaab terrorists killed 587 people, and Egypt, where the Islamic State-Sinai Province 311.

“I think if there’s one thing which I’d have people to take away from the study, it would be simply that the back of ISIL is broken,” Killelea told USA Today, referring to ISIS by a common acronym that stands for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. “And that doesn’t mean that it’s the end of terrorism. Because Al Qaeda is still highly active.”

With ISIS collapsing in Iraq and Syria, say the report, the group is moving to countries in the Maghreb and Sahel regions of Africa, such as Libya, Niger, and Mali, and to Southeast Asia.

Islamist terrorism is “incredibly fluid,” Killelea told the newspaper, noting that groups splinter, merge, and form new groups, based on differences in ideology or differences in strategy and tactics.

“And that’s very, very difficult for intelligence agencies to really track and stay on top of it,” he said.

While there has been headway in fighting Islamist terrorism, there has been some concern with so-called “right-wing extremism” in Western countries, some of which is blamed for terrorist killing. According to USA Today, “the report found that social alienation, lack of economic opportunity, and involvement in an external conflict are major factors behind terrorism in economically-developed areas like North America and Western Europe, which have witnessed a rise in far-right terrorism:”

In the four years between 2013 and 2017, far-right groups and individuals were responsible for 66 deaths in Western Europe and North America. There were none in 2013 compared to last year, which saw 17. That same year, the United States had 30 attacks resulting in 16 deaths.

The report’s authors found that lone actors with white nationalist, far-right, or anti-Muslim beliefs were responsible for the majority of attacks in North America and Western Europe.

“Part of it is a reaction to the immigration flows, which have been appearing in Europe, with the result of the wars in the Middle East,” Killelea said. “And also it’s a reaction against the terrorist attacks, which have occurred back in the U.S. and in Europe by violent jihadist or violent extremists, violent Muslim extremists.”

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