The number of global deaths from terrorism has fallen for the second year in a row, signalling “a turning point in the fight against radical Islamist extremism,” a report has concluded.
The total number of deaths is down 22 per cent compared to the peak of terror activity in 2014, while the year-on-year figure fell by 13 per cent, according to the 2017 Global Terrorism Index.
“It’s a very positive trend,” Daniel Hyslop, research director for the Institute for Economics and Peace told The Independent. “The main reason is that four of the five countries most impacted by terrorism, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, all had improvements.”
Nigeria saw the largest reduction, with deaths attributed to Boko Haram decreasing by 80 per cent as the radical group faced increasing pressure from the Multinational Joint Task Force.
Despite the fall, Iraq bore the brunt of an increase in deaths primarily driven by Isis, which stepped up its suicide attacks on civilians to compensate for its territorial losses. “Isis has suffered major battlefield defeats and in sign of its desperation has increased the number of suicide attacks and terrorist attacks on civilians,” the report said.
The yearly report found 94 per cent of all terrorist deaths took place in the Middle East and north Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia.
While the number of global deaths and attacks fell, 2016 was the deadliest year for terrorism in European countries and other developed nations since 2001. If the 11 September attacks in New York are excluded, it was the deadliest year for terrorism since 1988.
More countries have experienced at least one death from terrorism than at any other time in the past 17 years, the report found, with terrorism affecting 77 countries in 2016.
However, the first half of 2017 saw a significant reduction in deaths compared to last year, the report said, as Isis continued to suffer defeats in Iraq and Syria, diminishing its capacity to carry out terror attacks.
The figure indicates a potential improvement, Mr Hyslop said, indicating a trend that may see a decrease in Isis attacks. “When you look at Iraq and Syria, with Isis very close to military defeat, that bodes well for the future of terrorist activity,” he said.
Although he warned there was a risk the terror group could change its tactics to become more of a guerilla fighting, he said the so-called Islamic State’s territorial losses meant it would also lose the revenue it needs to commit violence, recruit followers and spread its propaganda.
Mr Hyslop added: “The reality is that as the group is being defeated, I think you will see fewer deaths in the places where the majority of deaths occur.”
The report said improvements in counterterrorism strategies have led to more attacks being foiled than in previous years. In 2014 and 2015, two in 10 attacks were prevented, while in 2016 three in 10 were stopped.
However, it also noted terror attacks were becoming less sophisticated and more likely to be directed against civilian targets in the West. Such attacks, which often use trucks and knives, are cheaper to conduct and harder for the authorities to detect.
“Of course you have a negative response to that which is the deployment of more basic tactics involving knives and trucks,” Mr Hyslop said. “This is one of the challenges for counter-terrorism, which is constantly catching up with the new trend or the new tactics, and the tactics are constantly evolving.”
Overall, the impact of terrorism cost the global economy $84bn (£64bn) in 2016, a reduction of nearly $6bn (£4.6bn) from 2015.