by Steven Emerson and Pete Hoekstra
March 28, 2016
The massacres in Brussels and Paris are only the latest salvos in a heightening and devastating threat from radical Islamists globally.
They illustrate troubling and much larger trends that the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) has identified in a new analysis based upon its extensive research, sources and multiple databases, including the University of Maryland Global Terrorism Database.
The IPT’s analysis reached the following conclusions:
- Islamist attacks in Europe will increase over the next 18 to 24 months.
- Terrorism in Africa will expand numerically and geographically.
- Radical Islamists will further destabilize the Middle East, targeting specifically Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
- Jihadists will expand their efforts and focus in South and Southeast Asia.
IPT research found that on average of 3,284 people died in Islamist terror attacks only five years ago. Today, that average is 28,708 per year.
For this report, the IPT separated four time periods between 2001 and 2015, basing them upon similarities in the number and lethality of attacks. From 2001-2006, there was an average of 2,508 fatalities annually, which rose to 3,284 per year from 2007-2011, tripled to 9,537 per year in 2012-2013 and tripled again to 28,708 in the past two years.
Terror deaths today have skyrocketed 774 percent since the 2007-11 average.
The emergence and rapid success enjoyed by ISIS is an obvious cause for the spike. It is responsible for at least 10,780 deaths since 2013, the data show. However, the data highlights that the problem of Islamist terror is worsening beyond the reach of ISIS. The global statistics clarify that tactics employed by the United States and Western allies to counter the Islamist threat are failing and the threat may be much worse than what has been imagined previously.
The growth in terrorist victims corresponds to a wider theater of operations for terror groups. From 2001-2006, the threat was dispersed in area and occurring primarily in 10 countries, including the U.S. and Russia. By 2014-2015, significant Islamist terrorist activity could be found in 18 countries, with most concentrated in Africa and the Middle East.
The IPT analysis demonstrates that many of the new countries are those with which the U.S. has had significant engagement. More than half of all Islamist attacks since 2012 occurred in the failed states of Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen.
Looking ahead, the IPT is pessimistic that the numbers will improve in the short and medium term. They are based on the following critical trends identified in the data.
Trend 1: Islamist Terror Engulfs More Lives
The chart below shows the stunning increase in deaths caused by radical Islamic terror since 2001.
Trend 2: Islamist Terror Shifts Primarily to the Middle East and Africa
The following table identifies the countries where terrorism claimed an average of at least 50 lives per year in a given time frame. The impact of Iraq’s slide into chaos since U.S. forces withdrew is clear. Afghanistan remains a troubled country. The growth of terror groups Boko Haram in Nigeria and al-Shabaab in Somalia is a key source driving the spike in terror deaths in Africa.
See chart at IPT
In Africa for example, Boko Haram, which translates to “Western education is forbidden,” waged the following attacks in February 2014.
- Feb. 11 – 23 people die when Boko Haram torched a village called Konduga.
- Feb. 15 – More than 100 people are killed in attacks on the Christian village Izghe. Terrorists targeted the village’s men, going door to door to find them.
- Feb. 15 – Another 90 Christians died in a similar attack on the town Gwosa.
- Feb. 25 – As many as 50 gunmen storm a government boarding school in Buni Yadi, Yobe State, killing 59 students. Many died inside a locked dormitory that the terrorists set on fire. Others were killed trying to escape.
Trend 3: Africa Becomes a Primary Growth Target
Islamists are consolidating gains and rebuilding capabilities to resume growing again in 2016-2017, especially in Africa.
Terrorism in Africa was largely confined to Algeria in 2001-2006, but it increased to nine countries with significant fatalities in the time period of 2014-2015. The increase will be led primarily by three Islamist organizations.
Boko Haram, an ISIS affiliate based in Nigeria, murdered 7,112 innocents in 2014, up from 1,729 in 2013. Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaida affiliate based in Somalia, murdered 1,782 in 2014, up from 739 in 2013. Al-Qaida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb killed 873 in 2014, an increase from 370 in 2013.
Trend 4: Western Interventions Inflame Instability
Interventions by the U.S. and/or NATO or other Western coalitions inflamed the threat from Islamists, the IPT analysis finds. The five countries in which the U.S. involved itself militarily – Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Yemen – represent an outsized share of attacks and fatalities.
In 2014-2015, they accounted for 55 percent of all fatalities caused by radical Islamist terror, a statistic that remains nearly unchanged since 2012-2013 due to the overall increase in Islamist terror activity worldwide.
Trend 5: Failed States Breed Islamist Terror
All five countries in the chart above can be considered failed states – those without functioning and effective central governments.
ISIS (responsible for 10,780 deaths since 2013) filled the vacuum in Iraq and Syria created by the lack of governance. Libya became a cesspool of extremism after NATO helped depose dictator Muammar Gaddafi. It was attractive enough that ISIS created a new caliphate along the Mediterranean with an estimated 6,500 fighters. From there, it exports weapons, jihadists and ideology to Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Saudi Arabia and Iran are currently fighting a deadly proxy war in Yemen.
Nigeria (9,207 killed since 2001) and Pakistan (3,175 killed since 2001) do not have failed central governments, but they are unable to extend stability or authority to significant areas within their boundaries.
IPT’s Outlook for 2016-2017
Attacks will continue increasing in 2016-2017 in lethality and geography in the following countries in Africa, the Middle East and South and Southeast Asia, in addition to Europe. There may be isolated successes against jihadist groups, but there still is no effective, broad-based strategy for containing or defeating them. We are losing this war.
The IPT predicts a dire 2016-2017 based upon its analysis. Until new and effective strategies develop, it offers the following insights into the near future.
The IPT predicts that the following trends will emerge or develop in 2016-2017 and beyond:
|1. Europe’s security systems will become more stressed and unable to respond to the rising challenges associated with the mass migration of refugees. Violence in Europe will increase in size and scope as Islamists exploit its nearly unregulated immigration system and Muslim enclaves such as Molenbeek in Brussels become more widespread.
|2. The proliferation of terrorism in Africa will proceed unabated.
|3. The Middle East will experience growing destabilization in Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia as a result of regional conflicts spilling into their borders.
|4. Thailand, the Philippines, India and Bangladesh will become more susceptible to an increase in attacks due to their perception as soft targets.
Video: IPT Senior Shillman Fellow and former U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra summarizes the finding and explains what they mean.