Terror attacks double around the globe since the emergence of Islamic State

Terror attacks double around the globe since the emergence of Islamic State

The grip of the so-called Islamic State (IS) may have loosened in its Middle Eastern heartland, but the global threat posed by Islamist terrorism has grown and spread.

Incident tracking shows the majority of Islamist attacks still happen in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), with 2,273 incidents between 30 April 2017 and 30 April 2018. But despite being the most affected region, the number of attacks in the MENA region has been declining.

In contrast, Asia Pacific and Africa reached record numbers of incidents, though often the threat was geographically circumscribed and avoidable. Some EU nations have been on a broadly upward trend in recent years.

Many factors lie behind this, including the alignment of existing Islamist militant organizations under the IS flag, the return of some IS fighters to their homelands and the local dynamics of existing conflicts. The fate of IS fighters as the group’s territorial hold on Iraq and Syria diminished is a mixed one.

While some of them fled, many were killed as the group’s fortunes waned. The battle for Kobane in 2015 saw the first big setback for IS when US air strikes killed thousands of IS fighters. Subsequent battles saw more casualties and flight. The numbers and fate of those who fled is unclear.

Many states have attempted to track nationals who travelled to Syria and those who returned. Western countries have among the most reliable estimates (Fig.1). It must be assumed that an unknown number have melted away, either returning home or travelling to other theatres of an insurgency. The number of Islamist extremist attacks in parts of Africa and Asia-Pacific in 2017 – 2018 shows a sharp rise compared with 2013, before the global emergence of IS.

The threat from Islamist terrorism in the Americas remains generally low and only manifest in North America. Only four attacks were recorded in 2017 and the total number of attacks per year has never gone beyond single figures. However, the ready availability of firearms in the US does create the potential for a perpetrator of any motivation to carry out a mass-casualty attack such as the 2016 Orlando night club incident in which 49 people died.

However, the incidence of Islamist attacks is consistently low. Gun/firearm was the dominant mode of attack for terrorism incidents globally (47%), followed by improvised explosive device (IED) attacks (21%) and mortar attacks (13%).

IS and militants inspired by the group distinguish themselves from most other perpetrators by their desire to cause loss of human life, often at large scale.

They target civilians randomly, often in public places, and attack security forces and military assets. Looking at all types of terrorist activity, government, military and security forces and their installations typically top target lists across the world. Retail and road (vehicles and infrastructure) top the list of civilian sectors affected by terrorism – either directly or through collateral damage – because of their near ubiquity, as well as the prevalence of roadside improvised explosive devices in some regions.


In the EU, Islamist extremists were most active in France, Spain, and the UK with vehicle-ramming attacks in public places as the most prevalent tactic, such as the incident in the Las Ramblas area of Barcelona, Spain, that killed 14 people and wounded 120 others.

A major suicide bomb went off at the Manchester Arena, UK, in May 2017, killing 22 people and wounding 64. The majority of Islamist extremist attacks in the EU affected the entertainment and hospitality sectors and public spaces frequented by tourists. Attacks impacting the rail/mass transit sector were also recorded, most notably an explosion on a District line train near the Parsons Green station, London, in September that wounded 30 people, and an attack at the Central Station of Brussels in June where two low-intensity explosions occurred without casualties and a man trying to detonate an IED placed in a suitcase was shot dead by security forces.

In the Asia-Pacific region, most attacks by Islamist militants target law enforcement and military assets. Only a small proportion has a direct or incidental impact on businesses. The majority of these affect road infrastructure and vehicles, followed by education (schools, universities, campuses) and retail assets. Incidents impacting the aviation sector (which occur mostly in Afghanistan) generally target military bases at airports, with only an indirect impact on business. Notable was a rocket attack by Taliban insurgents at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul in July 2017 that killed at least one person and disrupted commercial operations. Most attacks by Islamist militants in Africa also affect vehicles and road infrastructure such as bridges, particularly in Nigeria, Mali, Kenya and Somalia.

The hospitality sector comes in second (with most incidents in Somalia and Mali), followed by retail. Notable is an attack at Le Campement tourist resort, Bamako, Mali, in June 2017, where Islamist insurgents killed five people and wounded 12, while taking 32 others hostage. Aviation assets were attacked in Somalia and Mali. Islamist terrorist attacks in the Americas occurred only in the US and Canada. Attacks targeted the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City in December 2017, where a man injured three people with a homemade bomb; a bike path in Manhattan, New York City, where an individual drove a truck into cyclists and runners in October 2017, killing eight people and wounding 12 others; and pedestrian areas in Edmonton, Alberta, in September 2017, where six people were wounded.

Source: Control Risk

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