Smoke billows from a burning car moments after Islamist terrorists carried out a suicide bombing attack targeting the convoy of an Egyptian government minister in Cairo in September 2013. (AP Photo/Ahmed Soliman, File)
Among the many findings in the new Global Terrorism Index, a project of the nonprofit Institute for Economics and Peace, is one that calls into question claims that poverty is a key driver of terrorism.
“One of the most important findings in this report is that there is not a strong statistical link between poverty and terrorism,” it says. “Many people who join terrorist groups in wealthy countries are well educated and come from middle class families.”
“Other measures which didn’t correlate include life expectancy, mean years of schooling and economic factors such as GDP growth.”
Socio-economic, governance and attitudinal variables that showed the most significant correlation with terrorism were political stability, intergroup cohesion and legitimacy of the state.
The report also found that “religion” as a driving ideology for terrorism has jumped significantly in the last five years, and accounts for most of the terror activity in the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
As a driver for terrorist groups, religion far outstrips “politics,” which tends to dominate attacks in the Western Hemisphere and is responsible for about half of them in Europe; and “national separatist” ideology, which accounts for the vast majority of attacks in Russia and former Soviet Union areas, and about half of attacks in Europe and about one-third in the Asia-Pacific.
“Over the last decade the increase in terrorism has been linked to radical Islamic groups whose violent theologies have been broadly taught,” said Steve Killelea, executive chairman of the Institute for Economics and Peace.
“To counteract these influences, moderate forms of Sunni theologies need to be championed by Sunni Muslim nations,” he said. “Given the theological nature of the problem it is difficult for outside actors to be influential.”
Four Sunni groups were responsible for 66 percent of all terror fatalities in 2013. In order of deadliness, they were the Taliban in Afghanistan and its Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) affiliate in neighboring Pakistan; al-Qaeda and its various affiliates; ISIS and its al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) precursor; and Boko Haram in Nigeria.
As expected, Iraq tops the new Global Terrorism Index (GTI), accounting for by far the largest number of terrorist deaths in the period under review – and that was even before the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)’s surge in the country, which has escalated since last January.
Iraq recorded a 162 percent rise in fatalities, to 6,362, with ISIS responsible for 77 percent of the attacks that were claimed by any particular group.
Next up was Afghanistan, which recorded a 13 percent rise in terror fatalities in 2013, to 3,111. Of those, 75 percent were attributed to the Taliban, which killed almost 2,350 people in 2013.
In Pakistan, number three on the GTI, 2,345 people were killed in terror attacks in 2013, an increase of 37 percent. Many of the attacks were not claimed, but the TTP took responsibility for 49 percent of those that were claimed, accounting for almost 25 percent of fatalities.
Nigeria at number four saw 1,826 people killed. Seven groups claimed responsibility, but the vast majority of attacks were carried out by Boko Haram, which the report says is “one of the most deadly terrorist groups in the world with an average of close to eight deaths per terrorist attack.”
The descent of Africa’s most populous country has been especially marked over recent years. As a result of Boko Haram’s deadly campaign, Nigeria climbed to fourth place in this year’s GTI from seventh place in last year’s report and 12th the year before.
Syria is fifth on the new GTI, with 1,078 people killed in terror attack over the period in review, a jump from around 600 deaths the previous year. (The report differentiates between fatalities in terror attacks and “conventional warfare” deaths in the brutal civil war, but says the number of terror attacks may be underreported due to the conflict.)
Half of the terror attacks in Syria in 2013 were not claimed, but the al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front was responsible for more than 40 percent.
Rounding out the top 10 on the GTI were Somalia, India, the Philippines, Yemen and Thailand.
The index is calculated based on the number of terror attacks, the number of deaths, the number of injuries and the level of property damage. The indicators are used to create a weighted five-year average that takes into account the lasting effects of terrorism.