Deaths from terrorism up 22% at 8,352 in 2023

This is the eleventh edition of the Global Terrorism Index (GTI), which provides a comprehensive summary of the key global trends and patterns in terrorism since 2012. The GTI report is produced by the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP), using data from Dragonfly’s TerrorismTracker database and other sources. In 2023, deaths from terrorism increased […]

This is the eleventh edition of the Global Terrorism Index (GTI), which provides a comprehensive summary of the key global trends and patterns in terrorism since 2012. The GTI report is produced by the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP), using data from Dragonfly’s TerrorismTracker database and other sources.

In 2023, deaths from terrorism increased by 22 per cent to 8,352 deaths and are now at their highest level since 2017, although they remain 23 per cent lower than at their peak in 2015.

Excluding the October 7th Hamas attack, deaths would have still been up by five per cent.
Whilst the number of deaths increased, the number of incidents fell, with total attacks dropping by 22 per cent to 3,350 in 2023. Pakistan recorded the most incidents of any country, with 490 attacks recorded. The rise in deaths but fall in number of incidents shows how terrorism is becoming more concentrated and more lethal. The number of countries recording a death from terrorism fell to 41, considerably lower than the peak of 57 countries recorded in 2015 and the 44 recorded in 2022.

By far the largest single terrorist attack that occurred in 2023 was the October 7th attack by Hamas-led militants in Israel. This attack killed 1,200 people, and was the largest single terrorist attack since 9/11, and one of the largest terrorist attacks in history. The consequences of this attack have been immense and are still unfolding, with an estimated 25,000 Palestinians killed by Israel’s retaliatory military response as of February 2024. Although Israel suffered the largest terrorist attack in 2023, it was not the country most impacted by terrorism. Burkina Faso is now ranked first on the GTI. In the 13 years that the GTI covers, it is the first time a country other than Afghanistan or Iraq has been top of the index. Almost 2,000 people were killed in terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso from 258 incidents, accounting for nearly a quarter of all terrorist deaths globally. The impact of terrorism in Burkina Faso has increased every year since 2014, with terrorism also surging in its neighbours, Mali and Niger. In Burkina Faso in 2023, deaths from terrorism were up 68 per cent, even though attacks decreased by 17 per cent.
The most notable improvements in terrorism occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq was ranked outside of the worst ten countries in the index for the first time, with less than a hundred deaths from terrorism recorded in 2023. Total deaths have fallen 99 per cent since their peak in 2007, with incidents falling 90 per cent. Afghanistan has also seen a significant improvement in the impact of terrorism, with deaths and incidents falling 84 per cent and 75 per cent respectively since 2007. The GTI does not include acts of state repression and violence by state actors and as such, acts committed by the Taliban are no longer included in the scope of the report since the group’s ascension to power.
The deadliest terrorist groups in the world in 2022 were Islamic State (IS) and its affiliates, followed by Jamaat Nusrat Al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), Hamas, and al-Shabaab.
IS remained the deadliest terrorist group globally for the ninth consecutive year, recording both the highest number of attacks and deaths from terrorism. Although the group is still highly active, its impact has been falling for almost all of those nine years.
Deaths attributed to the group and its affiliates - Islamic State – Khorasan Province (ISK), Islamic State - Sinai Province (ISS), Islamic State – Sahel and Islamic State West Africa (ISWA) – fell by 17 per cent over the last year to 1,636, the lowest number since 2014. The group carried out attacks in 20 countries in 2023, down from 30 countries in 2020.
Terrorism had been falling or remaining steady for several years prior to 2023, with substantial falls from 2015 to 2019 followed by several years of minor fluctuations. However, the last 12 months saw the largest percentage increase in terrorism since the inception of the GTI, even as total attacks fell considerably.
This dynamic reflects an intensification of terrorism, with fewer attacks committed by fewer groups while causing a larger number of fatalities. The number of active terrorist groups has also fallen considerably over the past 15 years, with 66 groups recording at least one attack last year, compared to 141 active groups in 2009. This increase in the intensity of terrorism has driven a rise in the lethality rate of terrorist attacks to just under 2.5 fatalities per attack, compared to 1.6 in 2022, the highest level since 2015. Violent conflict remains the primary driver of terrorism, with over 90 per cent of attacks and 98 per cent of terrorism deaths in 2023 taking place in countries in conflict. All ten countries most impacted by terrorism in 2022 were also involved in an armed conflict. The intensity of terrorism in conflict is also much higher than in non-conflict countries, with an average of 2.7 fatalities per attack compared to 0.48 fatalities. Terrorism in the West has fallen to its lowest level in 15 years.
There were 23 attacks recorded in the West in 2023, a 55 per cent drop from the prior year, and considerably lower than the peak of 176 attacks that was recorded in 2017. Sixteen of those attacks occurred in the United States, with only five countries in the West recording any attacks at all, and only Belgium and the US recording any deaths. Total deaths in the West fell by 22 per cent to 21 fatalities. Both political and religiously motivated attacks fell in the West. Of the seven attacks recorded in the US in 2023, five were linked to individuals with far-right sympathies or connections.
Although terrorism has fallen in the West, there are still concerns about a possible resurgence in 2024. The October 7th attacks, and their aftermath, have greatly increased political tensions in Europe, with German police disrupting planned terrorist attacks on Jewish institutions. There are also concerns over an increase in politically related violence, with record numbers of countries set to go to the polls in 2024.
Regionally, the impact of terrorism is far higher in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, and South Asia than any other regions in the world. These three regions accounted for 94 per cent of deaths from terrorism in 2023, with sub-Saharan Africa alone accounting for just under 59 per cent of all fatalities. The epicentre of terrorism has now conclusively shifted out of the Middle East and into the Central Sahel region of sub-Saharan Africa. There were just under four thousand deaths from terrorism in the Sahel in 2023, or 47 per cent of the total. The increase in terrorism in the Sahel over the past 15 years has been dramatic, with deaths rising 2,860 per cent, and incidents rising 1,266 per cent over this period. Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger account for most of the terrorism deaths in the region. All three face uncertain futures, having suffered from coups, weak governance, and fragile relations with neighbouring countries, exemplified by their recent withdrawal from ECOWAS.
In OECD member countries, socio-economic factors such as youth unemployment, military expenditure, lack of confidence in the press and lower inequality-adjusted life expectancy, correlate\ significantly with the GTI. In non-OECD countries, factors such as a history of internal violence, internal conflict, friction with neighbouring countries, and corruption were more significantly correlated with the GTI than in OECD countries.
There is a strong correlation between organised crime andterrorism, and this link is clearest in the central Sahel region. As terrorist groups like JNIM have expanded their territorial control in the region, there has been a surge in kidnappings, ransom demands, and attacks on gold mining operations. Terrorist groups integrate organised criminal operations by co-opting illicit economies, taxing both criminal and unregulated legal enterprises, and providing security for criminal groups and the transportation of illicit goods.
Terrorism is not the deadliest form of violence in the world. Armed conflict results in nine times more fatalities than terrorism, homicide accounts for over 45 times more, and deaths from suicide are 72 times higher. However, terrorism is unique as its unpredictability and high casualty rates lead to significant emotional and psychological impacts, which can in turn lead to significant social and geopolitical repercussions.
Looking forward, the prospects for 2024 are uncertain. The conflict in Gaza has heightened the possibility of terror attacks in the MENA region, and in states perceived as supportive of Israel or with large Jewish populations. Meanwhile, the ongoing deterioration of the security situation in the Sahel may result in further increases in conflict and terrorist activity.