Despite declining trendline, riskiest states see little improvement. Between May 2018 and May 2019, World Risk Review ratings reveal a trend toward decreasing terrorism risks. In that period, risk ratings fell in 116 countries, while increasing in only 34. Rating scores fell in many countries as security services redoubled their efforts to tackle international terrorist groups in the Middle East, Europe, and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Terrorism risks fell notably in Egypt, Turkey, and Spain between May 2018 and May 2019. However, there has been little improvement in the world’s riskiest states for terrorism.
In May 2018, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Iraq held the top three highest terrorism risk ratings. A year later, Afghanistan retained its position, followed by Syria, then Libya (see table below).
Despite a trend of decreasing risk, the dynamic nature of terrorism all but ensures that new threats will arise in the coming years. In 2018, a number of key trends emerged that will likely affect terrorism risks in 2019. First, Islamic State (IS) suffered a near-total collapse.
By March 2019, the self-described “caliphate” no longer controlled territory; at its peak, the group held territory the size of Portugal. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group’s leader, reappeared in April via video after a five-year absence.
The territorial defeat of IS will likely bring new threats both in the Middle East and in Western states. In Iraq and Syria, IS is expected to revert to insurgent-style attacks. European governments will continue to grapple with the legal and security challenges presented by returning fighters.
Although terrorists and other non-state actors globally have killed more than 230,000 people over the last decade, the number of people killed in terrorist incidents fell by more than one-quarter and the number of attacks fell by nearly one-third in 2018, according to Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre by IHS Markit (see chart below).
But as attacks by lone wolves and small groups become more commonplace — including against soft targets, which are not limited to major metropolitan areas — the threat of terrorist incidents occurring in or near workplaces has become a growing concern for employers.
While religious extremism is expected to remain the dominant terrorism threat globally, the threat from the extreme right-wing (ERW) is deepening in Western states.
Boosted by the success of far-right political parties, there has been a growing trend of attacks by lone perpetrators inspired by far-right ideology.
Security services face a difficult task in disrupting plots, given the absence of a unifying ERW structure and the unlikelihood of perpetrators being directed by an organized group.
ERW attacks may mirror the methodology used successfully by extremists since 2014. Low-capability attacks using firearms, bladed weapons, or vehicles are likely to be favored, entrenching a shift toward attacks that generate little property damage, but pose significant risks to people.
Moreover, the financial and reputational impacts of terrorist attacks remain sizeable. Organizations operating internationally, and their employees, are often priority targets for terrorists.
The Institute for Economics and Peace estimates that the average annual economic impact of terrorism was $79 billion between 2013 and 2016 (see chart below).
Organizations should continue to implement adequate risk and crisis management strategies to protect their people and balance sheets from the persistent threat of terrorism.
Global terrorism trends
World risk review ratings showed an overall trend toward decreasing terrorism risks, though country results vary.
World Risk Review
World Risk Review ratings are based on modelling more than 200 international indices. The terrorism risk rating, or score, for each country is generated using a number of individually weighted indicators. Among the trends identified over the last 12 months through the terrorism score modelling:
MOZAMBIQUE SCORE 6.4 | INCREASE 2.1
Mozambique faces an emergent terrorism risk in its northern Cabo Delgado province. Between October 2017 and December 2018, at least 20 attacks and 57 non-militant deaths were recorded. In February 2019, militants used small arms to attack convoys transporting employees to a liquefied natural gas (LNG) project. One contractor was killed, in what was the first attack to directly target assets or personnel in the LNG sector.
CHAD SCORE 7.1 | INCREASE 0.7
Chad faces increased activity by insurgents in the north. Libya-based militants from the Union des Forces de la Résistance (UFR) have staged incursions into Chadian territory, which security forces have struggled to contain. In February 2019, President Idriss Déby requested air support from France’s Barkhane counterterrorism operation to tackle an incursion.
TURKEY SCORE 6.6 | DECREASE 0.5
Terrorism risks in Turkey receded in 2018. The government effectively used unmanned aerial vehicles to counter the threat posed by the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê (PKK) in the southeast. IS’s capacity to organize attacks has similarly reduced. IS has not launched a successful attack in Turkey since January 2017.
SPAIN SCORE 3.5 | DECREASE 1.0
In May 2018, Basque separatist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) officially disbanded, significantly reducing the threat of separatist terrorism in Spain. However, Islamist extremists continue to organize in Spain, generating a persistent risk of attacks targeting crowded public spaces with small arms or bladed weapons. The 2017 Barcelona and Cambrils attacks, in which 15 people died, also revealed the existence of a cell with bomb-making capabilities.
EGYPT SCORE 7.0 | DECREASE 1.1
The government launched a counterterrorism campaign in February 2018 that successfully reduced the frequency of IS attacks to the west of the Suez Canal. However, IS retains capabilities in Sinai and is likely to launch effective attacks against religious minorities and security forces. Tourist resorts in Sinai will likely be aspirational targets, although the risk can be mitigated by adequate security measures.
UNITED KINGDOM SCORE 4.3 | DECREASE 0.9
The frequency of terrorist attacks decreased in 2018, as IS’s influence and authority eroded in the Middle East. The number of terrorist attacks in 2018 was far below that of 2017, when 36 people lost their lives across 107 foiled and completed attacks. The UK increasingly faces risks posed by returning fighters, while the extreme right wing is emerging as a growing risk.