The Middle East and North Africa is no longer the region most affected by terrorism, a global report has found.
The weakening of ISIS in the region has played a key role in the improved performance in the Global Terrorism Index, which measured the amount of terrorist-related incidents over the course of 2021.
Sixteen countries in the region improved their score from the previous year, with three showing no change in performance.
Only Algeria recorded an increase in the number of terrorist-related deaths.
“Fatalities in the Mena region accounted for 39 per cent of the total global deaths from terrorism between 2007 and 2021,” the report said.
“However, since the defeat of ISIS the region’s share of the global total has dropped substantially.
“It accounted for only 16 per cent of global deaths, behind South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa in 2021.”
The annual report is put together by the Institute for Economics and Peace, a global think tank with headquarters in Sydney.
The number of deaths worldwide from terrorism in 2021 was 7,142, which represented an annual fall of 1.2 per cent.
The 2021 figure was a third of the deaths recorded in 2015, the report said.
“Terrorist attacks are becoming less deadly in the region with less than one person killed on average per terrorist attack in 2021,” authors said.
“This is the region’s lowest lethality rate in the last decade.
“In contrast, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia recorded more deaths than Mena.”
The UAE was named as one of the most secure countries, with no terrorist incidents reported during 2021.
The largest improvement in the region was in Syria, where 488 terrorism deaths were recorded, 236 fewer than in 2020.
“All countries in the Middle East improved or had no change, except for Algeria,” said the founder and executive chairman of the IEP, Steve Killilea.
“And that's where deaths from terrorism rose from three to five. So it's a minor, minor increase.”
The Sahel accounted for about half the terrorism-related deaths of 2021 (48 per cent).
The report said the Sahel region was the new focus of terrorism concern, being home to the “world’s fastest growing and most-deadly terrorists”.
“The report highlights the changing dynamics of terrorism,” said Mr Killilea.
“It is becoming more centred in conflict zones, underpinned by weak governments and political instability.
“The Sahel is becoming the new epicentre of terrorism; it has the fastest growth rate in terrorism, with multiple systemic factors aggravating the situation.”
Another trend the report noted was that the number of politically related terrorist incidents had overtaken those carried out in the name of religion in western countries.
“In Europe and the US, politically motivated terrorism has overtaken religiously motivated attacks,” said Mr Killilea.
“It's now vital that counterterrorism initiatives are not curtailed because of decreases in government expenditure due to the economic downturn.”
Attacks in the West have declined significantly, the report revealed, dropping by 68 per cent in 2021, from the peak of 2018.
In total there were 113 attacks in Europe in 2021, and seven in the US.
Another reason for the downturn in Western countries was the coronavirus outbreak, Mr Killilea said.
“The decline of terrorism in the West coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
“Restrictions on freedom of movement, public gatherings, travel and an immediate threat to personal health may help to explain this fall.”
He also gave a warning of the perils of an upsurge in terrorist activities, once the effect of the pandemic began to recede.
“Once the emergency measures are removed and societies start to live with Covid, there is the possibility of an uptick in terrorism activity,” he said.
"This would require addressing the underlying issues of alienation, fear and lack of trust in government.”
Attacks in the UK halved in 2021 to 12, representing the lowest number since 2008, with only one being religiously motivated.
Seven terrorist attacks were recorded in France, down by 72 per cent from the 25 of 2020.
The report said terrorists’ methods were being aided increasingly by advancements in technology.
“As technology has advanced, so has the technology used by terrorists, including the use of missiles and drones, extending the reach of their attacks and reducing their casualties,” it said.
“Smartphones and encryption are other newer technologies that also extend their networks, making the spreading of propaganda and recruiting easier.”