Extremist groups killed 84,000 in 2017, says Tony Blair

Former British leader says growth of terrorist groups coincides with development of Muslim Brotherhood

FILE PHOTO: Britain's former Prime Minister Tony Blair attends a meeting of the European People's Party in Wicklow, Ireland, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo
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A worldwide survey of terrorist-related violence has concluded that 121 extremist groups operate across the globe, sharing an ideological root that can be traced back to the foundation of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Findings from the Tony Blair Institute’s Global Extremism Monitor, or Gem, show that last year, 121 extremist groups were active and that 92 of these committed violence, with an overall death toll for the year of more than 84,000.

The report, issued by the institute before a speech by former British prime minister Mr Blair to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington today, said slightly more a quarter of those killed, or 21,923, were ­civilians.

More than half of the dead were extremists.

“Muslims are often the first victims, with two thirds of all attacks aimed at civilians taking place in Muslim-majority countries,” Mr Blair wrote in the report.

“Those who live in peaceful co-existence, practising Islam peacefully as most Muslims around the world do, and who fail to answer the call to arms are regarded as heretics and targets, as much as non-Muslims.”

He is expected to urge his US audience to look beyond the conflicts afflicting much of the world to address the origins of the groups behind the violence.

“Extremism is global and growing,” Mr Blaie will say. “It didn’t begin with Al Qaeda, nor will it end with the defeat of ISIS. It is a global movement, driven by a guiding transnational religious-political ­ideology.

"The ideology and the violence associated with it have been growing over decades stretching back to the 1980s or further, closely correlated with the development of the Muslim Brotherhood into a global movement, the Iranian revolution in 1979 and, in the same year, the storming by extremist insurgents of Islam's holy city of Makkah." The report says that 37 groups exploited the Islamic concept of istishhad, or martyrdom, to fill the ranks of supporters ready to commit suicide attacks. There were 181 female suicide bombers identified in the report.

Executing those held to be disloyal or dissenters led to 1,976 people being put to death on charges including “fleeing, spying and disobedience”.

Mr Blair is expected to make the point that ideology is the real battleground to bring an end to the violence.

Studying publications promoted by the groups, the institute identified six commonly shared themes among them.

These included extremist violence as a duty, identification with a global struggle and a narrow interpretation of who is a Muslim.

“Violent extremism is not new,” the report says.

“Many of the 121 groups monitored by the Gem can trace their origins back 30 to 40 years, and their genesis is intertwined through a convergence of networks and ideological agendas. Over that time, despite counter-terrorism efforts from local counter-insurgencies to international military coalitions, the challenge has proliferated.

“Security measures can only hope to contain the problem. Solving it requires preparing for a generational struggle against the ideas that underpin extremist violence. The long-term fight against it will need a comprehensive, multifaceted strategy.”

Mr Blair offered advice to policymakers on how to erode and eliminate support for the extremists on a global basis. He makes four main recommendations to his successors in seats of power.

They are: rebalance counter-extremism efforts to focus more on prevention; come to an international agreement to reform education globally to root out religious prejudice and promote open-mindedness; invest in fragile states where extremism can flourish; and support civic society movements that are intent on promoting co-existence.