Global terrorism report: right-wing attacks surge as threat in Middle East falls

Violent incidents could increase as world recovers from Covid-19 pandemic, Global Terrorism Index cautions

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The number of right-wing attacks surged during the past five years with more than 14,000 people around the world dying in terrorist incidents last year, a new study reveals.

The same report also said there would be an increase in riots and other violent clashes as the world begins to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

These were the findings of the Global Terrorism Index 2020, which was produced by the Institute of Economics and Peace, a think tank.

As we enter a new decade we are seeing new threats of terrorism emerge

“As we enter a new decade we are seeing new threats of terrorism emerge,” said Steve Killelea, founder and executive chairman of the institute.

“The rise of the far-right in the West and the deteriorations in the Sahel are prime examples. Additionally, as seen in the recent attacks in France and Austria, many smaller groups sympathetic to [ISIS] philosophies are still active.

“To break these influences three major initiatives are needed – to break their media coverage and online social networks, disrupt their funding and lessen the number of sympathisers.”

More than 6,700 terrorist attacks were carried out worldwide last year, resulting in almost 14,000 deaths.

Rise of the right

The number of right-wing terrorist attacks grew by 250 per cent between 2014 and 2019, according to the report, and the number of deaths rose by 709 per cent.

This was despite the number of overall deaths from terrorist attacks decreasing by 59 per cent from 2014 to 2019.

Almost 90 deaths were from far-right terrorist attacks with 51 of those being the victims of the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand.

According to the report, more than 35 right-wing terrorist attacks took place over the past five years in the West.

Although the number of right-wing terrorist attacks remains relatively low compared with all forms of terrorism, the report said the sharp increase was alarming.

A boy places flowers at a memorial as a tribute to victims of the mosque attacks, near a police line outside Masjid Al Noor in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 16, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A boy places flowers at a memorial as a tribute to victims of the Christchurch mosque attacks in New Zealand in 2019. AFP

The study also suggested that far-right attacks were much more likely to be carried out by individuals with no affiliations to specific terrorist groups.

Nearly 60 per cent of all far-right attacks between 1970 and 2019 were by unaffiliated individuals, the report stated, compared with just 10 per cent of those from the far-left or separatist terrorist groups.

The United States is far from united

The study said there were indications that political violence would become more acceptable as society becomes increasingly polarised.

In the US, where the majority of right-wing attacks took place, almost 40 per cent of Democratic and Republican respondents felt political violence was at least partially justified.

There were 53 terrorist attacks in the US last year, which caused the deaths of 49 people.

This was up from less than 10 per cent just two and half years ago.

There were almost 70 violent demonstrations recorded in the US and Europe last year, compared with 19 in 2011.

Mena region terrorist threat drops

The Middle East and North Africa region had the biggest improvement in this year’s report, with 18 countries experiencing a reduced level of terrorism.

This was the fourth year in a row the region has improved, with Yemen being the only nation that experienced a deterioration in the ranking.

Deaths from terrorist attacks in the Mena region accounted for 40 per cent of the global total since 2002, but accounted for 13 per cent of worldwide attacks last year.

That trend was reversed in Yemen, where terrorist attacks increased by 61 per cent last year with deaths rising by 31 per cent.

There have been 4,000 terrorist attacks in Yemen since 2002, resulting in 6,000 deaths.

Most of these attacks were attributed to Houthi extremists (47 per cent), followed by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (28 per cent).

ISIS branches in Yemen were responsible for 77 attacks since 2015, which resulted in 600 deaths.

Steve Killelea said right-wing terror attacks are on the rise in the West. Courtesy: IEP
Steve Killelea said right-wing terror attacks are on the rise in the West. Courtesy: IEP

The effect of Covid-19 on terrorism

There was a global decrease in the number of violent incidents since Covid-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation in March.

However, the fallout from the coronavirus is likely to have serious implications once the world begins to recover.

“Between 2011 and 2019, riots and violent demonstrations in the West increased by 277 per cent,” said Thomas Morgan, senior research fellow at the Institute of Economics and Peace.

“There are serious concerns that the deteriorating economic conditions will lead to more people becoming alienated and susceptible to extremist propaganda.”

The report said that the pandemic was likely to create new and distinct counter-terrorism challenges.

“It is important that counter-terrorism initiatives are not curtailed because of decreases in government expenditure due to the economic downturn,” its authors said.

“Reductions in international assistance for counter-terrorism operations in Mena and sub-Saharan Africa could prove to be counter-productive.”

Throughout 2019, there were almost 1,600 terrorist attacks in the Mena region, which led to almost 1,900 deaths.

UAE is among the countries least affected by terrorism

The UAE dropped 34 places on the index and is now rated, with 28 other nations, as a country with zero threat from terror attacks.

Mr Killelea said the robust security measures the UAE employs were a major factor in the country being perceived as having no risk from terrorists.

“The UAE got a perfect score when it came to being secure from terrorist attacks,” Mr Killelea said.

“There have been zero terrorist attacks there in the past five years and the local population tends to be wealthy.

The 29 countries with no threat of terror attacks