By Alexandra Brzozowski
(EurActiv) — Although terrorism-related deaths saw a downward trend for the fourth consecutive year in 2018, widespread activity among right-wing terrorist groups has become a particular cause of concern, according to the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) of 2019 published on Wednesday (20 November).
The Global Terrorism Index ranks 163 countries according to the impact of terrorism, based on factors such as the number of attacks, fatalities, injuries and the extent of property damage.
Despite the notable decrease in the level of Islamist terrorism in the West, Europe and especially North America are witnessing a dangerous rise in far-right terrorism, the 2019 GTI report, developed by the conflict watchdog of the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), has found.
Over the past few years there have been increasing fears about the growth of far-right extremism, following the events in Charlottesville in the United States 2017, or in Chemnitz, Germany, in 2018, and the recent terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand.
“In 2018, far-right terrorist attacks accounted for 17.2% of terrorist incidents in the West. By contrast, attacks by Islamist groups accounted for 6.8% of attacks, and attacks not attributed to any group accounted for 62.8% of incidents in the West,” the report has found.
The total number of extreme-right incidents has risen 320% in the past five years, with 71 countries having suffered at least one terrorism-related death in 38 attacks recorded in 2018, compared to only nine in 2013.
“Over the past four decades, one in every five mass shootings in the US has been classified as a terrorist attack. In the last decade, that number has risen to one in three,” the report found.
The majority of right-wing terrorists are not aligned to any particular group, operating as so-called “lone wolf” attackers. However, experts have pointed out that the phrase is misleading, as the terrorists tend to belong to support networks and their radicalisation process usually requires a base organisation.
In the US, currently ranked 22 in the index, the Trump administration has so far done little to meet the domestic pressure to combat the far-right and defunded programs intended to stop the radicalization of young white people.
In January 2019, the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism reported that every extremist killing in the US in 2018 was linked to far-right individuals or organizations, according to US media reports.
The report specifically highlights the March 2019 attack on two mosques in Christchurch, where 51 people were killed, as an example of terrorism spreading to countries with “almost no prior history” or “terrorist activity” as a result of far-right ideology.
UK tops the European list
The UK is the country worst affected by terrorism in the EU, finding itself in the top 30 of the world’s 168 nations, ahead of France, Germany, Belgium and Spain, as well as Sri Lanka, Iran, Russia and Israel.
Researchers pointed towards the rising threat from the new IRA movement as a key contributor to the UK’s high position in the ranking, although it also warns of a significant rise in right-wing terrorism.
After a series of terrorist attacks in the past years, European countries have seen a decline in the terror threat level reduced from severe to substantial, which means an attack is “likely.”
Decrease in Islamist terrorism
According to the researchers, conflict remains the primary driver of terrorism, with more than 95% of deaths from terrorism occurring in countries involved in a civil war or cross-border conflict or battling domestic militants.
“Terrorism is quite often used as a tactic in war,” Steve Killelea, founder and chairman of the IEP, told reporters.
The number of deaths from terrorism fell by 15.2% between 2017 and 2018 to a total of 15,952 people worldwide, with the largest declines in Iraq and Somalia due to the Islamic State’s (IS) defeat and US-led airstrikes on Al-Shabaab, the report noted.
This represents the fourth consecutive year-on-year reduction for fatalities, with the number of deaths having dropped 52% since 2014.
The Taliban has surpassed the IS, making it the world’s deadliest terrorist group, responsible for 38% of all terrorist deaths worldwide in 2018.
In total, 98 countries worldwide recorded a decrease in the number of deaths, which is the highest annual improvement since 2004. On the downside, 40 countries showed a deterioration.
Notably, women’s participation in terrorism has increased, although it still accounts for only a small percentage of all attacks.
“Terror groups may choose to include female suicide bombers due to their potential to conduct deadlier attacks,” the report noted.
Between 2013 and 2018, the number of female suicide bombers rose by 450%. By contrast, the number of male suicide bombers fell by 47% over the same period.
Most of this increase is attributed to Boko Haram, who has accounted for nearly 80% of all female suicide bombers in the past five years.