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Kampf um Kobane 17.11.2014 Luftangriff
Image: Reuters/O. Orsal

Global Terrorism Index

Interview: Dennis Stute
November 18, 2014

A new report from the Institute for Economics and Peace shows a dramatic rise in the number of terrorism victims. The institute's founder Steve Killelea explains the statistics in an interview with DW.

https://p.dw.com/p/1DpHk

DW: What are the main findings of your report?

Steve Killelea: The main finding of the report is that both the intensity and breadth of terrorism has grown substantially between 2012 and 2013. By that we have seen a 61 percent increase in the number of deaths to approximately 18,000, and we have seen a 60 percent increase in the number of countries with more than 15 deaths; that's moved from 15 countries up to 24 countries. Also if we start now to dig one level deeper into that we find that 82 percent of the deaths come out of five countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Syria. Combined with that we find that four terrorist organizations are responsible for 66 percent of the deaths: the "Islamic State" (IS), Boko Haram, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban.

What are the main reasons for the increase?

What is interesting is that between 2007 and 2011 the number of people dying from terrorist attacks had actually decreased around 20 percent. In 2011 the Syrian war started and that unleashed another whole wave of terrorism which we obviously see with the success that "IS" has had in Syria and then spilled over into Iraq.

Steve Killelea Unternehmer aus Australien
Steve Killelea founded the Institute for Economics and PeaceImage: Institute for Economics and Peace

Are there particular conditions that give rise to terrorism?

We did a lot of statistical analysis to try to understand what are the socioeconomic indicators associated with terrorism and actually the outcome was fascinating. The three key things significantly correlated with terrorism were state-sponsored terror, extrajudicial killings and torture; group grievances like that of the Sunni minority in Iraq and general lawlessness within countries. When we looked at indicators of poverty, like per capita income or life expectancy, they didn't actually correlate.

Most terrorist attacks occur in fragile or war-torn states. What is the situation in more stable countries?

Seventy-two percent of all terrorist attacks occur in conflict zones. If we move outside of those we find terrorism in a number of other countries. Mexico had an increase in terrorism. Turkey lost 57 lives in terrorist attacks, 53 of them from IS. You have terrorism in countries like India, mainly related to communist and separatist groups. Thailand has levels of terrorism as well - the Muslim separatists in the south there.

How do you count the victims of terrorism in a country like Syria, where even the UN has given up estimating the total fatalities of the civil war?

What we use is the database developed by the START group of the University of Maryland in the United States. That is the most comprehensive database on terrorism activities in the world. START uses two mechanisms: One is a trawler which goes through all newspaper articles from many different parts of the world. Then people check the articles in isolation and see whether they meet the criteria specified for a terrorist attack. In a country like Syria counting every terrorist attack fully and accurately would be very difficult. That is a reality. But my sense is that if anything Syria would be under-counted rather than over-counted.

After 9/11, the so-called war on terror became a priority for the United States and many other Western countries, but the number of deaths caused by terrorism has risen sharply from 4,000 in 2002 to almost 18,000 in 2013. Why have counterterrorism strategies failed?

In Afghanistan it is very hard to argue that the military response wasn't appropriate. But what was not done was backing it up with a whole lot of other initiatives which create what we term civil societies. An example of this would be the Karzai government in Afghanistan, which was exceptionally corrupt. It did not have the backing of many of the different groups within Afghanistan and certainly it had lots of extrajudicial killings and torture and such. To build what we term a civil society requires a lot more than military intervention and then killing the bad guys. It comes down to really constructive state building.

What can be done against the spread of terrorism?

I'd say there are four things that can be done. One is the need to reduce the level of state-sponsored terror; that's extrajudicial killings and torture. The second would be to try as best as possible to address the various group grievances within these countries. Both those first two undermine the reasons why people would want to join terrorist groups. The general level of violence you have to address through more effective and community supported policing. None of those things are particularly easy to do. The other thing that is really important is supporting moderate forms of Islam, of Sunni theologies. That in a way takes away the moral justification that they are fighting for something good. This again is not easy and this is something that needs to be run from the moderate Sunni nations.

Steve Killelea is a high technology entrepreneur in business development and works on sustainable development and peace with the Institute for Economics and Peace.

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