'Unprecedented' rise in deaths from terrorism: Study

Mourners carry the coffin of Adel Tormos, who had tried to stop a bomber from entering a Shiites mosque full of worshipers during the Beirut bombings on Nov 12, 2015.
Mourners carry the coffin of Adel Tormos, who had tried to stop a bomber from entering a Shiites mosque full of worshipers during the Beirut bombings on Nov 12, 2015.PHOTO: EPA

LONDON (AFP) - The number of people killed globally in terrorist attacks jumped 80 per cent last year to the highest level ever recorded, the Institute for Economics and Peace said on Tuesday (Nov 17).

The Global Terrorism Index found that 32,658 people were killed by terrorists in 2014, up from the 18,111 fatalities of the previous year, the largest increase on record.

The study defines terrorism as "the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation".

Nigeria-based Boko Haram and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group were responsible for more than half of the deaths, according to the study, which measures attacks, deaths and damage from terror attacks in 162 countries.

"Terrorism is gaining momentum at an unprecedented pace," said Steve Killelea, the executive chairman of the Institute of Economics and Peace, which produces the study.

The increase followed a 61 per cent rise in 2013.

The study found that terrorism was highly concentrated, with the five countries of Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria accounting for 78 per cent of deaths last year.

Iraq was the worst affected with 9,929 deaths from terrorism - suffering both the highest number of attacks and the most fatalities from terrorism ever recorded by a country.

The biggest rise in fatalities from terrorism however was in Nigeria, which saw an increase of over 300 per cent in deaths to 7,512.

Western states were much less at risk from attacks, which were most likely to be perpetrated by lone wolves driven by political extremism, nationalism or racial and religious supremacy rather than Islamic fundamentalism, according to the study.

Britain suffered greatest number of terrorist incidents in the West, mostly relating to Irish republican paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, it found.

Nevertheless, attacks claimed by ISIS in Paris that killed at least 129 last week could prove to be a milestone, according to Killelea.

"The Paris incident in many ways is a watershed within Europe. It shows that ISIL has the capabilities to be able to launch sophisticated and deadly attacks in Europe," Killelea said, using the other name for ISIS.

He warned that foreign fighters who had travelled to Iraq and Syria, estimated to number between 25,000 and 30,000 since 2011, could prove a risk.

"The returning fighters from Syria will have the military training," Killelea said.

"The tactics of ISIS are changing. They are targeting more private citizens. It's difficult - taking the time frame forward two years - to see the ISIS threat disappearing." The study estimated that the economic cost of terrorism amounted to US$52.9 billion (S$75 billion), the highest ever level and a tenfold increase since 2000.