Deadly threats persist: deaths from terrorist activity up 20%, says Janes

Report this content

2020 full-year terrorism figures from Janes highlight 2,543 more deaths in 2020 from terrorist activity than in 2019 – despite operational activity slowing down.

Data from the 2020 Global Attack Index by Janes, spanning the entirety of 2020, demonstrates a total of 17,122 non-militant deaths in 2020 resulting from attacks by non-state armed groups (NSAG), a 17.4% increase from 2019.  Despite this, information from the trusted global agency for open-source defence intelligence recorded a 3.7% decrease in attacks – with 13,310 attacks by NSAG recorded from open-sources.

“The overall downturn in attacks can be largely attributed to the July ceasefire in Ukraine’s Donbass region, which resulted in attacks dropping by one-third in the high-tempo separatist conflict,” said Matthew Henman, head of Terrorism and Insurgency at Janes. “This decrease masked major shifts in violence in Afghanistan and key conflict zones in sub-Saharan Africa, though, where attacks and resultant fatalities rose dramatically.”

Deadlier than ever: rise in attacks in Afghanistan propels it to top spot

In 2020, Janes recorded 2,373 NSAG attacks in Afghanistan – making it the most dangerous country in terms of attacks recorded. Concurrently, it also took the spot as the deadliest country, with the 6,617 fatalities recorded by Janes representing a 15.9% increase from the annual total recorded in Afghanistan in 2019.

“The fatality total accounted for more than one-third (38.6%) of all non-militant fatalities worldwide, and was higher than the cumulative total of the next six deadliest countries,” said Henman. “Across 2020, the most attacks were recorded in Afghanistan – while the country, coupled with Syria and Ukraine, cumulatively accounted for more than half of all attacks worldwide.”

Janes notes that the increasing violence in Afghanistan was driven almost exclusively by Taliban attacks targeting the security forces, following a peace deal signed with the US government in February 2020.

“The Taliban further challenged the Afghan state for control of territory across the year, “as the group pushed to both degrade security force capabilities and further strengthen its position for nascent peace talks with the government,” said Henman.“Attacks in Syria and Ukraine decreased by 29.1% and 36.5% respectively between 2019 and 2020, both offsetting the significant rise in Afghanistan and somewhat accounting for the overall decrease in attacks. Interestingly, there was a 50% increase in attacks recorded in Iraq, rising to 1,466 in 2020.”

Islamic State – pending resurgence in the heartlands

“The increase in attacks in Iraq was largely driven by the Islamic State’s Wilayat al-Iraq, or Iraq province, which accounted for half of all recorded Islamic State attacks worldwide in 2020. Low-level asymmetric operations by the group rose in tempo across the year, alongside periodic mass-casualty attacks, underlining the slow but steady resurgence of the group following its territorial defeat in Iraq in November 2017” said Henman.

Janes data shows that attacks by the Islamic State rose 2.9%, indicating a degree of stabilisation following consecutive years of decreasing attack totals since 2016, while fatalities resulting from these attacks grew by 16.8%.

“The rise in fatalities was principally a consequence of mass-casualty operations conducted by the Islamic State’s West Africa province in the Lake Chad basin and the tri-border Sahel area,” said Henman.

Janes also recorded a significant increase in operational tempo by the Islamic State’s Central Africa province in northeast Mozambique, where local militants continued to challenge the security forces for control of key urban and commercial locations in Cabo Delgado province.

ADF drives massive rise in DRC violence

Across 2020 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Janes recorded double the number of attacks from 2019, while resultant fatalities more than tripled. Indeed, the DRC was second only to Afghanistan in terms of recorded non-militant fatalities in 2020. Janes data shows this major increase in both attacks and fatalities was driven by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which conducted repeated attacks on the civilian population in the provinces of Nord Kivu and Ituri.

About Janes (

The Janes stamp of trust means supplying our customers with timely, validated, unbiased and relevant intelligence in a world crowded with increasingly unreliable information. With an unmatched legacy of more than 120 years, Janes has adapted, expanded, and developed its unique tradecraft while transitioning from a traditional military publisher to the leading global agency for open-source defence intelligence.