Terrorism in times of conflict

Eman Ragab
Tuesday 26 Mar 2024

Experts expect the Israeli war on Gaza to lead to a growth in terrorism and terrorist attacks, writes Eman Ragab


Political analysts predict that the war on Gaza that began on 7 October last year will cause a new surge in terrorism in the coming period. They point to evidence of how protracted conflicts, such as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, fuel terrorism, and the 2024 Global Terrorism Index (GTI) appears to bear them out.

Produced annually by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), a global think tank, the Index assesses the most important developments in the global terrorism environment during the previous year, in this case 2023. It should be born in mind that the IEP views Hamas as a terrorist entity, in line with the policies of the Western powers and some Middle Eastern countries.

Among the GTI’s most striking findings is that while the number of terrorist incidents fell by 23 per cent to 3,350 in 2023, and the number of countries reporting terrorist incidents fell as well, the number of deaths caused by terrorism rose to 8,352, a 22 per cent increase over the previous year.

These figures indicate that terrorist attacks have become more focused, mainly targeting densely populated civilian areas such as markets, tourist resorts, and schools and thereby inflicting higher casualty tolls even if the frequency of the attacks is reduced.

According to the Index, 90 per cent of the terrorist attacks in 2023 occurred in conflict zones. The Sahel region of Africa was the most impacted, accounting for around half the deaths. The Middle East and South Asia ranked second and third, respectively. The Index’s ranking of the Middle East was based primarily on the increased activity of Hamas since the start of the Gaza war.

Of the ten countries most impacted by terrorism in 2023, Burkina Faso was the hardest hit, with deaths increasing by 68 per cent despite attacks decreasing by 17 per cent. The next nine, in terms of the highest frequency of incidents, were Israel, Mali, Pakistan, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Nigeria, Myanmar, and Niger.

The GTI also ranks terrorist entities in terms of their global impact, i.e., their lethality and the geographical scope or reach of their activities. It stresses that armed conflicts are both the main incubator for terrorist entities and the environment that most enables them to sustain themselves.

It lists the Islamic State (Al-Qaeda), Hamas, Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wa-l-Muslimeen (JNIM), and Al-Shabaab as being the most lethal terrorist groups in 2023. Again, the inclusion of Hamas here is based on its role since 7 October.

As armed conflict is the main driver of terrorism, the GTI anticipates that the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and the Sahel regions will be the most impacted by terrorism in the immediate future. The conflict in Gaza, it observes, “has heightened the possibility of terror attacks in the MENA region and in states perceived as supportive of Israel.”

Regarding trends, the GTI observes a strong correlation between terrorism and organised crime and reports a growth in cross-border criminal activity in regions suffering from armed conflict. The correlation is at its clearest in the Sahel where, according to the GTI, terrorist groups such as JNIM have expanded their territorial control, with this being accompanied by a surge in kidnappings, ransom demands, and attacks on gold-mining operations.

The prospect of gold mining has driven much of JNIM’s recent expansion, according to the GTI, which further reports that kidnappings in the Sahel rose to 1,000 in 2023, up from 78 in 2017.

The disparity in the incidence of terrorism in conflict-afflicted countries and non-conflict countries is immense. The GTI calculates that 98 per cent of the victims of terrorist attacks in 2023 occurred in countries in conflict. In these countries, terrorism claimed an average of 2.7 fatalities compared to 0.48 fatalities in non-conflict countries.


The writer is director-general of the Regional Expertise Centre for Combating Drugs and Crime at NAUSS.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 28 March, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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