Countries Most Affected By Terrorism

Iraq and Afghanistan are the countries most affected by terrorism.
Iraq and Afghanistan are the countries most affected by terrorism.
  • Afghanistan, Iraq, and Nigeria lead the world as the countries most affected by terrorism worldwide.
  • ISIL, ISIS, the Taliban, Fulani extremists, and Boko Haram, of which some are interrelated, were there groups responsible for the vast majority of global terrorism in 2018.
  • While deaths from terrorism have dropped greatly since the peak in 2014, far-right violence and extremism is now on the rise in the West.

Terrorism is a problem in our world today. While it is something we hear of too often and we can therefore assume it is a new phenomenon, unfortunately, this type of violence has been a negative force throughout the history of humankind. According to Oxford Languages, by definition, terrorism is “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.”

Terrorism most often occurs in nations that are home to violent conflicts. In fact, sources indicate that in 2018, about 95% of all global acts of terrorism occured in countries experiencing violent conflict. In keeping with this trend, Iraq has been the country the most impacted by terrorism in recent decades. It passed a benchmark however, so to speak, and in 2019, for the first time since 2003 this nation did not top the list referenced here, which could be something to be celebrated.  

How do we measure who is experiencing the most terrorism? The Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP), which is a non-profit think tank focused on fostering world peace headquartered in Sydney, Australia has developed a system used to rank countries. This system is called the Global Terrorism Index (GTI). It is based on the Global Terrorism Database (GTD). The GTD is an open-source collection that records terrorist events in the world since 1970. These include intentional acts of violence perpetrated by sub-national (non-state) actors that are aimed at attaining a goal that is either religious, economic, social, or political in nature. 

By analyzing the information available in the GTD, creators of the GTI give countries a score based on the terrorist activity they have experienced. These nations are then ranked accordingly. A score of 0 indicates there were no acts of terrorism, and 10, the highest level of terrorist activity possible. 

Using this system, in 2018 Afghanistan, Iraq, and Nigeria topped the list of countries impacted the most by terrorism in the world. 

Muslim protesters march on Las Ramblas Streets in memory of 13 individuals who died during a terrorist attack. Barcelona, Spain, 2017. Image credit: Evan McCaffrey/Shutterstock

1. Afghanistan: 9.6

In 2018, Afghanistan overtook Iraq as the worst country for terrorism on Earth. This nation was home to suicide bombings, explosions, assailant attacks and other horrific acts of violence. Sadly, it was the site of well over 7,300 deaths from terrorism in 2018, and home to 16 of the 20 most fatal terrorist attacks in the same year. Since 2001, a striking 30,000 civilians have died in the name of terrorism in Afghanistan. 

Why is this country so riddled with violence? Afghanistan's troubles began decades ago. In the mid-1990s, the country's communist regime fell when Soviet troops, which had been occupying Afghanistan, withdrew themselves. This set things into a tailspin, and there was a breakdown in civil order. The group known as the Taliban then emerged from the rubble. This is an ultraconservative religious and political group, originally made up of students trained in Islamic religious schools. 

The Taliban sought to restore social order in Afghanistan (or at least their view of what social order should be, as they are heavily criticized on their views of women's role in society and on freedom of religion and expression). They did so by fighting off warlords in the southern areas. The group succeeded in taking over almost the whole country by 2001, but was then driven from power by the US and its allies shortly thereafter. This happened when the Taliban refused to extradite Osama Bin Laden following the deadly attack on the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001. 

The Taliban and the Khorasan Chapter of the Islamic State are often at war with each other in Afghanistan. They are also in conflict with what is now the country’s central government. These two extremist groups are behind the vast majority of terrorism in Afghanistan.

The Khorasan Chapter of the Islamic State is part of ISIS, also known as ISIL, a group with a violent ideology that is based in extremist conservative Islam. The Taliban tends to focus its fight in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan only, whereas the Khorasan Chapter has been known to attack globally, using Afghanistan as a hub. 

2. Iraq: 9.24

ISIL is also very active in Iraq, contributing to this country’s high level of terrorism. ISIL was behind 76% of all deaths from terrorism in Iraq in 2018. In this same year, 1,054 people died from terrorism in the country, and vast amount of attacks were on private property and citizens. 

One of the goals of ISIL is to control more territory in Iraq, with the aim of taking over. Reports indicate that while deaths from terrorism in Iraq dipped in 2018, ISIL is still operating in rural areas of the country. 

"Bring Back Our Girls" demonstration against the massive kidnapping by the terrorist group Boko Haram of 276 girls in a girls' school in Chibok, Nigeria. Barcelona, Spain, 2014. Image credit: VCalvo/Shutterstock

3. Nigeria: 8.59

Terrorist violence in Nigeria is largely committed by Fulani extremists and Boko Haram. Together, these two groups were responsible for about 86% of all terrorism-related deaths in 2018. The Fulani are traditionally nomadic cattle herders in the Northern part of Nigeria, who are of Muslim faith. Boko Haram is part of the Islamic State, and acts as a jihadist terrorist organization. Both groups are fighting to gain control of areas within Nigeria, causing violence. 

In 2018, there were 562 acts of terrorism committed in Nigeria, and over 2,000 people died. Most attacks were on private citizens and property.  Some violence has occurred due to new anti-grazing legislation that has put cattle herders at odds with the government. 

Despite All the Bad, Some Good

There were some positives to be found in the global terrorism scene in 2018. Deaths from terrorist act were actually 52% lower than they were at their peak in 2014, which is very good news. Things could be calming down. That being said, far-right terrorism is now increasing in the West. Violent terrorist incidents committed in Western Europe, Oceania and North America in the past five years have increased by a whopping 320%. Action is needed globally to stop the pace of violence and to promote worldwide peace as a real possibility. 

Countries Most Affected By Terrorism

RankCountry2019 Global Terrorism Index Score (on 10)
10Democratic Republic of the Congo7.04
14Central African Republic6.62
17South Sudan6.32
22United States5.69

More in World Facts