Far-right terrorism increased in the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe in 2017, even as overall terrorism deaths fell for the third consecutive year, according to a new report.
While they comprise a tiny fraction of total terrorism deaths and the overall threat picture is “encouraging,” the report’s author told ABC News, the rise of right-wing attacks has been an “increasing trend” in recent years.
“The Islamic terrorists made terrorism fashionable, as sick as it may be,” said Steve Killelea, the founder and executive chairman of the Institute for Economics and Peace, an Australian think tank that publishes the Global Terrorism Index annually, and their use of it as a tool has begun spreading to right-wing groups.
In particular, there were 31 right-wing terror attacks in North America in 2017, a threefold increase from the previous highest number of 10 attacks in 2015. That included the Charlottesville, Virginia, protests where a white nationalist protester killed one woman and injured at least 19 others in a vehicle attack, and the knife attack on a Portland, Oregon, train where two people were killed by a white nationalist.
It’s a trend that appears to have continued into 2018, with the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue killing 11 people and the murder of two elderly African American men in Jeffersontown, Kentucky.
Still, right-wing terrorism killed 17 people globally, out of 18,814 deaths in 2017, according to the report.
Killelea said that more research needs to be conducted on the trend, but almost all the attacks are lone actors, not members of a well organized group like ISIS or al Qaeda.
“A lot of it would come back to the people who are alienated from the system, alienated from society,” he told ABC News. “It’s people disgruntled at the system, feeling alienated, and turning up to express their anger.”
He said the same anger and disillusionment have fueled populist political campaigns that have taken control of governments in the U.S. and some European countries and sparked protests like those over fuel prices in France this week.
But the overall picture is an “encouraging” one, in large part due to the collapse of ISIS’s control in Iraq and Syria. Although it’s unclear how many fighters remain and the group is returning to traditional terror tactics like car bombings and kidnappings, the loss of territory has meant fewer deaths in Iraq and Syria and fewer plots carried out in Europe.
Terrorism deaths were down over 5,000 in Iraq from 2016 to 2017 and over 1,000 in Syria, according to the report.
In Europe, there were more attacks in 2017, and eight countries in Western Europe recorded at least one death — the highest number in the past 20 years. But the number of deaths dropped significantly year to year, from 827 to 204 — a sign that ISIS’s “ability to plan and coordinate larger scale terrorist attacks has reduced and that increase counterterrorism measures are working, at least in the short term,” the report found.
The threat is still present, as evidenced in major attacks like the killing spree in Spain in August 2017, and with ISIS’s decline, there are still lone actors inspired by the group or its rivals like al Qaeda.
While the Trump administration has focused its attention on the terror threat from Iran, which it calls the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, Killelea said the majority of terror groups are Sunni Muslims, not Shia like Iran, and constitute a stronger threat.
“The bulk of the terrorism doesn’t originate from Iran,” he added.