Bulk of Non-State Political Violence in 2015 Took Place in Syria and Iraq

Bulk of Non-State Political Violence in 2015 Took Place in Syria and Iraq

Attacks in Ukraine up three-fold; Islamic State attacks up over 50 percent and are more than six times the numbers of next active group 

A total of 18,987 attacks in total by non-state armed groups was carried out in 2015, according to open source data collected by IHS.

Almost half of these attacks took place in Syria and Iraq and 3,317 of them, or 17 percent, were claimed by the Islamic State, according to the 2015 IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre Global Attack Index.


“For the second year in a row, the Islamic State was the most operationally-active non-state armed group,” said Matthew Henman, head of the IHS JTIC. “Underlining this, the total number of attacks claimed by or attributed to the group in 2015, increased by more than half and was more than six times higher than the nearest most active recorded group.”

The intensification of the Islamic State’s operations came as the group faced increasing territorial pressure in Iraq and Syria, with the existing, separate United States-led coalition airstrike campaigns in these countries added to by the beginning of a Russian military intervention in Syria in late September. Although the Islamic State is facing its greatest challenge to date, with territory being chiseled away in both Syria and Iraq -- notably losing control of the city of Ramadi in December -- the group’s capacity to launch operations remains largely undiminished.

Global attack numbers decrease year-on-year

The 2015 figures represented a slight 6.5 percent decrease from the recorded number of attacks in 2014 and a significant 39.8 percent decrease in the number of non-militant fatalities. This decrease in fatalities was principally driven by a seeming de-intensification of certain high-tempo conflicts, most notably in Syria, although this may have been exacerbated by an increasing absence of either verifiable open-source casualty information or breakdowns of casualty figures between militants and non-militants.

Taliban unseated by Ukrainian separatists

The growing level of violence in eastern Ukraine was reflected by the two main pro-Russia separatist organisations, the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) being in the top 10 most active non-state armed actors in 2015. “Significantly, the Donetsk People’s Republic carried out more attacks than the Taliban in 2015,” Henman said. “The 1,113 recorded attacks in Ukraine in 2015 represented an almost trebling of the 2014 total, reflecting the intensifying nature of the separatist insurgency in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.”

The actual total number of operations conducted by both the DPR and LPR was likely far higher than that recorded in open sources by IHS JTIC, with a substantial number of reports of attacks lacking key details, typically the event date, and thereby causing them to be recorded as statements rather than attacks.

US attacks almost treble

In the United States, the recorded number of attacks by non-state actors almost trebled (13 to 38) between 2014 and 2015, with a near quadrupling in the resultant non-militant fatalities (nine to 32). While two of the most high-profile of the attacks were conducted by suspected Islamist militants -- the San Bernardino shootings and the killing of five US Marines in Chattanooga -- the increase was largely driven by a growing incidence of low-level, far-right racially- or ideologically-motivated violence.

Notably, the killing of nine people at a predominantly African American church in Charleston was followed over the remainder of the year by at least nine separate arson attacks on African American churches across the southern US. There have also been notable shooting and arson attacks at Planned Parenthood clinics throughout the country.


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