What We Know About Global Extremism in 2016

Foundation Update

What We Know About Global Extremism in 2016

06 May 2016

In recent years we have witnessed deplorable acts of violence in the name of religion. Conflicts between and within religious groups across the world continue to rage, claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands, and displacing millions of people. Those who distort religion for these ends are prepared to fight without hesitation, kill without mercy, and die without regret.


Defeating the scourge of religious extremism will only be possible once we grasp the scale of the challenge. If we understand it, we can formulate effective approaches to tackle it. To help us in this, every month the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics tracks incidents of religious extremism, and responses to it, around the world.

This Global Extremism Monitor confirms what we already knew: this problem is global. In the first three months of 2016, religious extremist violence affected every inhabited continent in the world, and in March alone killed at least 1,487 people. Since January we have recorded nearly 10,000 deaths, either at the hands of extremists or in counter-extremism efforts; and in March, 42 nations undertook counter-extremism activities.

This year, al-Shabaab has been the most active extremist group

Our research tells us that, so far this year, Somalia-based al-Shabaab has been the most active extremist group in the world, and was linked to 136 incidents in 2016's first quarter. Its attacks were primarily against Somali politicians and security forces, and the African Union Mission to Somalia. It also focused on taking and holding territory.

However, the high level of al-Shabaab activity did not make it the deadliest organisation. Extremist incidents involving ISIS were linked to 1,762 deaths in the first three months of 2016, compared with 571 linked to al-Shabaab in the same period. Worryingly, in April ISIS claimed its first attack in Somalia, with a military convoy hitting an improvised explosive device (IED), although the Somali military denied this.

A religious extremist attack in South America points to the global spread of violent ideologies

For the first time this year the Global Extremism Monitor recorded a religious extremist attack in South America. 
Extremist violence never happens in a vacuum, and although this may have been an isolated incident, it points to the global spread of violent ideologies. With this in mind, 2016 has also seen a steep rise in violent extremism in East and South East Asia. In March this was 12 per cent of the global total, compared with less than one per cent in January.

Extremist incidents involving ISIS linked 1,762 deaths

If you would like to know more about how we track extremist and counter-extremist incidents worldwide, you can access this month's Global Extremism Monitor, or sign-up to receive news, analysis, and briefing.

Read our most recent report on what the lives of past jihadis can tell us about global religious extremist movements, or visit our Centre on Religion & Geopolitics for analysis and commentaries.

To find out how provide practical support to counter religious conflict and extremism using education, support for collaboration, and support for leaders, please visit our project pages.