Articles misleadingly claim Nigeria ranks 'second most terrorised country'

·5 min read

A decade-long insurgency in Nigeria, farmer-herder clashes, banditry, frequent kidnappings and violent separatist agitations have seen Nigeria featured on various lists of countries most targeted by terrorism. Articles in Nigeria recently reported that the country was the second most terrorised in the world in the first half of 2022, citing figures from a Swiss-based firm. However, this is misleading: the rankings produced by Jihad Analytics in Geneva clearly state they incorporate attacks claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group only and exclude other global and homegrown terrorist outfits.

On September 2, 2022, Vanguard newspaper published an article under a headline that read: “Nigeria’s 2nd most terrorised country after Iraq – report (sic)”.

A screenshot of the Vanguard report, taken on September 9, 2022

The newspaper linked to the article in a Facebook post that has been shared more than 400 times.

Other news sites carried almost identical reports here, here, and here.

All of them cite a “report” compiled by Jihad Analytics (JA), a consultancy in Geneva that monitors terrorism.

However, the claim that Nigeria is second only to Iraq as the most terrorised nation lacks context.

Attacks by IS only

The news reports were based on information tweeted by JA on July 1, 2022.

The tweet contained two graphs, one showing the scale of IS attacks globally for the first half of the year.

Jihad Analytics' graph shows the number of IS-claimed attacks in 19 countries in H1 2022 ( JIHAD ANALYTICS / )


The second one maps those attacks monthly.

In total, 19 countries are featured in the graphs. According to the findings, Nigeria has suffered the second highest number of attacks claimed by IS this year – 305 in total from January to June.

Nowhere is it stated, though, that the data used to compile the graphs offer a global view of all terrorist activities, nor does JA make the claim that Nigeria is the second most terrorised state in the world.

Furthermore, the extent of the cited “report” by JA is nothing more than a single tweet and some brief analysis by founder Damian Ferré.

“This year, so far, the Islamic State has claimed more than half of its attacks in #Africa,” reads the tweet.

“Iraq still #IS most active province. Peak during Ramadân. Deadliest operations in Afghanistan. Expansion to new areas + upsurge in the attacks at #Christians in Nigeria, Mozambique and DRC.”

Ranking terrorism

Ferré confirmed to AFP Fact Check that his expertise lies in analysing and monitoring IS and its affiliates. He said his work spans nine years and in all, he has a dataset of 28,000 attacks claimed by IS.

The “graph only shows IS-claimed attacks over the world, not all attacks conducted by ‘terrorist’ groups,” said Ferre.

Jacob Zenn, the editor of Terrorism Monitor and a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, told AFP Fact Check that JA data “is inherently speculative” and that it may be “impossible to track with a high level of accuracy”.

However, he said, “it is not unrealistic to suggest (IS affiliate) ISWAP (Islamic State in West Africa) has terrorised Nigeria as much as, if not more than, any other terrorist group has terrorised its country.”

Comparatively, the much larger Global Terrorism Index (GTI) uses an expanded definition of states impacted by terrorism and covers 163 countries, each ranked according to a score.

GTI, which is published by the Institute for Economics and Peace, a nonprofit and independent think-tank based in Sydney, Australia, releases a comprehensive annual report.

This year’s edition saw Nigeria move up into 6th place.

A screenshot of the Global Terrorism Index ranking of countries for 2022, taken on September 10, 2022

GTI acknowledges the complexity of trying to define terrorism on page 7 of its report.

“Defining terrorism is not a straightforward matter. There is no single internationally accepted definition of what constitutes terrorism and the terrorism literature abounds with competing definitions and typologies.”

GTI does, however, specify what it considers to be an act of terrorism – “the systematic threat or use of violence, by non-state actors, whether for or in opposition to established authority, with the intention of communicating a political, religious or ideological message to a group larger than the victim group, by generating fear and so altering (or attempting to alter) the behaviour of the larger group.”

A screenshot showing the Global Terrorism Index context for ranking, taken on September 14, 2022 ( GTI)

While IS-affiliated ISWA, and to a lesser extent Boko Haram (since the demise of its leader), are noted in the report to be the dominant terror groups in Nigeria, other extremists have played a part in actively destabilising the country. 

Terrorism in Nigeria

Jihadist group Boko Haram began a violent campaign for an Islamic caliphate in parts of the country’s northeast in 2009. In 2015 the group pledged allegiance to IS, simultaneously escalating its attacks on military and soft targets, and forcing the postponement of the 2015 general elections by six weeks.

Splinter group ISWAP emerged a year later and in turn, was backed by IS.

But apart from these two groups, Nigeria is bedevilled by deadly clashes between farmers and herders, activities of terror gangs (referred to as bandits by Nigerian media) which have made kidnapping a lucrative business, and separatist uprisings.

Between 2015 and 2021, Nigeria increased spending on security to N8 trillion (about $19.4 billion) as it battled insurgencies on different fronts.

Ikemesit Effiong, the head of research at SBM Intelligence, a Lagos-based risk consultancy and geopolitical intelligence firm, said the JA data should be read in context.

“If the matter of Islamic State-inspired terror, which is activities carried out by one group, albeit one of the primary global proponents of institutional terror, then the data has some credence,” Effiong said.

“Accounting for the full range of terrorist threats, certain parts of Central and South America as well as Asia will be more prominent. Nigeria is certainly one of the most terrorised countries in the world, it just likely may not rank as high as the given sample (by JA) suggests.”