Is ISIS the Most Dangerous Jihadist Group In History? Is It Even the Most Dangerous Today?

Florida Senator and Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio, in an attempt to display homeland security credentials, made a bold statement on the Islamic State: “ISIS is the most dangerous jihadist group in the history of mankind,” Rubio said, as transcribed by the Washington Post.

There you have it, folks. Rubio has a grasp on the issues and has the knowhow to take on ISIS as president. Case closed.

However, there is one little issue with Rubio’s conclusion: ISIS is not even the most dangerous jihadist group today, based on number of deaths by terrorism.

That distinction goes to Boko Haram, which operates mainly in Nigeria but also carries out attacks in surrounding countries.

Based on the 2015 Global Terrorism Index, the number of terrorism deaths in 2014 by Boko Haram was 6,644, compared to 6,073 for ISIS.

The numbers for 2015 are still not tallied, but based on my semi-scientific method of checking Wikipedia (here and here) and tallying the numbers myself, there were about 3,500 documented terrorism deaths by Boko Haram, and 2,100 by ISIS. Boko Haram was also responsible for what was likely the single largest terrorist attack of 2015, the Baga massacre, whose casualty estimates range from around 150 to over 2,000. Based on the more generous estimates, that would make it the deadliest terrorist attack since September 11, 2001.

There are still a number of attacks whose responsibility is not yet certain, so some guesstimating was required on my part for the 2015 tallies. Additionally, death tolls for West African terrorist attacks are mostly rough estimates compared to those for the Middle East, in part because of less equipped governments and because of Boko Haram not announcing its death tolls each day on the Internet ala ISIS.

Granted, someone might argue that Boko Haram is part of ISIS, given that the former has pledged allegiance to the latter. However, Boko Haram operates independently.

Also, it is not entirely clear how many people have been killed by ISIS through non-terrorism means – namely executions and even people who may have died from poor quality of life in ISIS-controlled territory.

And ISIS can take comfort in knowing that they are responsible for far more deaths in battles than Boko Haram. Based on the Global Terrorism Index, ISIS engaged in battles involving legitimate armies that accounted for around 20,000 dead in 2014, whereas Boko Haram was responsible for around a few hundred.

So Rubio does have a point.