Caught in a terrorism turf war
The West must face up to an increased terrorism threat as rival organisations Islamic State and Al-Qaeda compete for domination of the global jihadist movement, a new report warns.
The standout change in this year’s Aon Terrorism and Political Violence Map, compiled in partnership with the Risk Advisory Group, is the number of increased risk ratings in ostensibly low-risk Western countries.
The ratings of nine developed economies – Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland and Norway – have risen, mostly due to Islamic extremism.
The rise of Islamic State has transformed the threat level and “escalated the pace and scale of radicalisation”, the report says.
“Hundreds if not thousands of people heeded the group’s calls and travelled to Syria and Iraq to join the jihad. The threat posed by returnees from those countries and other theatres of jihad, as well as those radicalised but who remain at home, has largely defined the threat.”
Al-Qaeda remains relevant despite its comparatively waning profile since the death of former leader Osama bin Laden.
“Indeed, rivalry over competing claims to supremacy of the global jihadist movement has been a defining feature of jihadism since IS emerged,” the report says. “Competition between various extremist groups is encouraging adherents to undertake attacks in the West.”
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula remains a major threat and claimed responsibility for the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices in Paris, which resulted in 12 deaths.
From a terrorism insurance perspective, the rising threat in the West “appears more oriented around direct attacks focusing on people and business interruption than property damage”.
Islamic State calls for simple opportunistic attacks using more accessible weapons such as firearms and blades, rather than bombings that require greater capabilities, the report says.
Australia’s risk rating has increased from negligible to low, and a terrorism peril has been added.
The peril was removed last year due to an absence of major plots, but has been reintroduced following the Sydney cafe attack and an increase in the official threat level.
There are also concerns over Australian residents who have returned to the country after fighting with Islamic State.
The number of plots, official warnings and increased threat levels by security agencies suggests the terrorist threat in the West “has not been as high in almost a decade”.
However, the global picture is improving, the report says.
This year, 21 countries are rated at reduced risk, while 13 have risen. In last year’s report 56 countries’ risk ratings were reduced, with only four increased.
Since 2007, 78% of all terrorist attacks have happened in 10 countries: Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Thailand, Russia, Somalia, Nigeria, Yemen and Colombia.
This is likely to change, with Russia and Colombia having experienced a notable decline and Libya and Egypt significant increases.
There are 17 countries rated severe this year, with the largest cluster in Africa and other groups in the Middle East, the Gulf of Aden and south Asia.
Risk Advisory Group Head of Intelligence and Analysis Henry Wilkinson says the report shows terrorism and geopolitical uncertainty are risks businesses cannot ignore.
“They are as relevant to developed economies as to emerging markets,” he said.
But “high risk” doesn’t mean such areas are closed for business.
“Companies can exploit the opportunities in any market with high-quality intelligence and analysis, and a strategy to navigate and manage the risks.”