New report indicates positive trend as regards lethal terror attacks, but reality is more complex.
There is positive news in the latest edition of “Global Terrorism Index 2018”. The number of people dying in terrorist attacks is falling. In 2017, the number of deaths due to terror attacks world wide dropped by 27 percent, since 2016. The largest shift was in Iraq, which saw 5,000 fewer deaths. Even Syria, with its active amalgam of traditional civil war and terror activities, saw far fewer deaths.
The changes in Iraq and Syria are largely attributed to the increasingly limited territory that the Islamic State, IS, controls and that its number of active adherents have been pushed to a new low, with its combatant numbers believed to have been cut in half. At the same time, the report specifies that the group is expected to continue as the single most deadly terror group for the foreseeable future.
Another attributing factor is the radically shifting security and political landscape throughout Europe, where the number of deaths due to terrorist attacks have decreased by 75 percent. A more politically supported set of security implementations, such as more aggressive Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) monitoring operations and increased cooperation between civilian and military intelligence agencies throughout Europe; these efforts appear to be successful, preventing coordinated attacks by I.S.
The one place that is seeing a directly disadvantageous development is Afghanistan, where the majority of the registered deaths due to terror attacks were during 2017. At the same time, the deadliest attack of 2017 was the Al-Shabaab-orchestrated truck bomb attack in Mogadishu on October 14th, 2017. That attack resulted in at least 587 people and injured 316. The target was a secure compound housing international agencies and troops located by the crossroads near the Safari Hotel in the Hodan District, at least a kilometre from the Medina Gate.
The report further on identifies a number of concerns, inter alia, that terror groups are quickly morphing to face the increasingly hostile and capable security community across the world. In part, the terror groups’ response is returning to their roots as increasingly mobile operative cells with less focus on individual leadership and more on overarching geo-strategic goals. For instance, the Islamic State operating with such ferocity in the Philippines has little in common with the Islamic State branch which operates in Yemen or the Levant.
This is reminiscent of how al Qaeda has undergone several metamorphoses, adapting to the local landscape where key individuals wish to establish an operative safe haven and area of operations. In Yemen, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula branch quickly adopted a more humanist face, embracing Hezbollah’s proven doctrine of creating drop-in social services. This stood, at the time, in stark contrast with al Qaeda in Syria and the Levant, which is morphing into a more encompassing umbrella organization with various under groups which have little in common except for a Sunni-Salafist core.
As a result of this metamorphosis, the various groups have established themselves as aggressive counter-government militias in a variety of places. Libya, Niger and Mali, as well as countries in Southeast Asia, have been particularly vulnerable. These Areas of Operation (AOs) are also some of the most difficult areas in the world for the international security and intelligence establishment to operate successfully.
Preliminary data from this year suggests that the trend could hold, with less than ten deaths due to terror attacks having been registered in Western Europe between January and May of 2018. At the same time, the report shows that right-wing extremism is increasingly opting to enact violence to an extent that can only be classified as terroristic violence as a political instrument to further their goals.
The report also states that the number of deaths in relation to attacks from right-wing extremists, particularly of the White Power variety, have increased from only three in 2014 to seventeen in 2017. During 2017, White Power groups carried out 59 attacks, the majority of which were perpetrated by so-called lonewolf actors. As an example, the Charlottesville car attack on August 12th, 2017 resulted in one death and 28 fatalities.
Considering the nationalistic political tendencies that are presently being seen across the Western world, it appears likely that we will continue to see an ascendingly turbulent domestic security landscape not from external tactical threats, but from the local population.
The pendulum continues to swing.
[Title Image: Members of the Greek Golden Dawn Party (Milos Bicanski)]
John Sjoholm, Lima Charlie News
John Sjoholm is Lima Charlie’s Middle East Bureau Chief and founder of the consulting organization Erudite Group. He is a seasoned Middle East connoisseur, with a past in the Swedish Army’s Special Forces branch and the Security Contracting industry. He studied religion and languages in Sana’a, Yemen, and Cairo, Egypt. He lived and operated extensively in the Middle East between 2005-2012 as part of regional stabilizing projects, and currently resides in Lebanon. Follow John on Twitter @JohnSjoholmLC
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