Saturday, May 03, 2014

WEEKEND UPDATE: Global Terrorism

The month of April this year closed with the State Department releasing its 2013 annual global terrorism report.  As geopolitical rivalries have dominated the front pages, the report indicated that terrorist activities are still a danger to global security and US interests.  The statistics for this report are provided every year by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) with the University of Maryland.  The most publicized statistic from the report indicates that terror attacks worldwide between 2012-2013 increased by 43%.  Other numbers that highlight the rise in activity since 2012:


Of the numbers listed above, most occurred in Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Somalia, Syria, Thailand, and Yemen.  Despite the spike in numbers of attacks, over half of them fortunately did not cause any fatalities or injuries.

Other main findings revealed that an increase in terrorist violence was sectarian motivated, particularly in Syria, Lebanon, and Pakistan. The most active terrorist organizations today included the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Nigeria's Boko Haram, Somalia's Al-Shabab, and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, in Northern Africa, and the Levant.  Many of these groups have taken advantage of weak governance and instability in their regions to broaden and deepen their operations.  Branches are not only becoming more operationally autonomous, but financially as well.  There has been an increase of kidnappings as well as other transnational crimes (such as extortion and credit card fraud) that has been supporting the groups.  Furthermore, the study made note that there has been an increased presence on social media platforms.  With more visibility and a wider audience to recruit and compound the extremist threat, this is certainly a threat not just to the interests of the US, but the world.

In addition to empirical research, the report also singled out nations as state sponsors of terrorism, particularly Iran.  Other nations that were listed include Sudan, Syria, and Cuba.  Some nations, like Cuba, are speaking out on what they are calling a "spurious, unilateral, and arbitrary list."  For Cuba there are valid arguments for both side, but Cuba's designation is heavily reliant on its past support for the armed Basque separatist group (ETA).  Cuba has been on the list since 1982, and for those hopeful for a change in Washington's policies on Cuba, this is a detrimental setback for progress.  Moreover, the label ushers in more economic sanctions, on top of the trade embargo already in place.

The terrorism threat will most definitely persist.  It is not just a matter of fragmenting organizations and eradicating leadership.  The problem is much deeper and will require creative defensive tactics to inhibit the radicalization process and proliferation of extremist ideology.  The greatest problem is, is that extremist sentiments will never wholly be eradicated and with that groups and individuals will continue to mutate their tactics and operations to evade the authorities.

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