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4 Tendencies in Global Terrorism Raphael Perl, Action Against Terrorism Unit, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe I will begin with a general discussion of trends in terrorism. I will then highlight some trends identified by the U.S. government, drawing heavily on two documents: (1) the Department of Stateâs latest version of Country Reports on Terrorism, which covers reports for 2005,1 and (2) an unclassified version of an April 2006 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which includes key judg- ments relating to terrorist activity.2 I will conclude with some personal observa- tions on these evolving tendencies. DEFINING TERRORIST TENDENCIES Trends in terrorism can be defined as changes in incidents, attitudes, and other factors over time. Trends can be important indicators of levels and types of terrorist activity, can help governments formulate responsive counterterrorism strategies, and can assist both policy makers and policy implementers in allocat- ing resources effectively. Standing alone, a trend is not necessarily good or bad. It depends on the out- come. For example, a trend by terrorist groups to focus on megaterrorist events might result in an overall decrease in casualties from smaller acts of terrorism over an extended period of time. If measures to counter or defend against such mega-events prove effective, the net result is a decrease in casualties. 25
26 COUNTERING TERRORISM Of bottom-line importance is whether the overall momentum of terrorist activity is growing or declining. A relevant issue is the degree to which govern- ment bureaucratic institutions can work smoothly together and stay ahead of the methods utilized by individual terrorists and terrorist networks. Important as well is improvement in recovery capabilities of states following terrorist acts. Another pertinent factor is the growth or decline of phenomena perceived by terrorists as directly related to advancing their cause or detracting from it, such as the number of governments that embrace appeasement policies and the amount of media coverage their groups receive. A related issue is how the policies of governments such as the United States and Russia affect popular support for and recruiting by terrorists. Governments need to collect meaningful trend data, even if the data are unfavorable toward them. As the global economic, political, and technological landscape evolves, and as terrorists seek to surprise and attack the enemy through more fluid organizational structures and new innovative approaches, the nature of the data being collected needs to change. A major challenge facing the counterter- rorism community is the need to facilitate acquisition and incorporation of new data indicative of trends while maintaining the continuity of earlier findings. Trends in terrorism are often shaped by trends in counterterrorism. One trend frequently cited in the media is the decentralization of al Qaeda, which is arguably the result of aggressive U.S. targeting of the organization, its leadership, and its command-and-control capabilities. Hardening U.S. government physical infrastructure overseas or at home might encourage terrorists to shift the focus of attacks to softer nongovernment targets. Similarly, government implementation of better systems to evaluate the authenticity and content of travel documents at lawful ports of entry might prompt terrorists to switch from the legal entry tac- tics employed by the September 11, 2001, hijackers to illegal border crossings at unsecured locations. Familiarity with future U.S. counterterrorism strategy and tactics and the strategies of other nations is therefore essential for predicting and understanding future terrorist responses. SIGNIFICANCE OF TERRORISM TENDENCIES Understanding trends in terrorist activity can assist policy makers in several areas, including (1) better protecting the nation against terrorist attacks, (2) better targeting terrorists and terrorist activity, (3) better prioritizing antiterror resources, and (4) showing antiterror progress when it has been achieved. It is natural to assume that decreases in terrorist activity, or even slowing the rate of increase, reflect progress in antiterror efforts. However, this type of mea- surement may underestimate the varied and multidimensional nature of terrorist actions. The often asymmetric, nonlinear nature of terrorist operations, frequently characterized by abrupt changes, increases the deadliness of the threat and may
TENDENCIES IN GLOBAL TERRORISM 27 necessitate more comprehensive measurements of trends to reflect this additional danger more accurately. A common pitfall of governments seeking to identify or enumerate trends is overreliance on quantitative indicators at the expense of their qualitative signifi- cance. One qualitatively creative incident may immediately prove to be a trend by sparking copycat follow-on terror incidents with a resultant change in terroristsâ strategy, tactics, and targets. TENDENCIES IDENTIFIED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE Each year, the Department of State produces an annual report on terrorism that is considered by many to be one of the best analyses of global terrorist ac- tivity. The Country Reports on Terrorism 2005 and the underlying data portray a threat from radical jihadists that is becoming more widespread, diffuse, and deadly and increasingly homegrown. This phenomenon of looser, more local net- works was manifest in the July 2005 terrorist attacks on Londonâs transit system, in attacks the previous year on trains in Madrid, and more recently in the June 2006 arrests of 12 men and 5 juveniles in Ontario. The current report concentrates on terrorist activity for 2005, and trends for 2006 are expected to parallel those identified in this talk. Three trends are identified by the Department of State as follows: â¢ Microactors are a new phenomenon. This development is spurred by perceived U.S. and allied successes in isolating and killing much of al Qaedaâs centralized leadership, thereby reducing its centralized command-and-control capability. The result is an al Qaeda that is assuming more of an ideological and propaganda role rather than an operational role, with the operational component of the movement increasingly being assumed by small autonomous cells and individuals, often homegrown. Such operatives are likely to be technologically savvy, and because they are new to the terrorism landscape, their decentralized actions can be extremely difficult to detect or counter. A logical outcome from such a development is likely to be a growing number of microactors in future ter- rorist attacks, particularly those involving conventional bombs and bullets. These microactors are relatively unseasoned and unskilled in terrorism tradecraft. â¢ Sophistication is the second trend. Increasingly, terrorists are exploit- ing the global interchange of information, finance, and ideas to their benefit. They are also improving their technological sophistication across many areas of operational planning, communications, targeting, and propaganda. The ef- fective worldwide orchestration of a campaign against publication by a Danish newspaper of cartoons degrading the Prophet Mohammed is an example of such sophistication. â¢ Overlap with international crime is a third trend reflected in the report. Such a trend, to the extent that terrorists do indeed use the same networks used
28 COUNTERING TERRORISM by criminal groups, creates a major vulnerability. The more terrorists engage in nonterror forms of criminal activity, the more likely they are to show up on the law enforcement radar screen. Also cited in the report is an increase in suicide bombings,3 as well as a strong connection between Iraq and the broader war on terrorism. Terror inci- dents in Iraq, according to the report, accounted for almost one-third of all terror incidents in 2005 and more than one-half of all terror-related deaths worldwide. Moreover, there is concern among many that Iraq will become an exporter of seasoned terrorists, weapons, and tactics, especially the use of improvised explo- sive devices (IEDs), with âspilloverâ not only into the neighboring Gulf region but also into Europe and other regions. Of course, it is interesting to consider the trend data without including the special case of Iraq. In short, the State Departmentâs Country Reports on Terrorism 2005 sup- ports the contention that the threat from small terrorist groups or lone terrorists is rising, as is the potential for such microactors to inflict deadly harm and costly economic damage. Such a trend, according to the report, could mean that the im- mediate future will bring âa larger number of smaller attacks, less meticulously planned, and local rather than transnational in scope.â TENDENCIES IDENTIFIED IN THE APRIL 2006 U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE ESTIMATE National Intelligence Estimates are widely considered to reflect the collective judgment of the U.S. intelligence community at the time of their compilation. An unclassified version of key judgments from an April 2006 NIE relating to trends in global terrorism identifies what can be broadly characterized as 10 basic ten- dencies in global terrorism. The tendencies are as follows: 1. The number of jihadists is increasing worldwide, in terms of both num- bers and geographic dispersion. 2. We will continue to see an increasing number of terrorist attacks against the United States and U.S. interests worldwide. 3. The threat from self-radicalized terrorists and groups will likely increase. 4. Terrorists will increasingly employ IEDs, widely used in Iraq, on soft targets outside Iraq. 5. Fighters trained in Iraq will likely provide leadership to terrorist groups outside Iraq. 6. Jihadist groups will continue to seek chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear capabilities. 7. A rise in radical ideologies (other than jihadist) can be expected. It is anticipated that to some degree this rise will be rooted in anti-U.S. and antiglo-
TENDENCIES IN GLOBAL TERRORISM 29 balization sentiment and that such groups may increasingly resort to terrorist tactics. 8. Terrorist groups will increasingly rely on the Internet to communicate, propagandize, recruit, and train adherents and to obtain logistical and financial support. 9. Europe will remain an important venue for recruitment and staging of terrorist attacks as well as a key target for terrorist attacks. 10. We can expect an overall ongoing trend towards urban terrorist attacks, which relates directly to the topic of our meeting today.4 A PERSONAL ASSESSMENT OF BASIC TERRORIST TENDENCIES I would now like to provide some personal thoughts on the evolution of basic terrorist tendencies. Some of my views have been incorporated or are in the process of being incorporated into U.S. government assessments. Others, however, are not. â¢ Generally, the use of terrorism as a tactic is becoming more frequent, more geographically widespread, and more deadly. Statistical data provided by the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) indicate steady annual increases in the number of terrorist incidents in a growing number of locations. At the same time, NCTC data indicate that a smaller number of incidents are resulting in a higher number of persons killed or injured. â¢ Terrorism is becoming more indiscriminate in its choice of victims. Casualties include not just combatants, Westerners, and non-Muslims. Targeting is less directed to specific individuals. â¢ Muslims are increasingly becoming victims of jihadist terrorism. This tendency will increase as Muslim versus Muslim conflict spills over into Europe. â¢ Terrorism is becoming more focused on economic targets and causing economic damage. The energy infrastructure will increasingly become a target, and the financial infrastructure may well follow. If our economic system cannot deliver concrete benefits to the worldâs masses, the pool of angry and dissatisfied masses will grow, and terrorists will continue to hijack this dissatisfaction and channel and manipulate it for their causes. â¢ Jihadist terrorism is increasingly becoming an equal opportunity move- ment. Groups are actively recruiting non-Muslims, women, and youth. â¢ Terrorism is becoming more multidimensional. Groups like Hamas and Hezbollah have long had political, social, and religious, as well as military, com- ponents. Such groups fill important social service vacuums, obtaining popular support. â¢ Increasingly, we see a blurring between terrorism and organized crime. This means the emergence of more hybrid organizations. At some point, this may
30 COUNTERING TERRORISM result in a change to the definition of terrorism where the defining characteristic will be the tactic used and not the motivation behind its use. â¢ Terrorist groups will increasingly rely on each other for logistical sup- port. This phenomenon has become more widespread in India. â¢ Explosive devices will likely be used as dispersion mechanisms for chemical agents to be spread beyond Israel to Iraq, Europe, and elsewhere. Cur- rently, groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas add rat poison, a powerful antico- agulant, to conventional explosives for the purpose of increasing casualties. It will likely not be long before other groups âpiggybackâ on this innovative tactic with other, perhaps more lethal, forms of chemical agents. â¢ I expect we will see an increase in well-orchestrated acts of terrorism against large systems. A significant number of jihadist leaders and key operatives have engineering training, and engineers think in terms of systems and networks. Included here are more multiple attacks, attacks on first responders, and more attacks on urban centers. Increasingly, urban centers are viewed by terrorist groups as a system. Terrorists seek to disrupt the functioning of the system to the maximum extent possible. â¢ We will continue to see an increase in the number of anonymous terror- ist incidents or the number of terrorist incidents that are claimed in a way that masks the true identity of those committing them. This trend is largely rooted in three factors: (1) fear of government response, (2) a desire to amplify fear and mystery surrounding the group, and (3) publicity fading as a goal of some terror- ist strikes. â¢ The phenomenon of self-radicalization and homegrown terrorism will escalate. This will especially be the case in Europe, where Muslim immigrant communities often perceive themselves as subject to discrimination and as not having strong local roots. â¢ Terrorism will prove to be increasing costly to societies, in both the economic costs of added security and the trade-offs of civil liberties for en- hanced security. It is estimated that the increased global macroeconomic costs of added security in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks exceed $1 trillion. Moreover, many suggest that the greatest threat posed to societies by terrorism is the threat to the continued existence of democracies with their wide range of freedoms as we now know them. â¢ I also expect that we will see more terrorism, much more terrorism. As the gap between the âhavesâ and âhave-notsâ continues to rise dramatically, terrorists will increasingly sow their intolerance, hatred, and extremism and will recruit from the dissatisfied. On the other hand, as use of terrorism as a tactic grows and evolves, so does our recognition and understanding of the threat and its basic tendencies. Our experience in containing terrorism without overreacting is growing as well.
TENDENCIES IN GLOBAL TERRORISM 31 Notes 1. See www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/crt/c17689.htm. Note that the Country Reports on Terrorism ver- sion for 2007, which will cover 2006, is not expected to deviate markedly from its characterization of the terrorist threat for 2005. 2. See Declassified Key Judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate âTrends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,â dated April 2006. Available online at www.dni.gov/ press_releases/Declassified_NIE_Key_Judgments.pdf. 3. Note, however, that although the total number of suicide bombings increased in 2005, it is not fully clear that the ratio of suicide bombings to other forms of attacks has increased concomitantly. 4. Note that the NIE does not specifically identify such an overall trend, but from its overall reading, such a tendency towards urban attacks appears implied and inherent throughout the unclas- sified summary of the document.