The former two correspond to the next U.S. presidential election and the inauguration, and al-Qaida's predilection for trying to influence national politics in the United States and elsewhere, said Professor Bruce Hoffman, a renowned expert at Georgetown University. That last date is the 20th anniversary of the international terrorist group's founding.
That al-Qaida is celebrating such a birthday--and joining the ranks of other terrorist groups that have survived more than two decades, such as Hezbollah, FARC and Hamas--is a testament to the group's resurgence. Any commentary or analysis stating otherwise is mistaken, according to Hoffman.
"The fashion this spring was almost unbridled optimism," said Hoffman. "I think it's far too soon to call victory and say al-Qaida is finished."
Instead, the radical Islamic organization, as well as other groups inspired and/or led by it that might perpetrate terrorist attacks around the world, appears to be strong, getting stronger.
Hoffman spoke in late July before an insurance audience at the annual terrorism risk seminar hosted by modeling firm Risk Management Solutions Inc. The event took place at the Landmark Hudson Theatre half a block away from the heart of New York's Times Square, an apropos location considering the target that might be on the iconic landmark.
Much of Hoffman's pessimism regarding America's and other nations' ability to stymie all such plots comes from his foreboding analysis of how terrorism and counterterrorism could trend in the next several years. He sees a regrouped al-Qaida, the continued existence of terrorist sanctuaries such as the borderland between Pakistan and Afghanistan, still-active state sponsors of terrorism, the rise of Hezbollah and Hamas as political forces, and a likelihood of CBRN(chemical, biological, radioactive, nuclear) attacks that increases "daily."
"I think in the next seven years, the basic patterns will continue if not worsen," he stated.
Echoing Hoffman's cautionary message was another speaker, Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore and author of the book Inside al-Qaida. Gunaratna described the altered landscape of international terrorism, with al-Qaida transformed into a movement rather than a mere group, the spread wings of 30 to 40 al-Qaida influenced groups around the world, and the mobilization of the Muslim Diaspora, including elements in North America.
"Our assessment is that those migrant and diaspora communities are most vulnerable," he said.
It wasn't Sept. 11, 2001, that triggered this new global jihad movement and the radicalization of Muslim fringe elements but the invasion of Iraq, Gunaratna said. Afghanistan's battlefields also act as a "magnet," he added. He said the Pakistan Taliban, the post-Sept. 11 creation of al-Qaida operating in the 1,520-mile-long Afghan-Pakistan border that is carrying out most of the attacks in Afghanistan today, could number at 30,000 soldiers.
Can insurers, who might have to pick up the tab should terrorists strike Western properties, take anything positive from this briefing from two of the world's leading experts?
Gunaratna made a point of stressing how difficult it has become to attack the United States. According to him, U.S. intelligence services are no longer "inward looking" and seek assistance from other intel groups around the world, leading to many more arrests, such as JosÚ Padilla, the infamous dirty bomber who was found guilty by a federal court in Miami in 2007 of conspiracy to provide support to terrorists.
"If that momentum can be kept, certainly the threat could be reduced," he said about this intel cooperation.
The States are a "harder" target, as well, because of heightened public awareness and because the U.S. tactic toward terrorism is to act as "hunters" and no longer "fishermen," according to Gunaratna.
And deadly hunters counterterrorism forces will have to continue to be, said Hoffman. He suggested that the next generation of terrorists is already here and must be killed or captured, along with the current generation.
As for the generation after the next, it is crucial that they be reached before al-Qaida gets to them. This future generation will be part of the "youth bulge" in Asia and the Middle East, and will be in the prime demographic for Al-Qaida recruitment.
MATTHEW BRODSKY is senior editor/Web Editor of Risk & Insurance«.
August 6, 2008
Copyright 2008© LRP Publications