By STEVE TUCKEY, who has written on insurance issues for a decade for several national media outlets
While the operational ability of al-Qaida may have suffered some degradation in recent years, the terrorist organization has branched out into pockets of discontent throughout the world.
Retired Gen. Richard Myers, who served as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2001 through 2005, made this assessment at the annual issuance of the Aon Terrorism Threat Map during a press conference in New York on Wednesday.
"They have lost much of their senior leadership recently," he said. "But their intent remains the same, and there will always be some people they can recruit."
Myers said that the recent apparent assassination of the group's No. 3 ranking official by a CIA drone strike in Pakistan was a significant blow to the group's terror capabilities.
"If you are looking at, whether on a global scale, we are safer from terrorism this year than last, the difference is marginal but reflects the pressure we have exerted on our foes over the long term to contain their growth," he said.
Allied military progress in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq has forced al-Qaida to rely on less capable local operatives as it struggles to maintain coherent organization while under constant military pressure, Myers added.
Security specialist David Claridge, who developed the Aon map, said that, while the al-Qaida threat in Europe may have waned, its ability to franchise itself in local areas of Muslim discontent on the Continent remains troubling.
Elsewhere, according to Myers, the weak central government in Pakistan and the questionable enthusiasm of some its military to combat domestic terrorism makes the country a terror threat.
"But perhaps the Taliban recently coming within about 70 miles of (the capital) Islamabad will serve as a wake-up call for those in the military," Myers said.
The fact that Iraqis have yet to sort out the results of their election earlier this year portends possible violence from both al-Qaida and other groups seeking to gain the upper hand in the vacuum.
Meanwhile, African nations such as Somalia in the east and Mali in the west, both lacking strong central governments, could become headquarters for groups such as al-Qaida, Myers said.
Nations whose terror threat level has decreased over the past year include Spain, Canada and Sri Lanka, where the recent ending of a civil war has calmed things down somewhat. The threat has risen in South Africa, site of the high-profile World Cup soccer tournament this summer, and in Switzerland, where the recent effort to ban minarets has stirred unrest.
Paul Bassett, chief executive of Aon Crisis Management, said that 2009 and 2010 have been a time of tactical innovation for terrorists.
"We have noted an increasing trend for suicide bombers who do not fit an expected profile," he said, citing the example of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed female Muslim convert who allegedly threatened to carry out an assassination.
Bassett also said that terrorism insurance market capacity remains stable at $2 billion, depending on the risk profile and location of the insured.
"The market is unlikely to harden but it could be the end of the soft market, especially for emerging countries," Bassett said. "But remember, insurance is only part of the solution."
About $250 million in terrorism-related claims have been filed related to recent events in Thailand, Bassett added.
June 3, 2010
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