Al-Qaida’s changing threat



  • Executive insight
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    Charlie Rawlins, Head of Terrorism at Hiscox London Market, discusses how the danger posed by the terrorist group has mutated since the Twin Towers came down

    Over 12 years on since the 9/11 attacks and al-Qaida still poses the principal global terror threat to Western interests around the world. But, the source and nature of that threat have changed: a number of affiliated groups have sprung up that aim to inspire and encourage small-scale random attacks of so-called DIY terrorism by home-grown militants.

    Core al-Qaida is in retreat thanks to concerted U.S.-led attempts to bring it to its knees: its leaders have either been killed or are in hiding, its training camps bombed and its finances frozen. But its brand remains a strong one.

    A number of affiliate groups have emerged: al-Shabab in Somalia; al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (QIM) in Algeria and Mali; Haqqani Network and Pakistani Taliban in Pakistan; and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen.

    Although they mostly pursue local or regional agendas, several of these groups have the capability and ambition to strike outside the borders of the countries in which they are based, as seen by AQAP’s failed attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner in 2009 and TTP’s unsuccessful car bomb attack on Times Square in 2010.

    Western governments’ increasing success in foiling plots has forced jihadists to rely on inspiring and encouraging home-grown radicals carry out their own small-scale attacks, rather than sending out highly-trained terrorists to pull off spectacular attacks.

    This year has seen a number of small-scale, but brutal attacks launched by small cells of local terrorists on more vulnerable targets. They include the attack on the In Amenas gas facility in Algeria; the Boston Marathon bombings; the murder of an off-duty soldier in Woolwich, southeast London; and the bloody siege of the Nairobi shopping mall.

    Since the 9/11 attacks the danger posed by al-Qaida has morphed, while its tactics, weapons and protagonists have also changed. But all of the groups that work under the broad al-Qaida banner have a broad common goal – to wage holy war against the West.

    The result is that the terrorist threat to Western interests is less severe, but also less predictable. In our opinion, these random and isolated attacks are likely to become more commonplace.  

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