The next 18 months are likely to be an important period for Afghanistan and Pakistan in determining whether the impending withdrawal of US-led coalition forces from Afghanistan could be exploited by militant groups and a precursor to increased terrorist activity in both countries. In particular, there are fears Afghanistan could descend into civil war as the Taliban seeks to reassert its control over certain areas of the country after coalition troops withdraw, thereby recreating a sanctuary for militants similar to the one that existed before the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Events in the Middle East and North Africa will also have important consequences on the future of the international terrorist threat. More than four years on from the beginning of the Arab Spring, countries at the center of the movement such as Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Egypt continue to experience political instability and violence. The turmoil has also emphasized the importance of understanding the different coverages that exist in the (re)insurance market and the need for adequate terrorism and political violence protection.
Although there has been no sustained campaign of violence in Tunisia since the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in early 2011, a suicide attack in the tourist coastal town of Sousse in October 2013 (blamed by the government on the radical Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia Tunisia) demonstrated the growing capability and intent of militant groups to carry out attacks in the country. There are also fears that AQIM is looking to exploit tensions in Tunisia.
The security vacuum in Libya left in the wake of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s overthrow in 2011 has also left the country vulnerable to extremist militant groups exploiting the instability. Security in Yemen also remains perilous. Initial gains made against AQAP in southern regions in 2012 were short-lived and the group continues to destabilize Yemen by conducting large-scale and destructive operations. As explained earlier, AQAP also remains a global threat as it continues to pursue spectacular attacks against the West.
Syrian Civil War
However, the situation in Syria is currently causing the most concern in the Western world. According to United Nations figures, more than 100,000 people have died and another 4.5 million have been displaced since the outbreak of the civil war. The conflict is unlikely to be resolved any time soon.
The war in Syria is extremely complex, drawing on sectarian tensions that go back centuries. This environment has seen extremist groups emerge as dominant forces among Syria’s rebels, raising fears that Syria could become a training ground for terrorists in the same vein as Afghanistan and Iraq.
As mentioned previously, Jabhat al-Nusra and the ISIL are currently the most prominent extremist groups in Syria. Although there have been recent reports of fighting between the two groups, they continue to attract foreign fighters at an increasing rate as the conflict continues. The threat from Syria was highlighted by Charles Farr, Director of the Office for Security and Counter-terrorism in the UK Home Office, when he said in February 2014 that the size of extremist groups in Syria had become “the biggest challenge” facing intelligence agencies and the police. He added that the number of foreign fighters in Syria was higher than anywhere since Afghanistan in 1989.