Every end of year we are inundated with two phenomena in our newspapers, TV broadcasts and websites. These two are: the year that was and the year that will be.
The former recaps the important events of the 12 months drawing to an end and always includes, and I am not sure why, a list of who died over that period (NB only the important people, like actors and performance artists and politicians, not nobodies like you and me). The latter attempts to predict what will happen over the next 365 days and some even put probability figures to these future events (here is an example from the Globe and Mail).
I am not a big fan of prediction
In a word – ok two words – I am predicting… more terrorismI rarely know what the basis for all these forecasts is or why the author claims to have a clairvoyance the rest of us don’t have. When I was still in intelligence circles, we used to get a CIA futures document that tried to look 10-15 year down the road and point out hotspots to watch out for. I’d love to go back and see just how accurate those attempts were (we in Canada emulated this exercise on at least one occasion and I was part of it, although I had no idea what I wrote or how much confidence I had in my prognostications – I am guessing not much).
Regardless of my skepticism, in the spirit of the day here is my shot at predicting what will transpire in 2019. It is neither long-winded nor complicated. In a word – ok two words – I am predicting… more terrorism.
2019 has already started on a violent footing with at least five incidents investigated as terrorist attacks:
- Three people were wounded in a stabbing attack at a train station in Manchester on New Year’s Eve. A 25-year old man was arrested at the scene and a motive is being sought. The attack took place just steps from the Manchester Arena, where a suicide bombing in May 2017 after a concet killed 22 and wounded hundreds.
- At least 27 security officers were killed in a series of coordinated attacks by the Taliban in northern Afghanistan on New year’s Day
- Four people were injured in the small German town of Bottrop, outside of Essen, on New Year’s Eve when a man drove into a group celebrating. A 50-year old man was arrested by police, who suspect he may have ‘mental health issues: he did make anti-immigrant remarks when he was seized.
- A 21-year old man was arrested after he drove a van into New Year’s Eve revellers in a chic Tokyo neighbourhood, wounding 8. The man claimed he was protesting Japan’s use of the death penalty and police are looking into whether he had ties to the Aum Shinrikyo terrorist group, members of which were finally executed in 2018 for their role in the 1995 sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway which killed 13 and poisoned more than 6000
- Two people were killed and at least two dozen injured when a bomb exploded at a mall in Cotabato City, Philippines on December 31. The structure of the explosive device was similar to that used by the IS affiliate in the Philippines.
Nevertheless, we were told by many in senior government levels at year’s end that either terrorism is on the wane or that many terrorists had been ‘neutralised’ last year (which presumably means fewer alive to act in 2019):
- The Turkish Defence Minister claimed that s almost 2,400 ‘terrorists’ had been ‘neutralised’ in 147 operations in 2018;
- Egypt declared that it had suffered only 8 terrorist attacks in all of 2015, confirming a precipitous decline since 2015;
- The Nigerian government regularly puts out end of year statements that Boko Haram is ‘all but defeated’ (I could not find one for 2018 although the governor of Borno State, where the terrorist group is most active, has asked for military support to ‘effectively end’ the insurgency).
Despite this optimism, the last two weeks of 2018 should have been a reminder that terrorism is far from over. There were successful attacks in Morocco, Egypt, Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria and Somalia, to name but a few, and peremptory arrests of those planning attacks in Sweden, the Netherlands and India. None of this strikes me as indicative of a decrease in terrorist activity.
Not an existential threat
At the same time it is paramount that we keep all this in perspective. I have said it before and I’ll say it again: terrorism is NOT an existential threat. We must ensure that reporting on violent extremism and our reaction to it are measured and proportionate to the risk. Inflating that risk is helpful to no one.
Inflating that risk is helpful to no oneSo yes we will suffer more attacks in 2019 but we will also see successes, thanks largely to our men and women in the intelligence and law enforcement world. Once we accept that we cannot ‘defeat’ terrorism anymore than we can ‘defeat’ drugs or poverty, we will be in a better place and our policies and programs will be more realistic.