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Security pros gloomy on terrorism outlook

The international terrorist threat is increasing as more recruits become radicalized, even though police and intelligence agencies are getting better at disrupting militant plots.
/ Source: Reuters

The international terrorist threat is increasing as more recruits become radicalized, even though police and intelligence agencies are getting better at disrupting militant plots.

That gloomy view appeared to prevail at a major security conference in Brussels this week where participants were asked to complete a “counter-terrorism scorecard” assessing progress over the past year.

Only one person agreed “strongly” and 19 agreed “somewhat” with the statement that the global terrorist threat had fallen in the last 12 months, against 82 people who disagreed, half of them strongly. Eighteen had no view or were not sure.

Among the security professionals, analysts and diplomats, 29 said they personally felt more secure against an attack than a year ago, compared with 75 who disagreed and 25 who were neutral.

“How good have we been? Not very,” said Pauline Neville-Jones, chairman of security technology group Qinetiq and a former head of the British government’s Joint Intelligence Committee.

“I think we have to face up to the fact that so far our efforts to diminish the threat have not been particularly successful,” she told the conference organized by the EastWest Institute, a security think-tank.

Busso von Alvensleben, counter-terrorism commissioner at Germany’s Foreign Ministry, said it had become harder for groups to mount massive attacks.

But, noting two attempted train bombings in Germany last year which failed because of faulty devices, he said: “We will have to face an increased number of terrorist attempts, probably of a more limited scale.”

WMD fears
European Union counter-terrorism coordinator Gijs de Vries said the European Union had taken important steps to protect ports and airports, improve security features on passports, clamp down on terrorist finances and beef up police and justice cooperation.

But he said more needed to be done to combat radicalization.

“Mainstream Muslims need to reclaim Islam from the extremists, and non-Muslims must support them where they can,” de Vries said.

Among other concerns raised at the three-day conference: the likelihood of terrorists gaining increased access to short and medium-range missiles in coming years, or attempting an attack using chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons.

“Terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction in the future is a near to absolute certainty,” said Greg Austin, analyst at the EastWest Institute.

Experts concurred that the risk of cyber-terrorism, possibly involving attacks on systems controlling critical infrastructure like power grids, is increasing because of societies’ growing reliance on computer networks and the Internet.

“The current risk of large-scale harm from cyberterror is low but increasing dramatically,” said Ahmet Oren, chairman of Turkish media group Ihlas Holding.

Philippine counter-terrorism ambassador Benjamin Defensor struck a rare note of optimism, saying Southeast Asian militant groups like Jemaah Islamiah were on the retreat as governments pursued them both by force and by reaching out to communities to undermine their hard-line message.

“The leadership of these organizations are slowly being neutralized or eradicated, so slowly the support is eroding,” he said in an interview with Reuters. “They’re losing right now in Southeast Asia.”