As in previous years, in 2017, the highest terrorism and political violence risk ratings continued to be clustered in the Middle East, North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa.
According to the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies’ report “African Militant Islamist Groups Again on the Rise”, violent and terrorist events involving militant Islamist groups in Africa over the past year increased by 38% to account for 2,933 events compared to 2,117 in 2016.
The recent map and highlights released by the centre states that this is a continuation of the upward trend observed in 2017, after a brief decline in 2016.
However, the report indicates that there is not a single factor that can be pinpointed as the reason behind the surge in activity. Rather, it reflects increases associated with all major militant Islamist groups on the continent, including al-Shabab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Islamic State group (IS), and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Most of the reported attacks in Africa were conducted by al-Shabab. The group was linked to almost 58% of all reported violent events by militant Islamist groups in Africa (1,749 out of 2,933) in 2017. Al-Shabab was also responsible for the most bloodshed in Africa, as it was linked with the greatest number of reported fatalities (4,834 out of 10,535), amounting to 46% of the total fatalities across the continent.
Moreover, the overall reported fatalities linked to militant Islamist activity in Africa witnessed a 9% increase in 2017, ending the downward trend observed since 2015. Nevertheless, on the bright side, the 10,535 reported fatalities over the previous 12-month period still remain substantially lower than the peak of 18,728 reported fatalities in 2015.
Furthermore, according to the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies, the reported violent events linked to AQIM and its affiliates have significantly increased—from 79 in 2017 to 212 in 2018. That jump largely reflects the efforts of the coalition Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), which was formed in March 2017, and operates in the Maghreb and West Africa regions.
With regard to IS, the group remains most active in Egypt, with 305 out of the 426 reported events associated with IS in Africa taking place in Egypt over the last year. Similarly, 77% of all reported fatalities linked to IS in Africa were in Egypt during that timeframe (1,340 out of 1,734).
However, according to the “Terrorism & Political Violence Risk Map 2018” report issued by the Risk Advisory Group and Aon in April, the threat posed by IS has stopped increasing—but it has not yet receded.
According to the Risk Advisory and Aon data, IS members and sympathisers mounted terrorist attacks in 29 countries on five continents in 2017, the same number of countries as in 2016 and up from 19 countries in 2015.
However, the report forecast that the global reach of IS seems to have peaked, and following its loss of almost all of the territory it once held in Syria and Iraq, it appears likely that the number of countries where it is able to mount attacks, or inspire others to do so, will fall in 2018.
Yet, while their activity has increased, the major militant groups each continue to be geographically concentrated (ie, Somalia, Lake Chad Basin, and central Mali), which highlights the distinct local factors associated with each context as opposed to a single monolithic threat.
Egypt’s fight against militancy
Since 2013, state security forces, represented by both the military and the police, have been engaged in violent clashes with “Sinai Province”, known previously as Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis. In 2014, the group declared its affiliation with the Islamic State group (IS) and has repeatedly launched deadly attacks on army and police checkpoints.
Over the course of the last five years, the Egyptian Armed Forces launched counterattacks against militants across the Sinai Peninsula, where the group is based, particularly in the cities of Sheikh Zuweid, Rafah, and Al-Arish.
The armed forces launched three phases of Operation Martyr’s Right, which included mass military strikes, arrests, and creation of a buffer zone between the Gaza Strip and Sinai.
In November 2017, Al-Sisi vowed to restore stability by eradicating terrorism, tasking the military and police to do so within a period of three months. This had followed a massive first-of-its-kind terror attack on a mosque in the city of Al-Arish, killing at least 305 citizens.
Hence, the military launched the Sinai 2018 operation, where the military leadership and the Ministry of Interior were assigned the mission of full confrontation of terrorism and other criminal acts.
Terrorism takes its toll on business and tourism
According to the Terrorism & Political Violence Risk Map 2018 report, almost 8% of all terrorist incidents taking place globally in 2017 targeted businesses. Roughly 75% of these targeted oil and gas, mining, transport, construction, and critical infrastructure. The rest were directed at retail, media, finance and tourism businesses.
The tourism industry, in particular, is one of the most vulnerable sectors to security and terrorism threats. Any major attack can have an immediate and significant impact on leisure travel patterns and almost guarantees international publicity.
Moreover, the report indicates that even if the attacks were not directly targeted against the tourism sector, they still can have a substantial indirect impact on tourism revenue, especially in mass-casualty incidents targeting civilians.
Such factors make the sector a highly attractive target for some terrorist organisations. Consequently, the tourism industry takes adequate measures to assess, mitigate, and transfer the risk of losses arising
In 2017, there were at least 44 attacks worldwide that directly targeted public transport
in major cities as well as commercial sectors that are critical components of the tourism industry.
Furthermore, Risk Advisory and Aon Terrorism Tracker data indicates that more than 80% of all terrorism-related fatalities in Western countries in 2017 occurred in locations where tourists are likely to gather—including hotels, airports, public spaces, and entertainment venues.
Such events lead to lower traveller confidence and directly alter consumer behaviour. The report cites the Barcelona mass casualty vehicle-impact attack at a busy promenade in August 2017, as an example of this effect.
According to Barcelona’s tourism authority, 20% of travellers with imminent plans to visit the city cancelled their trips following the attack. And still, a few months after the attack in Barcelona, the head of MGM Resorts said that cancellations at its Las Vegas properties “surged” in the days after a gunman opened fire on concertgoers in the city in October 2017.
In Egypt’s case, the downing of the Russian Metrojet airliner has had a significant impact on the tourism industry, which is the cornerstone of the Egyptian economy, accounting for almost 11.4% of GDP, according to a report by the World Travel and Tourism Council on Egypt.
Since the onset of the insurgency by the IS-affiliated group Sinai Province in the peninsula, the numbers of tourists visiting Egypt dropped dramatically to 9.3 million in 2015, compared to 14 million in 2010. This dropped again by almost 40% after the downing of the Russian aircraft.
The Risk Advisory and Aon report concludes that the companies in the tourism industry are, and will remain, highly susceptible to revenue fluctuations caused by terrorism. This is ultimately because the purpose of terrorism is to instil fear, and leisure travellers tend to be risk-averse, and are always free to seek alternative destinations or stay at home.