iJET Travel Risk Management
(iJET) is today announcing its latest assessment of the 10 countries most at risk of terrorism. iJET released a similar list in September 2003, and will continue to update the list periodically as global security conditions warrant.
The travel security analysts at iJET caution that predicting precisely where and when terrorism will occur is impossible, and the risk that terrorism poses to an individual traveler remains small. Yet some destinations are more likely than others to experience terrorism, usually due to a combination of factors.
This list contains three countries - Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey - that were not included in iJET’s September assessment. iJET regional analysts removed Nigeria, Spain and Thailand from the list, due largely to increased anti-terrorism efforts by those countries’ governments.
iJET intentionally excluded from this list turmoil-torn countries with very low numbers of travelers (business and leisure), such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. Also, due to negligible variances in threat level between these 10 countries, iJET did not rank these 10 in order of risk; the list is alphabetical. iJET maintains security risk ratings for 182 countries. Terrorism is one of six sub-categories used to calculate those rankings.
Colombia: The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has essentially declared war on President Alvaro Uribe, largely because of Uribe’s pledge to stamp out terrorism. FARC strikes have increasingly targeted urban areas, and though the group historically has carefully selected its targets (politicians, journalists and others who vocally opposed the group), FARC terrorists have shown an increasing willingness to kill uninvolved civilians. The FARC claimed responsibility for the Nov. 15 grenade attack on two nightclubs in Bogotá that killed one person and injured 72 in the Zona Rosa area. The perpetrators of that attack reportedly hoped to kill U.S. citizens. In Bogotá, the FARC carried out five terrorist bombings in 2003. The National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group kidnapped eight foreign tourists in northern Colombia Sept. 13. (ELN released the last five captives in late December.) Kidnappings-for-ransom are major sources of financing for these groups and may increase as profits from drug trafficking decrease. The United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) and other paramilitary groups continue to threaten Colombia, despite the current demobilization of the AUC. On Nov. 25, some 855 members of the AUC demobilized in the department of Antioquia. Many AUC leaders, however, have arrest warrants against them. It is unlikely that they will surrender without some sort of immunity.
Indonesia: The Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist network in Indonesia remains a threat, especially in the months before the April parliamentary and July presidential elections. Western and Christian interests are likely targets. A number of Western governments have warned against non-essential travel to the country. The nation’s chief security minister warned on Dec. 7 that terrorist cells in the country are likely regrouping and may be planning future attacks. Terrorism experts warned on Feb. 3 that JI splinter groups may be forming and could present further challenges to stability in the country. Terrorism experts believe that the new leader of JI, Zulkarnaen, maintains strong links with Al-Qaeda. The decision of Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri to sign an anti-terror pact with Pakistan on Dec. 16th highlights Indonesia’s ongoing concern about international terrorism. A target list that Indonesian police discovered during an Oct. 30 raid reportedly contains mostly soft targets, such as U.S.-owned businesses, hotels, schools, banks and other Western interests.
Israel: While the number of suicide bombings has dropped dramatically since its peak in the spring and summer of 2002, there is still a major risk of terrorist attacks in Israel. Palestinian terrorists groups, backed by legions of willing suicide bombers, have developed a sophisticated capability to stage attacks. These groups have demonstrated increased coordination in carrying out their operations and have the capability to build suicide belts and improvised explosives devices. They have also developed an intelligence network to identify potential targets and deliver suicide bombers to the location. The close proximity of Palestinian cities and villages to Israeli settlements and the absence of a border fence between many Palestinian and Israeli communities give potential bombers the ability to reach destinations quickly. This is especially true in areas near Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Although Israeli security forces are the most advanced in the world in tracking and arresting terrorists, the wave of attacks will intensify as long as the Al-Aqsa Intifada continues. Israeli security forces have foiled several major bombing attempts in recent weeks, including an incident in which the bomb was hidden inside a computer monitor.
Kenya: Numerous foreign government warnings and the ongoing anti-terror actions by the Kenyan government indicate an obvious credible threat of terrorist attacks against Western interests and citizens in Kenya. The arrest of more than 20 people suspected of terrorist activities in Kenya, specifically, and east Africa in general in November further highlights the threat. As a country hosting numerous and various foreign businesses and interests, Kenya is a desirable target for Al-Qaeda and sympathetic groups. Kenyan authorities have implemented some terrorism counter-measures, but inadequate border security and Kenya’s proximity to countries with little or no security, such as Somalia and Sudan, exacerbate Kenya’s predicament. The large number of Muslims in this region, especially along the Indian Ocean coastline, allows militant Muslims from outside Kenya to blend in while planning potential future attacks. The threat is only heightened by the fact that key terrorist suspects, including Fazul Abdallah Mohammed, are still at large.
Pakistan: Numerous terrorist groups continue to operate in Kashmir and inside Pakistan. Local terrorist activities, coupled with evidence of an Al-Qaeda presence in the country are a serious concern. President Pervez Musharraf has said Al-Qaeda likely initiated recent attempts on his life. In addition, recent Pakistani intelligence reports suggest that hard-line Sunni groups such as Jaish-e-Muhammad have close ties with Al-Qaeda. Recent arrests in Karachi yielded seven foreigners suspected of being senior Al-Qaeda members. Karachi remains a hotbed for terrorist activities, and several of the city’s Islamic schools came under suspicion for recruiting potential terrorists last year. The most recent terrorist attack in Pakistan occurred Jan. 15 in front of a cathedral in central Karachi, when a car bomb injured at least 11 people. The proximity of Afghanistan and porous borders make Pakistan a popular hideout for Taliban and Al-Qaeda fugitives. Volatile conflicts between the majority Sunni and minority Shiite Muslims remain a concern in much of the country, as witnessed by numerous bombings, strikes and the assassination of extremist Sunni leader Maulana Azam Tariq. Pakistan is tightening security nationwide ahead of a month-long Islamic holy period that begins in late February. Pakistani authorities believe the period will be especially tense this year. Recent rapprochement between India and Pakistan has raised hopes of greater stability in the region. Security has been increased following the assassination attempts on Musharraf, and some signs point to improved regional stability. But deeper conflicts within the society and region continue to make Pakistan a breeding ground for terrorism.
Philippines: The Philippine military and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) continue to guard against attacks by Al-Qaeda or the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist networks in the Philippines. As in Indonesia, Al-Qaeda likely has increased cooperation with local terrorists in the Philippines. The recent exposure of JI training camps in the southern Philippines is evidence of this. The threat of terrorism comes not only from JI, but also from local terrorist groups such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Abu Sayyaf (ASG). MILF commitment to peace talks set for February remains unclear. A recent skirmish between MILF rebels and the Philippine military - coupled with the alleged linkage of JI terrorist camps to local MILF commanders - suggests that a segment of the group may resort to terrorism in the near future. Kidnapping-for-ransom by Muslim extremist groups is on the rise in the Philippines as well, despite a government crackdown. ASG’s apparent involvement in the kidnapping of six hostages from Malaysia’s Borneo Paradise Resort on Oct. 5 highlights increased terrorist threats to travelers in the southern Philippines. A Feb. 3 attack by the National People’s Army forces that killed two air force engineers raised fears that peace talks scheduled for February will be canceled.
Russia: The threat of terrorist bombings continues to plague southwest Russia and major urban centers in European Russia; this includes a real threat to tourist areas, especially Moscow and St. Petersburg. On Feb. 6, an apparent suicide bombing in the Moscow subway killed at least 39 people and injured more than 120. Preliminary examinations show the bomb was similar to those used in attacks on commuter trains near Chechnya. Terrorist attacks in Russia are likely to intensify before the March 14 presidential elections. Russian officials acknowledge that there are at least 3,000 rebel fighters engaged in a guerrilla campaign in southern Russia that continues to encroach into business and tourist areas. Authorities also claim that the majority of the foreign mercenaries killed or captured in Chechnya are Turks, and that some terrorist attacks are planned by a Saudi citizen, Abu-al-Valid, a self-proclaimed “military commander” of Chechnya. All the most recent terrorist attacks involved female bombers, allegedly members of the battalion of the Chechen shaheeds “Riyadus - Salihin.”
Saudi Arabia: The Saudi government continues its aggressive anti-terrorism campaign following the May 12 terrorist attacks in Riyadh and has scored significant gains in a short period of time. Nevertheless, the kingdom’s vast size, ready access to weapons smuggled from both Yemen and Iraq and a growing number of young Islamic militants are all indications that terrorism remains a major threat. The ability of Islamic militants to stage the Nov. 8 attack at a Western housing compound in Riyadh and prepare another massive car bomb shortly thereafter - which police caught shortly before it was delivered to its final destination - demonstrate the continued determination of terrorist groups to stage large scale attacks in Saudi Arabia. Despite their successes, Saudi security forces have frequently allowed suspected militants to escape during shootouts.
Turkey: The threat of terrorism is likely to persist over the next several months in Turkey. The devastating attacks in Istanbul Nov. 15 and Nov. 20 likely represent only the beginning of a long campaign to destabilize one of the most staunchly secular and democratic countries in the Islamic world. While Turkish security forces have had much success in dismantling the terrorist cell responsible for the Istanbul bombings, several reports from police sources indicate that further planned attacks were postponed because of tightened security. As recently as Dec. 31, Turkish officials canceled New Year’s festivities planned for Istanbul’s main Taksim Square due to security concerns. Turkish leaders have placed renewed emphasis on cracking down on Turkish militants with ties to Islamic organizations, but several factors continue to put Turkey at risk for terrorist attacks. These include: the existing infrastructure of domestic extremist organizations in the country; the fact that many Turkish extremist groups share common interests with Al-Qaeda; and Turkey’s status as the only Islamic country in NATO (as well as its relationship with the U.S. and Israel).
Yemen: Vast areas of Yemen remain out of reach of government forces, ruled largely by tribal groups. The Al-Qaeda terrorist group is known to have relocated large numbers of its fighters and training bases to Yemen’s tribal regions. In addition to the numerous Islamic militants, a wide array of guns, missiles and explosives are readily available on the black market. The government claims the Al-Qaeda network in Yemen has been weakened by the arrest of prominent leaders such as Mohammad Hamdi Al-Ahdal, Al-Qaeda’s second in command in the country. But the Yemeni government has also released hundreds of Islamic militants who verbally renounced violence and pledged not to carry out additional attacks. These releases provide known terrorists the freedom to plan more attacks. In recent months Yemeni security forces have foiled several major attacks, including a plot to carry out bombings of the German, U.K. and U.S. embassies. But the terrorists ability to hide in remote, lawless regions with an extensive support network, preventing attacks nearly impossible.