Terrorism Landscape 2024

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This article explores key trends that are poised to underscore the dominant themes in the global terrorism threat landscape throughout 2024.
Worldwide Government, Public Sector
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As featured in our Crisis Management Annual Review 2024.

This article explores key trends that are poised to underscore the dominant themes in the global terrorism threat landscape throughout 2024.

Introduction

As we step into 2024, there are indications of a sustained escalation in the tempo of terrorist activities from myriad diverse threat groups. The intricate interplay of ideological fervor, geopolitical shifts, and technological advancements is poised to define the global terrorism landscape in unprecedented ways. In the below assessment, we will explore these key trends that are poised to underscore the dominant themes in the global terrorism threat landscape throughout 2024.

Third wave in global Jihadi terrorism

Following the 7 October Hamas attack and Israel's robust response a discernible third wave of global Jihadi terrorism is on the horizon. Comparable to the aftermath of al-Qaeda's attack of the World Trade Centers in 2001 and the U.S. response marking the first wave, and the second wave catalysed by the Islamic State's (IS) proclamation of a caliphate in 2014, the current wave is evolving in the wake of the Hamas attack and subsequent Gaza operations by Israel. The surge in radicalisation within Muslim communities, coupled with the mobilisation of threat groups, significantly heightens the probability of future attacks. Consequently, as we move into 2024, the potential for attacks, such as the recent plot on Jewish sites by suspected Hamas members in Germany, cannot be discounted.

The main protagonist within the Jihadi milieu, the IS group is poised to escalate its activities. Having transitioned from a centralised caliphate to a decentralised organisational entity, IS has proven to be a formidable challenge on the global stage. With an estimated strength of between 5,000 to 7,000 members, the group is still able to carry out complex terrorist operations, and it is clearly growing in Africa and South Asia. In addition, with countries like France and the United States further reducing their counterterrorism footprint abroad, shifting their focus to great power competition, it could provide further openings for IS and other like-minded groups in 2024 to further expand their influence and operations.

Increase in far-right terrorism

As far-right terrorism gains further momentum, an escalation in plots and attacks is anticipated from racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists, including White supremacists and neo-Nazis. Many xenophobic populist movements have resorted to political violence to express their objectives. Both Europe and the U.S. have witnessed a surge in militant right-wing extremist groups, signaling a likely further uptick in their activity.

Far-right terrorism in the West continues to be characterised as small independent groups or lone actors targeting government institutions and minorities through small-arm attacks and assassinations. Notable instances, like the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, the 2022 Buffalo mass shooting and the Texas Mall shooting in 2023, illustrate this trend. These attacks are not aimed at causing large casualties but at instilling panic and fear among the local populace. However, the potential risk of a large-scale attack from far-right terror groups or individuals may increase if they shift their objectives and engage in collaborative efforts.

Moreover, the Israel-Hamas conflict appears to have energised right-wing White supremacist groups. These groups perceive the anti-Israel movement as a potential source of support and recruits. Shortly after Hamas' incursion, far-right individuals and groups started creating and spreading propaganda. Drawing on their antisemitic ideology, extremists lauded the attackers, celebrated Hamas' assault on Israel, endorsed explicit depictions of violence against Israelis, and advocated for increased violence against Jews globally. This trend raises concerns about a potential rise in antisemitism by far-right extremists in the West.

Global expansion of state-sponsored terrorism

In 2024, it is anticipated that state sponsors of terrorism will expand their roles. Iran has been a significant player in international terrorism, with a noticeable increase in its global sponsorship. The Iranian government actively supports Shia militias, like the Houthi militants in Yemen, using entities such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the elite Quds Force in the Middle East to support such groups. Recent incidents involving Houthi militants in the Red Sea and skirmishes between Pakistan and Iran underscore the risks associated with states sponsoring militant groups, potentially leading to an escalation of tensions.

In 2024, it is anticipated that state sponsors of terrorism will expand their roles.

Iran has also extended its alliances beyond traditional Shia groups, exemplified by supplying drones to aid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, highlighting its commitment to utilising proxies for foreign policy goals. Consequently, there is a tangible risk of heightened terrorism threats against the interests of the U.S., Israel, and Saudi Arabia by Iranian proxy groups in 2024, especially if Iranian interests are perceived to be undermined.

Russia, too, is a notable sponsor of state terrorism. The Wagner Group, a private security company, has been instrumental in advancing Russia's foreign policy goals. Despite the death of group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin in August 2023, they continue to operate in the Central African Republic, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Libya. With the prolonged war in Ukraine, concerns about Russian terrorism by using their surrogates in the West have grown.

Terrorism's technology evolution

In the realm of operational strategies, terrorist groups are actively exploring emerging technologies to magnify the impact of their attacks. A noticeable trend over the past few years involves militants learning and adapting tactics from counterparts in different conflict zones, leading to the execution of more sophisticated terrorist acts. An alarming example of this adaptability is seen in Chad, where the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) appears to have assimilated tactics from IS militants in Iraq and Syria. They utilise radio-controlled model aircraft as improvised explosive device (IED) delivery platforms, potentially capable of carrying larger payloads than the small quadcopters available to hobbyists.

In addition, while the current level of the nuclear, biological, chemical, and radiological (NBCR) threat remains relatively low, technological advancements pose the potential to alter its trajectory significantly. New technologies, such as artificial intelligence, bioengineering, and 3D printing, emerge as noteworthy developments in the technology sector that could elevate the NBCR threat. These innovations have the capacity to revolutionise production processes and mechanise the creation of NBCR agents. The dual-use nature of chemical materials and the technology for weaponising these agents introduce a new dimension to the threat faced by authorities.

Conclusion

The global terrorism landscape in 2024 presents an elevated level of risk characterised by diverse threats and ideologies. While militant Islamist groups continue to be central figures dictating the cadence of global terrorism, the surge in far-right political violence, particularly in the West, adds complexity to an already multi-layered threat environment. Concurrently, the resurgence of state-supported terrorism amplifies challenges for security forces, contributing to a more volatile and intricate security landscape.

Anticipated attack scenarios lean towards strikes on targets with high concentrations of people, utilising methods ranging from knives and small weapons to the use of vehicles as battering rams. While these may lack the symbolism of a major attack, they can inflict devastating casualties on an individual level. Yet, some terror groups may feel compelled to orchestrate more ambitious and spectacular attacks in Western cities, including larger bombs, targeting civilian airlines, or even resorting to a NBCR agent..

In terms of selecting targets, soft targets like hotels and other commercial buildings remain appealing, as numerous terror groups face challenges in attacking harder targets, especially outside global conflict zones. The openness of these soft targets poses difficulties in preventing individuals with hostile intentions.

Indeed, counterterrorism forces will grapple with the increasingly defragmented and decentralised nature of the terrorism threat, making resilience a pivotal factor in addressing the evolving challenges of global security in 2024.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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