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30 November 2006

Number of Terrorist Attacks Has Trebled

Study: Most targets in Asia and the Near and Middle East — Religion exploited for political purposes

Since 2001 the number of terrorist attacks worldwide has trebled from 700 to 2,200, as has the number of victims (from 4,000 to 13,000 at present). These are the facts revealed by a study involving Aurel Croissant, professor at the Institute of Political Sciences of the University of Heidelberg.

Professor Croissant, the number of terrorist attacks and of people killed in their course has trebled since 2001. Should we start worrying?

Yes and no. No, because the vast majority of these attacks have taken place outside western Europe and North America. Yes, because terrorists are making greater attempts to establish transnational networks. The danger for the West is that groups that have only been locally active so far may be looking for new arenas with a view to achieving greater impact.

What are these "arenas"?

One of them is the internet, another immigrant communities in western Europe serving as sources of refuge and finance. The London example shows that these communities are also being increasingly used for organisation purposes and as bases for action.

Have the attacks of September 11 been a galvanising factor?

Yes. They have made the ideology and the methods of a certain segment of the terrorist landscape more popular. But September 11 itself was also the result of a catalytic process.

Starting when?

This new form of terrorism, notably the brutal variety based on religious motives, started to develop back in the early 1980s in Afghanistan.

Where is terrorism most flagrant at the moment?

We have identified two key regions, first the Near and Middle East, secondly Asia. Eighty percent of all acts of terrorism take place in these countries and 70 percent of the victims were killed there. Especially prominent in this respect are Russia and Chechnya, the two triangles of conflict Indonesia-Thailand-the Philippines and Kashmir-India-Pakistan and of course Iraq and Afghanistan.

But these conflict regions are not new.

You're absolutely right. We have to make a finer distinction. Present-day terrorism is only new in terms of the methods used and its transnational nature. The conflicts behind it are frequently old. The key issues are nationalism, economic disadvantage, political exclusion and underdevelopment. These are the real causes of terrorism. An exception is Iraq as the main arena for Islamic terrorism. Our data indicate clearly that terrorism mushroomed with the onset of the Iraq War.

How significant is the religious factor?

There can be no doubt that many religiously motivated terrorists really do believe in their interpretation if religion. But despite that fact religion is primarily an alternative instrument for mobilisation, for example in the Near and Middle East, where national secularism has had its day. South-East Asia is another case in point. Here nation-building processes initially based on secular ideologies have proved to be short-lived. Ultimately, religion is used above all to pursue political objectives.

What can the West do to counteract this?

In the long term the only answer is political and economic development. The Millennium Challenge Account was a step in the right direction. Then the Bush administration spelled out its aims for the new 21st century: more development aid for Africa, South Asia and the Near and Middle East. But the United States did not go all the way on this. The other approach envisaged is that of exerting political pressure on repressive governments. Though this approach is justified in itself, its implementation has been disastrously bungled, as we can see in Iraq.

Alexander R. Wenisch

Please address any inquiries to:
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

Irene Thewalt
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 542317

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