The Bali bombings and the attack on the Limburg mark a significant shift in Al Qaeda strategy, with economic disruption now a central principle of the organisation’s approach, said global terrorism expert Dr David Claridge in a speech today.
Speaking at the “Terrorism in the Asia Pacific” conference in Singapore, Claridge laid out the new risks that business faces as the result of the new Al Qaeda strategy:
“Terrorist attacks against businesses have risen by 69 per cent since 1996, but such attacks have generally been limited to tactical, regional targets. Until now, no group has declared war against the global economic system. With the bombings in Bali and the attack in Yemen, that has changed.
“With previous attacks, Al Qaeda’s main objectives were based on symbolic strikes against targets based on nationality and symbolism. 9/11 was a clear example of this: the damage to the US economy was an unforeseen consequence that was welcomed by Al Qaeda.
“The Limburg and Bali attacks show a shift in strategy. In effect, Al Qaeda has declared war on the global economic system – and already has shown real and worrying results.
“In the aftermath of the attack on the Limburg, oil prices immediately shot up by 30 cents a barrel and premiums escalated as insurers sought to claw back the $65 million they had just lost. Within 24 hours of the Bali bombs, thousands of tourists had been flown home in emergency operations.
“But these immediate impacts hide the starker result of the attacks. The economies of Yemen and Indonesia have been damaged significantly by these actions. In each case, neither government can afford the political costs of a loss of trade.
“The motivation for Al Qaeda is to drive foreign investment out of emerging markets, particularly in Islamic countries. Oil and tourism are two mainstays that are relatively easy to target, and will be hit again. Al Qaeda feels that the global economy is vulnerable and will seek to exploit the exposure of outside commercial interests in order to cause maximum harm to Western interests.
“In the immediate aftermath of Bali, many commentators have suggested it was chosen because it was a “soft target”. But the tourist industry is a soft target that is of significant importance to the Indonesian economy and is already on the ropes on a global basis. Many other sectors also represent soft targets, not least those Western companies that have relocated their operations to emerging markets in order to cut costs.
“Whilst governmental organizations can and will act to prevent further attacks, every major industry should now be asking themselves serious questions about their risk exposure and how they protect themselves.”
Dr Claridge was speaking at the “Terrorism in the Asia Pacific” conference in Singapore, which was attended by intelligence experts, corporations and academics from across the region. During his speech, he outlined a range of Bin Laden and Al Qaeda pronouncements which suggest a shift in strategy to attack the economic interests of the West through operations against key strategic industry sectors across the world. He added:
“Just as Al Qaeda uses local terrorist groups to deliver world-shaking operations, they are now targeting local business operations which will impact upon global industries. Just think – who will now book holidays in South East Asia for the next year? And then think of the impact on the global tourism industry.
“Chaos theory gave us the butterfly effect. The Al Qaeda network have now applied it to the global economy. Each of these operations will reverberate across the affected industries during the next 12 months. Look out for more. It may not be tomorrow, but these groups will strike again.”