Today’s terrorist groups are targeting public spaces, in a bid to engender mayhem and fear. We must be proactive in protecting and empowering our people and our businesses


Strasbourg (2018)

On 11 December 2018, five people were killed and 11 more injured, when a terrorist launched an attack on the city’s busy Christmas market, armed with a gun and a knife.

London Bridge, London (2017)

On 3 June 2017, three terrorist attackers drove a van into pedestrians on London Bridge and launched a knife attack in Borough Market. Eight people were killed in the attack and 48 were injured.

Manchester (2017)

On 22 May 2017, a suicide bomber detonated a homemade bomb in Manchester Arena, following a concert by the US singer Ariana Grande. The attack killed 22 people, and injured 116, over half of them children.

Westminster Bridge, London (2017)

On 22 March 2017, an attacker drove his car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and then stabbed a policeman to death outside the Houses of Parliament. Five people in total died.

Charlie Hebdo attack, Paris (2015)

On 7 January, brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi broke into the offices of French satirical weekly newspaper, Charlie Hebdo. They were armed with rifles and other weapons, and killed 12 people. The newspaper was known for its controversial caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed and the attackers allegedly say they were avenging the Prophet.

Paris (2015)

A series of co-ordinated terrorist attacks took place on 13 November 2015 in Paris, France. Three suicide bombers struck outside the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, during a football match. This was followed by several mass shootings and a suicide bombing, at cafés and restaurants. Gunmen carried out another mass shooting at an Eagles of Death Metal concert in the Bataclan Theatre. The attackers killed 130 people. Another 413 people were injured, almost 100 seriously.

The attack on a hotel, restaurant and office complex in Nairobi by four gunmen from Islamic extremist group al-Shabaab in January 2019 is a reminder of a familiar modus operandi: the deliberate targeting of people and public places by terrorists. But it’s not all so familiar – compared to terrorism in the past, such as the plane hijacking and hostage-taking by Middle Eastern terror groups in the 1970s and IRA bombs targeting government buildings in the 1990s, terrorists’ tactics are widening. They are now taking the form of lone and ‘active assailant events’ involving guns, knives and vehicles – as well as bombs.

The recent attacks in Paris (2015), London (2017) and Strasbourg (2018) are among those that have deliberately targeted civilians, using vehicles, knives, and guns – creating an addition to the perils of business travel.

The scope of threat

Led by foreign fighters or lone, home-grown recruits, these assaults are localised and focus on public venues – from concert halls, bars and restaurants to airports, train stations, sports stadiums and city pavements. They demonstrate that terrorism risk does not only affect companies and employees operating in less politically stable regions of the world. They show that the scope of terror risks is widening; that the risk profiles of global businesses with a large contingent of expats and travellers are changing.

Meanwhile, geopolitical tensions are influencing and producing new people-related risks. Eighty-five percent of respondents to this year’s World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report expect 2019 to involve increased risks of “political confrontations between major powers”. “Measures to counteract terrorism at airports may not reduce overall societal risk if terrorists simply respond by shifting to new vulnerable targets such as sporting events, concerts and subways,” the report observes.

The number of terrorist incidents in Western Europe increased from 253 in 2017 to 282 in 2018, but there was actually a fall in fatalities. The IEP attributes this to increased counterterrorism measures and better surveillance techniques; and the decline in attractiveness of ISIS, its ability to inspire, plan and co-ordinate attacks. It is also likely that the capability of the “Inspired” amateur is less potent than the trained cadre member.

Politics of fear

“Although 2017 saw a sharp decline in deaths from terrorism in Western Europe, terrorist activity still poses a significant security threat,” according to the IEP’s Global Terrorism Index 2018. “Potential future sources of terrorism include foreign fighters returning to Europe after the collapse of ISIL in Iraq and Syria, as well as the threat of a resurgence of politically motivated extremist violence in both Western Europe and North America.”

“The global political landscape is producing new people risk threats and risks,” says Paul Mills, senior security consultant at AIG. “Extremist radical, isolationist and protectionist views by newly elected political parties, state-sponsored cyberattacks, the instability of post war political organisations and structures and global markets and sales tariffs conflicts are all feeding the uncertainty that we all face.”

“Uncontrolled migration in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the US are also creating tensions and resentment, and forcing political change,” Mills adds.

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Prepare yourself

There are several implications for businesses as they seek to protect their people and assets – wherever in the world they may be. Companies need to consider how their premises, their processes and their staff may be exposed and how the nature of their business or location can influence the level of risk that they face.

 The global political landscape is producing new people risk threats and risks. Extremist radical, isolationist and protectionist views by newly elected political parties, state-sponsored cyberattacks, the instability of post war political organisations and structures and global markets and sales tariffs conflicts are all feeding the uncertainty that we all face

While the risk of deliberate attack on a business premises remains low, organisations need to think about how they would respond if their people or property were caught up in a terrorist incident or hostage-style attack.

“All of us must accept responsibility for our own security in today’s modern world,” says Mills. “Most people do not do that. They rely on government or other entities to provide security safety nets for them. Also, individuals are bombarded with information and technology, which distracts them from being aware of the threats they face. So, it’s an educational process that needs to start at a grass roots level.”

Know what to do

Mills thinks larger organisations should provide a level of guidance and training for their employees and points to the US, where active assailant training has become a common feature for public and private sector companies, along with other initiatives like the Stop the Bleed campaign.

“It’s very good that the UK government has launched a programme that provides first aid training and Stop the Bleed style advice,” says Mills. “So, if you were caught up in a London tube attack, for instance, you would know how to respond. If you combine that sort of training with apps that send alerts and information on incidents that are happening in the vicinity of your location, it empowers people to make the best decisions in a dynamic situation.”