Terrorism risk assessment

AuthorVasilis Karlos - Martin Larcher
2!Terrorism risk assessment
Over the last years, the fear of terrorism is steadily one of the main concerns of Europeans, as can be witnessed
by the latest Eurobarometer surveys (Standard Eurobarometer 92, 2019). This is mainly attributed to its unique
characteristics, unpredictable nature and the extensive coverage of attack incidents by the media. Even though
terrorist events are of low frequency, a comprehensive understanding of the parameters that influence their
likelihood is required for establishing a robust risk assessment and management framework. Independent of
their rarity, their psychological, economic and political impact on society can be disproportionally high, as
demonstrated for example after the bombing attacks in Brussels and the vehicle-ramming attack in Nice in
2016. As a result, the European Commission has issued an ‘Action Plan to support the Protection of Public
Spaces’ (European Commission, 2017a) that Member States, regions and cities are advised to incorporate into
their infrastructure development program.
As mentioned in the Commission Staff Working Document (European Commission, 2017b) developed through
the results of the National Risk Assessments (NRAs) of Member States, the global terror threat is uncertain due
to its complex and fragmented nature, that includes both structured groups and individual (lone wolves)
aggressors. In particular, scenarios concerning individual terrorist actions aiming public spaces and critical
infrastructures have been developed with links to political and religious extremism. A terrorist attack could
potentially have cascading effects and cross-sectorial consequences, e.g. large-scale contamination after an
attack with a toxic agent or environmental disaster after a substance release.
Terrorist events can be defined as intentional violent acts performed under the pretext of political, religious or
social motives, whereas crime is usually driven by economic or retaliation intentions. The borderline between
terrorism and military conflicts (encounters in which armed combat among military forces takes place either at
international or national level) might be hard to be distinguished, since both rely on the extensive use of violence
and could be guided by similar motives. Weapons (firearms, knives etc.), vehicles, CBRN (Chemical, Biological,
Radiological and Nuclear) devices and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that are either homemade or
purchased in the black market are the preferred attack methods of terrorist groups and lone actors. However,
it is important to consider that the modus operandi of the aggressors (in both terrorist acts and military
conflicts) can rapidly transform, as has been demonstrated in the recent past. This transformation depends on
a number of factors, such as the current political, economic and religious status that are driving the motives,
the skills and capabilities of the perpetrators, the availability of financial and human resources, the instructions
and guidance available in terrorist propaganda sites and magazines.
The risk of terrorism exists in both developed and developing countries and it still poses a major concern in
certain regions that are mainly located in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, as shown in Fig. 1. Nevertheless, the
recent attacks in the Western world have clearly demonstrated that terrorism is a worldwide phenomenon,
featuring complex direct (e.g. victims, injuries, loss of property) and indirect (e.g. psychological) consequences
on the society. Unfortunately, the unique characteristics of terrorism risk are often neglected, resulting in a lack
of dedicated guidance material for assessing and managing the relevant risk. Therefore, the establishment of
a national terrorism risk assessment plan is crucial for identifying critical zones, popular tactics and get the
overall picture regarding the economic, social and political consequences in case of a successful attack.

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