The horrific lorry attack in a crowded Christmas Market in Berlin, on the 19th December, with its high number of deaths and casualties of festive shoppers and tourists, is another chilling reminder that Europe is becoming the new battleground for radical extremists to impart violence against western societies and their democratic values. The close quarter assassination of Ambassador Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, in an art showroom in Ankara on the same day, demonstrates the strategic impact that terrorist incidents can have on the geo-political arena and the consequences on regional policies. The wounding of three individuals by a lone gunman in a mosque in Zurich, on the same afternoon, is another reminder of the tension that exists in societies that are receiving large numbers of migrants from a diverse range of troubled parts of the world. This may well not turn out be a terrorist act, but it is possible that the gunman held extremist views or was mentally disturbed. Our thoughts, like everyone, are very much with all the victims and their families.
The incident yesterday in Berlin has now been confirmed as a terrorist attack by the German Interior Minister. Islamist extremism is likely to have been the main influence and links between the suspect and Daesh or AQ are highly likely, either through the perpetrator’s travel history or online / social media activity. A claim of responsibility by either a Daesh or AQ affiliate appears probable.
The assassination of Ambassador Karlov by a Turkish police officer in Ankara has the potential for serious international consequences. This is the second time in recent years where Russia has been let down by a lapse in security measures from countries with shared interests. The downing of the Metrojet flight from Sharm el Sheikh Airport, in 2015, is highly likely due to the facilitation of a bomb through an insider at the airport. The murder yesterday appears to have been committed by a Turkish police officer exploiting his credentials to gain close access to a protected person. How to identify, manage and mitigate the threat posed by employee radicalisation and insider collusion is an increasing challenge for HR professionals and the wider business community. The incident in Ankara highlights the need for robust and holistic security policies and protocols across all terrorism mitigation measures.
Western Europe has faced a sustained threat from Islamic extremists. The arrests made by police and security agencies across Europe now appear to have achieved more than picking the ‘low hanging fruit’ and have resulted in significant disruptions to terrorist networks. With the operational security of groups and cells under threat, and more complex plots at risk of disruption, it is not surprising we are now seeing more ‘lone actor’ attacks – some of them inspired, others directed from Daesh ‘central command’ in Raqqa. This shift supports recent extremist ideology and media releases. Over the past three months the Daesh magazine ‘Rumiyah’ has called for low sophistication attacks against the West, specifically referencing use of knives and vehicles. Additionally, the so called ‘Daesh French Media Division’ promoted vehicular attacks this month. This is in addition to earlier calls to action that have been written in previous issues of ‘Inspire’ – the magazine published by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
Since August 2014, the British government have warned a terrorist attack in the UK is ‘highly likely’. In that time, the police and MI5 have disrupted many major plots and attack plans. Extremists recognise Britain, whilst desirable, is a difficult target to penetrate. News last week of a Midlands’ based cell being arrested and concrete barriers being erected around the Birmingham Christmas Market appear coincidental. Post-Nice, hostile vehicle mitigation measures have been at the forefront of the minds of those security professionals’ who are responsible for crowded places. Any hostile intent of those recently arrested is likely to include attack methodology using crude improvised explosive devices and traditional weapons. The Christmas Markets and other crowded, festive locations, however, cannot be ruled out as a potential target.
The Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) currently offers comprehensive advice and guidance on the risk which is highly recommended to Human Resources and Security Managers. The attack in Ankara also highlights the likely motivation being Russia’s current foreign policy and military intervention in Iraq and Syria; the UK and France have similar associated and consequential risks with their interventions against the so-called Caliphate and other extremist groups.
Attacks and failed plots, pan Europe, over the last 12 months highlight the current ‘information gap’ between the government and business. The corporate world have a demand not just for information of an attack, which is widely available on open sources, but an assessment of the attack and implications for businesses which can be identified. Such an approach would help ensure the resilience of the UK economy by having business adjust existing security strategies, if applicable, implement new ones, if required and have business continuity plans fit for purpose against the current terrorist threat to facilitate prompt recovery. ‘Learning lessons’ from these types of attacks is key to delivering successful enterprise risk management plans; this can only be achieved if appropriate and timely information is passed on by the public sector to the private sector.
The incident in Berlin, and to a lesser extent the recent, failed attack planned by a 12 year old in Ludwigshafen, Germany, also highlights the current insurance gap with business and personal accident and life insurance losses not currently covered by existing policies. Christmas Markets are a recognised seasonal event drawing in local and international tourists. The probable ‘loss of attraction’ of an attack of this type is likely to be significant to Berlin and other European cities. Business interruption resulting from the attack, and subsequent scene management and police investigation, will be significant. As occurred post the incidents in Paris and Brussels, there will be longer term economic losses, associated with these and other incidents that have occurred in Germany over the last 12 months.
There is clearly a requirement for new insurance products to cover such losses. Pool Re continues to work with its Members to encourage suitable insurance products that can meet these contemporary and emerging perils. In addition, Pool Re is expanding its relationship with the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) so as to continue to promote discounted premiums where risk mitigation measures are implemented. Moreover, one of our priorities for 2017 is to further penetrate the small medium sized enterprise (SME) sector so that this key part of the national economy has the appropriate level of terrorism cover in place.