Terror threat 'something we're just going to have to live with'

394261 03: Smoke pours from the World Trade Center after being hit by two planes September 11, 2001 in New York City. (Photo by Fabina Sbina/ Hugh Zareasky/Getty Images)

Fifteen years on from the 9/11 attacks, terrorism in the West is largely carried out by lone wolf attackers - and it's likely to stay that way, according to one expert.

Stephen Hoadley of the University of Auckland says it's unlikely another atrocity on the scale of the September 11, 2001 attacks will happen in the next 15 years.

"I think we'll have pretty much then what we have now - which is the dispersal of individual terrorists in various countries undertaking lone wolf attacks at a small scale," the associate professor in politics and international relations told Paul Henry on Monday morning.

"I don't think we're going to see the destruction of the Freedom Tower or any major attacks, because those are pretty well-guarded."

This is because despite recent tragedies in Nice, Paris and Orlando, terrorism is on the decline in the West - despite how it might seem when you're watching the news.

"Every violent event that happens is branded a terrorist event. It's far over-reported," says Prof Hoadley, who also takes issue with the phrase 'War on Terror', coined by President Bush a week after the 9/11 attacks.

"It's a campaign against crime, rather than a war. I think it's been mischaracterised and stereotyped."

Since 2000, the number of terrorism deaths has increased ninefold, almost all of it in just five countries - Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria in the Middle East, and Nigeria in Africa - according to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index, compiled by the Institute for Economics & Peace. 

The US considered the 2003 invasion of Iraq part of the wider War on Terror. The breakdown in law and order over the next decade arguably led to the rise of Islamic State, whose attacks on civilians were so awful even al-Qaeda disowned them.

But Prof Hoadley says the Middle East was already breeding terrorists before the Iraq War, so the invasion probably didn't make things worse - particularly for the West.

"I think that because of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, the growth of Sunni radicalism, the growth of jihadism in places like Chechnya for example against the Russian Federation, it would have happened in any case."

According to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index, since 2000 only 2.6 percent of all terrorism deaths have been in Western countries. Take 9/11 out of the picture, and that drops to 0.5 percent.

It took 20 men to carry out the 9/11 attacks. With organised terror groups like al-Qaeda increasingly unable to pull that off, they're relying on social media to reach out to sympathetic lone wolves.

"It's given means to obscure, distant fragmented groups to communicate with each other," says Prof Hoadley.

And short of shutting down Twitter and banning digital encryption, that's going to be hard to stop.

"Like crime, like disease, like violence in the home, these are things that are endemic in the human condition. Given that the terrorists are totally dedicated to their cause and are winning new recruits via the internet all the time, I think this is something we're just going to have to live with like auto accidents and gun deaths," says Prof Hoadley.

"We don't want to distort our way of life. The use of Government funds for worthwhile things like economic development, welfare, education and health, those are all the highest priorities - terrorism is important, law enforcement is important, it's always been there, we have to maintain it - but [don't overestimate the threat].


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