Iraq is the country most at risk from terrorist attacks for the second straight year, according to a ranking by global analysts Maplecroft, while Thailand has joined the nine countries most in danger for the first time.
Terrorism has shot back up the global agenda since al Qaeda claimed a Dec 25. bid to down a U.S. airliner and insurgent violence remains a pressing concern as both Iraq and Afghanistan face milestones in 2010 in their search for stability.
The risk consultancy's Terrorism Risk Index shows that although security in Iraq has improved, the scale, human impact and frequency of attacks still makes it the riskiest country for political violence with nearly 4,500 civilians killed in 2009.
Violence in Thailand's restive Muslim south, such as October 6 2009 bomb attacks in Sungai Kolok that killed two and wounded 42, largely account for the country's rating of 9th, a rise from 11 the year earlier, the index of 196 countries shows.
The index based on 2009 data ranks Afghanistan second, with Pakistan and Somalia third and fourth respectively. They are rated at extreme risk along with Lebanon 5, India 6, Algeria 7, Colombia 8 and Thailand 9, a Maplecroft statement said.
The UK-based risk advisory group's index tracks the risks of an attack, the intensity of violence as measured by casualties per incident, a country's history of extremist violence and threats made against it by groups such as al Qaeda.
Media coverage can often skew public perceptions of terrorism risk in a country by publicizing mass casualty attacks, said Maplecroft political risk analyst Eva Molyneux.
POTENTIAL TO DISRUPT BUSINESS OPERATIONS
However, smaller terrorist incidents often go unreported, despite having potential to disrupt business operations and supply chains.
While overall violence in Iraq has fallen over the last two years, attacks and fighting remain common as Iraq gears up for a March 7 parliamentary election and U.S. troops prepare to stop combat operations ahead of a withdrawal by the end of 2011.
Washington aims to cut troop levels to 50,000 by its August 31 2010 target for an end to combat operations, and to withdraw all its forces, now about 115,000-strong, by the end of 2011.
More than 3,900 people have been killed in six years of unrest in Thailand's rebellious deep south blamed on separatist insurgents in the region bordering Malaysia.
The deployment of tens of thousands of police and troops backed by tough security laws has failed to end the violence, for which no credible group has claimed responsibility so far.
In Afghanistan, Western countries hope a major offensive this year backed by 30,000 extra troops will help push the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table.
The Philippines, ranked at 10, Palestinian Territories at 11, Turkey 14, Russia 15, Israel 17, Nigeria 24 and Spain 34 rate as high risk, whilst Britain at 41, China 43, USA 46 and France 56 are rated medium risk. Countries rated low risk include Germany 81, Canada 116 and Australia 120.
Major movers in the index, versus a year earlier, were:
Greece: Rose to 57 from 63, due to an increase in minor incidents of left wing extremism. Common targets are police tax offices and other state govt symbol, Maplecroft said.
Yemen: Rose to 22 from 29 due to an increase in abductions and an increase in the threat from al Qaeda.
Iran: Rose to 19 from 25, due to insurgencies in Baluchistan and Khuzestan and rising anti-government sentiment.
China: Rises to 43 from 54 due to increase in the intensity of security incidents in 2008-09 compared to 2006-07.
Egypt: Rises to 54 from 66, due to a spate of minor security incidents in late 2008 and early 2009.
(Reporting by William Maclean, Editing by Dominic Evans)