TIME Foreign Policy

Why Saudi Arabia’s Neighbor Is the Real Concern for the U.S.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah receives U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the king's Riyadh Palace on April 6, 2011 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah receives U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the king's Riyadh Palace on April 6, 2011 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

A smooth succession is all but guaranteed in the Kingdom — but that won't help imperiled U.S. allies in Yemen

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia died Thursday of natural causes at age 90, leaving in place what appears to be a well-laid succession plan that U.S. analysts hope will assure continued stable relations between Washington and the oil-rich country that dominates most of the peninsula.

Unfortunately, in neighboring Yemen, the government of U.S. ally President Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi also died Thursday, leaving nothing but the prospect of a failed state and increased sway for Iran-backed Houthi rebels and a powerful and dangerous branch of al Qaeda.

On balance, the bad news outweighs the good.

Abdullah’s successor, Crown Prince Salman, is an established figure in U.S.-Saudi affairs, with a history of collaboration on national security matters dating to his fundraising for the Afghan Mujahedeen during their war against the Soviets in the 1980s, says Bruce Reidel of the Brookings Institution. One of Salman’s sons, Reidel reports, “led the first RSAF mission against Islamic State targets in Syria last year.”

But while oil futures soared on the news of Abdullah’s death as traders worried about potential instability in Saudi Arabia, former U.S. officials viewed the collapse of central governing authority in Yemen as the real cause for concern. “Rule number one of contemporary national security policy is allow the emergence of no new failed states,” says former State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Amb. Daniel Benjamin.

The power vacuum is most worrying because it imperils U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism operations against one of the few al Qaeda off shoots that retains the U.S. as its primary target. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has a talented bomb-maker in its upper ranks, a Saudi fugitive named Ibrahim al Asiri. U.S. officials believe al Asiri is behind several near-miss attempts to bring down Western airliners, at least one of which was foiled by a Saudi double agent who had penetrated the group.

The Houthis are only a threat to the U.S. insofar as they appear to have effected the ouster of the U.S.-backed Hadi and left a collapsed state in his wake. “We were banking on a guy who was very pro-American, but had far less support in his country than we thought,” says Whitley Bruner, a former CIA Baghdad station chief who previously served in Yemen and has worked as a security consultant there in recent years.

The Saudis dislike both the Houthis and AQAP, which dispatched al Asiri’s brother in a suicide attack that nearly killed the Saudi Interior Minister in 2009. But the kingdom has little chance of putting its neighbor back together again: with Yemen’s history of sectarian, tribal and ideological violence, “it’s going to get worse,” says Bruner. AFP reported late Thursday that “four provinces of Yemen’s formerly independent south, including its main city Aden, say they will defy all military orders from Sanaa” now that the capital has fallen to the Houthis.

TIME State of the Union 2015

Barack Obama Warns Against Terrorist Fear Factor in State of the Union

Obama says he wants Americans to fight terrorists but not fear them

President Obama had a mixed message for Congress on terrorism in his State of the Union address Tuesday: don’t fear terrorists, but do authorize me to use military force against them.

Obama’s not the only one advancing that national security paradox. Leaders around the world face the same problem. Terrorists are scary—that’s their point. So how do you get support to fight them without freaking people out and handing them a win?

“We lead best,” Obama said in his speech, “When we don’t let our fears blind us to the opportunities that this new century presents.” And he implicitly attacked his predecessor, George W. Bush, for failing at the task. “Will we approach the world fearful and reactive, dragged into costly conflicts that strain our military and set back our standing?” Obama asked.

MORE How 7 ideas in the State of the Union would affect you

But Bush has been back in Texas for six years and Gallup reports that 40% of Americans are very or somewhat worried that they or someone in their family will become a victim of terrorism—a slightly higher percentage than when Obama became President in 2009. That’s particularly remarkable when you consider that an American is more likely to be struck by lightening than get hit by a terrorist.

Obama and Bush may not be entirely to blame. The public’s fear of terrorists and its expectations that government will aggressively defend against them are not necessarily the fault of political leaders, says Daniel Byman, co-author of a recent Brookings Institution analysis of the threat posed by foreign fighters returning to the West, “Be Afraid. Be a Little Afraid.”

“It’s very difficult for people to think rationally about low probability events that are high publicity,” Byman says. Furthermore, Byman says, “There are certain things we expect our government to do and one of them is to keep us safe, especially from foreign terrorists—it’s a core government function.”

MORE: Obama made history by using this word during the State of the Union

Which doesn’t make it any less costly to over-react to terrorist threats. Western fear is very specifically what the terrorists are after, as a recruiting tool, as a means of inspiring the troops they have, and as a way of getting opponents to make costly mistakes, Byman says. Some U.S. intelligence officials look at the long-term strategic challenges posed by China, Russia and European economic weakness and think ISIS and the chaos Middle East amounts at best to a diversion and at worst to a trap.

Obama suggested Tuesday that he wants to avoid such a trap. “Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group.” Yet his administration has sought broad powers from Congress to go after ISIS, including the authority to put troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria, where the group is principally operating, and to pursue it in other countries as well.

Republicans have the terrorist threat on their mind, too, of course. In her response from the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing room, Iowa GOP Sen. Joni Ernst said, “This is where we’ll debate strategies to confront terrorism and the threats posed by Al Qaeda, ISIL, and those radicalized by them,” Ernst said. “We know threats like these can’t just be wished away. We’ve been reminded of terrorism’s reach both at home and abroad; most recently in France and Nigeria, but also in places like Canada and Australia. Our hearts go out to all the innocent victims of terrorism and their loved ones. We can only imagine the depth of their grief.”

In the end, one of the most effective tools against terrorists is domestic resilience, especially an acceptance that some level of violence from terrorists, while extremely undesirable, is probably inevitable. “You have to accept that this is a part of modern life,” says Byman. “We need to resource security services, but you don’t want to make it the focus of foreign policy.”

TIME Economy

Expect Talk of Oil, Terrorism and Sex Scandals at Davos

A logo sits on a glass panel inside the venue of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 19, 2015.
Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg—Getty Images A logo sits on a glass panel inside the venue of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 19, 2015.

Even the most powerful cannot completely control the agenda at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Here’s what you can expect from this year’s conclave of the elite

Even the powerful men of Davos can’t control their own agenda.

The CEOs, top academics, and world leaders—many of whom have traveled by private jet and then helicopter to Davos, a secluded Swiss ski town—for this year’s World Economic Forum have come officially to discuss how power in the global economy is shifting, from traditional leaders like the U.S. to the emerging markets.

Instead, on the eve of the conference, which officially kicks off on Tuesday night, there were signs that the economic order of the past few decades seems intact. The latest sign came on Monday, when Chinese stocks plunged 8%, their largest drop in six years. Meanwhile, Brazil’s economy is stagnant and the collapse in oil prices has pushed Russia into a crippling recession. At the same time, U.S. GDP rose 5% in the third quarter, once again making the nation the driver of the world’s economy. That’s likely to lead much of the talk in Davos this year.

And while the monied men—and they are, once again, mostly men—have come to talk economics and global policy, at least some of that high-minded fare will be overshadowed by more salacious talk. The U.K.’s Prince Andrew, who is attending the World Economic Forum this year, is likely to get hit with questions about a scandal with an American woman, who claims he used her as a sex slave when she was 17. It will be the first time Prince Andrew has been in public since the allegations were made.

The World Economic Forum’s official agenda often gets pushed aside by world events that unfold while the powerful are walled in by Davos’ peaks. But it has been six years since leaders in Davos were meeting in the midst of what looks to be growing economic turmoil. And it’s the first time in a while where at least a portion of that instability is coming from the conference’s home turf.

European leaders will be speaking on the eve, once again, of a vote in Greece that could break up the euro. That and the plunging price of oil threaten to hurl the world’s financial system back into tumult.

Officially, the title of this year’s World Economic Forum is “The New Global Context.” The economic context that has emerged in the past few months is one of cheaper oil and instability in economies in Russia, Europe, and, most recently, China. That’s likely to make oil the spotlight of any discussion at Davos. On Wednesday, the secretary-general of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) Salem Adballa El Badri will speak on a panel with Arkady Dvorkovich, deputy prime minister of Russia. Also on the panel will be Khalid Al Falih, the CEO of Saudi Aramco, the Saudi Arabian oil company. The discussion will likely focus on whether the drop in oil prices is supply-driven, a gambit by Saudi Arabia and other nations to drive out other higher cost oil suppliers, or if it’s a sign that the world economy is slowing more dramatically than it may initially seem.

Central bankers around the world should expect some criticism, and that includes those in Switzerland, who last week surprised the world, causing currencies around the world to tumble compared to the Swiss franc. On Wednesday morning, New York University Professor Nouriel Roubini and hedge funder Paul Singer, both of whom have criticized the Federal Reserve for keeping interest rates near zero for so long, will talk. This summer, Singer said that the rise in the U.S. markets was based on fake money from the Fed and that it was not sustainable.

Davos is known for its high-powered panel discussions. The highest wattage finance conversation will come on Thursday and will likely focus on what could happen when the Fed begins to raise interest rates. That panel will include Goldman Sachs Chief Operating Officer Gary Cohn; Ray Dalio, who manages the largest hedge fund in the world; Harvard professor and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers; and Christine Lagarde, who is head of the International Monetary Fund.

On Thursday afternoon, Microsoft CEO Satya Nedella will debate the future of tech with Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Google’s Eric Schmidt. Also talking will be Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer. But perhaps the hottest tech ticket at Davos, given the state of China’s economy, is to hear Alibaba’s CEO Jack Ma, who will be speaking Friday morning. In September, the Chinese online retail giant raised $26 billion on the New York Stock Exchange, in the biggest IPO in U.S. history.

Income inequality is a perennial topic at the World Economic Forum. But the discussion of inequality at Davos tends to be impersonal and focus on rich nations versus poor nations. But influential research group Oxfam has attempted to make the issue more personal this year. On Monday, the charity Oxfam released a report targeted at the World Economic Forum that said the world’s wealthiest 1% are close to owning as much wealth as the rest of the globe combined. Davos gets its share of that 1%. Also, President Obama’s State of the Union Address on Tuesday will likely focus on income inequality, which could make it a larger part of the discussion at Davos.

Also, given the recent attacks in Paris, terrorism is likely to be a topic of conversation in Davos. French President Francois Hollande will address the conference on Friday.

U.S. officials have been somewhat absent in recent years at Davos, but they are slated to return this year. Secretary of State John Kerry, who was criticized for not participating in demonstrations against terrorism in France, will address the conference on Friday. U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is also slated to be at Davos, but he is not scheduled to publicly address conference attendees. Other U.S. officials or politicians on the attendance list include Penny Pritzker, the Secretary of Commerce; and Darrell Issa, the congressman from California. Former U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor will also be at Davos, but this year as an investment banker, for boutique firm Moelis & Co.

For the first time, the World Economic Forum will hold a discussion of gay and lesbian rights on its official program. But likely to get as much buzz as the panel is the fact that it won’t take place until Saturday, when many of the conference’s rich and powerful have already decamped or have headed to the ski slopes.

So it goes in Davos.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com.

TIME National Security

As Yemen’s Government Falls, So May a U.S. Strategy for Fighting Terror

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GAMAL NOMAN / AFP / Getty Images A Shiite Houthi fighter outside Yemen's presidential palace Tuesday.

Rebels launch coup against vital U.S. ally

As the nation awaited President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday—and any new decision on how he plans to wage war on Islamic fundamentalism—one of his key approaches seems on the verge of collapse in Yemen.

Shiite Houthi rebels attacked the home of Yemen’s president as they rushed into the presidential palace in Sana’a, the Yemeni capital. Government officials said a coup against President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi was underway. “The President has no control,” a Yemeni government spokesman told CNN.

Hadi is a key U.S. ally in the war against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but his grip on power has been pounded by Houthi forces over the past four months. Fighting between Hadi’s Sunni government and the Shiite Houthis has created a vacuum that experts fear AQAP will exploit to expand its power base in the increasingly lawless nation.

Saïd Kouachi and Chérif Kouachi, French brothers of Muslim descent, said they carried out their attack on Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine, on behalf of AQAP. “Tell the media that this is Al Qaeda in Yemen!” the Kouachi brothers shouted outside the magazine after their massacre.

Washington has cited its relationship with Yemen as breeding success in the war on terror. On Sept. 10, as Obama announced the start of a bombing campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, he heralded his lighter approach to dealing with terror by citing Yemen.

“I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he told the nation from the White House. “This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.” But 11 days later, Hadi’s government was driven from parts of the capital of Sana’a by the Houthis, who have since gained control of several ministries.

“U.S. counter-terrorism policies in Yemen worked in the short term to keep al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula from engaging in some attacks on the U.S. that al Qaeda wanted desperately to carry out,” former top Pentagon official David Sedney said Tuesday. “But that short-term success was never accompanied by a long-term strategy, and the result has been horrific—a country that is now in chaos, dominated by groups with diverse ideologies but who share a common theme—they hate the U.S. and want vengeance for the evils they believe we have wrecked upon them.”

The U.S. anti-terror policy in Yemen of a “light footprint”—drones, special-ops units and training for local forces—isn’t working, Sedney says. “The drone strikes and fierce attacks by U.S.-trained and -mentored Yemeni special forces have created hordes of new enemies for the U.S. who see us as supporters of a decrepit, oppressive, and corrupt leadership,” says Sedney, who from 2009 to 2013 ran the Pentagon office responsible for Afghanistan, Pakistan and central Asia.

U.S. Department of DefenseYemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi meets with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon in July 2013.

“What is not clear is whether the Administration has learned any lessons as its failures mount,” he adds. “If the only U.S. response is to increase drone strikes and send in more special forces, then we better get prepared for some difficult, violent years ahead.”

Christopher Swift, a Yemen expert at Georgetown University, says U.S. efforts in Yemen have been lackluster. “Our relationships, whether they’re political or military, don’t extend beyond the capital,” he says. “The bad guys are out in the field, far away from the national capital, and to the extent we claim to have relationships out in the bush, they’re based on third-party sources or overhead surveillance.”

U.S. goals in Yemen have always been tempered. “We’ve been playing for very limited, very modest objectives in Yemen,” Swift says. “Yemen is still a place where people who want inspiration, or training, or a place to hide can go. AQAP isn’t going away. The Yemenis are not in a position to make it go away, and we’re not willing to help them defeat AQAP decisively.”

Between 2011 and 2014, the U.S. pumped $343 million into Yemen, largely to fight AQAP. The U.S. is slated to provide Yemen with $125 million in arms and military training in 2015, in addition to $75 million in humanitarian aid, according to the nonprofit Security Assistance Monitor website.

“Despite their aggressive actions against AQAP, the Houthis have continually expressed anti-American rhetoric,” Seth Binder of the Security Assistance Monitor wrote Jan. 9. “And AQAP has used the Houthi’s Zaidi-Shi’a roots, a sect of Shiite Islam, to frame their battle as a Sunni-Shiite conflict. Recent reports indicate the tactic may be working as an increasing number of disenchanted Sunni tribesman are joining AQAP.”

Sedney says the only way of transforming a society like Yemen’s is full-bore nation building, with the time and money required to make it work. “We always want to have an exit,” Sedney says, “and the problem with real life is there’s no exit.”

TIME europe

Europe On High Alert Following Shootings and Arrests

A shootout in Belgium, a bomb threat in Paris and raids across the region have left European authorities on edge

Officials across Europe were on high alert for terror threats Friday after a chaotic night in Belgium on Thursday that saw a deadly shootout in Verviers, counterterrorism raids across the country, and the arrest of 13 suspected militants.

The shootout in Verviers took place during a raid of a former bakery, when suspects opened fire on police. Two gunmen were killed and another was wounded and arrested during the confrontation. All three of the suspects have recently returned from Syria and were thought to be planning an attack on the police. Four Kalashnikov rifles, bomb-making equipment and police clothing were found after the raid, reports the Guardian citing local media sources.

“This operation stopped a major terrorist attack from taking place. You could say a second potential Paris has been averted,” federal prosecutor, Eric Van Der Sypt, told the Guardian, while authorities in Belgium raised the national terror alert level from 2 to 3, the second-highest level. Van Der Sypt told the Associated Press, “I cannot confirm that we arrested everyone in this group.”

Meanwhile, Jewish schools in Brussels and Antwerp were closed on Friday after authorities revealed they were a “potential target” for Islamist militants, reports the Guardian. An Orthodox Jewish school in the Netherlands was also closed as a precautionary measure, though there was no direct threat made against it.

In Paris, the scene of last week’s terrorist attacks that left 17 dead, authorities shut down and evacuated the Gare de l’Est train station early on Friday, after a bomb threat was made. A French police official told the Associated Press that the station was closed “as a precaution.” (No bomb was found.)

Paris is at its highest terrorism alert level. The prosecutor’s office reported that 12 people had been arrested during raids throughout the region, which targeted associates of the gunman, Amedy Coulibaly, who killed four people in a kosher supermarket and a policewoman last week, and claimed ties to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Coulibaly was killed at the market after a standoff with police, but his suspected accomplice and common-law wife, Hayat Boumeddiene, is still being sought by authorities.

Turkish authorities have said Boumeddiene crossed from Turkey into Syria on Jan. 8. Spanish authorities have reported that Coulibaly drove Boumeddiene from France to Madrid on New Year’s Eve and was with her until she took a Jan. 2 flight to Istanbul. Spain is still investigating what the couple did and who they contacted while in the country, and whether they had links with a terrorist cell in Spain.

Belgian police are also looking at possible links between a suspected arms dealer arrested in the southern town of Charleroi on Wednesday and Coulibaly; the man claimed that he wanted to buy a car from the Coulibaly’s wife, Van der Sypt told the AP. “At this moment this is the only link between what happened in Paris,” he said.

In Berlin, police arrested two men on Friday on suspicion of recruiting fighters for ISIS. They were taken into custody after a series of raids across the capital, which saw the search of 11 residences by 250 police officers. However authorities have said the raids were part of a months-long, ongoing investigation and not related to the recent attacks in Paris.

TIME Africa

Papers in Kenya and South Africa Say Sorry for Running Charlie Hebdo Cover

The weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo, on January 13, 2015 in Villabe, south of Paris, a week after two jihadist gunmen stormed the Paris offices of the satirical magazine, killing 12 people including some of the country's best-known cartoonists. Its cover features the prophet with a tear in his eye, holding a "Je Suis Charlie" sign under the headline "All is forgiven".
Martin Bureau—AFP/Getty Images The weekly Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Jan. 13, 2015, a week after two jihadist gunmen stormed the Paris offices of the satirical magazine, killing 12

Reprinting triggered an uproar from Islamic communities

Kenya’s the Star and South Africa’s the Citizen issued apologies this week for reprinting the controversial new cover of Charlie Hebdo, after publication triggered an uproar from Muslim readers.

“The Star sincerely regrets any offense and pain caused by the picture and we will bear Muslim sensibilities in mind in the future,” read a statement from the Kenyan paper.

The country’s media regulator reportedly summoned the Star’s owner after levying accusations that the paper published indecent images and had acted in an unprofessional manner, according to the BBC.

Earlier this week, editors at the Citizen claimed the publication of the cover had been an “oversight” and was not fueled by malicious intent.

“The Citizen would never intentionally offend anyone’s religious sensibilities, especially in the manner used by Charlie Hebdo magazine, several of whose staff members were murdered last week,” read an editorial published online.

The cover of the first issue of Charlie Hebdo since gunmen went on a shooting spree in its Paris offices earlier this month shows an illustration of Muhammad with a sign saying, “I Am Charlie.” The headline reads: “All Is Forgiven.”

The issue of whether to run or not run the cover has spurred a furious debate among media outlets over whether the printing of images of the Prophet, which most Muslims find offensive, is justifiable.

TIME Nigeria

Why Charlie Hebdo Gets More Attention Than Boko Haram

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Aminu Abubakar—AFP/Getty Images A man injured in a suicide blast is transported to the General Hospital in the northeast town of Potiskum, Nigeria on Jan, 12, 2015.

Charlotte Alter covers women, culture, politics and breaking news for TIME in New York City.

Americans care a lot about attacks that seem like they could happen to them

A series of attacks, both in the name of Islamist extremism, occur in the same week. Three linked attacks kill 17 in Paris, another kills at least 150 in Nigeria (but perhaps up to 2,000). Guess which one gets most of our attention?

Many are calling the Jan. 7 attack on the office of Charlie Hebdo an attack on freedom of speech, or even an assault on Western values as a whole. Yet elsewhere in the world, those same values are being threatened by other extremists who want to spread fundamentalism. I’m talking, of course, about Boko Haram, the Islamist terrorist group in Nigeria that kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from their dorm last spring, murdered up to 2,000 civilians in Baga last week (although the bodies have not yet been officially counted), and over the weekend used a 10-year old girl as a suicide bomber to kill at least 16 people at a market (two other young girls wearing suicide vests killed three people in a separate attack.)

These attacks aren’t just brutal, they’re also part of a larger assault on freedom of religion and democracy, since the group targets Christians, non-Muslims, and anybody suspected of opposing their efforts to establish an African caliphate. Baga was reportedly perceived to have loyalties to the Nigerian government instead of Boko Haram, and the attack comes just weeks before Nigeria’s 2015 presidential election. Boko Haram, like many Islamist fundamentalist groups, oppose democratic elections.

MORE 5 facts that explain the threat from Nigeria’s Boko Haram

Yet after the overwhelming global show of support for France in the wake of the Paris attacks, many are asking why there wasn’t similar widespread solidarity for Nigeria where far more people were killed. The hashtag #IamBaga, a variation on #JeSuisCharlie, has recently begun circulating to call attention to the massacre in Baga, a slaughter that Amnesty International is calling the group’s “deadliest act.” A Catholic Archbishop in Nigeria has called on the world community to support Nigeria the way it supported France. But even if you consider the brief blast of global awareness during last spring’s #BringBackOurGirls campaign, these calls to action seem feeble compared to the millions of marchers and more than 40 world leaders who flooded the streets of Paris this weekend.

No major dignitaries showed up in Abuja to support the Nigerian government after the Baga attack. In the week since the attack on Charlie Hebdo, the French terror plot has been the main headline in the national edition of the New York Times every day, but the most recent Boko Haram attack hasn’t appeared once on the front page. It wasn’t on the cover of the New Yorker. Nobody wore #IamBaga buttons at the Golden Globes.

Of course, the two tragedies are incomparable, as tragedies usually are. The reports coming out of Baga are still sketchy, and there’s not yet an official death toll because Boko Haram still controls the area. The details of the Charlie Hebdo attacks were immediately available, and were accompanied by compelling video that quickly dominated every major news network. French President Francois Hollande is somewhat unpopular, but at least he responded quickly and effectively to the attack. Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has been widely criticized for his incompetence at stopping Boko Haram– Jonathan released a statement condemning the Paris attacks, but his government reportedly played down the death toll in Baga. More importantly, the attack in Paris was largely unprecedented (Charlie Hebdo was firebombed in 2011, but nobody was hurt), while the massacre in Nigeria is part of a long string of Boko Haram attacks that some are even calling a “war“: the group killed over 10,000 people last year, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, and 1.5 million have fled their homes since the insurgency started. Plus, the fact that the Charlie Hebdo attack was a dramatic ambush of journalists may have added a layer of panic to the media coverage.

“The psychological distance between us and France is smaller than the psychological difference between us and Nigeria,” explains Paul Slovic, a professor of psychology at University of Oregon and president of Decision Research, a non-profit research institute that studies decision-making. “There’s a sense of personal vulnerability [in the Paris attack] that I don’t think one gets from the Boko Haram attacks,”

MORE How we failed the lost girls kidnapped by Boko Haram

A recent Pew survey tracking American news interest in foreign terrorist attacks found that Americans were overwhelmingly more interested in attacks that happen in other Western countries or attacks on children. The 2005 train bombings in London and the 2004 killing of Russian children by Chechen rebels were the most closely watched by Americans (48% saying they’d followed each event closely), followed by the 2004 bombings in Madrid and the 2007 car bomb scare in London (34% said they followed those stories). 29% of Americans closely followed the most recent Paris attacks.

The only terrorists attacks in non-Western countries that got significant American attention were attacks on destinations that attract affluent visitors. For example, 29% said they closely followed the 2008 attack of Mumbai’s Taj Hotel. 25% followed the attack on an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya in 2013, and 20% followed the bombing of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia in 2002. Recent terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, Iraq and at a Pakistan school didn’t make the list.

“We tend to empathize more with people that we feel are more ‘like us,'” says Marco Iacoboni, a psychiatry professor at UCLA. “I think in this case, cultural, anthropological differences can play a big role in how much we empathize with others. I jokingly call this the ‘dark side’ of empathy.”

Whether or not it’s morally right, that cognitive disconnect is exactly what the terrorists are betting on. When terrorists kill villagers in non-Western countries, it feels like one of many bad things that happen to poor people in far-away places. When terrorists attack Western cities Americans might live in, hotels Americans might stay in, or nightclubs Americans might dance in, it feels like a bad thing that could happen to you.

That’s a scary thought, which is exactly why the terrorists are doing it. But maybe we should be just as concerned about terrorists in Africa as we are of terrorists in the West. Not just because the lives of those killed in Nigeria were just as valuable as the lives of those killed in France, but because as long as people are killing in the name of Islamist extremism, or any extremism, all of us are at risk.

On Wednesday, video surfaced of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau praising the attacks in Paris, saying, “We have felt joy for what befell the people of France in terms of torment, as their blood was spilled inside their country.” It’s a chilling tribute that reminds us that when terrorism flourishes anywhere, it strengthens terrorists everywhere.

MORE Bunnies, stinkbugs, and maggots: the science of empathy

Read next: Satellite Images Show Nigerian Town ‘Almost Wiped Off the Map’ After Boko Haram Attack

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME foreign affairs

How French Intelligence Missed the Charlie Hebdo Terrorists

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FRANCOIS LO PRESTI—AFP/Getty Images Members of the GIPN and RAID, French police special forces, walk in Corcy, northern France, on January 8, 2015 as they carry out searches as part of an investigation into a deadly attack the day before by armed gunmen on the Paris offices of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

John Mueller and Mark Stewart are the authors of the forthcoming Chasing Ghosts: The Costly Quest to Counter Terrorists in the United States.

Terrorism's very high cost combined with its very low probability make stopping terrorists as difficult as finding a needle in a hastack

In the wake of the tragic shootings in Paris, French police and intelligence agencies are being asked to explain why known militants—including one who had visited an al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen several years ago—were not subject to intense surveillance before they launched last week’s terrorist attack at the offices of a French satirical weekly.

The answer is fairly simple, if less than satisfying: it costs a lot of money to do so. A perhaps somewhat high estimate is that the full-scale surveillance of an individual for a year costs some $8 million. The costs of watching even 125 people in that way would add up to $1 billion—a sum that is one-third of the entire FBI counterterrorism budget.

French police believe that, among prisoners alone, 200 would “merit attention” and 95 would be “dangerous” once released.

Nor is malpractice evident in the fact that the surveillance of some terrorist suspects is relaxed over time. Very often, would-be terrorists lose their enthusiasm for the enterprise. As terrorism specialist John Horgan has pointed out, walking away from terrorism is a common phenomenon. It is not that they necessarily abandon their radical views, but that they abandon violence as a means of expressing them.

Policing agencies must therefore pick and choose carefully. At any one time there could easily be thousands of plausible candidates for scrutiny, and many of them may well seem to be more threatening those who actually committed terrorist mayhem in Paris.

Under the influence of what might be called “the 9/11 Commission Syndrome,” in which all terrorism leads are supposed to be followed up on, government agencies chase more than 5,000 “threats” in the United States every day. The vast majority of this activity leads, of course, to nothing, and the massive enterprise is often called “ghostchasing” in the FBI, an agency that may have pursued well over 10 million leads since 2001.

The enterprise leads to only a very small number of productive investigations—there are only 100 or so arrests on terrorism charges in the United States each year, and most of these are of would-be terrorists who are either trivial or at most aspirational. However, in addition, there will be a considerable number—thousands or even tens of thousands—who are deemed suspicious enough to watch. At that point, budgetary considerations must necessarily come into play. Investigators can afford to give only a few the full surveillance treatment.

When something like the French tragedy happens, policing and intelligence agencies are urged to work even harder to ferret out potential terrorists in our midst—in other words, to heap even more hay onto the haystack. That is certainly an understandable reaction, but it almost never comes associated with even the barest elements of a rounded analysis. This should begin not with the perennial question “Are we safer?” but rather with one almost never asked: “How safe are we?”

On average, one or two people have perished per year since 2001 at the hands of Islamic terrorists in the United States and in France, less than that in Canada and Australia, a bit more in the United Kingdom. Under present circumstances, then, the likelihood a citizen in those countries will be killed by a terrorist is one in millions. Whatever the fears of French police and however wrenching the last week has been, terrorism in their country, looked at rather coldly, has not resulted in many deaths.

The question then becomes, as risk analyst Howard Kunreuther put it shortly after 9/11, “How much should we be willing to pay for a small reduction in probabilities that are already extremely low?”

In seeking to answer that key question, it should be kept in mind that terrorism often exacts considerable political, economic, emotional, and psychic damage that may not be inflicted by other hazards, natural and unnatural. Moreover, it is worth considering that terrorism in the developed world might suddenly increase in frequency and intensity. However, this would be a sharp reversal of current patterns, and the terrorist surge would have to be massive to change the basic calculus.

As with crime, perfect safety is impossible, a rather obvious point that is nonetheless often neglected. Funds directed at a hazard that kills few might sometimes be more productively directed at one that kills many.

John Mueller is a political scientist at Ohio State University and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Mark Stewart is an engineer and risk analyst at the University of Newcastle in Australia. They are the authors of Terror, Security, and Money: Balancing the Risks, Benefits, and Costs of Homeland Security and of the forthcoming Chasing Ghosts: The Costly Quest to Counter Terrorists in the United States.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Terrorism

5 Facts That Explain the Threat From Nigeria’s Boko Haram

A member of Boko Haram seen in a suburb of Kano, Nigeria, in 2012.
Samuel James—The New York Times/Redux A member of Boko Haram seen in a suburb of Kano, Nigeria, in 2012

How an election, an energy crisis and Boko Haram’s willingness to kill more people than Ebola puts Nigeria's challenges in context

As the world responded to the Charlie Hebdo attack with a 3.7 million person march and the most tweeted hashtag in history, a surge in insurgent savagery in northeast Nigeria drew much less international attention — but was far bloodier. “Je Suis Charlie” has been the theme of the week, but we could just as easily say “Je Suis Nigeria.”

Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist group, wants to establish a caliphate of its own, and a weak Nigerian government is struggling to respond. Here are five facts that put the group’s atrocities in context — and show why we’re likely to see more violence ahead of Nigeria’s Feb. 14 elections.

1. Shocking numbers in the news
On Jan. 3, Boko Haram began an assault on the town of Baga in Nigeria’s restive northeast. While the Nigerian government said 150 died in the attack, other estimates of the death toll ranged from hundreds to some 2,000 people. By some reports, 30,000 people have been displaced. On Saturday, a suicide bomb attached to a 10-year-old girl killed at least 16 people. Boko Haram also attacked a military base in neighboring Cameroon.

(The Atlantic, CNN, al-Jazeera, Foreign Policy)

2. Approval and elections
On the back of his successful handling of the Ebola crisis, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s approval ratings vaulted to an all-time high 74% in September. By December, this number had fallen to 55%, and in the northeast, Boko Haram’s stronghold, his approval fell 23 points that month.

Can the February presidential election even be held in Nigeria’s three northeastern states? Boko Haram wants to force the country’s electoral commission to cancel or indefinitely postpone the vote there. We’ll likely see at least some voting there, though only under heavy security, making it easier for losers to challenge the integrity of the results. In 2011, post-election violence in Nigeria killed 800 people.

(Premium Times, Human Rights Watch)

3. Boko Haram vs. Ebola
The West African Ebola outbreak has killed roughly 8,400 people so far. That’s by far the biggest Ebola outbreak ever, yet the Council on Foreign Relations has compiled data that links 10,340 violent deaths between November 2013 and November 2014 to Boko Haram–related violence. The conflict has displaced more than 1.5 million people, and with more than 20,000 square miles under its control, Boko Haram–held territory is larger than Switzerland.

(Council on Foreign Relations via NBC News, Ebola death-toll estimates via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, BBC, Washington Post, Telegraph, the New Yorker)

4. The government’s energy headache
The major problems in Nigeria’s energy sector makes a robust and costly response to Boko Haram that much more difficult. A steep fall in oil prices — down more than 50% since June — is bad news for a country that relies on crude for 95% of export revenue and 75% of government revenue. Nigeria has also severe electricity generation concerns. Though Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer, as of 2012, the country’s per capita electricity consumption was just 7% of Brazil’s and 3% of South Africa’s. Half of Nigeria’s 170 million people have no access to electricity whatsoever.

(The Economist, the Guardian, the U.N. Africa Renewal, Energy Information Administration)

5. A blind eye
President Jonathan has an election to win, and his government has been accused of underestimating deaths attributable to Boko Haram to deflect political criticism. Less than 24 hours after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, President Jonathan publicly declared it a “dastardly terrorist attack.” Yet nine days after the violence in Baga began, Jonathan has not publicly acknowledged that the attacks had even happened, though a spokesman for Nigeria’s Defense Ministry issued a statement questioning the “exaggerated” death-toll estimates, dismissing them as “speculation and conjecture.”

(BBC, the Atlantic, transcript of Jan. 8 campaign rally via Sahara Reporters, CNN, Foreign Policy)

Read next: Detained Washington Post Journalist Indicted in Iran

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