WASHINGTON (AP) – Leaders of al-Qaeda lost some control of the terror network last year due to the arrests and deaths of top operational planners, but the group remains the most prominent terror threat facing the United States and its allies, the State Department said.
In its annual report on worldwide terrorism, the department singled out Iran as the most active state sponsor of terrorism, saying that its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Ministry of Intelligence and Security directly have been involved in the planning and support of terrorist acts.
Overall, Friday’s report tallied about 11,000 terror attacks around the world last year, resulting in more than 14,600 deaths. That is almost a fourfold increase in attacks from 2004, though the agency attributes the change largely on new ways of tallying the incidents.
At least 10,000 to 15,000 of the approximately 40,000 people killed or wounded worldwide were Muslims, most of them in Iraq, said the National Counterterrorism Center, which provided statistical information to the State Department.
About 3,500 of last year’s attacks occurred in Iraq and about 8,300 of the deaths occurred there, accounting for a large part of the increase over 2004.
The report said Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists, but Shiite and Sunni extremist groups are trying to turn it into one. While the U.S. and its allies have thwarted some attacks and kidnappings by groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, “the battle is far from over,” it said.
The report said that Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders are scattered and on the run and Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for the network. In addition, al-Qaeda’s relations with the Taliban that once ruled Afghanistan are growing weaker and the group’s finances and logistics have been disrupted, the report said.
“Al-Qaeda is not the organization it was four years ago,” the report said. However, “overall, we are in the first phase of a potentially long war,” it said. “The enemy’s proven ability to adapt means we will go through several more cycles of action/reaction before the war’s outcome is no longer in doubt. It is likely we will have a resilient enemy for years to come.”
A new generation of extremists, some of them getting training through the Internet, is emerging in cells that are likely to be more local and less meticulously planned, the report said. These small groups, empowered by technology, are very difficult to detect or counter, it said.
“We must maintain unrelenting pressure against al-Qaeda,” Henry Crumpton, the U.S. ambassador in charge of counterterrorism, said Friday at a briefing at the State Department. “We know they aim to attack the U.S. homeland.”
In 2004, the U.S. government’s National Counterterrorism Center, which monitors terrorism, counted 3,192 terror attacks worldwide, including more than 28,000 people wounded, killed or kidnapped.
Officials have said the government last year changed its system of counting global attacks and devoted more energy to finding reports of violence against civilians. Even so, the higher figures underscore how terrorism around the world has grown since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Safe havens for terrorists where they plan and inspire acts of terrorism tend to be located along international borders between and among ineffective governments, the report said. It cited the Afghanistan border, the intersection of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, the Celebes Sea in Southeast Asia, and Somalia.
In Iraq, which the report called a key front in the global war on terror, a system of clandestine support networks funneled in foreign terrorists from the Middle East, Europe, North Africa, South and Central Asia and the Caucasus.
Six countries, Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria, remain classified as state sponsors of terror. Libya and Sudan, though, were credited with continuing to take significant steps to cooperate in the global war on terror.
But in an unusual acknowledgment of cooperation by Syria, the report said Damascus has attempted to prevent terrorists from crossing into Iraq, saying it has upgraded security at their border. The U.S. has long accused Syria of using its territory to let terrorists enter Iraq.
The report also cited allegations that Libyan officials played a role in an attempt to assassinate then-Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah in 2003 and said the United States continues to evaluate Libya’s assurance to halt the use of violence for political purposes.
Libya began working last year with Britain to curtail terrorism by the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and extradited a suspect in a Cairo bombing to Egypt, the report said.
In Israel and Palestinian-held territories, a range of groups, including Hamas, used a variety of tactics, including suicide bombs.
The number of victims killed in Israel was less than 50, down from the nearly 100 people killed in 2004, the report said.
The report said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, with whom the Bush administration has clashed repeatedly, has an “ideological affinity” with two terrorist groups operating in Colombia, the FARC and the National Liberation Army. It said these connections limit Venezuela’s anti-terrorism cooperation with its neighbor. During a televised speech Friday, Chavez responded: “The one who has a deep affinity with terrorists is George W. Bush. He is a terrorist, a terrorist who became head of state and wants to terrorize the whole world.”