State Department: Terrorism up worldwide
By: Philip Ewing
April 30, 2014 04:37 PM EDT
Terrorist attacks worldwide increased by more than 43 percent last year despite the efforts of the U.S. and its allies to destroy or disrupt extremist networks, the State Department acknowledged in a new report Wednesday.
Total attacks around the world grew from more than 6,700 to more than 9,700 last year, killing nearly 18,000 people. Nearly 33,000 people were injured, and nearly 30,000 were kidnapped or taken hostage. The deadliest countries for terrorism were Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The agency’s annual assessment of terrorist networks found that the U.S. and its allies had continued success in pursuing what American officials call “core” Al Qaeda – the original network based in Afghanistan and Pakistan – but that its franchises elsewhere are becoming more independent – and dangerous.
In fact, the putative leader of Al Qaeda appears to have less power than ever with the branches of the network spreading east in to Yemen, the Levant and Africa.
“AQ leadership experienced difficulty in maintaining cohesion within the AQ network and in communicating guidance to its affiliated groups,” according to the State Department report. “AQ leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was rebuffed in his attempts to mediate a dispute among AQ affiliates operating in Syria – al-Nusrah Front and al-Qa’ida in Iraq, now calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – which resulted in the expulsion of ISIL from the AQ network in February 2014.”
“In addition,” the report continued, “guidance issued by Zawahiri in 2013 for AQ affiliates to avoid collateral damage was routinely disobeyed, notably in attacks by AQ affiliates against civilian religious pilgrims in Iraq, hospital staff and convalescing patients in Yemen, and families at a shopping mall in Kenya.”
State Department Counterterrorism Coordinator Tina Kaidanow told reporters that American officials also worry about Iran’s support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. It has both supplied his forces directly in the deadly campaign against rebels there and deployed fighters from Hezbollah to help them.
“The report makes clear we still have deep concerns about Iran’s use of proxies, including Hezbollah, terrorists as well as its support to Assad,” Kaidanow said.
The State Department’s report also renewed the administration’s warning about the danger of foreign fighters in Syria. “Thousands” of non-Syrians are in the country fighting the Assad regime on behalf of rebel groups, officials say, including many Americans and Europeans. Counterterrorism officials worry that radical fighters could slip back to their home countries and pose dangers there.
If there was good news in the State Department report, it was what officials called a steady decline in the number of Americans involved with terrorist attacks. The report said 16 U.S. citizens were killed in terrorist attacks last year, seven were injured and 12 were kidnapped.
The State Department report did not count the people killed or injured in last year’s Boston Marathon bombing, although it does allude to the bombing in describing the danger of “lone wolf,” self-directed terrorists.
Asked by reporters about the exclusion of the Boston victims, State spokeswoman Marie Harf said she would “check on the statistics.”
Overall, Harf said, “the number of attacks against Americans have been low for a long time and have continued to go down.” She also urged reporters to keep in mind that although the number of attacks and total deaths had increased in 2013, the overall trend was that individual attacks have gotten smaller.
“These are not massive attacks anymore,” she said. “They are smaller, more localized ones, so in some ways the number doesn’t tell the whole story.”