Monday, May 01, 2006

Terrorist Attacks Rose Sharply in 2005, State Dept. Says
Terrorist Attacks Rose Sharply in 2005, State Dept. Says
By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer

The number of terrorist attacks worldwide increased nearly fourfold in 2005 to 11,111, with strikes in Iraq accounting for 30 percent of the total, according to statistics released by U.S. counterterrorism officials yesterday.

Although only half of the incidents resulted in loss of life, more than 14,600 noncombatants were killed, a majority of them in Iraq alone and 80 percent in the Near East and South Asia. American nonmilitary deaths totaled 56.

The figures were compiled by the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and released with the annual State Department Country Reports on Terrorism.

Unlike those of previous years, the 2005 report included a "strategic assessment" of the war on terrorism, which concluded that while "al-Qaeda is not the organization it was four years ago," the group was "adaptive and resilient . . . and important members of its core cadre remained alive and were adjusting to our operational tempo."

"Overall," the 262-page report said, "we are still in the first phase of a potentially long war. The enemy's proven ability to adapt means we will probably go through several more cycles of action/reaction before the war's outcome is no longer in doubt. It is likely that we will face a resilient enemy for years to come."

The assessment was somewhat more grim than those offered by the White House in recent months. Although the struggle against global terrorism is far from over, President Bush said in a February speech at the Naval Academy that "we're winning."

The NCTC defines terrorist attacks as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets" but acknowledges that such terms are "open to interpretation." "Combatants" are defined as "military, paramilitary, militia, and police under military command and control in specific areas or regions where war zones or war-like settings exist."

Diplomats and other nonmilitary government "assets," as well as civilians, are considered noncombatants for counting purposes.

On the positive side, the report noted that al-Qaeda's leadership is "scattered and on the run," with its finances and logistics disrupted and its organizational networks increasingly decentralized.

But while Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, were said to be "frustrated" by their lack of direct control over terrorist operations, the fact that they remained at large allowed them to "symbolize resistance to the international community, demonstrate they retain the capability to influence events, and inspire actual and potential terrorists."

The apparent inability of bin Laden and Zawahiri to orchestrate large-scale attacks -- and al-Qaeda's increasing "emphasis on ideological and propaganda activity" -- was one of several emerging trends, said Henry A. Crumpton, State Department coordinator for counterterrorism, in a briefing.

The number of "high fatality incidents" around the world, excluding Iraq, was among the few statistics in the report that decreased from 2004 -- when attacks in places such as Russia and Madrid killed hundreds -- to 2005.

But in Iraq, such incidents -- defined as those resulting in 10 or more deaths -- increased from 65 to 150, with a doubling of fatalities. Overall, there were 3,500 attacks in Iraq, up from 866 in 2004.

Most fatalities were attributed to armed attacks and bombings. None occurred in the United States or used weapons of mass destruction, and "no attacks approached the sophistication of those on 9/11," the NCTC statistical analysis concluded.

But "2005 saw many attacks perpetrated by relatively unskilled operatives." The State Department report noted an increase in "small, autonomous cells and individuals [that] drew on advanced technologies and the tools of globalization such as the Internet, satellite communications, and international commerce."

These "micro-actors," the report said, "were extremely difficult to detect or counter." Increasing use of the Internet among individuals and small groups disposed to terrorist acts, such as last July's suicide bombings in the London transport system, no longer requires central leadership or on-the-ground training.

In addition to those trends, NCTC Deputy Director Russ Travers offered three reasons for the significant statistical increases in both attacks and fatalities. The 2004 report was initially assembled under a narrower definition of terrorism, confined to attacks involving citizens or territory of more than one country. In July, NCTC released revised 2004 figures compiled under the new definition, Travers said, but the hurried nature of the work and a lack of analysts at the then-fledgling NCTC meant that "we missed thousands of incidents."

"The bottom line is that 2005 is a far more comprehensive data set," Travers said, "and limits the comparability of 2004 and 2005." Travers also pointed out that the overall figure of 11,111 incidents includes acts by designated terrorist groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda.

As in previous years, the report cited Iran as "the most active state sponsor of terrorism." This activity included the direct involvement of its intelligence service and Islamic Revolutionary Guard in planning and supporting terrorist acts, and Iran's backing and encouragement of terrorist groups operating in Syria and Lebanon and against Israel. In addition, the Revolutionary Guard was said to be "increasingly involved in supplying lethal assistance" to violent Shiite militias in Iraq.

There were no changes to last year's list of known terrorist groups or to the list of six countries considered "state sponsors" of terrorism: Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, Cuba and Libya.

Libya, which has renounced weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, had made progress, Crumpton said, and "we're at the point right now of continuing our discussions, verifying some issues and moving forward." Only Iraq, which was removed last year, has ever been taken off the list.

Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.