Saturday, April 29, 2006
Times Staff Writer
April 29, 2006
WASHINGTON — The State Department's annual report on global terrorism, released Friday, concludes that the number of reported terrorist incidents and deaths has increased exponentially in the three years since the United States invaded Iraq, largely because of Iraq itself.
The report also said that although the United States had made some gains in fighting terrorism, Al Qaeda and its affiliate groups remained a grave threat to U.S. national security at home and abroad — both in Iraq and elsewhere.
Of potentially greater concern, the government said, is mounting evidence that small, autonomous cells and individuals are becoming more active. Such "micro-actors" are engaging in more suicide bombings, and using increasingly sophisticated technologies to communicate, organize and plot their attacks, including the Internet, satellite communications and international commerce, according to the 292-page report.
The report said there were 11,111 attacks that caused 14,602 deaths in 2005. Those figures stand in contrast to prior State Department reports, which cited 208 terrorist attacks that caused 625 deaths in 2003; and 3,168 attacks that caused 1,907 deaths in 2004.
But officials from the State Department and the National Counterterrorism Center were quick to say that they believed the dramatic increase was due largely to the fact that they were using a far more inclusive definition of what constitutes a terrorist attack than in previous years.
The biggest single factor was the inclusion of attacks within Iraq, which in prior years were largely excluded, the report said.
At least 30% of terrorist incidents last year occurred in Iraq, as did 55% of related fatalities, or about 8,300, the report said. Fifty-six Americans were killed in terrorist acts, 47 of them in Iraq. A total of 40,000 people were killed or wounded, including about 6,500 police and 1,000 children, the report said.
Libya and Sudan continued to take "significant steps" to cooperate in fighting terrorism, and might someday be taken off the list of countries sanctioned by the United States because of their alleged support of terrorism, the report said. But they remain on the list along with Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Syria, which allegedly continue to maintain ties to terrorist groups.
Henry A. Crumpton, the State Department's ambassador at large for counterterrorism, said the new methodology would lead to better analysis of terrorist trends in the future, using this year as the benchmark.
But he acknowledged that the new methodology made it all but impossible to compare successes and failures in the U.S.-led war on terrorism in 2005 with that of previous years.
Asked his gut feeling on whether the U.S.-led coalition was gaining the upper hand over Al Qaeda and other terrorists, Crumpton — a former career CIA official — said it was too soon to tell.
"I think so," Crumpton said in a briefing with reporters. "But I think that [when] you look at the ups and downs of this battle, it's going to take us a long time to win this. You can't measure this month by month or year by year; it's going to take a lot longer."
The report has been mandated by Congress since 1987 as the government's primary reference tool on worldwide terrorist activity, trends and groups and on the U.S.-led response to them.
In the past, the report was titled "Patterns of Global Terrorism," but it has been undergoing an overhaul in the last two years after critics said it used badly flawed methodology in determining what constituted a terrorist attack.
Critics, led by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), said the Bush administration was trying to manipulate the statistics used in the report to suggest that it was winning the war on terrorism when it was actually losing it.
Administration officials denied that, but acknowledged that previous reports had missed huge swaths of terrorist incidents.
On Friday, Waxman said that the report still needed work, and that it showed the war in Iraq had caused terrorism to increase.
"For the third year in a row, the Bush administration is playing games with the numbers to hide the truth: Global terrorism has skyrocketed since the invasion of Iraq," Waxman said in a statement.