Attacks, deaths rise in terrorism report

Increase partly due to change in methodology

April 29, 2006|By JOSH MEYER | JOSH MEYER,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- The State Department's annual report on global terrorism released yesterday 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 while the United States has made some gains in fighting terrorism, al-Qaida and its affiliate groups remain 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 said to be engaging in more suicide bombings and to be using 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, which caused 14,602 deaths, in 2005. Those figures stand in stark contrast to prior State Department reports, which cited 208 terrorist attacks causing 625 deaths in 2003, and 3,168 attacks causing 1,907 deaths and 6,704 injuries in 2004.

But officials from the State Department and the National Counterterrorism Center were quick to say that they believed the sharp increase to be due largely to their use of 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, according to the report.

At least 30 percent of all terrorist incidents last year occurred in Iraq, as did 55 percent of related fatalities, about 8,300 deaths, 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 may some day be taken off the list of countries sanctioned by the United States because of their alleged support of terrorism. But they remain on the list, along with Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Syria, which continue to maintain their ties to terrorist groups.

Henry A. Crumpton, the State Department's ambassador at large for counter-terrorism, said the new methodology will lead to better analysis of terrorist trends in the future, using this year as the benchmark.

But he acknowledged that the new methodology makes 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-Qaida and other terrorists, Crumpton - a former career CIA official - said it's 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 required by Congress since 1987 as the government's primary reference tool on worldwide terrorist activity, trends and groups and 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 past two years after critics said it used badly flawed methodology in determining what constituted a terrorist attack.

Critics, led by Rep. Henry A. Waxman, a California Democrat, 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 they acknowledged that previous reports had missed huge swaths of terrorist incidents.

Yesterday, Waxman said that the report needs work and that it shows the war in Iraq has 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.

Previously, the annual reports included only incidents of international terrorism, or those involving citizens of two or more countries, while the new system incorporates all "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets."

Josh Meyer writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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