Nukes and Spooks blog
April 30, 2009
Terrorism in 2008
The State Department today released its much-followed report on terrorism around the world. Along with it comes a statistical compendium of terrorist incidents, prepared by the National Counterterrorism Center.
The headline is as sobering as it is is unsurprising: terrorist attacks climbed dramatically in Pakistan and (to a lesser degree) Afghanistan last year, even as they declined significantly in Iraq. (The report only covers calendar year 2008, and does not include the recent spike in suicide bombings in Baghdad and Mosul, Iraq).
Here's some numbers:
_ terrorist incidents in Iraq in 2007 accounted for 43% of all incidents worldwide. Last year, they accounted for just 28%.
_ meanwhile, the number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan *quadrupled* between 2006 and 2008. The violence was concentrated in Pakistan's semi-autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the North-West Frontier Province. Al Qaida senior operatives are believed to be hiding out in the FATA, while the Pakistani Taliban have steadily been gaining ground and political-military power in the NWFP.
Russell Travers of the NCTC told reporters that there were 61 terrorist attacks in the FATA in 2006, compared with 321 in 2008, and 28 in the North-West Frontier Province in 2006, compared with a whopping 870 in 2008.
On al Qaida, the report presents a mixed picture. On the one hand it says, as McClatchy and others have reported, "AQ has reconstituted some of its pre-9/11 operational capabilities through the exploitation of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the replacement of captured or killed operational lieutenants, and the restoration of some central control by its top leadership, in particular Ayman al-Zawahiri."
On the other hand, the report says that "worldwide efforts to counter terrorist financing have resulted in AQ appealing for money in its last few messages" and that "(Osama) bin Laden and Zawahiri appeared to be in the position of responding to events rather than driving them, particularly in the latter half of 2008." If true, that's a potentially major setback for a group that seemed at times to be driving the global agenda in the years after September 2001.
So, those are the headlines. But the report also contains some interesting tidbits that N&S thought might just make you rethink some assumptions about terrorism:
_ What was the single deadliest terrorist attack in 2008? In the Mideast or South Asia, right? Wrong. Travers said it was an attack on civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo by the Uganda-based Lord's Resistance Army, where between 600 and 700 people were killed by machete.
_ Islamic extremists kill non-believers, right? Wrong again. The data show that of the 50,000 people killed or wounded by terrorism in 2008, more than 50 percent were themselves Muslims.
_ Even with the relatively good news from Iraq, the overall trend in terrorism isn't improving, according to the NCTC. Excluding attacks that took place in Iraq, the number of attacks and fatalities grew-slowly but steadily-between 2005 and 2008.
_ Finally, absent some new terrorist spectacular from al Qaida or one of its offshoots, the chances you - if you are a civilian - will die in a terrorist attack are pretty slim. There were 33 U.S. noncombatant fatalities in 2008, according to the State Department.