Global Terrorist Threat Seen Undergoing Change

By David McKeeby
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - Although the United States has built strong international partnerships against terrorism, the changing nature of the threat continues to present significant challenges, a top U.S. counterterrorism official says.

“The international community is working together to confront these extremists because they threaten the right of people everywhere to live in peaceful, just, secure neighborhoods,” says Frank Urbanic, the State Department's acting coordinator for counterterrorism.

The State Department released its Country Reports on Terrorism 2006 April 30 along with a statistical report from the National Counterterrorism Center.

The report highlights the international community’s success in confronting terrorism through closer coordination and intelligence sharing, which Urbanic said has strengthened border security, made counterfeit travel documents harder to acquire and allowed bank accounts used by terrorists to become easier to find and freeze.

“We have created a less permissive operating environment for terrorists, keeping leaders on the move or in hiding, and degraded their ability to plan and mount attacks,” he said. “The longer we fight terrorism, the better we get at inflicting serious setbacks to our adversaries.”

But despite these advances, the report found that 14,338 terrorist attacks targeted 74,543 civilians in 2006, resulting in 20,498 deaths, a 25 percent increase in attacks and a 40 percent increase in fatalities from 2005. More than half of these incidents in 2006 and two-thirds of related deaths occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan, Urbanic said, both considered by the United States to be “central fronts in the War on Terror.”

Elsewhere in the world, he said, the report found significant decreases in terrorist violence, including a 15 percent decline in Europe and Eurasia, a 20 percent decline in South and Central Asia, and a 5 percent decrease in the Western Hemisphere, all of which could be attributed to increased international cooperation.

A major trend in 2006, Urbanic said, was al-Qaida’s effort to compensate for its weaknesses by transforming itself into a “transnational guerrilla movement.”  The group increasingly focused on propaganda and misinformation, particularly on the Internet, he said. Such efforts are an attempt to manipulate political grievances and gain more recruits from within immigrant communities already living within targeted countries, thus circumventing stronger border security, he added.

The report finds that state sponsors of terrorism, such as Iran and Syria, also continue to be a major challenge, Urbanic said.  In addition to their role in further destabilizing Iraq, Lebanon and efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Urbanic also underlined the increased threat that state sponsors of terrorism could help extremists acquire weapons of mass destruction.

A third challenge, he added, is terrorist safe havens, such as the trans-Sahara area, Somalia, the Sulawesi-Sulu Seas and the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where extremists can find shelter to rebuild and plan future attacks.

Central to countering this threat, Urbanic said, is the U.S. long-term strategy of building “trusted networks.”

“Our strategy to defeat terrorists is structured at multiple levels,” Urbanic said, “a global campaign to counter violent extremism and disrupt terrorist networks; a series of regional collaborative efforts to deny terrorists safe haven; and numerous bilateral security and development assistance programs designed to build liberal institutions, support law enforcement and the rule of law, address political and economic injustice, and develop military and security capacity.”

Stronger ties between government organizations and businesses, he said, can help countries to become more secure and self-sufficient, promote political reforms and encourage new economic opportunities to defuse many of the frustrations that cause people to turn to terrorism.

These networks also include increased international people-to-people contacts that can help break the extremists’ information monopoly and provide a positive alternative to their radical ideology.

The complete text of the report is available from the State Department Web site.

For more information, see Response to Terrorism.