USA — State Department: Al-Qaida Still Top U.S. Terror Threat

WASHINGTON, Aug. 5, 2010 — Transna­tion­al ter­ror­ism pos­es the Unit­ed States’ gravest secu­ri­ty threat, with al-Qaida’s core in Pak­istan remain­ing the most-for­mi­da­ble ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion tar­get­ing the U.S. home­land, accord­ing to a new State Depart­ment report cov­er­ing world­wide ter­ror­ist activ­i­ty dur­ing 2009.

“Coun­try Reports on Ter­ror­ism 2009,” released today, notes al-Qaida’s con­tin­ued adapt­abil­i­ty and resilience and con­cludes that its desire to attack the Unit­ed States and its inter­ests abroad “remains strong.”

Cit­ing U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty assess­ments, the report con­cludes that al-Qai­da active­ly plot­ted against the Unit­ed States and con­tin­ued recruit­ing, train­ing and deploy­ing oper­a­tives, includ­ing some from West­ern Europe and North Amer­i­ca, dur­ing the report­ing peri­od. It also rec­og­nizes al-Qaida’s efforts to expand its oper­a­tional capa­bil­i­ties by part­ner­ing with oth­er ter­ror­ist groups, with vary­ing degrees of suc­cess.

These devel­op­ments came despite al-Qai­da set­backs dur­ing 2009. The report cites a Pak­istani mil­i­tary offen­sive aimed at elim­i­nat­ing mil­i­tary strong­holds, the loss of many top lead­ers and con­di­tions that have made it more dif­fi­cult for al-Qai­da to raise mon­ey, train recruits and plan attacks.

Daniel Ben­jamin, the department’s coun­tert­er­ror­ism coor­di­na­tor, said al-Qaida’s attacks on Mus­lims have hurt its stand­ing in the Mus­lim world. The lat­est annu­al State Depart­ment report aims to enhance under­stand­ing of the inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ist threat and help to shape efforts to con­front it, he explained.

The report tracked the 10,999 ter­ror­ist attacks world­wide last year that claimed 14,971 lives. This reflect­ed the low­est num­ber in five years, down from a high of 14,443 attacks in 2006 that left 22,736 peo­ple dead.

The report iden­ti­fied Iran, Syr­ia, Sudan and Cuba as state spon­sors of ter­ror­ism. Call­ing Iran the most active of the four, the report said its sup­port for extrem­ists in the region “had a direct impact on inter­na­tion­al efforts to pro­mote peace, threat­ened eco­nom­ic sta­bil­i­ty in the [Per­sian] Gulf, jeop­ar­dized the ten­u­ous peace in south­ern Lebanon and under­mined the growth of democ­ra­cy.”

Also iden­ti­fied in the report were ter­ror­ist safe havens, by region. In South Asia, it cit­ed Afghanistan and Pak­istan; in the Mid­dle East, Iraq, north­ern Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen; in Africa, Soma­lia and the Trans-Sahara; and in East Asia and the Pacif­ic, the Sulawe­si Sea and Sulu Arch­i­pel­ago.

In the West­ern Hemi­sphere, the report iden­ti­fied Venezuela as well as the Argenti­na-Brazil-Paraguay tri-bor­der area as ter­ror­ist safe havens.

The report cites U.S. efforts to strength­en its coun­tert­er­ror­ism strat­e­gy, but empha­sizes that an effec­tive pol­i­cy must go beyond law enforce­ment, intel­li­gence and mil­i­tary efforts.

Instead, the admin­is­tra­tion is for­mu­lat­ing poli­cies designed to shape and con­strain the envi­ron­ments where ter­ror­ists oper­ate. The goal, Ben­jamin explained, is to under­mine the appeal of al-Qaida’s world view and iso­late extrem­ists.

“Our actions are guid­ed by a recog­ni­tion of the phe­nom­e­non of rad­i­cal­iza­tion and the need to pre­vent more peo­ple from com­mit­ting them­selves to vio­lence,” he said.

The Unit­ed States is seek­ing ways to address the root caus­es of rad­i­cal­ism, he said, con­fronting the polit­i­cal, social and eco­nom­ic con­di­tions that ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions exploit to win over recruits and financiers. Part of this involves expand­ing for­eign assis­tance where vio­lent extrem­ism has made inroads, such as Pak­istan and Yemen.

As the Unit­ed States refines its own coun­tert­er­ror­ism strat­e­gy, Ben­jamin said, it’s increas­ing­ly reach­ing out to the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty to con­front ter­ror­ism mul­ti­lat­er­al­ly. “We are seek­ing to boost the polit­i­cal will and strength­en the resolve of lead­ers around the world to con­front ter­ror­ist threats,” Ben­jamin said, call­ing that will “essen­tial” to address­ing ter­ror­ism over the long term.

“Ulti­mate­ly, our suc­cess will hinge on strength­en­ing the abil­i­ty of oth­ers around the world to deal with ter­ror­ism in their coun­tries and regions,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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