Terrorism report arrives with a whimper

The State Department’s 2010 “Country Reports on Terrorism” landed with more of a whimper than a bang this week, a curiously out-of-date commentary on a fast-changing world.

Even the administration itself seemed to find little news in the document--there were none of the usual previews and briefings that have accompanied release of the annual report in years past. It simply appeared on State’s website, distributed without comment to reporters via email.

Not surprisingly, al Qaeda was again designated “the preeminent terrorist threat to the United States,” although it has “become weaker” in Pakistan even as its affiliates in other countries “have grown stronger.” Groups such as al-Shabab in Somalia, al-Queda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, and Pakistan’s domestic Taliban were deemed increasingly dangerous.

While the report managed to sneak in a mention of the “wave of non-violent democratic demonstrations that began to sweep the Arab world at the end of 2010,” its saliency was hampered by its December deadline. Among the events since then, Osama bin Laden is no more, governments in Egypt and Tunisia have fallen, and the Syrian dictatorship is hanging by a thread.

As is its custom, the congressionally-mandated report did not include an assessment of terrorism in the United States, where 2010 included the unsuccessful al-Qaeda inspired cargo bombs in November and New York’s Times Square bomb in May.

Iran was again labeled the “most active” of four remaining countries designated state sponsors of terrorism, a list that also includes Syria, Sudan and Cuba.

Statistics provided by the National Counterterrorism Center indicated a total of 11,500 terrorist attacks in 72 countries during 2010, resulted in more than 13,200 deaths--75 percent of them in South Asia. Although the number of attacks was up by 5 percent from 2009, the number of deaths fell by 12 percent, the third consecutive annual decrease.

Karen DeYoung is associate editor and senior national security correspondent for the Washington Post.

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