Terrorist attacks around the world soared last year, driven by extremist groups in the Middle East and Africa, according to a State Department report released Friday.
The annual Country Report on Terrorism said much of the
35 percent increase was caused by the civil war in Syria and ongoing strife in Iraq, where extremists have declared a caliphate. The report said the Islamic State, also known by the abbreviation ISIL, had effectively replaced al-Qaeda as the major source and inspiration for extremist attacks.
“The prominence of the threat once posed by core [al-Qaeda] diminished in 2014, largely as a result of continued leadership losses suffered by the AQ core in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” the report said. “AQ leadership also appeared to lose momentum as the self-styled leader of a global movement in the face of ISIL’s rapid expansion and proclamation of a Caliphate.”
In one particularly sensitive section, the report says Iran is still actively involved as a state sponsor of terrorism, an official designation that by law requires a number of sanctions. Next week, Secretary of State John F. Kerry is expected to go to Europe to continue the final stage of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.
The report said Iran has continued support for radical Palestinian groups in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and various groups in Iraq, including a Shiite militia designated as a terrorist group. It also said Iran has sent help to the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, one of the two other countries currently designated as state sponsors of terrorism.
“In 2014, Iran continued to provide arms, financing, training, and the facilitation of primarily Iraqi Shia and Afghan fighters to support the Assad regime’s brutal crackdown that has resulted in the deaths of at least 191,000 people in Syria,” the report said, adding that some Iranian advisers are reported to have taken part in combat operations against Islamic State fighters.
Tina S. Kaidanow, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, said even if some sanctions are ultimately eased as part of a nuclear deal, sanctions related to terrorism will remain in place.
“We think it’s essential that we pursue those negotiations,” she said. “But that said, none of that implies that we will in any way be taking our eye off the ball with respect to what Iran is doing as a supporter of terrorism.”
Another group singled out for condemnation in the report was Boko Haram. Operating primarily out of northern Nigeria, it shared with Islamic State “a penchant for the use of brutal tactics, which included stonings, indiscriminate mass casualty attacks, and kidnapping children for enslavement,” the report said.
The report blamed weak and failed governments for providing an “enabling environment” for jihadist groups, especially in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya.
The detailed report, compiled by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland, provides a statistical analysis of death and mayhem that is almost antiseptic in its accounting.
But the numbers reflect a particularly grim trend — an exceptionally high increase in lethality. About 13,500 attacks over the year killed almost 33,000 people, an increase of 81 percent over the previous year. In 2013, about 18,000 people died in 10,000 attacks.
The State Department also noted a striking increase in attacks that caused mass casualties. In 2014, it said, there 20 attacks in which more than 100 people were killed, up from two attacks in 2013 with that many deaths.
The death toll included
24 Americans. In addition, eight Americans were injured in attacks and three were kidnapped. Overall, more than 9,400 people were kidnapped or taken hostage, triple the figure from 2013.
Six months after the end of the year covered in the report, many of the statistics are already out of date. For example, the report pegs the number of foreign fighters flocking to Syria to join groups like the Islamic State at 16,000. More recently, State Department officials have estimated that there are 22,000 foreign fighters.
The tabulated attacks were concentrated in a handful of the 95 countries in which they occurred. The report said 60 percent of attacks happened in five countries — Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Nigeria — and 78 percent of fatalities were in five countries: Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria.
The report attributed the jump in kidnappings to a number of mass abductions in Syria and Nigeria.
It also includes Cuba as a designated state sponsor of terrorism through 2014, though it notes that the Obama administration removed it from the list in May.
“In recent years, Cuba has taken a number of steps to fully distance itself from international terrorism and has taken steps to strengthen its counterterrorism laws,” the report said.