TrendTerrorist incidents, fatalities outside Iraq increase in 2008

Published 4 May 2009

The security situation in Iraq improved in 2008, but outside Iraq there were more terrorist incidents and more fatalities as a result of these incidents; Pakistan is rapidly being engulfed by terror: in 2007 there were 890 incidents which killed 1,340 people; in 2008, 1,839 incidents which killed 2,293 people

The progress in Iraq in 2008 has led to a significant decline in worldwide terrorist incidents and fatalities over 2007, according to two U.S. counterterrorism officials who spoke during the release of the State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2008. Terrorist incidents fell by 19 percent from a total number of 14,506 attacks in 2007 to 11,770 attacks in 2008 . Fatalities also fell. Terrorist attacks killed 7,255 people in 2007 but fell to 5,067 in 2008, a drop of 30 percent.

These statistics, however, obscure an ominous trend: If you “back Iraq out of the equation, we do see a slow, steady increase in attacks and fatalities around the world outside of Iraq,” said Russel Travers of the National Counterterrorism Center.

Matthew Harwood writes that the spike in the number of fatalities of terrorist incidents can be directly attributed to the worsening security situation on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In Pakistan in 2007, 890 incidents killed 1,340 people; in 2008, 1,839 incidents killed 2,293 people. Two regions of Pakistan disproportionately experienced the most attacks: the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where the U.S. government believes the core al Qaeda safe haven is, and the Northwest Frontier Province. Attacks occurring in the FATA increased from 61 to 321 from 2007 to 2008. Attacks in the Northwest Frontier Province exploded from 28 in 2007 to 870 in 2008.

Across the border in Afghanistan, 1,125 incidents in 2007 killed 1,961 people, while 1,220 incidents in 2008 killed 1,989 people. “We do believe that we’ve undercounted Afghanistan,” Travers said. “We just don’t have data as a result of reporting challenges.”

The number of terrorist incidents and fatalities have fallen significantly in Iraq, the carnage is still widespread. In 2007 Iraq experienced 6,210 incidents that killed 13,606 people. In 2008, the incidents and death toll had fallen to 3,258 and 5,106 people, respectively.

Other notable areas of terrorist activity includes Algeria, Somalia, and Yemen.

All told, approximately 50,000 people were killed or injured by terrorists in 2008, Travers said. “We cataloged something less than 12,000 incidents and 16,000 fatalities,” he said. “Those represent, respectively, declines of 20 percent in incidents and 30 percent fatalities.”

And as we’ve seen consistently over the last several years, Muslims are disproportionately represented in that total,” he said. “There’s no question in our mind that well over 50 percent of all victims were Muslim and they were largely killed by Islamic extremists.”

Al Qaeda
“Al-Qaida and al-Qaida associated networks remain the greatest terrorist threat to the U.S. and to its partners,” said Ronald Schlicher, the State Department’s acting coordinator for counterterrorism. Schlicher said core al Qaeda has exploited the FATA as a safe haven, reminiscent of Afghanistan in the run up to the 9/11 attacks, which could be used to plan future terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies. Al Qaeda’s franchises also continued to leave a bloody trail throughout many countries during 2008.

Algeria, Somalia, and Yemen all experienced terrorist attacks by groups with ties to al Qaeda. In Algeria, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb conducted numerous attacks using al Qaeda’s hallmark of suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Somalia is plagued by the Al-Shabaab militia, which continues to attack the fragile unity government. Events in Somalia continue to concern U.S. counterterrorism officials who say Somali-Americans are traveling to the country to fight for the Islamic insurgency and raising fears that someday they may return home and present a domestic terrorism threat.

Al Qaeda in Yemen has also increased its terrorist activities in 2008, targeting the Yemeni government and U.S. targets. In September, a suicide bombing ripped into the U.S. Embassy there in Sanaa, killing 18.

There was a bright spot in 2008, however. “Though still very dangerous, al-Qaida in Iraq has experienced significant defections,” Schlicher said. ‘It’s lost key mobilization areas. It has suffered disruption of support infrastructure and funding. And it has been forced to change its targeting priorities in some instances. The number of suicide bombings in Iraq, which we find to be a key indicator of the operational capability of the group, those numbers fell significantly in 2008. More importantly, he said, Sunni tribes and local leaders continue to tell their people to reject al Qaeda.