WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of people killed by terrorism around the world surged by 40 percent to more than 20,000 last year largely because of greater violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, a U.S. report said on Monday.
Global terrorism fatalities rose to 20,498 in 2006 from 14,618 in 2005 with the vast majority in Iraq, according to the U.S. State Department's annual "Country Reports on Terrorism" publication.
The number killed by terrorism in Iraq rose to 13,340 from 8,262 in 2005, Russ Travers, an official with the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center that compiled the figures for the State Department, told reporters.
In the latest incident, a suicide bomber wearing a vest packed with explosives killed 32 people when he blew himself up among mourners at a Shi'ite funeral in the town of Khalis in volatile Diyala province north of Baghdad, Iraqi police said.
Since U.S. and Iraqi forces launched a security crackdown in Baghdad in February, militants including Sunni Islamist al Qaeda have increasingly staged attacks outside the capital.
The State Department said the number of such incidents worldwide rose to 14,338 last year from 11,153 in 2005.
Of these, attacks in Iraq nearly doubled to 6,630 from 3,468 in 2005 and represented about 45 percent of the total.
The report described Iraq as at the center of the U.S. "war on terror," with coalition forces battling al Qaeda in Iraq and insurgents as well as "militias and death squads increasingly engaged in sectarian violence and criminal organizations taking advantage of Iraq's deteriorating security situation."
The number of attacks also jumped to 749 from 491 in Afghanistan, where U.S., NATO and other forces are fighting a revived Taliban insurgency more than five years after U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban regime that harbored al Qaeda.
The number killed in these incidents in Afghanistan was 1,040 last year, up from 684 in 2005, Travers said.
'A FORM OF GLOBAL INSURGENCY'
The numbers, which are based on "open sources" or public information, were compiled by the National Counterterrorism Center and included in a State Department report that assesses such violence around the world.
The report cited some progress in global efforts to combat terrorism since the September 11 attacks against the United States, including enhanced border security, a crackdown on "terrorist" financing and the dismantling of some violent groups.
Because of this, it said al Qaeda has adapted, moving toward local "guerrilla" violence by local recruits rather than "expeditionary" attacks like September 11, where it sent militants from abroad to crash commercial aircraft in the United States.
"What they can't get by force, they want to take by lies," said Frank Urbancic, the State Department's acting coordinator for counterterrorism, describing what he called a heightened al Qaeda focus on propaganda and "misinformation."
"It applies classic insurgent strategies at the global level," he said, calling al Qaeda "the most immediate national security threat to the United States."
"A deeper trend is the shift in the nature of terrorism, from traditional international terrorism of the late 20th century into a new form of transnational non-state warfare that resembles a form of global insurgency," the report added.
The report listed the five countries that the United States has long branded as state sponsors of terrorism -- Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.
"Iran remains the most significant state sponsor of terrorism and continues to threaten its neighbors and destabilize Iraq by providing weapons, training, advice and funding to select Iraqi Shia militants," it said, saying Syria also lets militants "transit through its borders into Iraq."