WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Nearly seven years after the September 11 attacks, al Qaeda remains the biggest terrorist threat to the United States and its allies, the U.S. State Department said in an annual report on Wednesday.
The survey of terrorist trends and incidents in 2007 said al Qaeda had used tribal areas of Pakistan to rebuild its leadership and replace killed or captured fighters, and has forged regional alliances with militants in Africa.
Al Qaeda “utilizes terrorism, as well as subversion, propaganda, and open warfare; it seeks weapons of mass destruction in order to inflict the maximum possible damage on anyone who stands in its way, including other Muslims and/or elders, women and children,” said the report.
The number of terrorist attacks worldwide fell slightly in 2007 to 14,499, from 14,570 in 2006. But the number of people killed in the attacks rose to 22,685, from 20,872 in the previous year, the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center said.
Attacks for which al Qaeda claimed responsibility killed or wounded 5,400 civilians, including 2,400 children, and Muslims accounted for more than 50 percent of al Qaeda victims, the center’s data showed.
In Iraq, terrorist incidents fell to 6,212 last year from 6,628 in 2006. But Iraq still accounted for 45 percent of all terrorist attacks and 60 percent of all fatalities worldwide in 2007, the data showed.
Attacks in Afghanistan rose to 1,127 from 969 in the previous year, the center said. Neighboring Pakistan saw a year-on-year 100 percent increase in terrorist attacks in 2007, it said.
Dell Dailey, coordinator of the State Department Office for Counterterrorism, said al Qaeda was “weaker now than it was” when it carried out the September 11 attacks — the result of United Nations and other multilateral anti-terrorist efforts as well as rising awareness among target countries.
The report said Afghanistan had made progress fighting extremists, but “the Taliban-led insurgency remained strong and resilient in the South and East” with an undiminished ability to recruit foot soldiers from rural ethnic Pashtuns.
The report said a cease-fire negotiated by Pakistan in early 2007 gave al Qaeda leaders “greater mobility and ability to conduct training and operational planning, particularly that targeting Western Europe and the United States.”
But Dailey voiced support for the new government of Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, who has vowed that rooting out terrorism in tribal areas that have been extremist hotbeds would be Islamabad’s highest priority.
“We will combine the use of force against terrorists and civil dialogue with those who, because of religious or ethnic considerations, were misled into supporting extremists,” Gilani wrote in an essay in the Washington Post on Wednesday.
“This government has a chance to really move forward in its own security internally,” Dailey said.
The list of designated state sponsors of terrorism — Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria — remained unchanged, despite efforts to remove North Korea from the blacklist through nuclear disarmament negotiations with Pyongyang.
“Iran remained the most significant state sponsor of terrorism,” Dailey said, accusing Tehran of aiding Palestinian terrorists, Hezbollah in Lebanon, militants in Iraq and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.
The Venezuelan government of Hugo Chavez was designated as having failed to cooperate with U.S. anti-terrorist efforts, Dailey said.
Chavez had “deepened Venezuelan relationships with state sponsors of terrorism Iran and Cuba” and his sympathy for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, had hampered cooperation with U.S. ally Bogota, said the 312-page report.
Reporting by Paul Eckert, editing by Philip Barbara