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US Group Gives New Terror Figures

In the United States, a newly created agency, the National Counterterrorism Center, issued its first incident report Wednesday on terrorism around the world. The report shows 651 serious international terrorist attacks occurred last year. That number suggests a threefold jump in attacks from a government report for 2003, but officials warn against comparing the figures. One Democratic lawmaker is raising concern that the incident numbers are no longer being tallied by the State Department.

The National Counterterrorism Center found 651 serious terrorist attacks took place last year, killing nearly 2000 people. While the State Department reported only 175 attacks in 2003, officials say the numbers don't prove that attacks have actually risen.

The new report shows about half the incidents took place in South Asia, including frequent attacks in disputed regions of Indian Kashmir. But it said attacks in the Middle East were much deadlier, killing more than 720 people. In Europe, 636 people were killed in only a handful of terrorist attacks, including the Madrid train bombing and the seizure of a Russian school by Chechen separatists.

Interim director of the NCTC, John Brennan, says the report is based on new methods to study international terrorism. For that reason he did not want to compare the latest numbers with last year's report from the State Department on terrorism, which reported 175 international attacks in 2003.

"We applied much more rigor, more manpower, better quality control to the effort over the past year than in previous years, which has resulted in a much more comprehensive data set that we looked at. By multiple measures, we looked at much more information," he said.

The report is the first such assessment from the counterterrorism agency, which was created as part of the CIA last year following a probe into the September 11, 2001, attack.

For a decade, the tally of serious attacks had been part of an annual State Department report on patterns of global terrorism, which will no longer be issued. In its place, the agency is giving individual country reports to Congress this week.

Despite the changes, State Department Counselor Philip Zelikow says the government remains committed to fighting the war on terrorism, but he dismissed questions about whether the new report shows the country is winning the war.

"The short answer is it doesn't tell us anything about the war on terror,” said Mr. Zelikow. “The statistics are simply not valid for any inference about the progress, either good or bad, of American policy. I think that's the honest answer."

Officials say the numbers are part of an initial study, and the NCTC will release a more complete analysis of 2004 terrorist activity in June.

But Democratic Representative Henry Waxman has already criticized the shift in reporting, saying the administration may be trying to suppress unfavorable numbers about the war on terrorism.

Larry Johnson, a former counterterrorism official at the State Department, also rejected the move.

"To claim the NCTC is better qualified to deal with this ignores that it's the State Department that has the responsibility for managing U.S. policy on international terrorism overseas,” said Mr. Johnson. “And if you don't have the numbers how do you know what to do?"

Last year, the State Department issued a report showing a decline in terrorist attacks from the previous year. But it then issued a corrected version, which showed an increase.