A U.S. State Department report says Iran remains the world's most significant state sponsor of terrorism, and that al-Qaida is regaining strength in enclaves in Pakistan. The congressionally-mandated report says North Korea might soon be removed from the U.S. terrorism list. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
The report, covering calendar year 2007, says the number of terrorist incidents worldwide declined slightly from 2006, to about 14,500, and that both terror attacks and fatalities in Iraq had begun a steep decline by the end of the year.
But overall deaths from terrorism increased about eight percent in 2007 to more than 22,000 and quadrupled in Pakistan, where extremists based in remote tribal regions took a violent campaign against the Islamabad government nation-wide.
The report identified Iran as the world's most active state sponsor of terrorism with support for hard-line Palestinian factions opposed to U.S.-led peace efforts, Lebanese Hezbollah militants, and Iraqi insurgents.
At a briefing for reporters, the head of the State Department's Office for Counterterrorism, Dell Dailey, said Shiite Muslim Iran is also providing aid to Sunni Muslim Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan in what he termed a shrewd tactic to keep U.S.-led coalition forces under pressure.
"Let us keep sending arms over there to just keep the coalition forces, the United States in particular, but probably the others embroiled and busy, and distracted," he said. "Because the last thing I would suspect that the Iranians want, is a totally pacified Afghanistan with a U.S. base on their immediate eastern side."
The report said al-Qaida and associated groups remained the greatest terrorist threat to the United States and its partners. It said al-Qaida - though greatly diminished since 2001 - has rebuilt some of its operational capabilities in safe-havens in the Pakistani tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
It said while numerous al-Qaida operatives have been captured or killed, the organization - under the strategic and operational leadership of Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahiri - is cultivating stronger connections with affiliates in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.
Statistics in the report were compiled by the U.S. government's inter-agency National Counterterrorism Center.
Its deputy director, Russ Travers, told reporters that well more than 50 percent of the more than 72,000 people killed or wounded in terror attacks in 2007 were Muslims and that mosques and Muslim schools, especially those for girls, were increasingly targeted.
Travers said al-Qaida claims that it spares civilians were shown by the figures to be transparently false:
"We drew only on al-Qaida-affiliated claimed attacks and we find that those attacks killed something like 5,400 civilians, at markets, at funeral processions and so forth," he said. "That number also is much higher. But these are only attacks that al-Qaida-affiliated groups claimed responsibility for."
The U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism remained at five countries - Iran, Syria, North Korea, Sudan and Cuba. But it credited Sudan with cooperation in the war against terrorism. And it said North Korea - which is not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since 1987 - could be dropped from the list as part of the six-party accord under which it is to scrap its nuclear program.
The report noted that Venezuela has been designated under U.S. law as not cooperating fully with U.S. anti-terrorism efforts.
It said the government of President Hugo Chavez deepened ties with designated terrorism sponsors Iran and Cuba, and provided ideological sympathy and refuge, if not material help, to leftwing FARC and ELN insurgents from neighboring Colombia.