More than 14,000 people were killed last year in terrorist attacks around the world, according to the U.S. State Department?s annual terrorism report. About 80 % of the casualties were in the Near East and South Asia. The report called Iran the ?top state sponsor? of terrorism.

The report?s release coincided with broadcasts by three of the world?s best-known terrorist leaders. In an audiotape, Osama bin Laden accused the United States and the European Union of waging a ?Zionist-crusade war? on Islam. His deputy, Egyptian-born physician Ayman al-Zawahiri, praised the Iraqi insurgency and sought to project al-Qaida as a major factor in a wider war. And a videotape of the Jordanian leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, denounced Iraqi efforts to form a new government.

The report describes al-Qaida as ?adaptive and resilient,? but not the organization it was at the time of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. Arab-Canadian journalist and former CNN Baghdad bureau chief Jane Arraf agrees with that assessment. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now?s International Press Club, Ms. Arraf describes al-Zarqawi as a powerful symbol of resistance and an effective recruiter. But she says his organization consists of a ?very diffuse connection of cells,? which helps to explain why it is so difficult to combat.

The State Department report notes that al-Qaida?s leadership is now ?scattered and on the run.? Nonetheless, Jane Arraf asserts that Osama bin Laden remains extremely powerful as a ?spiritual leader.? However, as Pakistani journalist Husain Haqqani points out, bin Laden is an ambivalent figure ? admired by ordinary folk and feared by political leaders, such as General Pervez Musharraf.

Public opinion in the Near East and South Asia is further complicated by the role of state sponsors of terrorism, of which Iran remains the most active. The State Department says that Iran has encouraged Palestinian groups with leadership cadres in Syria and Lebanon to use terrorism in pursuit of their goals. The report also accuses Iran of providing improvised explosive devices to insurgents in Iraq and of working with Iraqi paramilitary forces. London-based Iranian journalist Ali-Reza Nourizadeh describes the State Department report as ?accurate? but not detailed enough.

He says Iran provides financial support to Hezbollah and several other Palestinian groups, the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigades in Iraq, the Sudanese and Syrian governments, and the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. Mr. Nourizadeh describes Iran as ?up to its neck in supporting so-called liberation movements? around the Middle East and even in some Western countries.

In addition, the terrorists are using the Internet as a major recruitment tool. But as Husain Haqqani points out, that can be a two-edged sword because law enforcement institutions are able to monitor the Internet.

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