After a delay of several months, the United States State Department’s annual report on terrorist activities worldwide, a document that was much anticipated in Washington DC, was released last week. If the final report is anything close to the summary, analysts will discover some interesting trends in the data.
Although the report is long and dense at times, there are a few noteworthy developments that need to be highlighted in order to fully understand how terrorism has adapted in the last year.
Counterterrorism and intelligence agencies around the world had some significant victories, including the relentless campaign against Al Qaeda, in Yemen and the Pakistani tribal areas. But those agencies also had to confront new challenges, particularly the escalation in terrorist plots from the Lebanese group Hezbollah and Iran’s paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The deterioration of Al Qaeda’s core’s strength is undoubtedly the biggest achievement that was made against international terrorism last year. The targeted killing of Al Qaeda’s deputy commander, Atiyah Abd Al Rahman, by a drone fired missile in June of last year shook an already struggling organization to a new breaking point, further degrading its military capability and weakening its confidence.
Absent the occasional public statement from his hideout in Pakistan or Afghanistan, Al Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has been forced to concentrate on his personal safety. He clearly is not in complete control of the organization. Nor do Al Qaeda’s affiliates, including its branch in Yemen, seem to follow Zawahiri’s messages unchallenged. The report states that the ability of Al Qaeda’s central leadership “to direct the activities and attacks of its affiliates has diminished” — a consequence of being targeted dozens of times from the air through 2012.
Similar setbacks have been felt by the Pakistani Taliban whose second in command, Wali-ur-Rehman, was killed in May of this year.
Among the most worrying trends in terrorism last year was the continued campaign by the radical Nigerian Islamist group, Boko Haram, against government officials and security officers as well as Christian and Muslim civilians. Nigerian government authority in the northeastern part of the African country has never been particularly strong and many of the area’s residents are suspicious of the military and police due to frequent operations that sweep up and kill civilians. The violence has become so bad that President Goodluck Jonathan announced a state of emergency for the three northern Nigerian states where Boko Haram mainly operates.
The Iranian government, in partnership with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, has also stepped up its planning and execution of terrorist attacks from Africa to the Middle East to Southeast Asia. Five Israeli civilians were killed by a suicide bombing in Bulgaria over the summer, an operation that the nation’s officials claimed was perpetrated by Hezbollah.
On the very day the State Department’s report was released, Manssor Arbabsiar, an American-Iranian national, was convicted to 25 years imprisonment for conspiring with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States. The attack was supposed to take place in a Washington DC restaurant which could have claimed dozens more lives in the process. Arbabsiar admitted in court that he received financial payment from Iran for the operation and was in contact with two of its intelligence officers throughout.
In short, although Al Qaeda in Pakistan continues on a downward spiral, its affiliates in Iraq, North Africa, Somalia and Yemen are becoming more independent and aggressive. And Iran, a country that the United States labels as the primary state sponsor of terrorism in the world, is living up to its label.