Annual terrorism report will show 29% rise in attacks
By Warren P. Strobel and Jonathan S. Landay
WASHINGTON – A State Department report on terrorism due out next week will show a nearly 30 percent increase in terrorist attacks worldwide in 2006 to more than 14,000, almost all of the boost due to growing violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. officials said Friday.
The annual report’s release comes amid a bitter feud between the White House and Congress over funding for U.S. troops in Iraq and a deadline favored by Democrats to begin a U.S. troop withdrawal.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her top aides earlier this week had considered postponing or downplaying the release of this year’s edition of the terrorism report, officials in several agencies and on Capitol Hill said.
Ultimately, they decided to issue the report on or near the congressionally mandated deadline of Monday, the officials said.
“We’re proceeding in normal fashion with the final review of this and expect it to be released early next week,” State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said.
A half-dozen U.S. officials with knowledge of the report’s contents or the debate surrounding it agreed to discuss those topics on the condition they not be identified because of the extreme political sensitivities surrounding the war and the report.
Based on data compiled by the U.S. intelligence community’s National Counterterrorism Center, the report says there were 14,338 terrorist attacks last year, up 29 percent from 11,111 attacks in 2005.
Forty-five percent of the attacks were in Iraq.
Worldwide, there were about 5,800 terrorist attacks that resulted in at least one fatality, also up from 2005.
The figures for Iraq and elsewhere are limited to attacks on noncombatants and don’t include strikes against U.S. troops.
Even after this year’s report was largely completed and approved, Rice and her aides this week called for a further round of review, in part to avoid repeating embarrassing missteps of recent years in the report’s release, officials said. The review process is being led by Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, formerly the nation’s intelligence czar.
The U.S. intelligence community is said to be preparing a separate, classified report on terrorist “safe havens” worldwide, and officials have debated whether Iraq meets that definition.
The report can be expected to be used as ammunition for both sides in the domestic battle over the Iraq war.
President Bush and his aides routinely call Iraq the “central front” in Bush’s war on terrorism and likely will say that the preponderance of attacks there and in Afghanistan prove their point.
But critics say the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq have worsened the terrorist threat.
The contention by Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney that al-Qaida terrorists were in Iraq and allied with the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein before the invasion has been disproved on numerous fronts.
In September, a Senate Intelligence Committee report found that Saddam rejected pleas for assistance from al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and tried to capture another terrorist whose presence in Iraq is often cited by Cheney, the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
“Postwar findings indicate that Saddam Hussein was distrustful of al-Qaida and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests from al-Qaida to provide material or operational support,” the Senate report said.
Larry C. Johnson, a former CIA officer who also worked in counterterrorism at the State Department, said that while the new report would show major increases in attacks last year in Iraq and Afghanistan, it could chart reductions in mass casualty attacks in the rest of the world.
“The good news is … we’re seeing verifiable and drastic reductions,” he said.
Among the major strikes were bombings in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Dahab on April 24, which killed 23 people and injured more than 60, and aboard trains in Mumbai, India, that left more than 200 dead and in excess of 700 wounded on July 11.
In 2004, the State Department was forced to correct a first version of the report that the administration had used to tout progress in Bush’s war on terror. The original version had undercounted the number of people killed in terrorist attacks in 2003, putting it at less than half of the actual number.
In 2005, the department was again accused of playing politics with the report when it decided not to publish the document after U.S. officials concluded that there were more terrorist attacks in 2004 than in any year since 1985.
The outcry forced Rice to drop that plan and publish the report.