Tom Regan / Christian Science Monitor – 2005-04-29 23:22:04
WASHINGTON (April 28, 2005) — Terror attacks around the world tripled in 2004, rising from 175 in 2003 to 655 last year, according to statistics released by the US government’s National Counterterrorism Center (NCC) Wednesday. The figure includes the children killed in the Beslan massacre in Russia, and the victims of the Madrid train bombings.
Terror attacks in Iraq — 198 — were nine times the previous year’s total. The numbers did not include attacks on US troops.
The US State Department held a briefing Wednesday on its global terrorism report (formerly called ‘Global Patterns of Terrorism,’ now called the Country Report on Terrorism) Wednesday, but did not include the statistics on actual attacks, on the order of Secretary of State Condelezza Rice, the Washington Post reported. Ms. Rice had said she wanted US terrorism officials to decided whether or not to release the figures.
The Herald of Scotland, however, reports that the NCC released the statistics after it was pressured to do so by several congressmen. The Herald also reported that former senior counterterrorism official Larry Johnson said the State Department balked at releasing the data because “it might lead to the public perception that America is losing the global war on terror.”
“Last year was bad [said Mr. Johnson]. This year is worse. They are deliberately trying to withhold data because it shows that as far as the war on international terrorism is concerned, we’re losing.”
‘A Dramatic Uptick’
A spokesman for the State Department admitted that there had been a “dramatic uptick” in terrorism, and said the government will provide the public with “all the information it needs for an informed debate.” Knight Ridder reported Wednesday that senior NCC officials said that the high total was “a result of changes in methodology and urged reporters not to compare this year’s terrorism numbers with previous ones.”
“The numbers can’t be compared in any meaningful way,” said John Brennan, acting head of the center, which compiled the statistics. He said his agency had revamped the process of counting terrorist attacks after last year’s embarrassment in which the State Department withdrew its first report and admitted it had significantly understated what turned out to be a record number of attacks.
Knight Ridder reported in mid-April that the Bush administration planned to withhold the terrorist-attacks statistics. But it became harder for the Bush administration not to make the data public, the BBC reported Wednesday, after Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman last week released the figures, which he had received in a congressional briefing.
CNN reports that, contrary to Mr. Brennan’s statement above, Mr. Waxman said officials told the congressmen “that the methodology and definitions used to vet the data were identical to last year’s [controversial report].”
Looking at the bigger picture, media reports say the NCC study indicates the battle against international terrorism remains “formidable.” While Al Qaeda remains the main enemy, it has grown much weaker. But freelance terror operations, “either affiliated with Al Qaeda or inspired by its goals,” have become a much greater threat.
Bloomberg News quotes the report as saying that “an increasing number of terrorist groups are seeking weapons of mass destruction.”
“Although Al Qaeda remains the primary concern regarding possible WMD threats, the number of groups expressing interest in such material is increasing, and WMD technology and know-how is proliferating in the jihadist community,” the report said.
The Washington Post reports that the actual number of terror-related incidents may in fact be higher than even the total released by the NCC Wednesday. The counter terrorism organization is working on a new list, to be released in July, that aims to use “new, more realistic, definitions of terrorism.”
As an example of the rules under which the State Department, and his center for the listings distributed Wednesday, have operated, Brennan said the report lists only one of two Russian airliners that suicide bombers blew out of the sky last year. The one that counted had an Israeli aboard. The other had all Russians, which made it a domestic incident.
“It makes no sense to have the definition of terrorism depend on checking the nationality of all the victims,” Brennan said.
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