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Al Qaeda attacks rise in Pakistan

THE WORLD

Annual terror report says the group killed four times as many people last year from its haven in tribal area.

May 01, 2008|Josh Meyer | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Al Qaeda used a haven in Pakistan's tribal areas to double the number of attacks in that country and kill four times as many people there in 2007, says a State Department report to Congress released Wednesday.

At a news briefing, Ambassador Dell L. Dailey, the State Department's top counter-terrorism official, stopped short of blaming Pakistan for the increase and said the terrorist network was "weaker now than it was at the 9/11 time frame."

The annual terrorism report itself, however, says that a primary reason for the terrorist network's resurgence is a much-criticized cease-fire last year between the Pakistani federal government and tribal leaders beyond its authority near the border with Afghanistan. The agreement enabled Al Qaeda to more freely travel, train and plan attacks around the world, the report says.

Overall, there were nearly the same number of terrorist attacks worldwide in 2007 as the year before -- about 14,500. But many more people were killed, especially as the number of suicide bombers rose, says the 312-page report, which is required by Congress and compiled using statistics from the National Counterterrorism Center.

Suicide bombings worldwide were up about 50%. Attackers have shifted their tactics, more often traveling on foot and using explosives-laden backpacks to strike in crowded areas rather than relying on vehicles that could be deterred by heightened security.

"I think it's a fair statement that around the globe people are getting increasingly efficient at killing other people," said Russell E. Travers, deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center, at the news briefing.

One such attack in December in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, Pakistan, killed at least 20 people, including former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto as she campaigned for elections.

Overall, an estimated 22,685 people were killed in terrorist attacks around the world in 2007, a 9% increase from 2006. The number of injured increased 15%, to 44,310, the report says. The numbers do not include military personnel on active duty or anyone working in an official capacity on behalf of the U.S. government.

As in previous years, the majority of terrorist attacks chronicled in the report occurred in Iraq. The number there dipped slightly in the last year, but still accounted for 60% of worldwide terrorism fatalities, including 17 of the 19 Americans killed, the report says. Two other Americans were killed in Afghanistan.

The report is considered to be the U.S. government's benchmark in objective data on terrorist attacks, with some analysis on trends included to inform Congress and other policymakers, the American public and U.S. allies.

In Pakistan, the number of terrorist attacks more than doubled, from 375 to 887, between 2006 and 2007, and the number of deaths jumped almost fourfold, to 1,335, the report said.

Pakistan's newly elected government is on the verge of signing a new peace accord with Pashtun tribal representatives in the country's Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Dailey expressed confidence that the agreement would not backfire like the previous one.

"We think that all the tools are in place for this treaty to have a successful outcome," the State Department official said.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, however, said the Bush administration had expressed concerns about the new pact to the Pakistani government.

"Obviously this is something that was tried before. It did not work before," she said. "It's important that any agreement be effectively enforced and that it not interrupt any operations where we are going after terrorists in that area."

The terrorism report singles out key U.S. allies for muted criticism, mainly for failing to aggressively pursue counter-terrorism measures. Those included Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

As in previous years, the report criticizes Iran, North Korea, Syria and Cuba for supporting terrorism. But it said Sudan, which U.S. officials consider a sponsor of terrorism, has taken steps to cooperate with U.S.-led counter-terrorism efforts.

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josh.meyer@latimes.com

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