On April 30, 2014, the U.S. State Department submitted Country Reports on Terrorism 2013 to the U.S. Congress as required by law. This report provides an assessment of trends and events in international terrorism that occurred during 2013. The Department’s Fact Sheet about the report highlighted the following as the most noteworthy developments of the year:
- “The terrorist threat continued to evolve rapidly in 2013, with an increasing number of groups around the world – including both al-Qa’ida (AQ) affiliates and other terrorist organizations – posing a threat to the United States, our allies, and our interests.
- As a result of ongoing worldwide efforts against the organization and leadership losses, AQ’s core leadership has been degraded, limiting its ability to conduct attacks and direct its followers. Subsequently, 2013 saw the rise of increasingly aggressive and autonomous AQ affiliates and like-minded groups in the Middle East and Africa who took advantage of the weak governance and instability in the region to broaden and deepen their operations.
- The AQ core’s vastly reduced influence became far more evident in 2013. AQ leader Zawahiri was rebuffed in his attempts to mediate a dispute among AQ affiliates operating in Syria, with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant publicly dissociating their group from al-Qa’ida. AQ affiliates routinely disobeyed Zawahiri’s 2013 tactical guidance to avoid collateral damage, seen in increasingly violent attacks against civilian religious pilgrims in Iraq, hospital staff and convalescing patients in Yemen, and families at a shopping mall in Kenya, for example.
- Terrorist groups engaged in a range of criminal activity to raise needed funds, with kidnapping for ransom remaining the most frequent and profitable source of illicit financing. Private donations from the Gulf also remained a major source of funding for Sunni terrorist groups, particularly for those operating in Syria.
- In 2013, violent extremists increased their use of new media platforms and social media, with mixed results. Social media platforms allowed violent extremist groups to circulate messages more quickly, but confusion and contradictions among the various voices within the movement are growing more common.
- Syria continued to be a major battleground for terrorism on both sides of the conflict and remains a key area of longer-term concern. Thousands of foreign fighters traveled to Syria to join the fight against the Asad regime – with some joining violent extremist groups – while Iran, Hizballah, and other Shia militias provided a broad range of critical support to the regime. The Syrian conflict also empowered the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to expand its cross-border operations in Syria, resulting in a dramatic increase in attacks against Iraqi civilians and government targets in 2013.
- Since 2012, the United States has also seen a resurgence of activity by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force (IRGC-QF), the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), and Tehran’s ally Hizballah. On January 23, 2013, the Yemeni Coast Guard interdicted an Iranian dhow carrying weapons and explosives likely destined for Houthi rebels. On February 5, 2013, the Bulgarian government publicly implicated Hizballah in the July 2012 Burgas bombing that killed five Israelis and one Bulgarian citizen, and injured 32 others. On March 21, 2013, a Cyprus court found a Hizballah operative guilty of charges stemming from his surveillance activities of Israeli tourist targets in 2012. On September 18, Thailand convicted Atris Hussein, a Hizballah operative detained by Thai authorities in January 2012. And on December 30, 2013, the Bahraini Coast Guard interdicted a speedboat attempting to smuggle arms and Iranian explosives likely destined for armed Shia opposition groups in Bahrain. During an interrogation, the suspects admitted to receiving paramilitary training in Iran.
- ‘Lone offender’ violent extremists also continued to pose a serious threat, as illustrated by the April 15, 2013 attacks near the Boston Marathon finish line, which killed three and injured approximately 264 others.”
This report was submitted in compliance with 22 U.S.C. § 2656f, which defines “terrorism” for this purpose as ” premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents” while the term “international terrorism” means “terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one country.”
The Department is statutorily required to identify countries that have “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism” as “State Sponsors of Terrorism.” This year the following four countries were so designated: Iran, Sudan, Syria and Cuba. A subsequent post will examine this absurd designation of Cuba.
Another chapter of the report concerns “terrorist safe havens,” i.e., “ungoverned, under-governed, or ill-governed physical areas where terrorists are able to organize, plan, raise funds, communicate, recruit, train, transit, and operate in relative security because of inadequate governance capacity, political will, or both.” The following were identified as such havens: Africa (Somalia, Trans-Sahara and Mali), Southeast Asia (Sulu/Sulawesi Seas Littoral and Southern Philippines), Middle East (Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and Yemen), South Asia (Afghanistan and Pakistan) and Western Hemisphere (Colombia and Venezuela).
The Secretary of State also is required to designate “Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” i.e., foreign organizations that engage in terrorist activity or terrorism or retain the capability and intent to do so and that threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the U.S. national security (national defense, foreign relations, or the economic interests). This year the report designates 54 such organizations.
In 2013, according to the report, a total of 9,707 terrorist attacks occurred worldwide, resulting in more than 17,800 deaths and more than 32,500 injuries. In addition, more than 2,990 people were kidnapped or taken hostage. The 10 countries with the most such attacks (in descending order) were Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Philippines, Thailand, Nigeria, Yemen, Syria and Somalia. More than half of all attacks (57%), fatalities (66%) and injuries (73%) occurred in these three countries: Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.