A Congress in recess received the State Department’s country-by-country annual report on international terrorism today with a warning that sponsorship of terror by Iran and Hezbollah has surged to “a tempo unseen since the 1990s” with attacks spanning three continents.
The assessment comes just a day after an exhaustive, scathing report by an Argentinian prosecutor accusing Iran of planning attacks from Latin American soil.
And as President Obama tried to do in his national security speech last week, Secretary of State John Kerry’s department tried to highlight a weakening al-Qaeda core in Pakistan “as its leaders focus increasingly on survival” while acknowledging that the terror organization has metastasized with active affiliates in North Africa and beyond.
The report noted al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s plunge into Mali, Boko Haram’s continued attacks in Nigeria, and Al-Shabaab’s “asymmetric tactics” after being driven out of some southern population centers in Somalia.
“Suspected [Boko Haram] attackers killed Nigerian government and security officials, Muslim and Christian clerics, journalists, and civilians. Of particular concern to the United States is the emergence of the BH faction known as ‘Ansaru,’ which has close ties to AQIM and has prioritized targeting Westerners – including Americans – in Nigeria,” the report states.
AQIM was “largely limited” to Algeria’s rural areas, the State Department noted, but “have increasingly taken advantage of chaos and rebellion to expand their areas of control and assert autonomy of action.”
While painting a picture echoing Obama’s claim that “the AQ core is on a path to defeat,” a fact sheet accompanying the report notes “recent events in the region have complicated the counterterrorism picture.”
“The dispersal of weapons stocks in the wake of the revolution in Libya, the Tuareg rebellion, and the coup d’état in Mali presented terrorists with new opportunities,” it said.
“AQ affiliates are increasingly setting their own goals and specifying their own targets…we are facing a more decentralized and geographically dispersed terrorist threat,” the State Department continued. “…In the long term, we must build the capabilities of our partners and counter the ideology that continues to incite terrorist violence around the world.”
Obama’s speech, which largely advocated a return to pre-9/11 threat strategy, last week described the new threat as “more diffuse.” The president didn’t mention Iran once in the lengthy counterterrorism strategy address at the National Defense University. In its single mention, he painted Hezbollah as a politically motivated actor. “In some cases, we continue to confront state-sponsored networks like Hezbollah that engage in acts of terror to achieve political goals,” Obama said.
“And while we are vigilant for signs that these groups may pose a transnational threat, most are focused on operating in the countries and regions where they are based,” the president added.
The State Department recorded terrorist attacks in 85 countries in 2012, with 10 U.S. citizens killed and more than half of all the attacks occurring in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan.
The report walks a distinct political line, including crediting Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government with being “opposed to violent extremism” and tipping a hat to Saudi Arabia for continuing “its long-term counterterrorism strategy to track and halt the activities of terrorists and terrorist financiers, dismantle the physical presence of al-Qa’ida, and impede the ability of militants to operate from or within the Kingdom.”
It’s a bit tougher on Iran, implicating the Islamic Republic in attacks in India, Thailand, Georgia, and Kenya, as well as the plot to murder the Saudi ambassador in Washington. “The thwarted plot demonstrated Iran’s interest in using international terrorism – including in the United States – to further its foreign policy goals,” the State Department said.