- The Washington Times - Friday, April 28, 2006

Leaders of al Qaeda lost some control of the terror network last year owing to the arrests and deaths of top operational planners, but the group remains the most prominent terror threat facing the United States and its allies, the State Department said yesterday.

In its annual report on worldwide terrorism, the department singled out Iran as the most active state sponsor of terrorism, saying that its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Ministry of Intelligence and Security directly have been involved in the planning and support of terrorist acts.

Overall, the report tallied about 11,000 terror attacks around the world last year, resulting in more than 14,600 deaths. That is almost a fourfold increase in attacks from 2004, though the agency attributes the change largely on new ways of tallying the incidents.

About 3,500 of last year’s attacks occurred in Iraq and about 8,300 of the deaths occurred there, accounting for a large part of the increase over 2004.

Six countries — Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria — remain classified as state sponsors of terror. Libya and Sudan, though, were credited with continuing to take significant steps to cooperate in the global war on terror.

But in an unusual acknowledgment of cooperation by Syria, the report said Damascus has attempted to prevent terrorists from crossing into Iraq, saying it has upgraded security at the border. Washington has long accused Syria of using its territory to let terrorists enter Iraq.

The report said Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists, but Shi’ite and Sunni extremist groups are trying to turn it into one. While the United States and its allies have thwarted some attacks and kidnappings by groups like al Qaeda in Iraq, led by Abu Musab Zarqawi, “the battle is far from over,” it said.

The report said that Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders are scattered and on the run and Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for the network. In addition, al Qaeda’s relations with the Taliban, which once ruled Afghanistan, are growing weaker and the group’s finances and logistics have been disrupted, the report said.

“Al Qaeda is not the organization it was four years ago,” the report said.

However, “overall, we are in the first phase of a potentially long war,” it said. “The enemy’s proven ability to adapt means we will go through several more cycles of action/reaction before the war’s outcome is no longer in doubt. It is likely we will have a resilient enemy for years to come.”

A new generation of extremists, some of them getting training through the Internet, is emerging in cells that are likely to be more local and less meticulously planned, the report said. These small groups, empowered by technology, are very difficult to detect or counter, the report said.

“We must maintain unrelenting pressure against al Qaeda,” Henry Crumpton, the U.S. ambassador in charge of counterterrorism, said at a briefing at the State Department. “We know they aim to attack the U.S. homeland.”

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