There was a 35 percent increase in terrorist attacks worldwide between 2013 and 2014 and the total number of people killed by terrorism jumped by more than 80 percent, according to the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Terrorism released Friday.
While the document says the vast majority of the attacks and deaths occurred across six countries — Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and India — it also highlights Iran’s ongoing role as a leading state sponsor of terrorism, backing Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestine Islamic Jihad and several shadowy Shiite militia groups in Iraq.
“Iran supplied quantities of arms to Syria and continued to send arms to Syria through Iraqi airspace in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolutions,” the report states in an acknowledgement that could have negative implications for the Obama administration’s ongoing push for a major international accord over the Islamic Republic’s disputed nuclear program.
The most striking aspects of this year’s report, however, center on data indicating a sharp increase in the prevalence of terrorism in the heart of the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Syria, where the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, seized a vast swath of territory spanning the border between the two nations in 2014.
The number of attacks attributed to ISIS in Iraq soared from 400 in 2013 to more than 950 in 2014, according to the report, which asserts that the ongoing civil war in Syria “was a significant factor in driving worldwide terrorism events in 2014.”
“The rate of foreign terrorist fighter travel to Syria — totaling more than 16,000 foreign terrorist fighters from more than 90 countries as of late December — exceeded the rate of foreign terrorist fighters who traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, or Somalia at any point in the last 20 years,” the document says.
Despite the upward trend in terrorist violence, the congressionally mandated report, which can be found on the State Department’s website, defended President Obama’s policy of focusing on local partnerships as the central underpinning of his administration’s strategy for fighting terrorism worldwide.
The document says terrorist attacks occurred in 95 different nations during 2014, and notes how “President Obama has repeatedly stressed that the fight against terrorism is not one the United States can or should pursue alone,” it states. “We have been working to shift our counterterrorism strategy to more effectively partner with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold.”
With regard to ISIL, the document said the strategy is a mainstay of the administration’s policy. “We have built an effective Global Coalition to Counter ISIL; more than sixty partners are contributing to this multifaceted effort to stop ISIL’s advances on the ground, combat the flow of foreign fighters, disrupt ISIL’s financial resources, counteract ISIL’s messaging, and undermine its appeal,” it states.
But the data and trends identified in the report raise questions about the strategy’s effectiveness.
One of the more disturbing trends finds terrorist groups increasingly employing “more aggressive tactics in their attacks.”
“In ISIL’s case, this included brutal repression of communities under its control and the use of ruthless methods of violence such as beheadings and crucifixions intended to terrify opponents,” the report says.
Two of the worst incidents have occurred during recent months in Libya, where the report cited “indications that ISIL affiliates were active” in 2014.
ISIL-aligned groups have claimed responsibility for the highly publicized and horrifically graphic mass execution vidoes that showed the beachside beheadings of dozens of Egyptian and Ethiopian Christians in Libya in February and April of 2015 respectively.
Thursday’s report says the unraveling of Libya’s security environment during recent years “provided space and safe haven for terrorist groups.” The nation’s “non-existent security institutions, coupled with ready access to loose weapons and porous borders provided violent extremists with significant opportunities to act and plan operations,” the report says.
Away from the Middle East, the document homes in on the activities of the shadowing Nigeria-based Boko Haram, another Sunni Muslim extremist outfit that analysts say has ideological ties to the Islamic State.
“Boko Haram — operating in the Lake Chad Basin region of northern Nigeria, northern Cameroon, and southeast Niger — shared with ISIL a penchant for the use of brutal tactics, which included stonings, indiscriminate mass casualty attacks, and kidnapping children for enslavement,” Thursday’s report said.
Boko Haram, which means “Western education is sin” in northern Nigeria’s Hausa language, is blamed for the vast majority of some 1,300 kidnappings that occurred in Nigeria in 2014, according to the report. The highest profile abductions involved the disappearance of hundreds of school-age girls from the Nigerian city of Chibok. The kidnapping represent a huge spike over the previous year, when there were less than 100 such abductions, the document says.
Worldwide, there were more than 9,400 terrorism-related kidnappings, a three-fold increase over 2013. And, the report says some 33,000 people were killed by roughly 13,500 terrorist attacks in 2014, compared to 18,000 deaths in some 10,000 attacks during 2013.
There was also a spike in the number of U.S. citizens killed by terrorism overseas, with 24 American deaths in 2014, compared to 16 such deaths a year earlier. The number of U.S. citizens kidnapped went down, however, from 12 in 2013 to three in 2014.