Trends in Terrorism Report: 2006
Congress received its annual report on global terrorism from the Department of State on April 28, 2006. The 262-page report provides an annual strategic assessment of trends in terrorism and the evolving nature of the terrorist threat, coupled with detailed information on anti-terror cooperation by nations worldwide.
The report and underlying data portray a threat from radical Jihadists that is becoming more widespread, diffuse, and increasingly homegrown, often with a lack of formal operational connection with al Qaedaida ideological leaders such as Osama Bin Laden or Ayman al Zawahiri.
Three trends in terrorism are identified in the Department of State report. These trends are independently reflected in the work of analysts elsewhere.
First is the emergence of so called "micro actors," in part spurred by U.S. successes in isolating or killing much of al Qaeda's leadership. The result is an al Qaeda with a more subdued, although arguably still significant, operational role, but assuming more of an ideological, motivational, and propaganda role.
Second is the trend toward "sophistication," that is terrorists exploiting the global flow of information, finance, and ideas to their benefit, often through the Internet.
Third is an increasing overlap of terrorist activity with international crime, which may expose the terrorists to a broad range of law enforcement countermeasures.
The report notes an overall increase in suicide bombings, especially in Iraq, where terror incidents accounted for almost a third of all terror incidents globally in 2005, and more than half of terror related deaths worldwide.
However, some observers suggest that much of what the report characterizes as terrorist incidents in Iraq would be better categorized as insurgent activity, and also to some degree as criminal activity.
The report suggests that active, direct, state sponsorship of terror is declining, with the notable exceptions of Iran and perhaps to some degree Syria.
Emerging trends that may require enhanced policy focus are:
- attacks that aim to cause economic damage such as attacks on transportation infrastructure, tourism, and oil installations
- the growing number of unattributed terrorist attacks, and
- the growing power and influence of radical Islamist political parties in foreign nations.
Recent suggestions that al Qaeda remains operationally active are of growing concern as well. The State Department report suggests an immediate future with a larger number of "smaller attacks, less meticulously planned, and local rather than transnational in scope.
If so, some adjustment in implementation of United States anti-terror strategy and tactics to reflect a more international law enforcement oriented approach, such as that envisioned in the February 2003 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, may be warranted. As the global economic, political, and technological landscapes evolve, data being collected to identify and track terrorism may need to change.
The full report: Trends in Terrorism: 2006 (PDF), was produced by the Congressional Research Service (CRS).