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A Significant Year In Counterterrorism

Women wait in a queue to vote in Egypt's first post-revolutionary elections, Cairo, Egypt, November 28, 2011.
Women wait in a queue to vote in Egypt's first post-revolutionary elections, Cairo, Egypt, November 28, 2011.

Arab Spring upended al-Qaida claim that change in region would only come through violence.

2011 was an extremely significant year in counterterrorism, said Coordinator for the Office of Counterterrorism at the Department of State Daniel Benjamin.

“Besides the death of Usama bin Ladin and a number of other key al-Qaida operatives,” said Mr. Benjamin, “we saw millions of citizens throughout the Middle East advance peaceful public demands for change without any reference to al-Qaida’s incendiary world view. This upended the group’s longstanding claim that change in this region would only come through violence.”

In his speech to introduce the 2011 Country Reports On Terrorism, Mr. Benjamin cautioned that although al-Qaida is in decline, its affiliates are strengthening. Groups such as al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula which operates in Yemen, al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb in the Sahel, and al-Shabaab of the Horn of Africa still represent a significant threat. Boko Haram, while not a formal al-Qa’ida affiliate, has launched widespread attacks across Nigeria, signaling their ambition and capability to attack non-Nigerian targets.

In the Middle East, Hamas and Hizballah continued to play destabilizing roles. Hizballah persisted in using force and threats to intimidate the Lebanese people, while Hamas retained its grip on Gaza, where it continued to stockpile weapons that pose a serious threat to regional stability. Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan and the Haqqani Network were responsible for a significant number of deadly attacks in South Asia.

2011 saw the lowest number of terrorist attacks since the downward trend began in 2005, partly due to a 14 percent drop off in Afghanistan and 16 percent in Iraq. That said, the largest number of reported attacks occurred in South Asia and the Near East, said Mr. Benjamin.

“The majority of attacks occurred in just three countries – Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan,” Mr. Benjamin noted, “which together accounted for 85 percent of attacks in these regions and almost 64 percent of attacks worldwide.”

2011 continues a seven-year decline in terrorist attacks. But the stark truth is that last year, 10,283 terrorist attacks killed or wounded 43,990 people from 70 countries. Well over half of the victims were Muslim. And the vast majority of them were killed by Islamic extremists.

The United States and its partners continue to battle this scourge.