August 8, 2012: The U.S. government recently released its Country Reports on Terrorism for 2011. Overall terrorist activity was down from the previous year, although there were still 10,283 attacks in 70 countries in 2011, causing 12,533 deaths. That's down 45 percent from 22,720 in 2007. This is attributed to the death of Osama bin Laden last year, the earlier demise of many other terrorist leaders, and over a decade of vigorous activity against Islamic radicals and their plans for worldwide terrorism. In the 1990s, Islamic radicals believed they were on a roll and that the future belonged to them. The September 11, 2001 attacks provided a major boost to recruiting. But the victims got organized and struck back.
Some 64 percent of all attacks last year were in three countries (Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq). Attacks were down in Afghanistan and Iraq. This may come as a surprise to many but the way the media reports things, terror attacks are news and periods with no such attacks is not worth reporting. Thus these annual summaries give a better assessment of trends.
Between 2007 and 2001, terrorist attacks declined 29 percent worldwide. Most of that was because of the defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq, where terrorist attacks declined 64 percent. In the same time period attacks in Afghanistan increased 2.5 times. But they also fell 14 percent from 2010 to 2011 and peaked in 2010, at about half the Iraq peak in 2007. Moreover, most of the violence in Iraq was terrorists from the Sunni minority (the former supporters of Saddam Hussein) seeking to regain control from the Shia majority. In Afghanistan it was minority Sunni radicals (the Taliban) fighting the other 90 percent of the population while acting as paid guns for the drug gangs.
One trend that continues is Pakistan being one of the major sanctuaries for terrorists on the planet. Pakistan has been a sanctuary for Islamic terrorists since the 1970s, when the Pakistani government adopted Islamic conservatism as a political philosophy and Islamic terrorism as a weapon against India. But in the last decade Pakistan lost control of many terror groups it had created. Some of these terrorists even declared war on Pakistan.
Even before the 1970s, Pakistan had a lot of religious zealots, most of them Moslem. But there were also ethnic and political terror groups who have been at it since Pakistan was created in 1947. Widespread corruption makes it easier for terrorists to survive and even thrive in Pakistan. The government there is officially anti-terrorism but as a practical matter the government downplays or denies the presence of many Pakistani terror groups and most overseas activities of these groups. Pakistan has become the biggest terrorism problem on the planet, in part because Pakistan also has nuclear weapons.
The 2011 terrorism report also pointed out that there was a major increase in terrorists (al Qaeda and related groups) in Yemen last year. But this is already outdated because al Qaeda suffered a major defeat in Yemen earlier this year. While not destroyed, the Yemeni Islamic terrorists were hurt badly and much diminished in their abilities. At the same time Islamic terrorist won a significant victory earlier this year in Mali, where they took control of the sparsely populated northern two-thirds of the country. This was done with the aid of more numerous Tuareg tribal rebels, who were soon driven out of the cities and towns when they objected to the imposition of a strict form of Islamic law (Sharia). At the same time al Qaeda collected an $18.4 million ransom for three European aid workers that had been kidnapped in Algeria last October (and sold to al Qaeda for an undisclosed sum).
Islamic terrorism remains the most common form of terrorism on the planet and while it is diminishing it will not disappear until there are some fundamental reforms in Islam. Many Moslems are calling for this but that's a deadly task since the anti-reformers (like al Qaeda) are quick to kill their opponents.