US State Department publishes annual summary of global terrorism risks

Published: Friday, 03 June 2016 09:28

The US State Department has released ‘Country Reports On Terrorism 2015’ which summarises terrorist activity around the world and looks at how the terror risk is developing.

Speaking at the launch of the report Acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism Justin Siberell set out the key points, stating:

“In 2015, the United States faced a dynamic and evolving terrorist threat environment. The international community made important progress in degrading terrorist safe havens – in particular, a sizeable reduction in the amount of territory held by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, in Iraq and Syria, as well as the finances and foreign terrorist fighters available to it. At the same time, however, instability in key regions of the world, along with weak or nonexistent governance, sectarian conflict, and porous borders continue to provide terrorist groups like ISIL the opportunity to extend their reach, terrorize civilians, and attract and mobilize new recruits.

“According to the statistical annex prepared by the University of Maryland and appended to the report, the total number of terrorist attacks in 2015 decreased by 13 percent when compared to 2014. Total fatalities due to terrorist attacks decreased by 14 percent, principally as a result of fewer attacks and deaths in Iraq, Pakistan, and Nigeria. This represents the first decline in total terrorist attacks and resulting fatalities worldwide since 2012. At the same time, there were several countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey, where terrorist attacks and total deaths increased in 2015.

“Although terrorist attacks took place in 92 countries in 2015, they were heavily concentrated geographically, as they have been for the last – past several years. More than 55 percent of all attacks took place in five countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Nigeria. And 74 percent of all deaths due to terrorist attacks took place in five countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria, and Pakistan.

“While I cite these statistics, which are compiled by the University of Maryland and are not a U.S. Government product, I must emphasize that the numbers alone do not provide the full context. This is a point we consistently make whether the numbers rise or fall on a year-to-year basis. The United States and our partners around the world face a significant challenge as we seek to contend with the return of foreign terrorist fighters from Iraq and Syria, the risk of terrorist groups exploiting migratory movements, and new technology and communications platforms that enable terrorist groups to more easily recruit adherents and inspire attacks.

“ISIL remain the greatest terrorism threat globally. Despite the losses it sustained last year, ISIL continued to occupy large areas of Iraq and Syria. ISIL’s territorial control in Iraq and Syria reached a high point in spring 2015 and began to diminish thereafter. It is worth noting that ISIL did not have a significant battlefield victory in Iraq after May of last year, and by the end of 2015, 40 percent of the territory ISIL once controlled in Iraq had been liberated. This number has continued to increase in 2016.

“ISIL-aligned groups have established branches in parts of the Middle East, North Africa, West Africa, the Russian North Caucuses, and South Asia. Most of these branches are made up of pre-existing terrorist networks, many of which have their own local goals. The al-Qaida core, which has been degraded severely since 2001 but still poses a threat, and al-Qaida affiliates – notably al-Shabaab, al-Nusrah Front, and al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb – as well as ISIL and its branches were responsible for a number of high-profile, mass-casualty attacks in 2015. These included attacks in Paris, the January attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, and the multiple attacks in November at a music concert, on restaurant terraces, and outside a sporting event.

“Other such attacks occurred in Beirut, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Tunisia, and the bombing of a Russian passenger plane in Egypt. There were also a number of attacks here in the United States carried out by lone offenders and, in some cases, inspired by ISIL, including in San Bernardino, California; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Garland, Texas. Although ISIL did not claim responsibility, we believe that it is responsible for several sulfur mustard attacks in Iraq and Syria, including a sulfur mustard attack in Marea, Syria on August 21st of last year.
“ISIL’s loss of territory in Iraq and Syria also had the effect of diminishing the funds available to it. ISIL relies heavily on extortion in the levying of taxes on local populations under its control, as well as oil smuggling, kidnapping for ransom, looting, antiquities theft and smuggling, foreign donations, and human trafficking. Coalition airstrikes targeted ISIL’s energy infrastructure, modular refineries, petroleum storage tanks, and crude oil collection points, as well as bulk cache storage sites. These airstrikes degraded ISIL’s ability to generate revenue.

“The United States continues to work to disrupt Iran’s support for terrorism. Iran remains the leading state sponsor of terrorism globally. As explained in the report, Iran continues to provide support to Hizballah, Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza, and various groups in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. Confronting Iran’s destabilizing activities and its support for terrorism was a key element of our expanded dialogue with the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, following the leaders summit at Camp David in May of last year. We’ve also expanded our cooperation with partners in Europe, South America, and West Africa to develop and implement strategies to counter the activities of Iranian-allied and sponsored groups, such as Hizballah.

“A key trend through 2015 was the increased level of international cooperation and coordination to address terrorist threats. The United States led a global coalition to counter ISIL, the Multinational Joint Task Force established by the Lake Chad Basin countries to confront Boko Haram, and the efforts of the Horn of Africa nations to coordinate efforts against al-Shabaab in Somalia are examples of this ongoing cooperation and evidence both of an increased appreciation for the importance of a coordinated effort and of the political will to bring it about.

“We’ve seen countries across the international community mobilize to put in place fundamental reforms to address the supply and transit of foreign terrorist fighters attempting to reach the conflict in Syria and Iraq. United Nations Security Council Resolution 2178, adopted at a UN Security Council session in September 2014 chaired by President Obama, provided the framework for this effort. In line with that resolution, 45 countries have passed or updated existing laws to more effectively identify and prosecute foreign terrorist fighters. The United States has concluded information-sharing arrangements with 55 international partners to identify and track the travel of suspected terrorists. And the number of countries contributing foreign terrorist fighter profiles to INTERPOL has increased 400 percent over a two-year period.

“As countries have taken these steps, it has become more challenging for foreign terrorist fighters to travel unimpeded to Iraq and Syria. We are beginning to see the flow of foreign terrorist fighters to this conflict zone decrease. This decrease, we assess, reflects the combined effects of sustained battlefield losses, recruiting shortfalls, and increased border security efforts by source and transit countries. These challenges were acknowledged in reported remarks by ISIL spokesperson Abu Mohammad al-Adnani just last month.

“Another trend to note in 2015 was the increased global realization of the need for an expanded response to the challenge of international terrorism. In February 2015, President Obama convened the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, which brought together government, private sector, and civil society leaders from around the world to raise awareness of the importance of an expanded effort to counter violent extremism and radicalization to violence. Leaders and community-based representatives from the United States and countries around the world came together at the summit and in a series of follow-on meetings in Algiers, Astana, Nairobi, Nouakchott, Oslo, Singapore, Sydney, and Tirana in acknowledgement that our combined efforts, however successful in many respects, are not sufficient and must also include a more deliberate focus on the drivers of radicalization and recruitment to terrorist groups.

“Building on this work, last week we released the first-ever Joint State Department-USAID Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism. And I invite you to take a look at it, if you haven’t already. It’s available on the State Department website. A key element of that strategy is to empower and amplify locally credible voices that can challenge the terrorist narrative and thereby weaken terrorists’ ability to radicalize and recruit new members. This will be the focus of a newly established – of the newly established Global Engagement Center under the leadership of Michael Lumpkin.

“Looking forward, our policies and programs will continue to be aligned to counter the evolving threats described in the report. We will continue to devote resources toward improving counterterrorism capabilities of key partners – countries, including by leveraging funding provided by the Congress through the Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund as well as focusing long-term efforts in addressing the underlying causes that contribute to violent extremism.”

Read Country Reports On Terrorism 2015 (PDF).