New method of counting tallies 3,200 terror attacks worldwide last year
By KATHERINE SHRADER
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON- There were nearly 3,200 terrorist attacks worldwide last year, a federal counterterrorism center said, using a broader definition that increased fivefold the number of attacks the agency had been counting.
The National Counterterrorism Center's interim director, John Brennan, called a new database that was to go online Wednesday "the most comprehensive U.S. effort to date to track terrorist incidents worldwide." But he cautioned that comparing the new tally to previous ones was comparing apples to oranges.
In 2004, the counterterrorism center says, there were 3,192 terror attacks worldwide with 28,433 people wounded, killed or kidnapped.
In government numbers made public in April, using a more stringent definition of terrorism, the State Department and the counterterrorism center had tallied 651 significant international terror attacks with more than 9,000 victims.
Iraq, with 866, had the most terror attacks against civilians and other noncombatants, according to the new database. In April, Iraq was said to have had 201 attacks. The new numbers included attacks on Iraqis by Iraqis, a category previously excluded because it wasn't considered international terrorism.
Terrorism statistics have become a hot-button issue with the Bush administration's war on terror. Critics have said previous government reports did not reflect an increase in global terrorism.
Brennan and other government officials blamed human error and a definition of terrorism that had not been updated since the 1980s.
Following the criticism, the counterterrorism center sought to establish a public, searchable database of attacks, starting with attacks from 2004, to allow private researchers access to the unclassified information.
Brennan, who is resigning this summer, said the center had no plans to revise the data from earlier years, but said his successor, retired Vice Adm. John Scott, might reverse that decision.
Among other changes, the new definition of terrorism includes attacks that are politically motivated violence carried out by extremist groups within a country, often aimed at changing their own government's policies. The previous definition focused on international terrorism and required that the terrorists victimize at least one citizen of another country.
Previously, only attacks resulting in more than $10,000 damage or serious injuries were counted. The new definition includes all injuries and puts no limit on damages.
Governments have long argued over what constitutes a terrorist attack, and Brennan concedes his center's database is not "black and white and perfect." Gray areas immediately emerged.
For example, attacks against U.S. military personnel in Iraq are not included because U.S. forces there are considered combatants. Brennan said the Defense Department will keep tabs on attacks there conducted by paramilitary organizations.
Larry Johnson, a former State Department deputy chief of counterterrorism, had not seen the database yet but called the tallying of Iraq "foolish."
He did see merit, however, in counting domestic attacks within a country because they can be a precursor to problems that can spill out internationally.
A problematic tendency: "Anybody who opposes your government is by definition a terrorist," he said.
Brennan said attacks will be handled on a case-by-case basis. He noted that whether the center's definition is broadly accepted within government remains to be seen but said he has consulted with the White House and the newly created office of the national intelligence director.
The database indicated there were only five attacks in the United States in 2004, including an arson in Utah for which the Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility.
Brennan credited homeland security efforts for the relatively small number of such attacks but noted many attacks overseas are aimed at U.S. and Western interests.
"Americans should come away saying this is something we are not immune to," he said.
On the Net:
View the Worldwide Incidents Tracking System database on Wednesday: www.tkb.org