International terrorist activity down, State Department says

The number of international terrorist incidents continued to decline in 2003, reaching its lowest level since the late 1960s.

The number of international terrorist incidents continued to decline in 2003, reaching its lowest level since the late 1960s, according to an annual State Department report released Thursday.

Last year, a total of 190 terrorist attacks were conducted throughout the world, a slight decrease from the 198 attacks reported in 2002 and a 45-percent decrease from the 346 incidents reported in 2001, according to the report, entitled Patterns of Global Terrorism. The 2003 total represents the lowest number of terrorist incidents since 1969, the report says.

The number of fatalities and casualties suffered through terrorist attacks also continued to decline last year, according to the report. In 2003, 307 people were killed and 1,593 people were injured in terrorist attacks - compared to the 725 killed and 2,013 people injured in attacks in 2002. In 2001, 3,295 fatalities occurred as a result of terrorist attacks, with the bulk of those occurring during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, according to the 2003 version of the report.

This year's terrorism report provides "clear evidence that we are prevailing in the fight" against terrorism, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said during a State Department press briefing.

State Department counterterrorism coordinator Cofer Black attributed the decline in terrorist attacks to increased international cooperation against what he described as a "common scourge."

"We're in this together. We have a commonality of interest. We're in the business of saving each other's people and citizens. The accepted objective is to protect innocent men, women and children. We're just doing a better job of it, and I think that's reflected in these numbers," Black said.

Black also said that he expected the number of terrorist attacks to continue to decline in the future. "It's my view that the trend line would continue, would still be positive," he said.

Black warned, though, of the continued threat of terrorism and of that posed by al-Qaeda.

"There is every indication that al-Qaeda continues to plan mass casualty attacks against American and other targets worldwide. Although the group poses as the defender of a great faith, they have hijacked Islam as a cover for their violence. Numerous Muslims have died in al-Qaeda attacks and much of the Islamic world stands with the United States in fighting this great evil," he said.

While there is evidence that state sponsorship of terrorist groups also decreased last year, the issue remains one of concern, according to the State Department.

"State sponsorship remains an unprecedented advantage for terrorists and enables them to acquire the weapons, training and logistical support they need to commit terrorist atrocities, and afterwards to enjoy safe haven and freedom from the prosecution of their crimes," Black said.

Of the seven nations listed by the State Department as sponsors of terrorism - Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Syria and Sudan - Libya and Sudan "most notably" increased their cooperation in the war on terrorism, according to the State Department report. The report noted that Libya last year provided terrorism-related intelligence to Western countries; took responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in the 1980s; and made a "historic decision" to dismantle its WMD efforts.