WASHINGTON – The State Department reported Thursday there were fewer international terrorist attacks last year than any time since 1969 — but the figures don't include most of the violence in Iraq.
Though Bush administration officials frequently refer to Iraqi insurgents as terrorists, most attacks in Iraq were not considered international terrorism because they were directed at combatants, the report said.
"Increasingly, the line between insurgency and terrorism has been blurred by anti-coalition attacks that have included suicide car bombings at police stations, an Italian military police base and the headquarters of the International Red Cross," the State Department said in its annual report on terrorism.
The 181-page Patterns of Global Terrorism Report (search) offered a country-by-country review of terrorist attacks and cooperation in fighting terrorism.
In its introduction, the State Department's top counterterrorism official, Cofer Black (search), cited Saudi Arabia "as an excellent example of a nation increasingly focusing its political will to fight terrorism." The kingdom has frequently been criticized by members of Congress for not doing enough to stop terrorism.
Black said terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia in May and November "served to strengthen Saudi resolve."
"Saudi Arabia has launched an aggressive, comprehensive and unprecedented campaign to hunt down terrorists, uncover their plots and cut off their sources of funding," Black wrote.
Black also said Al Qaeda "is no longer the organization it once was. ... Most of the group's senior leadership is dead or in custody, its membership on the run and its capabilities sharply degraded." He said more 3,400 Al Qaeda (search) suspects have been detained worldwide.
The fight against terrorism "will be of uncertain duration, but additional deadly attacks are certain," Black warned.
Of the seven nations designated as sponsors of terrorism, the report said Libya and Sudan "took significant steps to cooperate in the global war on terrorism." But Cuba, Iran, Syria and North Korea didn't do enough to sever their ties to terrorism.
Iraq technically remains on the list, because it can't be removed until it has a government in place. President Bush has exempted it from sanctions imposed on state sponsors of terrorism.
Among the findings in the report:
— There were 190 acts of international terrorism last year, compared with 198 in 2002 and 346 in 2003. It was the lowest figure in 34 years.
— In those attacks last year, 307 people were killed, compared with 725 in 2002; 1,593 people were wounded, compared with 2,013 in 2002.
— Thirty-five Americans died in 15 international terrorist attacks. The deadliest was a May 12 attack by suicide bombers in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that killed nine U.S. citizens and 26 people overall.
— Anti-U.S. attacks increased slightly to 82 from 77 in 2002. But they have declined sharply since the 219 attacks in 2001.
— Asia had the highest number of international terrorism attacks, with 159 people killed in 70 attacks.
The figures do not include attacks considered to be domestic terrorism in which foreigners weren't among the victims. For example, the report listed three people killed in international terrorism attacks last year in all of Latin America. A nightclub bombing in Bogota, Colombia, that killed 34 people wasn't included because it was considered domestic terrorism.
Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism analyst for the Rand Corp. (search), said the annual report is considered the "gold standard" for measuring terrorism, "but it's only giving you part of the picture and it's a picture that's changing dramatically" with the growth in domestic terrorism.
"It's harder to draw meaningful inferences looking at just international terrorism," he said.