According to the Country Reports on Terrorism 2013, released yesterday, terrorist attacks worldwide increased 43 percent from 2012 to a total of 9,707, despite the weakening of al-Qaeda‘s leadership. With the progressive decentralization of al-Qaeda, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Northwest Africa, and Somalia have become havens for more aggressive and autonomous affiliates. Meanwhile — according to the US State Department — weak governments, corruption, and transnational crime remain the gravest potential threats for the United States in the Western Hemisphere.
The global report comprises a strategic assessment of international terrorism, with a country-by-country analysis, a breakdown of state sponsors of terrorism, terrorist safe havens, and foreign terrorist organizations. It “provides us with an opportunity to review the state of terrorism worldwide and elaborate on efforts to counter current threats. Defining the nature and the scope of the terrorist threat is absolutely crucial. It allows us to best determine and calibrate our strategy and our response,” Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism Tina S. Kaidanow asserted during a press conference.
Even though the core leadership of al-Qaeda has been “degraded,” according to Kaidanow, the terrorist threat continues to evolve “rapidly.” Autonomous al-Queda affiliates have arisen in the Middle East and Africa, in countries where “weak governance and instability” have created a haven for these organizations. Kidnapping for ransom has become the most frequent and profitable source of finance for these groups, and social media the perfect means to spread their message quickly.
According to Kaidanow, the situation in Syria has become a “major battleground for terrorism on both sides of the conflict.” Insurgents and foreign fighters against the Assad regime are joining violent extremists groups, and could potentially “bring back violent extremist connections and battlefield experience when they return home.”
The US State Department also highlighted Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism, and the resurgence of activity by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force (IRGC-QF), the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), and Hizballah. Even though Iran’s influence in the Western Hemisphere continues to be a concern, the report asserts that the country hasn’t been able to expand its ties to the region due to the sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union.
Latin America: Haven for Terrorism?
In regards to the Western Hemisphere, the annual global terrorism report describes the progress in counterterrorism capabilities as “modest improvements.” However, the absence of substantial progress in particular countries in the region is due to “corruption, weak government institutions, insufficient interagency cooperation, weak or non-existent legislation, and a lack of resources.”
For the US Department of State, however, transnational criminal organizations remain a bigger threat to Latin America than transnational terrorism. Nonetheless, the presence of (and in some cases support for) terrorist activities is observable, especially in Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, and Paraguay.
For the United States, Cuba — alongside Iran, Sudan, and Syria — continues to be a state sponsor of terrorism. Since 1982, the island has belonged to this list for giving protection to members from Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA), the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and harbored fugitives wanted in the United States.
José Azel of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami does not see an easy way out of the standoff with Cuba, but he advocates “continued vigilance.” He notes that Cuba harbors fugitives from the US Justice System and has a “very dangerous liaison” with Venezuela and Iran‚ including the provision of terrorist training for Hizballah. Weapons from Cuba on a North Korean ship with “unknown destinations” found at the Panama Canal in late 2013, he says, “should have triggered all kinds of actions at that point.”
The report also identifies the tri-border area of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay as “an important regional nexus of arms, narcotics, and human trafficking; counterfeiting; pirated goods; and money laundering — all potential funding sources for terrorist organizations.”
Even though the report notes that terrorist activities have decreased overall in Colombia, it specifies an increase of 46 percent on attacks on the country’s infrastructure, mostly in pipelines and government buildings. Despite peace negotiations, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are responsible for the majority of terrorist attacks in the Western Hemisphere in 2013. Still, the number of insurgents that surrendered from the FARC, the National Liberation Army (ELN), and other minor guerrilla groups in Colombia rose by 18 percent — from 1140 in 2012 to 1,350 in 2013.
For the eighth consecutive year, the Department of State identified Venezuela as a non-cooperating country with US counter-terrorism efforts. According to the report, “the Venezuelan government took no action against senior Venezuelan government officials who have been designated as Foreign Narcotics Kingpins by the US Department of the Treasury for directly supporting the narcotics and arms trafficking activities of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).”
In addition, the report notes that there is credible evidence that proves the presence and support of terrorist groups such as FARC, ELN, and Hizbollah in Venezuelan territory. Both Colombia and Venezuela are included in the list for terrorist safe havens.
Paraguay and Peru also receive mention as countries that have had to face their internal guerrilla movement. In the case of Paraguay, the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP) — founded in 2008 — and in the case of Peru, the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso or SL). In both cases, the organizations remain small in numbers. However, their operations continue to be a persistent security threat, especially since both groups finance themselves through drug production, narcotics trafficking, and extortion.
Despite efforts, Ambassador Kaidanow acknowledges there’s a long road towards winning the battle against terrorism:
“Evolving terrorist threats require, as I’ve said, innovative strategies, creative diplomacy, and even stronger partnerships. Building partner capacity, countering violent extremism, and engaging partners bilaterally and multilaterally are all essential. As I hope you will agree after you look at this review, we’ve made significant progress, but there remains a lot to do.”