Monday’s announcement by Turkish authorities that they had thwarted a plan to bomb the upcoming NATO Summit in Istanbul—an event that President Bush plans to attend—typified the ever-expanding global reach of the Islamic terrorist threat.
Turkish police detained 25 men in connection with the plot, all of whom are believed to be members of the Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group Ansar Al-Islam.
The arrests in Turkey followed similar raids in Britain, Australia, Hungary, Sweden and Pakistan, a foiled chemical weapons attack in Jordan that could have killed tens of thousands, and two bloody terrorist strikes in Saudi Arabia, not to mention a bizarre shootout in Damascus that the Syrian government maintains was instigated by Al-Qaeda members. Incredibly, all of these incidents have taken place in the past two weeks alone.
Indeed, the sheer volume of attacks, thwarted attacks and terror-related arrests during this brief period has occurred on a scale not seen since the War on Terror began almost three years ago.
Which renders last week’s announcement by the State Department that international terrorism is currently at its lowest point since 1969 strangely insignificant.
According to the latest edition of the Department’s annual Patterns of Global Terrorism report, “There were 190 acts of international terrorism in 2003, a slight decrease from the 198 attacks that occurred in 2002, and a drop of 45 percent from the level in 2001 of 346 attacks.”
Of course, that 2003 total doesn’t include every terrorist attack carried out against Coalition forces in Iraq, but only those “against noncombatants, that is, civilians and military personnel who at the time of the incident were unarmed and/or not on duty.”
Given that Iraq is currently an epicenter of the War on Terror, with foreign fighters swarming in from Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia on a daily basis to wage jihad against the U.S. and its allies, the State Department’s statistics would change considerably if they included troops killed there while in the line of duty.
In fact, many of the 145 U.S soldiers killed in Iraq during April were felled by terrorist-style assaults much like the ones that claimed the lives of 11 American troops this past weekend in Amara, Kirkuk, Baghdad and Ramadi.
But despite its questionable system for determining what is and what is not a terrorist attack, the State Department report does at least recognize Iraq as a “central battleground” in the War on Terror.
What the report fails to recognize, though, is that while the total number of terrorist attacks worldwide may have decreased, the overall size and scope of the terrorist threat is actually expanding, increasingly into some unlikely places.
For example, on April 22 in Sweden, four men were arrested on suspicion of having ties to Islamic terrorist groups and of helping insurgents plan attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq. Whether the men planned on carrying out attacks against Swedish targets as well is unclear.
Sweden—historically neutral since 1814—did not support the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, an event cited by Osama bin Laden in his latest audiotape as the measuring stick for Al-Qaeda and its affiliates when deciding which countries to attack.
But Islamic terrorists were able to gain a foothold there nonetheless, stretching their deadly operations into frigid Scandinavia with the same ease that they have infiltrated the “tri-border” region of South America, a jungle area located along the borders of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil that serves as a Western base for the Lebanese terrorist group Hizbollah.
With the Islamic terrorist threat now permeating within these and other remote locations like the Philippines (on Sunday, Filipino authorities arrested two Muslim men in connection with a plot to bomb Manila), Uzbekistan (the scene of ongoing strife between Al-Qaeda-linked militants and government forces) and Australia (Aussie police recently arrested a Pakistan-born man in connection with a plot to bomb Australia’s electricity grid), it’s difficult to be optimistic about the State Department’s assessment that global terrorism is actually on the decline.
Repeated attacks in Saudi Arabia by Al-Qaeda militants during the past year and the recent targeting of Syria have only made the War on Terror more unpredictable, as even state facilitators of terrorism are not immune to the Islamo-fascists’ wrath.
As for the United States, it is arguably in no less danger of a massive attack than it was in the aftermath of 9/11, a fact exemplified by this past weekend’s report that five empty suitcases were found at Penn Station, F.B.I headquarters and other sensitive locations in New York City in what authorities believe may have been a test run for a Madrid-style bombing of commuter trains.
Further proof that in the War on Terror, sometimes numbers—no matter how well-intentioned—do lie.
Erick Stakelbeck is Senior Writer at the Investigative Project, a Washington, D.C.-based counter-terrorism research institute.