Briefing on the Release of Country Reports on Terrorism 2009
August 6, 2010
NOTE: The State Dep't briefing is posted at http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/rm/2010/145734.htm; the report is posted at http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/crt/2009/index.htm [HTML] and http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/141114.pdf [PDF]; fact sheet at http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2010/08/145737.htm
Briefing on the Release of Country Reports on Terrorism for 2009
Coordinator Office of the Coordinator for Counter Terrorism
Russ Travers, Deputy Director, Counter Terrorism Center
August 5 2010
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. We're going to do a two-part briefing today. First, I will brief you on the congressionally mandated Country Reports on Terrorism for 2009. We'll take a filing break and then we'll come back with your regularly scheduled programming. But to start off, we have two of the country's most distinguished counterterrorism experts here to help understand the current trends in global terrorism. Our coordinator of the office of counterterrorism here at the Department of State, Ambassador Dan Benjamin and the Deputy Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, the NCTC, Russ Travers. But we'll start with Dan Benjamin first.
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Thank you very much P.J. and good afternoon. Thanks for coming to this briefing. Beside filling a congressional mandate, Country Reports on Terrorism 2009 gives us an opportunity to review counterterrorism events worldwide. We hope the report will stimulate discussion and serve as a useful tool for policy makers, the American public, and our international partners.
Please do bear in mind that the report covers events that occurred from January 1 to December 31st of 2009. As you know, this report was originally scheduled to be released on April 30th. The delay was to ensure that the report was accurate, comprehensible, and as readable as possible.
The first chapter of the report provides a strategic overview of the terrorist threat to the United States and U.S. interests abroad, as well as a description of the setbacks and advances of al-Qaida and its affiliates. The report also includes a country-by-country discussion of foreign government counterterrorism cooperation, as well as chapters on WMD terrorism, state sponsors of terrorism, safe havens, and designated foreign terrorist organizations.
Al-Qaida's core in Pakistan remained, during 2009, the most formidable terrorist organization targeting the United States. It has proven to be an adaptable and resilient terrorist group whose desire to attack the United States and U.S. interests abroad remains strong. We assess that al-Qaida was actively engaged in operational planning against the United States and continued recruiting, training, and deploying operatives, including individuals from Western Europe and North America.
That said, al-Qaida suffered some notable setbacks in 2009. The group remained under great pressure in Pakistan due to Pakistani military operations aimed at eliminating militant strongholds in the federally administered tribal areas. Al-Qaida faced a number of significant leadership losses, and as a result, found it more difficult to raise money, train recruits, and plan attacks outside of the region. The group also continued to suffer from widespread Muslim disaffection due to recent and past indiscriminate targeting of Muslims by its operatives and allies in Algeria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Indonesia, and elsewhere. The number of conservative clerics and former militants speaking out against the organization has increased considerably.
Despite these setbacks to the core leadership, the broader al-Qaida threat has become more dispersed and more geographically diversified, which served partially at least to offset the losses suffered by the core group. We saw this most dramatically with the attempted December 25th bombing of a U.S. commercial airliner destined for Detroit. This incident demonstrated that at least one affiliate, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, has not just the will but also the capability to launch a strike targeting the United States at home.
We've learned something else important in the last year: The assumption that Americans have some special immunity to al-Qaida's ideology was dispelled. While our overall domestic radicalization problem remains significantly less than in many Western nations, several high profile cases demonstrate that we must remain vigilant. As you know, five Americans from nearby Virginia were arrested, tried, and found guilty in Pakistan of terrorist-related offenses. We have also seen Americans traveling to Somalia to join al-Shabaab and of course, just today, we had the indictments of 14 more individuals in terrorism-related cases as well as another one in Chicago yesterday.
We've also seen U.S. citizens rise to prominence as proponents of violent extremism. The native Californian, Adam Gadahn, has become an al-Qaida spokesman enabling the group to increasingly target its propaganda to Western audiences. Omar Hammami, an American who grew up in Alabama has become an important al-Shabaab voice on the internet. The most notable of these, however, is Yemeni-American Anwar al-Aulaki, who has catalyzed a pool of potential recruits that others had failed to reach. The most important of these of course was Umar – not an American – but the most important person whom he touched, shall we say, was Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and was involved in his attempted detonation of an incendiary device aboard Northwest Airlines flight 253.
We should make no mistake about the nature of Aulaki – this is not just an ideologue, but someone at the heart of a group plotting terrorist acts against Americans. In mid-July, Aulaki was designated by the Treasury Department under special – under executive order 13224 – and was added a few days later to the UN 1267 Committee's consolidated list of individuals and entities associated with al-Qaida or the Taliban. The UN 1267 Committee's listing of Aulaki requires all UN member states to implement an asset freeze, travel ban, and arms embargo against him, and highlighted the threat he poses to the international community.
Other than al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, some of al-Qaida's other most active allies were in Africa. In Somalia, several al-Shabaab leaders have publicly proclaimed loyalty to al-Qaida and al-Shabaab has carried out numerous violent acts inside Somalia and is responsible for the assassination of a number of Somalia peace activists, international aid workers, civil society figures, and journalists. The July 11 Kampala attack for which al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility left 74 dead and 70 injured, and appears to be the first terrorist operation that the group has carried out outside of Somalia.
In the Sahel in North Africa, operatives from al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb kidnapped foreigners, sometimes working with individual local tribesmen and nomads. Its operations along under-governed borders has posed a challenge to coordinated state responses. And I would like to note that it is not only in the Sahel that we have seen a move toward kidnapping for ransom, we've also seen that in Somalia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan and Yemen. We are urging our partners around the world to adopt a no-concessions policy towards hostage takers so that we can diminish this alternative funding stream in these different regions.
Compounding the threat of terrorist organizations is the active or tacit support of states. Iran has long been the foremost state sponsor of terrorism, supporting Hezbollah as well as Hamas and other Palestinian rejectionist groups. Iran's financial, material, and logistic support for terrorist and militant groups throughout the Middle East and Central Asia has had a direct impact on international efforts to promote peace. It has threatened the economic stability in the Gulf and has jeopardized the tenuous peace in Southern Lebanon, and undermined the growth of democracy.
Syria has also provided political and military support to Hezbollah in Lebanon and allowed Iran to resupply this organization with weapons. It has provided safe haven as well as political and other support to a number of designated Palestinian terrorist groups, including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command.
In our counterterrorism efforts, defense is, of course, an essential part of the equation. But another equally vital part of the equation is engaging with other countries that are being used as platforms by terrorists and working with them to contain, reduce, and eliminate these threats. Given what we have seen over the last few years, Pakistan and Yemen are today the countries of greatest concern, so let me speak to you briefly about our efforts with these countries.
Pakistan, we must all remember, is a front line counterterrorism partner. More al-Qaida operatives have been killed or captured in Pakistan than anywhere else. The people of Pakistan, from political leaders to soldiers to ordinary citizens, have been targets of Pakistani terrorists. We respect the sacrifices that Pakistan has made in combating terrorists and in its resolve to combat those who undermine the stability of the country and seek to block its progress. We provide a spectrum of assistance to Pakistani counterterrorism campaigns, which range from police training to anti-money laundering efforts.
Over the past year, the U.S. Government has seen very encouraging signs that Pakistan not only recognizes the severity of the threat from violent extremists, but is actively working to counter and constrain it. Pakistani military operations in Swat and Waziristan have eliminated militant strongholds and damaged the operational abilities of extremist groups. Moreover, we are seeing increasing cross-border cooperation with Afghanistan and ISAF forces, which is instrumental for reducing key militant safe havens. In the wake of the Pakistan military's operations in Swat, we've seen public opinion turn more decisively against the militants.
In late March, with the beginning of the Strategic Dialogue with Pakistan, we started a new phase in our partnership. In the initial meeting of the Strategic Dialogue with Secretary Clinton and Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi, the Secretary underscored the commitment of the United States to stand with Pakistan as it confronts its challenges and, along with Foreign Minister Qureshi, she reaffirmed our support for the people and the Government of Afghanistan.
While our partnership with Pakistan extends well beyond security issues, the discussions in the Strategic Dialogue generated new momentum and mutual trust to jointly tackle the extremist groups who threaten both Pakistan's security and American security.
And I should mention that I recently returned from co-chairing the Law Enforcement and Counterterrorism Working Group of the Strategic Dialogue. This working group, which included representatives from FBI, the Department of Justice, Treasury, and the Department of Homeland Security, focused on three main issues: establishing a cooperative law enforcement framework, illicit finance, and border security.
Let me turn to Yemen. We recognize that al-Qaida has taken advantage of insecurity in various regions of Yemen that have been worsened by internal conflicts. We also know that Yemen is grappling with serious poverty and is the poorest country in the Arab world. The lack of resources inhibits good governance, the delivery of services and the effectiveness of the security provision that is needed to deal with terrorism. So to have any chance of success, U.S. counterterrorism policy has to be conceived in strategic and not merely tactical terms. That's why the Administration has adopted a two-pronged strategy for Yemen: helping the government confront the immediate security concern of al-Qaida and mitigating the serious political, economic, and governance issues that the country faces over the long term.
What we are doing in Yemen, what we are doing in Pakistan, and what we are doing in many other countries around the world is building capacity. Consistent diplomatic engagement among counterparts and senior leaders helps to build a common agenda for counterterrorism objectives. We must recognize that one of the central challenges to our security is that weak states serve as breeding grounds for terrorism and instability. And when there is a recognition that these gaps exist, we can help with specific capacity-building programs.
We are committed to addressing these state shortcomings that allow terrorists to operate freely by promoting effective civilian law enforcement, good governance, and the rule of law, as well as the delivery of the public's – public services to the general population. Capacity-building also includes counterterrorist finance training. It represents a whole-of-government approach to this problem. You can read more about our multilateral and capacity-building efforts in Chapter 5 of the report.
The global nature of the common challenge we face is clear: Citizens from dozens of countries around the world, the vast majority of them not from the United States, are being victimized by terrorism. As President Obama and his fellow G-8 leaders reiterated during the recent Muskoka Summit, we are also working to deepen and broaden the multilateral counterterrorism umbrella and to meet the President's charge to innovate and improve the international architecture for the threats of the 21st century.
Well, there's much more that we could say about what we are doing on counterterrorism, but at this time, I'd like to turn the lectern over to the National Counterterrorism Center's Russ Travers to talk about the statistical annex. And I look forward to your questions after his explanation of the numbers.
MR. TRAVERS: Thanks, Dan. Good afternoon. Each year, NCTC compiles statistics in support of country reports, and what I'm going to do is go through a series of charts to give you a very broad overview of our conclusions. The charts will be available, I think, at the end so that you can – don't really have to take notes on the PowerPoint themselves.
Two methodological points: First, we use the statutory definition of terrorism, so that's premeditated, politically motivated violence directed against non-combatants. It's a very broad definition. And as a result, we count things like insurgencies directed against civilians. We've used this methodology now for five years. Other important point – you don't count things like attacks in Iraq against U.S. and military. So as a result, Afghanistan and military attacks directed in its military don't count.
It can be a little arcane. The methodology itself is explained in great detail at our nctc.gov website. All the numbers, all the PowerPoint, all the actual incidents – there's a mapping routine. It's a very user-friendly website – encourage if you want to parse the numbers in a different way – there's a great deal of data on the website.
Okay, next please. Global totals, 2005-2009, the blue incidents – red the fatalities. Take a look. We're roughly 11,000 total incidents, roughly 15,000 total fatalities. In both cases the numbers are down a few percentage points from last year. We've emphasized for several years now that global totals are not a particularly useful way of measuring success against terrorists. Why? We've got roughly 250 groups catalogued last year in 83 different countries – different agenda, different locations. Adding them up just doesn't mean very much. So we feel that you really have to start disaggregating by region and country. So I'm going to peel the onion back a little bit. Next.
Here you've got a regional breakout – six regions across the x-axis, the incidents on the y-axis. The color codes for the bars are the last five years of data. Take away two different things: First, most of the activity, as has been the case for the last several years, has been in the Near East and South Asia. This past year it was about 75 percent.
Another point to make, if you notice in the Middle East, what we've seen over the last three or four years is a pretty substantial decline in total number of incidents. And in South Asia, incident totals have crept up, so that for the first year, last year since we've been doing this at least, South Asia has proven to be more violent than the Middle East; the rest of the world basically flat.
Now, within the total global totals, three countries drive the numbers – Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan account for about 60 percent of total attacks and fatalities. So what I'll do is burrow down a little bit more. Next, please.
Here, Iraq continues to be the country with the most attacks and most fatalities. We were looking last year at about 2,500 attacks, about 3,600 deaths. But focus on the five-year graph that you see in the middle. What we've seen are very substantial increases in 2005-2006, and equally substantial declines in '07, to a lesser degree 2008 and 2009. And then, as you can see in the chart, we're looking at about a 60 percent decline in attacks since 2007, and fatalities themselves down about 75 percent.
There has been some reporting in the press over the last few weeks that we're seeing a substantial increase in 2010; that's simply not the case. Our data is out on the website for the first quarter of 2010 and you certainly see no increase, and even in the – we're quality controlling this past three months, but you don't see any particular increase.
I'll be happy to answer questions about that if you've got – at the end.
And the heat map on the right-hand side gives you a sense of where the attacks have been located. For the most part, it's Baghdad up to the Nineveh province and that area in between. And that's been largely the case over the last few years.
Afghanistan and Pakistan, they account together for about a third of the total global attacks, and here again the heat map. The region immediately adjacent to the Af-Pak border has been where most of the attacks have occurred. In the case of Afghanistan, we've looked at a pretty substantial increase this past year: 21,000 attacks, almost 7,000 casualties, that is fatalities and people that are wounded, IEDs very much the weapon of choice. Something like a three-quarters increase in IED attacks this past year.
And we're also seeing substantial increasingly sophisticated tactical operations so that we may see a great deal of the literature now focusing on the Mumbai attacks from a couple of years ago in India and a lot of terrorist discussion about how to go about conducting those kinds of attacks so that we would see things like multiple targets, the use of diversionary attacks. Perhaps in the case of Afghanistan, the individuals in ANA uniform, Afghan National Army uniforms, the use of ambulances to evade individuals being watched. They'll try to breach the defensive compound, get inside a building, use small arms and explosives, maybe attack quick reaction forces and then have suicide bombs to evade capture. So a gradual increase in the level of tactical sophistication.
In the case of Pakistan on the right, the growth of attacks relatively small, but we did see almost a 30 percent growth in the number of casualties. It frankly could have been far worse. As Dan suggested, the number – the amount of Pakistani pressure on the militants substantially lowered our estimate where we were in kind of mid-2009. We were on par for a substantially worse year, but the militants were very much under pressure as a result of the Pak military operations.
Still for the first time, Pakistan slightly surpassed Iraq in terms of the large-scale attacks; that is attacks in which more than 10 people were killed, and also surpassed Iraq in terms of number of suicide bombings. As in Afghanistan, we saw numerous large-scale attacks coordinated: the Pearl Continental Hotel, the Sri Lankan cricket team, ISI buildings, police (inaudible). So a substantial number of combined attacks by militants in Pakistan. And we also saw and continue to see a growth in the attacks in the settled areas. So that in 2005 in what was – used to be called the North-West Frontier Province, we had 16 attacks. Last year we had 940 – increase by a factor of 50 over the last several years.
Okay, so Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan were 60 percent of the total. Here's the rest of the world. The other 40 percent, as Dan suggested, the U.S., the main story here has to be the growth in Islamic extremist attacks culminating in the failed attack on Christmas Day. In total, 25 Americans either in the United States or abroad in the non-combatant status lost their lives. In South America, the story is largely the FARC. Here an organization under intense pressure. We see substantial numbers of people just leaving, melding back into the population. They're under great pressure, but they were able to conduct an increased number of attacks last year.
Africa – Dan already talked to Shabaab a little bit in Somalia, the organization that conducted the Uganda attacks. They were second only to the Taliban last year in terms of the number of attacks claimed. The other major organization in Africa was a Christian extremist organization, the Lord's Resistance Army that conducted heinous attacks in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Southern Sudan. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula in the Middle East operating out of Yemen conducted attacks not only in Yemen, but also an attempted attack against the Saudi royal family and certainly inspired attacks in the United States. And the other important organization in the Middle East in the Maghreb, al-Qaida and the Islamic Maghreb – here under tremendous pressure in Algeria proper, we saw the fewest number of attacks during the month of Ramadan that we'd seen in 10 years. Algerian security forces have done a very good job in Algeria proper and as a result AQIM is pushing to the south in the Sahel – Mauritania, Niger, Mali, an increasing number of attacks there.
Case of Russia, the story is largely about the Caucasus Emirate. Doku Umarov, the head of the organization, indicated that he was going to reestablish the suicide brigade last year, and he did. They had 15 suicide attacks conducted by the Caucasus Emirate, far, far more than we had seen in the last several number of years combined. He also said that he was going to carry attacks to the Russian heartland and he did that with the Nevsky Express train attack last fall.
And lastly in Asia, mixed picture. We saw the first substantial attacks in Indonesia against the two hotels, the Ritz Carlton and the Marriott were really the first attacks in several years followed by some pretty substantial counterterrorism operations in Indonesia. India witnessed growth in the numbers. However, they were largely Naxalite, Maoist attacks. We didn't see anything like the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba or any Mujahedin attacks that we had seen in 2008. And in Sri Lanka and Philippines, both countries' attacks were down substantially. Though, the Maguindanao Massacre in which, I think, 34 press members lost their lives; by far the most significant attack on the press that we've ever seen, at least that we've ever cataloged.
And lastly, let me take a quick functional look at attack methods. The upper left-hand corner, you see the graph that tracks suicide attacks. They peaked to something over 500 in 2007, 2008 down 25 percent to 400, and last year down to right around 300. As I suggested earlier, both Afghanistan and Pakistan had more suicide attacks than did Iraq last year. The focus is often on suicide attacks, but frankly, the armed attacks and bombings predominate around the world and always have.
In terms of the largest attacks, those in which more than 50 people were killed, that's the graph you see on the lower left-hand side, those numbers have come down largely because the numbers in Iraq going down. And here we see a tremendous range in sophistication; some sort of reflecting the attributes of globalization, I think, as I might have said last year. We see YouTube to collect money and we see high impressive communications and we see the use of Google Earth and so forth. And on the other hand, we see people getting absolutely hacked to death in brutal attacks. Kidnappings for ransom also up last year; organizations like al-Qaida and (inaudible) the Maghreb, the Pakistani Taliban, Shabaab received tens of millions of dollars as a result of kidnappings for ransom.
And finally, the human toll is actually very close to what it was in 2008. We're looking right around 50,000 people either killed or wounded. Well over half of them are Muslim. And the vast majority of them were killed by Islamic extremists. Of the 15,000 people that we had killed last year, something over 9,000 of them were killed by Islamic extremists. So that's a very high-level overview. I would say again that you can parse the data a lot of different ways. And I would encourage you to take a look at the website and you can slice and dice it pretty much any way you'd like. Thanks.
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Okay.
QUESTION: Can I ask two very brief – one just on the delay. Three months is a long time to be rewriting so something is more readable. And the NCTC annex was actually available at the end of April. So I'm just curious, what kind of editing did this require that took three months, particularly when there is a congressional deadline for it in March?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: I'm afraid that's my story and I'm sticking with it as a former member of the fourth estate I've had – I was picky about how it came out.
QUESTION: Well, it just leaves the questions about whether there were any changes in substance.
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: There were no changes in substance whatsoever. The big change in the report this year is that there is material that had hitherto been included in it – and I think it's called 72-01?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: 71-20. I transposed the numbers. That is now being filed separately having to do with economic issues and broadcasting, and that's not included anymore.
QUESTION: All right. And then just my other question, and I'm not looking for a long explanation of – the long policy explanation on this. But in the report it talks about Iran being again, the most active state sponsor of terrorism. The others remain unchanged. I realize this isn't the vehicle for changing those state sponsor designations. But if you look, the NCTC data, not one of your state sponsors is mentioned as being a sponsor of any attack. And in fact, the only time Iran is mentioned is this, in that global overview when it talks about attacks against the Iranian Government. So I'm just curious as to what the – most active supporter or most active state sponsor means what? Just money is going into some – going into groups that don't actually conduct any attacks?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Well, I wouldn't say that. I mean, we've had continued terrorist activity from Hamas, Hezbollah --
QUESTION: Fair enough. But they don't make the lists.
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Well, maybe Russ wants to address the breakout.
MR. TRAVERS: Yeah. With respect to numbers, you will certainly see within Iraqi – the numbers of people killed in Iraq – I have no doubt that there's people that have been killed as a result of Iranian munitions that have made it into Iraq and so forth. Within an open source context, I will rarely get the kind of information that would allow you to ascribe specific countries conducting attacks. In the case of Cuba or North Korea, I don't have data within my incident database, I don't believe, that suggests that they conducted any attacks. So I'm focusing primarily –
QUESTION: Well, hopefully, it's not important anymore, so that's –
MR. TRAVERS: -- on who conducted attacks.
QUESTION: But – now, I'm not suggesting that they actually conducted the attacks. I mean, it says that it's the most active – Iran is the most active state sponsor, and yet that doesn't seem to translate into – at least according to your highlights – it doesn't seem to translate into a huge number. It doesn't seem to translate into much of anything unless I'm just missing it.
MR. TRAVERS: Facilitation would not make it into our data at all. So that Syrian support to Hamas is not going to be reflected in any of the data that I've presented on these charts.
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: I think, as Russ just said, there were a lot of incidents in Iraq that ultimately can be traced back to Iranian support. So, I don't think your conclusion is a correct one.
QUESTION: Hi. Just to follow up, but I have another question. I mean, he does have a good point, though. I mean, you continue to say that Iran is the biggest sponsor of terrorism, but areas that you're looking at as the main areas of terrorist activity don't seem to be – I mean – and Iraq notwithstanding – I mean, Pakistan, Afghanistan, although there's been some incidental information about Iranian involvement, those support for the major areas don't necessarily seem to be coming from Iran. So, out of all the state sponsors on your list, maybe Iran is the most active, but that doesn't make them very active. Does it?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Well, a few points. It has been true for a long time that the predominant actors, the predominant instigators of violence in the world today are the – are not state sponsors but rather the groups like al-Qaida and their affiliates. Okay? So that has just been true since al-Qaida really came on the screen and practiced the kind of indiscriminate violence that was completely at variance with the practice of state sponsorship of terror, which had usually involved calibrated violence in rather smaller numbers of casualties.
But the other thing that you need to calculate in here is that when it does happen, it can happen on a rather large scale. And you just need to think back of the conflict a few years ago instigated by Hezbollah with Israel and how much destruction and regional instability that caused. So –
QUESTION: But that wasn't from this report last year. But, anyway –
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: But I'm saying, that when it does happen, it happened –
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: I'm sorry?
QUESTION: It also wasn't a terrorist attack.
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Well, it began with a terrorist act.
QUESTION: Right. But, I mean, then the Israelis invaded. So, it's –
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Yeah. But also firing missiles into Northern Israel is a terrorist attack. So –
QUESTION: Okay. Well, anyway, my question is about Aulaki. You seem to spend a lot of time in your remarks about him. And I'm wondering if – and you've said that he's not just like a kind of instigator of anti-American or anti – of extremism. But you seem to see he's an operational guy, and I'm wondering if you think that in terms of priorities and rising importance, he's rising to the level of bin Ladin and whether some of them consider the next bin Ladin.
And I'm just wondering if you're thinking of capturing or killing him in that vein. And then also, you mention Lashkar-e-Tayyiba as now they're kind of looking towards America and presenting more of a threat to American interests. What do you attribute for these groups that primarily have been regionally based, focusing their attacks, like the TTP, on regional actors and now they're looking towards the United States and threatening U.S. interests? What do you attribute for that type of shift?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: A lot of questions. On the second one – Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and TTP and the others – look, groups that espouse in some way or another an ideology that is either identical with or a variant of the al-Qaida ideology, have always had this choice of going after the near enemy or their foreign enemy. And according to the circumstances in which they're operating, they may find it more advantageous to choose one over the over.
I don't think I said that LET was –
QUESTION: It says it in the report.
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: It says what?
QUESTION: That increasingly it's a very capable organization and increasingly threatening American interest.
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Well, that is true. You said targeting America, and we haven't said that it is directly targeting America. But it is certainly true that the – LET's recent targets, particularly in Mumbai, was out of the al-Qaida playbook. And of course six Americans were killed there and there were international targets, and there clearly was a desire to kill Westerners, Israelis, the usual kinds of targets.
As for Aulaki, I think it is important that people understand that this is not just a rabble-rouser or a preacher of particular gifts, but that he is indeed also involved quite centrally, quite directly, in terrorist activities. I don't think it is useful to have a kind of hall of fame listing for terrorists, but there's no question that this is a particularly dangerous individual who is sophisticated not only in his rhetoric, but also in his tactical capabilities.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: On al-Shabaab, you mentioned it earlier, but do you think that (inaudible) on Ethiopia that accusing Eritrea on a state sponsor for al-Shabaab? And what do you say on that? For Ethiopia is it that Eritrea supporting al-Shabaab and surrounding area, and also the IGAD?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Okay. We have expressed our concerns about Eritrean behavior in the region to the Eritreans directly on numerous occasions. We strongly support the Djibouti peace process and see it as the best hope for settling the conflict – the long-running conflict – in Somalia. And as for al-Shabaab, well obviously, the Kampala attack, which they have claimed credit for, is an unwelcome event and we hope it is not a harbinger of more, so to say, out-of-area attacks for them that is outside of Somalia's borders. But we're looking at it very carefully. There certainly have been plenty of indications that they would like to – like the other groups we talked about – diversify their portfolio of attacks.
QUESTION: Coming back to Matt's point about Iran, the most active state in sponsoring terrorism. You mentioned Hamas – their support for Hamas. Do you take – have you had any evidence of Hamas as being involved internationally in terrorism or do you account only the Israeli civilians that have been targeted by Hamas? And is this the only kind of statistics that you're going by?
And my other question is about al-Qaida. You said that al-Qaida remains the major threat currently. But you talk about al-Qaida itself as we know it or are we talking about the affiliates? Because most of the attacks that you have mentioned, again, is carried by the affiliates whether in Yemen or in Iraq or elsewhere or in Somalia. So can we make the different clarification?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: You are right that we are sometimes imprecise in our speech and when we talk about al-Qaida we can either – we should say either al-Qaida senior leadership or the core in Pakistan, Afghanistan, or the broader network of affiliates – those that have taken the al-Qaida name and others that are acting in league with them. And certainly, our concern is the broader one, although the core remains in probably the most capable unit within that entire network.
On the issue of Hamas, Hamas has been responsible for the killings of Americans, although those are some years back. Of course, Hamas right now is actually observing something of a ceasefire. Most of the recent victims have been Israeli, but Hamas does have American blood on its hands as well.
QUESTION: In your report, you mentioned that in Pakistan the safe havens are (inaudible), Balujistan, and Southern Punjab. So that leaves only Northern Punjab and Sindh province. So do you see expansion of safe havens inside of Pakistan? And secondly, in the context of WikiLeaks, what is the relation between ISI and these terrorist outfits inside Pakistan?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: There – let me put it this way. We are concerned about any indications of the spread of radicalism in Pakistan. Many of these areas that are identified as safe havens have actually had pockets of militants in them, radicals, terrorists, (inaudible), for some time. We have seen some areas that have been more worrisome than before. Pakistani Interior Minister recently spoke about Southern Punjab, so there are plenty of areas of concern. And – I'm sorry, the second part of your question? Oh --
QUESTION: The links with ISI.
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Yeah. The WikiLeaks story, and I want to reiterate our – that we deplore this wholesale release of classified material – we have been forging a much better, more trusting relationship with Pakistan and the WikiLeaks story. The WikiLeaks documents ran up only through December 2009. The President had unrolled a new policy for Afghanistan and Pakistan at that time. We feel that with the Strategic Dialogue, with the new policy in Afghanistan, we are building a much better relationship, a more wide-ranging relationship, and one that is bringing our countries together to confront the common threats we face. And we continue, as part of that broader relationship, to encourage Pakistan's continuing strategic shift to take on terror. And I think that that's probably where we best leave it.
QUESTION: A couple of questions about domestic radicalization. A couple of years ago we sort of received wisdom in the counterterrorism community that the U.S. Muslim population, for that matter, non-Muslim population wasn't as susceptible to radicalization as the European immigrant Muslim population. What happened? I mean, what changed?
And secondly, on Aulaki, to the extent you can, what's the evidence that he's involved operationally in terrorism? It's an important question since he's apparently under a death threat from his own government.
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Well, this is the State Department so I'm a little reluctant to offer too many opinions on what has happened domestically. But I think that the fundamental points are probably that in any population of a certain size you're statistically bound, it is inevitable that you're going to find more people over time turning up as radicals. I don't think that the fundamental assessment of the differences between the American community and communities in other countries is wrong. I just think that it was at some point bound to happen that we would see greater radicalization.
One could also say that an important component of that has to do with the reaction after the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia which caused a great deal of anger. And that – it's been noted that we've seen a number of Americans of Somalian ancestry going to East Africa, and that probably is a considerable part of it.
Is there anything you wanted to add? No. Okay. Oh, you had the Aulaki – what was the –
QUESTION: To the extent you can in a public forum, what's the evidence that he's involved operationally?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: There is a considerable body of it and I can't talk about most of it here. Sorry.
QUESTION: On Venezuela. The report says that you have information about the relationship between the Venezuelan Government and the FARC, but you are not sure about the kind of relationship it is. Can you elaborate on that?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: I can only say that we have heard the charges from Bogota and we are looking at these reports very carefully, and that we urge all countries to observe their responsibilities under international law not to host terrorist groups.
QUESTION: But that – follow-up on that. But that means that the U.S. Government is clear that there is a relationship between the Venezuelan Government and the FARC? Is that (inaudible)?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: I didn't say that. I said we were looking at those reports and trying to ascertain the truth of them.
QUESTION: Another follow-up on that. There is a difference – could you please explain what is the difference between not cooperating in the efforts in the fight against terrorism and sponsoring terrorism, because there were some outspoken voices here trying to include Venezuela in the list of terrorist sponsoring countries? So could you please explain the difference?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: There are two different statutory processes that have different criteria. We do these evaluations about whether other countries are being cooperative in counterterrorism efforts; that is one thing. Another thing is whether or not they are actually actively sponsoring terrorism abroad, and so we have a number of countries that are not cooperating but that have not been listed as state sponsors – Venezuela being one, Eritrea being another.
QUESTION: But Venezuela has been included since 2006. What will change this time? What will be the --
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Cooperation.
QUESTION: Do you expect that something will change with the Venezuelan Government?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Well, I think the political relationship speaks for itself. We would very much like to see Venezuela cooperate, and the door is open to that cooperation.
QUESTION: But Venezuela –
QUESTION: In the forward of the report it says that there is questions that you're asking – that the government is asking about what causes terrorism. And one of the questions is: Are our actions going to result in the creation of more terrorists? I wonder if you could expand on what actions you're talking about and how we would alter them.
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: I do think that that is something that is very much at the center of our policy making and our deliberations. It very much affects our thoughts regarding our presence in particular parts of the world, where we may not be wanted as much as we might think or might like. It will certainly condition how we view any use of force, any kinetic action, because I think we have a more precise understanding about the relationship. And I won't claim that we have fully cracked the code on this, but we have a better understanding of the relationship between the use of force and the radicalization of those watching it. I mean, it's not --
QUESTION: But with any country that's harboring terrorists or helping terrorists, would they ever want our presence if we're here talking about how there's terrorists in these different places? And certainly, we wouldn't want to just avoid them.
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: There are plenty of safe havens that are in countries that would not – that would like not to have them, and at the same time, that doesn't mean we should use force there. There's a wide range of different circumstances in which we find terrorists. But the question is: What's the appropriate way to deal with them? What threat do they pose to us? What are the long-term implications for our security, but also for our ability to work with countries in that region?
Just to give you an example, we've heard an awful lot about terrorist attacks in the Maghreb and the Sahel, so it's obvious that using force there is a solution for us, given what our interests are and given all the other means at our disposal to deal with the problem in a region like that where we have some capable partners, we can build capacity, they can deal with their regional problems themselves. You really just have to ask the question: What's the best way forward and how do we minimize the likelihood that we're going to see more terrorists down the line?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Yes.
QUESTION: Wonderful. Back to Iran sponsoring –
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: You'll have to speak up, though.
QUESTION: Okay. So, I was wondering if you could give me the names of the Iraqi Shia militants group that Iran is apparently continuing to provide legal support, including weapons, training and funding and guidance to these groups, and also where I can find the evidence that Iran's Al Quds forces have been providing training to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
MR. TRAVERS: (Inaudible.)
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Russ was not speaking up. We have no unclassified information that we can provide on that in this setting, I'm afraid.
QUESTION: So we should just take this for word that –
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Well, I'm afraid there are a lot of --
QUESTION: We don't know the names?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: I'm sorry?
QUESTION: We should just take these militant groups for word in this – the report, not needing the names or anything? I'm just trying to find the names to these Shia groups, because you've mentioned them in the report the past couple of years.
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: We haven't mentioned any of them by name? No?
MR. TRAVERS: I haven't, no.
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: We'll see if we can back to you on that one.
QUESTION: Okay. And evidence that Iran's Al Quds forces have been providing training to the Taliban?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Well, that's certainly only in the classified (inaudible), I'm afraid.
QUESTION: But you provide a lot of information here – I'm wondering where I can find that.
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: I don't believe that we have declassified any of that intelligence, I'm sorry. We'll look into it.
QUESTION: And I have one more question. One more question on what designates a terrorist organization. Do they have to commit acts of, I guess, killing people and bomb attacks, to be designated a terrorist organization or do they just have to not cooperate with the U.S. and would that designate them a terrorist group, too?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: No, no. For organizations, they have to be foreign. They have to carry out terrorist attacks or intend to carry out terrorist attacks. So theoretically, if we saw a group in formation that was going to carry out an attack, we could designate them in practice. However, there are so many groups out there, I don't think we've designated any before they carried out attacks.
QUESTION: And one last question on Cuba.
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: I'm sorry, come on, you can't ask all the questions.
QUESTION: Israel's foreign minister said that 35 tons of weapons seized in Bangkok in December were headed to Hamas and Hezbollah through Syria, and WikiLeaks also said North Korea is involved in the provision of weapons to the Taliban in Afghanistan. So do you see any sign of North Korea to supporting militant groups?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Let me be clear about North Korea. We've seen those reports. We are looking into them. The Secretary and others in the Administration have been clear that if we find that Korea is indeed sponsoring terrorism, obviously, we will revisit the issue of the listing as a state sponsor. But Korea was delisted in accordance with U.S. law in 2008, and it was at that time certified that Korea had not – North Korea had not supported any terrorism in the previous six months.
But you raise interesting and important points, and we are looking at that.
QUESTION: Well, wait a minute, wasn't that a document that was – I mean, you're looking into a report about your document. You said you're looking into the reports. But wasn't it –
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: No, those were press reports.
QUESTION: A follow-up, if I may, on North Korea. There have been other elements – I understand the Cheonan would not meet – the attack on the vessel would not meet your statutory definition of terrorism. There was an assassination attempt against an exiled senior North Korean leader in South Korea and now, of course, these arms sales. How long does this process take? I mean, the designation process or the review of the designation?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: It's a fairly laborious process and involves asking all kinds of questions regarding what are or are not terrorist acts. We did – our parties (inaudible) as to what is going on or not. It's a very complicated process, but it has to be waterproof. It has to be – stand all kinds of different tests. And it's not something that we do overnight. So we are taking – I'm fully aware of that issue and we are looking at it quite carefully.
MR. CROWLEY: We'll take one or two more.
QUESTION: Perhaps I missed something, but could you explain why you say that it was bound to happen, that there would be a radicalization of sub population – domestic – sub populations and the question of homegrown terrorism?
And secondly, you mentioned the 14 indictments today, are those all new cases or are they related to cases that we knew of previously – the Somali American community?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Well, on the new indictments, I have to refer you to DOJ because, quite frankly, I just don't have the – I don't have them handy. They – we heard they were coming and then they were there at noon or something. So I have not – I don't know the exact circumstances.
Bound to happen probably sounds a bit more deterministic than I would like to sound, but the –I'm just suggesting that in any large population there is a probability that some small fraction of people will ultimately be attracted to any particular ideology over time. I mean, we have seen this in lots of different contexts, whether it was the Christian Identity movement and Timothy McVeigh. The point is it's a large, globalized world. There are lots of rather nasty ideologies going around. And at some point, someone, for whatever complex reason having to do with both their personality and their social circumstances and the like, is going to be attracted to it. So I think that – I don't think that there's anything either genetic or culturally determined about this. It's just probabilities over time. And that, I think, is something that we have to live with, and I think that it's probably a cautionary note. And we've been fortunate that we have not seen greater radicalization. We think that there are good reasons why we haven't seen that in terms of the structure of our society and its openness and the integration of immigrant communities.
But we nonetheless have to recognize that this has happened in the last year or two.
MR. CROWLEY: (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: I'm just curious whether Jundallah, the group in Iran that – to the extent that they attack Iranian civilians – I know they often attack the military, but to the extent that they attack civilians, are those included in here? I know Jundallah had not been designated a terrorist organization.
MR. TRAVERS: There are probably four or five Jundallah attacks, the large-scale ones that occurred, yes.
QUESTION: So they're in the statistics?
MR. TRAVERS: They're in our statistics, yes.
QUESTION: Even though it's not designated a terrorist group?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: I think the statistics do not only cover designated --
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: -- groups, because there are many more groups out there than we've been able to designate.
MR. TRAVERS: Like I said, we've got 250-odd groups that we catalog.
MR. CROWLEY: Okay. Thank you very much.