Accessibility links

Breaking News

U.S.: Agency Issues Terrorism Report For 2004

Aftermath of September 2004 blast in Baghdad U.S. President George W. Bush on 11 June nominated retired Vice Admiral John Redd to head the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), "The Washington Post" and other media reported. Redd recently headed a presidential commission on U.S. intelligence in the run-up to the war in Iraq, a commission that concluded that intelligence findings on weapons of mass destruction were "dead wrong." Before that, he served as chief operating officer of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad.

The role of the NCTC, which was created last August but which has been struggling to get up to speed, is to coordinate the work of several governmental agencies and departments analyzing possible terrorist threats. One of its main functions is to monitor and track terrorists incidents around the globe.

On 27 April, the NCTC issued a report entitled "A Chronology Of Significant International Terrorism In 2004," a publication that presumably will be an annual product for the foreseeable future. The complete text has been posted on the Internet at

In previous years, a similar chronology was part of the U.S. State Department's yearly "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report.

The NCTC report gives a fascinating picture of the difficulties of categorizing and compiling information on terrorism, difficulties that make it extremely difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of international efforts to combat this threat. The authors of the publication warn that the report is not a complete list of 2004 terrorist incidents by far. They note that the methodology for defining and classifying terrorist acts and for determining which ones are "significant" is under reevaluation, and that a revised 2004 report would be issued in June. It is likely that Redd's confirmation process will delay the publication of the revision.

At first glance, the number of international terrorist incidents in the 2004 report seems staggering. A total of 651 incidents accounted for 1,907 people killed and 6,704 injured. By comparison, the State Department reported 175 terrorist attacks in 2003. The NCTC report explains the apparent jump by asserting that its methodology is new and considerably improved over what the State Department had been doing. The report also notes that terrorist statistics vary considerably from year to year and warns "against using incident data alone to gauge success in the War on Terrorism."
The report notes that only 10 percent of all incidents targeted U.S. interests and only 1 percent of terrorism victims worldwide were U.S. citizens.

Many of the terrorist acts in 2004 can be attributed to the war in Iraq, an increase in the number of reported incidents in the Kashmir region, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The total does not necessarily reflect an increase in Al-Qaeda-linked activity targeting the United States or the West. In fact, the report notes that only 10 percent of all incidents targeted U.S. interests and only 1 percent of terrorism victims worldwide were U.S. citizens.

The NCTC 2004 report defines what presently constitutes an act of "significant" international terrorism in the eyes of the U.S. government. "An incident was included if it was premeditated; perpetrated by a subnational or clandestine agent; politically motivated, potentially including religious, philosophical, or culturally symbolic motivations; violent; and perpetrated against a noncombatant target," the report states.

Keeping this in mind, the NCTC report can be interpreted as showing the following trends. Small-scale, low-budget, nationalist-related terrorism predominates and is increasing. The role of the original Al-Qaeda organization seems to be diminishing. Further, U.S. citizens were apparently the best protected or, perhaps, least targeted, representing only 1 percent of terrorism victims.

The largest group of in the chronology were committed by gunmen on noncombatant targets of one to five people. These took place predominantly in Iraq, India, and Israel.

Some of the incidents described in the report are indicative of the problems inherent in this kind of work.

"On 25 April, near Bayji, Iraq," the report states, "a roadside bomb exploded as a convoy of private security contractors passed, killing one U.S. contractor and wounding two others, who later died from their wounds. No group claimed responsibility." Arguably, security contractors could be considered combatants in Iraq and the report does not specify why this incident was included.

"On 2 August 2004," the report states about another incident," at night in Lasana, Jamma, India, militants slit the throat of a Muslim woman. Militants had previously occupied the woman's home before they were discovered and killed by police. The woman was subsequently suspected of turning in the militants. No group claimed responsibility." Again, the classification of this incident as terrorism is problematic.

Another incident, the significance of which might be disputed, is described as follows: "On 23 April 2004 at 3:35 a.m. in Osaka, Japan, a Japanese man rammed a bus into the front gate of the Chinese Consulate General causing no injuries, but setting fire to the vehicle and causing damage to the gate. The perpetrator attacked the Consulate in protest against China's claim of possession of the Senkaku Islands. No group claimed responsibility."

In the overwhelming majority of cases, the organization sponsoring the attackers, if there was one, did not take responsibility for the attacks. Of the 651 listed incidents, only 152 involved a group claiming responsibility - mostly for attacks which took place in Iraq, Israel, or the Palestinian Authority.

When dealing with Iraq, the report is vague when it tries to make a distinction between "insurgency," attacks by former Ba'athist supporters of Saddam Hussein and "terrorism," meaning acts committed by members of the network associated with Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. Sunni-Shi'a violence is listed in the chronology and mostly blamed on Al-Qaeda and al-Zarqawi.

Some aspects of what constitutes a "significant incident" are clearly explained. To be significant, an incident must result in death, kidnapping, or serious injury to a noncombatant and in the case of an attack on property, it must result in damages amounting to approximately $ 10,000. Despite these guidelines, no attacks on oil pipelines in Iraq are not listed. At the same time, however, attacks by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on oil pipelines in that country on 2 and 8 January are listed.

The report shows that most of the terrorist incidents reported in 2004 were armed attacks (49 percent), followed by bombings (29 percent), kidnappings (11 percent), assaults (4 percent), and suicide bombings (3 percent). No terrorist attacks in 2004 used chemical or biological weapons.

This indicates that a great many attacks in 2004 were low-budget operations that did not require the laundering of the large sums of money needed for elaborate preparations, travel, communications, false passports, lodging, or sophisticated weapons. The most expensive attack was the Madrid train bombing on 11 March 2004. While the NCTC report does not include estimated costs of incidents cited, other reports estimate the Madrid attack most likely did not require more then $150,000.

The terrible incident in Beslan, Russia, in September 2004 was, in all likelihood, less expensive, yet more deadly then the Madrid bombings, primarily due to casualties incurred when Russian security forces stormed the building.

The Near East suffered the largest number of people killed in terrorist attacks in 2004, 728 people dying in 270 incidents. Second was Europe/Eurasia with 636 people killed in 24 instances. The majority of these died in attacks in Russia (331 died at Beslan) and in the Madrid train explosions. In South Asia, 502 people died in 327 attacks, the majority of which took place in India.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.