Terrorist attacks worldwide shot up more than 25 percent last year, killing 40 percent more people than in 2005, particularly in Iraq where extremists used chemical weapons and suicide bombers to target crowds, the US State Department said Monday.
In its annual global survey of terrorism, the department said 14,338 attacks took place in 2006, mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan, 3,185 more than in 2005 representing a 28.5 percent increase.
These strikes claimed a total of 20,498 lives, 13,340 of them in Iraq, 5,800 more, or a 40.2 percent increase, than last year, it said.
Despite the grim figures, US State Department officials pointed to some successes in the war on terror, including improved counterterrorism cooperation with various nations and the thwarting of numerous plots, notably plans to down trans-Atlantic airliners.
"Serious challenges do remain, there's no question about that," said acting counterterrorism coordinator Frank Urbancic. "This is not the kind of war where you can measure success with conventional numbers. We cannot aspire to a single decisive battle that will break the enemy's back, nor can we hope for a signed peace accord to mark victory."
The report partly attributes the higher casualty figures to a 25 percent jump in the number of nonvehicular suicide bombings targeting large crowds. That overwhelmed a 12 percent dip in suicide attacks involving vehicles.
In Iraq, the use of chemical weapons, seen for the first time in a Nov. 23, 2006, attack in Sadr City, also "signaled a dangerous strategic shift in tactics," it said.
With the rise in fatalities, the number of injuries from terrorist attacks also rose, by 54 percent, between 2005 and 2006, and the number of wounded doubled in Iraq over the period, according to the department's Country Reports on Terrorism 2006.
The numbers were compiled by the US National Counterterrorism Center and refer to deaths and injuries sustained by "noncombatants," with significant increases in attacks targeting children, educators and journalists.
"By far the largest number of reported terrorist incidents occurred in the Near East and South Asia," said the 335-page report, referring to the regions where Iraq and Afghanistan are located.
"These two regions also were the locations for 90 percent of all the 290 high-casualty attacks that killed 10 or more people," it said.
The report said 6,600, or 45 percent, of the attacks took place in Iraq, killing about 13,000 people, or 65 percent of the worldwide total of terrorist-related deaths in 2006. Kidnappings by terrorists soared 300 percent in Iraq over 2005.
Afghanistan had 749 strikes in 2006, a 50 percent rise from 2005 when 491 attacks were tallied, according to the report.
However, it also detailed a surge in Africa, where 65 percent more attacks, 420 compared to 253 in 2005, were counted last year, largely due to turmoil in or near Sudan, including Darfur, and Nigeria where oil facilities and workers have been targeted.
As in previous years, the 2006 report identified Iran as the "most active state sponsor" of terror, accusing the country of helping plan and foment attacks to destabilize Iraq and derail Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.
Iran's Revolutionary Guard has been "linked to armor-piercing explosives that resulted in the deaths of coalition forces" and has helped, along with Lebanon's radical Hezbollah movement, train Iraqi extremists to build bombs, the report said.
Although the designation of Iran is not new, it appears in the report that is being released as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice prepares to attend a conference of Iraq's neighbors, at which she has not ruled out a meeting with Iran's foreign minister.
The report said that terrorists continue to rely mainly on conventional weapons in their attacks, but noted no let up in an alarming trend toward more sophisticated and better planned and coordinated strikes.
For instance, while the number of bombings increased by 30 percent between 2005 and 2006, the death tolls from these incidents rose by 39 percent and the number of injuries rose by 45 percent, it said.
The report attributed the higher casualty figures to a 25 percent jump in the number of non-vehicular suicide bombings targeting large crowds that more than made up for a slight 12 percent dip in suicide attacks involving vehicles.
Of the 58,000 people killed or wounded in terrorist attacks around the world in 2006, more than 50 percent were Muslims, the report, says with government officials, police and security guards accounting for a large proportion, the report said.
The number of child casualties from terrorist attacks soared by more than 80 percent between 2005 and 2006 to more than 1,800, while incidents involving educators were up more than 45 percent and those involving journalists up 20 percent, the report said.
Twenty-eight US citizens were killed and 27 wounded in terrorist incidents in 2006, most of them in Iraq, where eight of the 12 Americans kidnapped by terrorists last year were taken captive, it said.