NEW YORK — As speakers at the GOP convention trumpet Bush administration successes in the war on terrorism, an NBC News analysis of Islamic terrorism since Sept. 11, 2001, shows that attacks are on the rise worldwide — dramatically.
Of the roughly 2,929 terrorism-related deaths around the world since the attacks on New York and Washington, the NBC News analysis shows 58 percent of them — 1,709 — have occurred this year.
In the past 10 days, in fact, the number of dead has risen by 142 people in places as diverse as Russia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Israel. On Tuesday, the number of civilians killed by terrorists totaled 38 — 10 at a subway entrance bombing in Moscow, 16 in a bus bombing in Israel and 12 Nepalese executed in Iraq.
Moreover, the level of sophistication is increasing. Terrorism experts point in particular to the attacks apparently carried out by Chechen rebels during that 10-day period. The rebels, whose top military commanders have been Arabs, are operating at a whole different level.
‘This is all coordinated’
“You have bombs on board planes, bombs at a train station and now a hostage taking,” said Roger Cressey, a former deputy Nantional Security Council director of counterterrorism. “This is all coordinated. These things do not happen by accident, and in fact, United States officials are frantically trying to determine if they are a forerunner of an attack aimed at the U.S.”
Cressey, who is an NBC News analyst, was referring in particular to last week’s twin bombings of Russian airliners that left 90 dead in southern Russia, an attack Cressey says indicates a greater level of coordination and sophistication than thought possible just last year.
While fewer than 60 of the deaths since Sept. 11 have been of American citizens — and all of which took place overseas — other countries continue to suffer at higher levels than ever before.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, according to the analysis, around 1,500 have died in terrorist attacks in Iraq, nearly 700 in Russia, more than 350 have died in Israel, around 200 in Spain and more than 100 in the Philippines. The numbers sometimes are imprecise because of the nature of the attacks, which leave many missing.
Senior U.S. intelligence officials note that in fact, the frequency of terrorist attacks carried out by Muslim radicals is increasing, not decreasing. Moreover, they say the attacks carried out by what they now refer to as “central al-Qaida” are being dwarfed by those carried out by affiliates, such Ansar al Sunnah in Iraq, the Chechen rebels and even ad hoc groups like those who blew up the Madrid train stations.
While there may be links to al-Qaida in terms of training and in some cases money, these groups operate independently of Osama bin Laden's command.
The threat in fact is “morphing,” as one senior U.S. intelligence official put it.
“You're talking about an al-Qaida that's trying to regenerate, and you're also talking about a movement that has looked to al-Qaida for inspiration but is not really al-Qaida central,” said another intelligence official.
Concern: ‘Localization of threat’
“The thing we worry about a lot is what we call, in some ways, the localization of threat,” the official said. “Regional organizations that operate in different environments, that may have had some training from al-Qaida, that may have had some money, but that really see the world in al-Qaida terms and that's why we worry about them, and they are the wave of the future, and I believe that's the wave of the future for us operationally.”
As more and more groups get into the mix, say officials, there are more and more attacks.
In fact, the three worst months for Islamic terrorism since Sept. 11 were March (431 dead), February (393 dead) and June (245 dead) of this year.
With the three terrorist attacks on Tuesday, the suicide bombing in Israel, the car bombing in Moscow and the execution of the Nepalese workers in Iraq, the August total will rise to 228 dead, the sixth worst month since Sept. 11.
Robert Rivas is a researcher at the MSNBC political unit in Secaucus. Robert Windrem is the investigative producer for special projects at NBC News.
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