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Report: Islamic terror rising as al-Qaida fades

/ Source: The Associated Press

Targeted by drone strikes in Pakistan, al-Qaida is losing ground and financing even as attacks by Islamist groups are on the rise, according to a report obtained by The Associated Press.

Attacks by Islamist militant groups on civilian targets in Afghanistan are on track to increase by 15-20 percent this year over last year's totals, said the report by the American Security Project, a bipartisan Washington-based organization.

The group analyzes terrorism trends and the effectiveness of U.S. counterterrorism policies. The statistics do not include attacks against the military.

At the same time, many violence-prone Islamic militant groups are now increasingly focusing on local issues rather than on Osama bin Laden's global struggle.

"There is a larger number of Islamic groups using violence to push their own agenda," said Bernard Finel, a senior fellow with the American Security Project.

Tribal battles with government
Other analysts and government reports have noted that the Taliban in Afghanistan are more focused on their internal fight. Insurgents in Somalia are concentrating on their own tribal battles with the government.

The divide comes as al-Qaida is taking losses in leadership and money.

Armed drones, in clandestine attacks largely carried out by the CIA, have killed at least 11 of the United States' initial top 20 al-Qaida targets and four others who were added to an updated list, according to the security report.

Just last week, Saleh al-Somali, the group's operations head, was killed by a missile strike in Pakistan, according to U.S. officials. The classified operations, run by the CIA, have not been confirmed openly by U.S. officials.

In contrast to the Afghan Taliban, which appears to be well-funded by crime, contributions and the opium trade, al-Qaida is financially weaker than it has been in several years, according to an assessment by U.S. Treasury officials. That has led to a decline in influence.

The American Security Project report notes that al-Qaida's media arm, As-Sahab, has been less productive over the past year. The terrorist media operation issued 48 video messages in 2008, compared to 97 in 2007, the report said.

Violent attacks on rise
Yet the apparent diminishment of al-Qaida influence has come as violent attacks rose sharply in Pakistan, according to the report. Islamic attacks jumped from 81 in the first half of 2008 to 220 in the first half of 2009.

In both cases, the report said, the numbers of the attacks are understated because they don't include strikes against the military. Also, in the case of Pakistan, some attacks may not be attributed to a particular terror group, but "are almost certainly Islamist attacks."

Somalia saw one of the largest spikes in violence, with 51 attacks in the first half of 2008 compared to 165 in the same period in 2009.

The lawless country has become a safe haven for Islamic extremists, with some fighters from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region moving to Somalia, where the al-Qaida linked group al-Shabab is battling to overthrow the weak U.S.-backed government.

Even excluding Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan, the spike in violence worldwide remains dramatic.

According to the report, there were 671 attacks by Islamist groups worldwide in 2008. That number is on pace to shoot up by nearly 50 percent, surpassing 1,000 for 2009.