The death of Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders sent the militant organization into a decline that will be hard to reverse, the United States said on Tuesday in a report that found terrorist attacks last year fell to their lowest level since 2005.
Describing 2011 as a “landmark year,” the United States said other top al-Qaeda members killed last year included Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, reportedly the militant organization’s No. 2 figure after bin Laden’s death, and Anwar al-Awlaki, who led its lethal affiliate in Yemen.
“The loss of bin Laden and these other key operatives puts the network on a path of decline that will be difficult to reverse,” the State Department said in its annual “Country Reports on Terrorism” document, which covers calendar year 2011.
The report attributed the killings, which included the May 2011 raid in which U.S. commandoes shot bin Laden in Pakistan, to improved global cooperation on counterterrorism. But it stressed that the group and its followers remain adaptable.
“They have shown resilience; retain the capability to conduct regional and transnational attacks; and, thus, constitute an enduring and serious threat to our national security,” the State Department added.
While saying there were no terrorist attacks in the United States last year, the report said the U.S. government remains concerned about “threats to the homeland,’ citing the foiled 2009 Christmas Day attempt by the Nigerian “underwear bomber” who sought to blow up a Detroit-bound aircraft.
The report included a statistical annex prepared by the National Counterterrorism Center, part of the U.S. intelligence community, that showed that the overall number of terrorist attacks worldwide fell to 10,283 last year from 11,641 in 2010.
The number of worldwide fatalities fell to 12,533 last year from 13,193 the year before, according to the statistics, which were made public earlier this year.
That was the lowest level since 2005, when there were more than 11,000 attacks and more than 14,000 fatalities.
The State Department report said that as al-Qaeda’s “core has gotten weaker,” other affiliated groups have gained ground, citing al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as a particularly serious threat.
It also cited an increase in terrorist attacks in Africa, due largely to Nigeria’s Boko Haram militant group, as well as in the Western Hemisphere, which it attributed chiefly to FARC insurgents in Colombia.
The other main terror threat to the United States remained Iran, which was designated by the U.S. as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1984.
“Iran remained an active state sponsor of terrorism in 2011 and increased its terrorist-related activity,” the report said.
The Islamic Republic’s aim was “likely in an effort to exploit the uncertain political conditions resulting from the Arab Spring, as well as in response to perceived increasing external pressure on Tehran.”
A plot uncovered in September to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S. “underscored anew Iran’s interest in using international terrorism -- including in the United States -- to further its foreign policy goals.”