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Monday, June 22, 2015


Counterterrorism: Briefing at the Release of Country Reports on Terrorism 2014
06/19/2015 01:12 PM EDT
Briefing at the Release of Country Reports on Terrorism 2014
Special Briefing
Tina S. Kaidanow
Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism
Washington, DC
June 19, 2015

(As Prepared)

Thank you all very much for coming. Today, the State Department is issuing Country Reports on Terrorism 2014, which fulfills an important congressional mandate and provides us with an opportunity to review the state of terrorism worldwide and define the nature and the scope of the terrorist threat. Doing so also allows us to assess our effectiveness and best calibrate our strategy and response. Reviewing how involved and engaged countries are in various aspects of their counterterrorism efforts – which comprises the bulk of this report – helps us make informed assessments about priorities and where to place resources in our various capacity building programs.

First, I would note that, according to the Statistical Annex prepared by the University of Maryland, the numbers of terrorist attacks in 2014 increased 35% and total fatalities increased 81% compared to 2013, largely due to activity in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. More than 60% of all attacks took place in five countries: Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, and Nigeria, and 78% of all fatalities due to terrorist attacks also took place in five countries: Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria. The increase in total fatalities was, in part, a result of certain attacks that were exceptionally lethal – in 2014, there were 20 attacks that killed more than 100 people, compared to two such attacks in 2013.

While I cite these statistics, which are compiled by the University of Maryland and are not a U.S. government product per se, I stress again that they do not provide the full context. Aggregate totals or numbers of attacks are not a particularly useful metric for measuring the aims of extremist groups, or of our progress in preventing or countering their activities.

To that end, I’d like to talk about the content of the report itself and some of the trends we noted in 2014.

Despite significant blows to al-Qa’ida’s (AQ) leadership, weak or failed governance continued to provide an enabling environment for the emergence of extremist radicalism and violence, notably in Yemen, Syria, Libya, Nigeria, and Iraq. We are deeply concerned about the continued evolution of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the emergence of self-proclaimed ISIL affiliates in Libya, Egypt, Nigeria and elsewhere, and tens of thousands of foreign terrorist fighters who are exacerbating the violence in the Middle East and posing a continued threat to their home countries.

The ongoing civil war in Syria has been a spur to many of the worldwide terrorism events we have witnessed. Since the report covers calendar year 2014, it notes that the overall flow of foreign terrorist fighter travel to Syria was estimated at more than 16,000 foreign terrorist fighters from over 90 countries as of late December – a number that exceeds any similar flow of foreign terrorist fighters traveling to other countries in the last 20 years. Many of the foreign terrorist fighters joined ISIL, which has seized contiguous territory in western Iraq and eastern Syria. Iraqi forces and the Counter-ISIL Coalition have dealt significant blows to ISIL, but it continues to control substantial territory.

As with many other terrorist groups worldwide, ISIL has brutally repressed the communities under its control and used ruthless methods of violence such as beheadings and crucifixions. Uniquely, however, it demonstrates a particular skill in employing new media tools to display its brutality, both as a means to shock and terrorize, but equally to propagandize and attract new recruits. Boko Haram shares with ISIL a penchant for the use of brutal tactics, which include stonings, indiscriminate mass casualty attacks, and systematic oppression of women and girls, including enslavement, torture, and rape.

Though AQ central leadership has indeed been weakened, the organization continues to serve as a focal point of inspiration for a worldwide network of affiliated groups, including al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula – a long-standing threat to Yemen, the region, and the United States; al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb; al-Nusrah Front; and al-Shabaab in East Africa.

We saw a rise in "lone offender attacks," including in Ottawa and Quebec in October and Sydney in December of 2014. In many cases it was difficult to assess whether attacks were directed or inspired by ISIL or AQ and its affiliates. These attacks may presage a new era in which centralized leadership of a terrorist organization matters less, group identity is more fluid, and violent extremist narratives focus on a wider range of alleged grievances and enemies. Enhanced border security measures among Western states since 9/11 have increased the difficulty for known or suspected terrorists to travel internationally; therefore, groups like AQ and ISIL encourage lone actors residing in the West to carry out attacks on their behalf.

ISIL and AQ affiliates, including al-Nusrah Front, continued to use kidnapping for ransom operations, profits from the sales of looted antiquities, and other criminal activities to raise funds for operational purposes. Much of ISIL’s funding, unlike the resources utilized by AQ and AQ-type organizations, did not come from external donations but was internally gathered in Iraq and Syria. ISIL earned up to several million dollars per month through its various extortion networks and criminal activity in the territory where it operated, including through oil smuggling. Some progress was made in 2014 in constraining ISIL’s ability to earn money from the sale of smuggled oil as a result of anti-ISIL Coalition airstrikes that were conducted on ISIL-operated oil refineries, but the oil trade was not fully eradicated.

ISIL and AQ were not the only serious threats that confronted the United States and its allies. Iran continued to sponsor terrorist groups around the world, principally through its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF). These groups included Lebanese Hizballah, several Iraqi Shia militant groups, Hamas, and Palestine Islamic Jihad.

Addressing this evolving set of terrorist threats, and the need to undertake efforts that span the range from security to rule of law to efficacy of governance and pushing back on terrorist messaging in order to effectively combat the growth of these emerging violent extremist groups, requires an expanded approach to our counterterrorism engagement. President Obama has emphasized repeatedly that we need to bring strong, capable, and diverse partners to the forefront and enlist their help in the mutually important endeavor of global counterterrorism.

A successful approach to counterterrorism must therefore revolve around partnerships. The vital role that our partners play has become even clearer in the last year with the emergence of ISIL as the hugely destructive force in Iraq and Syria that I have described. We have worked to build an effective counter-ISIL coalition, a coalition that is clearly crucial because the fight against ISIL is not one the United States can or should pursue alone. More than 60 partners are contributing to this effort, which is multi-faceted in its goals – not only to stop ISIL’s advances on the ground, but to combat the flow of foreign fighters, disrupt ISIL’s financial resources, and counteract ISIL’s messaging and undermine its appeal, among other objectives. I would also highlight the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2178 in September as a particularly significant step forward in international efforts to cooperate in preventing the flow of foreign terrorist fighters to and from conflict zones.

The notion of finding and enabling partners, of course, is not new or limited to the counter-ISIL effort, and indeed many of our most significant counterterrorism successes in the past have come as a result of working together with partners on elements ranging from intelligence to aviation security.

The United States needs partners who can not only contribute to military operations, but also conduct arrests, prosecutions, and incarceration of terrorists and their facilitation networks. Addressing terrorism in a rule of law framework, with respect for human rights, is critical both for ensuring the sustainability of our efforts and for preventing the rise of new forms of violent extremism. Multilateral entities such as the United Nations and the Global Counterterrorism Forum can also play a critical role in promoting good practices and mobilizing technical assistance in this regard.

As we develop partnerships to disrupt terrorist plots and degrade terrorist capabilities, we also need partners – both governmental and non-governmental – who can help counter the spread of violent extremist recruitment and address the conditions that make communities susceptible to violent extremism. We must do more to address the cycle of violent extremism and transform the very environment from which these terrorist movements emerge. That is why we are committed to enlarging our strategy in ways that address the underlying conditions conducive to the spread, and not just the visible symptoms of, violent extremism. This was a major theme of the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) earlier this year, which brought together 300 participants from over 65 countries representing national and local governments, civil society, the private sector, and multilateral organizations. The Summit highlighted the especially vital role that partnering with civil society plays in our counterterrorism efforts.

In addition to counterterrorism assistance rendered in the fields of rule of law and countering recruitment, we provide a wide array of expertise and programmatic support for our partners to help them identify and disrupt the financing of terrorism, strengthen aviation and border security, and sharpen their law enforcement and crisis response tools to respond to the terrorist threat.

The terrorism challenges that we face continue to evolve at a rapid pace, and we cannot predict with precision what the landscape will look like one decade or even one year from now. However, we believe we can best protect America’s interests and people over the long run by engaging in robust diplomacy, expanding our partnerships, building bilateral and regional capabilities, and promoting holistic and rule of law-based approaches to counter terrorism and violent extremism. This remains our program of action over the months ahead.

And now, I invite your questions about the report and its findings.