Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - Asia was the part of the world hit hardest by terrorism in 2003, recording both the largest number of terror attacks and the greatest loss of life, according to the State Department's annual report on global terrorism.
One hundred and fifty nine people were killed and 951 injured in 70 attacks in Asia, with the worst incidents taking place in India, the Philippines and Indonesia.
In the next most dangerous region, the Middle East, 142 people lost their lives in 37 terror attacks.
Three people died in attacks in Latin America and three in Africa during the year.
There was some relatively good news in the 181-page report released Thursday: The total number of terrorist attacks recorded in 2003 - 190 - was the lowest number recorded for any one year since 1969.
The 2003 total of 307 fatalities compares to 725 in 2002, 3,299 in 2001 (the figure differs from the 2001 State Department report due to World Trade Center death toll adjustments) and 409 in 2000.
During 2003, 35 Americans died in 15 attacks, the deadliest of which was the May 12 suicide bombings in Riyadh. Nine Americans were among the 26 dead.
The State Department defines terrorism as "premeditated, politically-motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience."
The statistics in the report did not include incidents considered to be domestic rather than international terrorism.
They also did not include most attacks against coalition forces during U.S.-led military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, although attacks against civilians or off duty or unarmed military personnel were judged as terror attacks.
But it was not always easy to differentiate.
"Increasingly, the line between insurgency and terrorism has been blurred by anti-coalition attacks [in Iraq] that have included suicide car bombings at police stations, an Italian military police base and the headquarters of the International Red Cross," the report said.
In Iraq, elements of the ousted Saddam Hussein regime had "increasingly allied themselves tactically and operationally with foreign fighters and Islamic extremists."
The department's coordinator for counterterrorism, Cofer Black, said more than 3,400 al-Qaeda suspects had been captured around the world. The network's senior leadership was mostly dead or in custody, its members on the run and its capabilities downgraded.
He warned, however, that al-Qaeda continued to plan mass-casualty strikes against American and other targets.
The report highlighted improvements in counter-terrorism cooperation. In Asia, countries praised for their efforts included Malaysia, Thailand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Japan, Australia and Singapore.
One of the year's biggest successes in Asia was the capture by the Thai authorities last August of the terrorist leader known as Hambali (Riduan bin Isomuddin), the head of the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) group held responsible for the deadly 2002 bombing in Bali and other attacks in Indonesia and the Philippines.
JI is believed to have strong links to al-Qaeda, and the report said Hambali's capture was "a major blow" to both JI and Osama bin Laden's network.
It also highlighted the transnational nature of the terror threat in South-East Asia: Hambali was "an Indonesian national perpetrating attacks in Indonesia and the Philippines and planning attacks in Singapore and Thailand."
Seven nations remain on the department's list of terror-sponsors, although Iraq is expected to be removed once it has in place its own government, able then formally to renounce and act against terrorism.
The other six are Iran - again named the most active sponsor - Syria, Libya, Sudan, North Korea, Cuba. Of those, only Libya and Sudan had taken "significant steps to cooperate in the global war on terrorism" during 2003, the report said.
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