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Iran Most Active in Terrorism, Says State Dept.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Terror attacks in Iraq rose sharply in 2005. Al-Qaida leaders lost some control over global terrorism, and Iran remains the leading state sponsor of terrorist activity. Those are among the headlines from the State Department's latest report on terrorism. NPR's Mary Louise Kelly reports.

MARY LOUISE KELLY reporting:

Overall, there were more than 11,000 terror attacks worldwide last year. That's close to a four-fold increase over the previous year, 2004. Investigators say much of the jump is due to better research. More people have been given more time to study terrorist incidents, and, not surprisingly, the result is a more thorough accounting. Still, the higher figures underscore a significant rise in attacks and fatalities. Nowhere is that more evident than Iraq. Iraq accounts for more than half the total worldwide deaths, some 8,300 people killed. Last year saw about 150 high-fatality incidents there. That's attacks in which ten or more people died. That's more than double the previous year.

On the other hand, the number of high-fatality attacks worldwide held steady, about 70 in both 2004 and 2005. And the number of deaths from these attacks actually fell. Russ Travers, deputy director of National Counterterrorism Center, says that's because there were relatively small death tolls for the high-profile attacks, such as the London subway bombings, Bali, Amman and Sharm el-Sheikh.

Mr. RUSS TRAVERS (Deputy director, National Counterterrorism Center): In '04, what you had were things like Beslan and Madrid, the Superferry, the Russian airliners that went down. These, in many cases, were multiple hundreds of people that were killed. Whereas last year most of the incidents were in the 50s, 60s, 70s, still obviously very high, but not as high as in '04.

KELLY: Other trends, Iran is singled out as the most active state sponsor of terrorism. Hank Crumpton, the U.S. ambassador in charge of counterterrorism, says Tehran is directly involved in planning and supporting terrorist activity.

Ambassador HENRY A. CRUMPTON (Coordinator for Counterterrorism, State Department): In addition, Iran has provided assistance to anticoalition forces in Iraq. Regarding a WMD terrorism threat, Iran presents a particular concern, given its active sponsorship of terrorism and its continued development of a nuclear program.

KELLY: As for al-Qaida, the State Department report concludes it's not the organization it was four years ago. Crumpton says increasingly the threat is from small cells, even lone terrorists working on their own.

Ambassador CRUMPTON: These looser terrorist networks are less capable and more diffuse, but in some ways more dangerous. We may face a larger number of smaller attacks less meticulously planned and local rather than transnational in scope.

KELLY: The report notes an increase in suicide bombings. Last year marked the arrival of that phenomenon in Europe with the London attacks. And suicide bombings are also up sharply in Afghanistan. Terrorists also appear to be getting better at using explosives in new ways, at coordinating simultaneous attacks in different locations and at targeting paramedics, police and other first responders who rush to help victims of an initial attack. The new report notes international counterterrorism efforts have disrupted al-Qaida operations and killed or captured many of the group's leaders. But overall, it concludes, we are still in the first phase of a potentially long war.

Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News, Washington.

SIEGEL: And you can find the State Department's full report at our website, NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.