WASHINGTON - AL-QAEDA, using tribal areas of Pakistan, poses the greatest terrorist threat to the West, while Iran is the world's 'most active state sponsor of terrorism,' the US government said on Thursday.
In an annual report, the State Department said Al-Qaeda was recovering some of the potency it had before the Sept 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, as it lumped Iran with Syria, Sudan and Cuba as sponsors of terrorism.
'Al-Qaeda remained the greatest terrorist threat to the United States and its partners,' even though its structures have weakened and public support has waned, the report said.
And it warned that Al-Qaeda 'has reconstituted some of its pre-9/11 operational capabilities' by using the lawless Pakistan border areas, replacing key leaders, and restoring some 'central control' by its top leadership.
The report said that since the September 11 attacks, Al-Qaeda (AQ) and its allies have moved from Afghanistan into Pakistan where they have built 'a safe haven to hide, train terrorists, communicate with followers, plot attacks, and send fighters to support the insurgency in Afghanistan.'
It said Pakistan's border region, which lies outside the control of President Asif Ali Zardari's government, now 'provided AQ many of the benefits it once derived from its base across the border in Afghanistan.'
Counter-terrorism experts released figures showing attacks in Pakistan had more than doubled from 890 in 2007 to 1,839 last year, with the number killed rising from 1,340 people to 2,293 in the same period.
'As you see from the numbers, that threat (to the Pakistani state and its people) is escalating. Of course we're deeply concerned,' acting coordinator of counter-terrorism Ronald Schlicher told reporters.
While experts can count the number of attacks in Pakistan, Schlicher said, they are hard pressed to quantify the extent of international plots Al-Qaeda might be hatching in the border areas which lie outside government control.
'That's very, very hard to get at,' he said, but added: 'We have a real sense that it's happening.' -- AFP