Terrorist groups remained “a persistent and pervasive threat worldwide” through last year, the U.S. State Department concluded in a new assessment on Thursday.
“The United States and its partners made significant major strides against terrorist organizations,” the report concluded about Western anti-terrorism efforts through the end of 2020, the last year of former President Donald Trump’s White House tenure. However, it said “the terrorism threat has become more geographically dispersed in regions around the world.”
The report said that although the Islamic State terrorist group lost all the territory it had seized in Iraq and Syria, “the organization and its branches continued to mount a worldwide terrorism campaign, carrying out deadly attacks globally,” killing more people in 2020 than in any previous year.
The report said that al-Qaida and its affiliates faced the “significant” loss of two key leaders, yet their networks “continued to exploit under-governed spaces, conflict zones, and security gaps in the Middle East to acquire terrorist resources and conduct terrorist attacks.”
The State Department concluded that al-Qaida “bolstered its presence abroad, particularly in the Middle East and Africa, where affiliates AQAP, al-Shabab in the Horn of Africa, and Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin in the Sahel remain among the most active and dangerous terrorist groups in the world.”
In addition, it said, “Iran continued to support acts of terrorism regionally and globally during 2020. Regionally, Iran supported proxies and partner groups in Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen, including Hezbollah and Hamas.”
The report said senior al-Qaida officials “continued to reside in Iran and facilitate terrorist operations from there. Globally, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force remained the primary Iranian actors involved in supporting terrorist recruitment, financing, and plots across Europe, Africa, and Asia, and both Americas.”
The State Department report said the global COVID-19 pandemic “complicated the terrorist landscape, creating both challenges and opportunities for terrorist groups. While the pandemic disrupted terrorist travel, financing, and operations, terrorist groups adapted their approaches and appeals, using the internet to continue radicalizing others to violence and inspiring attacks worldwide.”
The Islamic State “exploited the crisis to reinforce violent extremist narratives, proclaiming to followers that the virus was ‘God’s wrath upon the West,’” the report concluded.
Despite the ongoing terrorist threat, the report said the U.S. “continued to play a major role” in prosecuting IS foreign terrorist fighters and in marshaling allied countries to fight global terrorism.
It said that to ensure that Islamic State fighters captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces never return to the battlefield, “the United States continued to lead by example in bringing back its citizens and prosecuting them when appropriate,” including 10 charged with an array of terrorism-related crimes.