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US warns of new generation of global terrorists

The worldwide terror threat is evolving as Al-Qaeda linked groups and other militants become increasingly violent and Syria spawns a new generation of global terrorists, the US warned on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON: The worldwide terror threat is evolving as Al-Qaeda linked groups and other militants become increasingly violent and Syria spawns a new generation of global terrorists, the US warned on Wednesday.

The State Department's 2013 Country Reports on Terrorism showed the number of attacks around the world rose last year to more than 9,700 -- up some 43 percent from 6,700 in 2012.

But officials cautioned that even though some 17,800 people had been killed -- up from 11,000 in 2012 -- most of the attacks were smaller and more localised than in past years.

US counter-terrorism efforts to combat Al-Qaeda have "degraded" the core leadership, but "subsequently 2013 saw the rise of increasingly aggressive and autonomous AQ affiliates and like-minded groups in the Middle East and Africa," the report said.

Al-Qaeda's leadership was also struggling "to maintain discipline within the AQ network and communicate guidance to its affiliated groups," said Counter-terrorism coordinator Tina Kaidanow.

Orders by Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to minimise collateral damage "were routinely disobeyed," such as in September's violent attack by Shebab on a busy mall in Nairobi, Kenya.

The civil war in Syria has proved a fertile breeding ground attracting thousands of foreign fighters, particularly from North Africa, the Gulf and Europe, who have joined the bitter fight against President Bashar al-Assad.

They have flourished amid the chaos as money has flowed from the Gulf for Sunni terror groups, particularly those operating in Syria.

But Assad has also been aided by Shiite militia, such as the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, funded and supported by Iran.

Many governments are "becoming increasingly concerned that individuals with violent extremist ties and battlefield experience will return to their home countries or elsewhere to commit terrorist acts," the report noted.

This has fuelled growing "concern about the creation of a new generation of globally-committed terrorists, similar to what resulted from the influx of violent extremists to Afghanistan in the 1980s."

The decline of the Al-Qaeda leadership and its inability to finance terror activities has encouraged groups to turn to alternative sources of income -- including a lucrative spate of kidnappings.

"Kidnapping for ransom remains the most frequent and the most profitable source of illicit financing," Kaidanow told reporters.

Extremist violence last year was also increasingly marked by "sectarian motives," which the US said was a "worrisome trend."

Cuba, Iran, Syria and Sudan remained on the 2013 list as state sponsors of terrorism -- even though the report acknowledged there was no sign Havana "provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups."

Africa "experienced significant levels of terrorist activity" last year, the report said, fingering the Somalia-based Shebab as the continent's main threat.

"Driven out of major urban areas, Shebab has returned to a strategy focused on asymmetric attacks intended to discredit and destabilise the nascent federal government of Somalia," the report said.

Boko Haram, which two weeks ago kidnapped scores of girls at gunpoint from their school in northeastern Nigeria, also remained a serious concern.

"It's very important that the government of Nigeria, which recognizes the nature of the threat, continue to address this as a holistic matter," Kaidanow warned.

"In other words, it can't just be a military and security effort; it has to be an effort that undertakes a variety of different efforts."

She also admitted that revelations by former-CIA contractor Edward Snowden about US counter-terrorism practices had been "incredibly damaging."

"It's done damage to our ability to ensure that these groups don't have eyesight on the way that we try and gain intelligence with respect to what they're doing."

But the report highlighted successful efforts by French and allied African forces to push back Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other extremist groups in northern Mali.

And it noted that the number of rocket attacks launched on Israel by Hamas militants from the Gaza Strip and Sinai peninsula was the lowest in more than a decade.

Just 74 rockets were launched in 2013 compared to 2,557 the year before, of which Israeli authorities said only 36 actually hit southern Israel.

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