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U.S. report says al-Qaida gaining strength in Afghanistan

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WASHINGTON — Al-Qaida has rebuilt some of its pre-Sept. 11 capabilities from remote hiding places in Pakistan, and terrorist attacks in neighboring Afghanistan increased 16 percent last year, the Bush administration said Wednesday.

The State Department's annual terrorism report says that attacks in Iraq dipped slightly between 2006 and 2007, but they still accounted for 60 percent of worldwide terrorism fatalities.

More than 22,000 people were killed by terrorists around the world in 2007, 8 percent more than in 2006, although the overall number of attacks fell, the report says.

About 13,600 noncombatants were killed in 2007 in Iraq, the report says, adding the high number could be attributed to a 50 percent increase in the number of suicide bombings. Suicide car bombings were up 40 percent and suicide bombings outside of vehicles climbed 90 percent over 2006, it says.

"The ability of these attackers to penetrate large concentrations of people and then detonate their explosives may account for the increase in lethality of bombings in 2007," the report says.

In Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, al-Qaida and its affiliates remain "the greatest terrorist threat to the United States and its partners" despite ongoing efforts to combat followers of Osama bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, according to the report. It says Zawahiri has emerged as the group's "strategic and operational planner."

"It has reconstituted some of its pre-9/11 operational capabilities through the exploitation of Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, replacement of captured or killed operational lieutenants, and the restoration of some central control by its top leadership, in particular Ayman al-Zawahiri," it says.

A primary reason for this was a cease-fire the Pakistani government reached with tribal leaders last year, the report says. That truce has since ended but Pakistan's new government is now renegotiating a similar agreement that some fear could have similar results and further undermine efforts to battle al-Qaida.

The earlier cease-fire and instability in the region appear "to have provided al-Qaida leadership greater mobility and ability to conduct training and operational planning, particularly that targeting Western Europe and the United States," the report says.

"Numerous senior al-Qaida operatives have been captured or killed, but al-Qaida leaders continued to plot attacks and to cultivate stronger operational connections that radiated outward from Pakistan to affiliates throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe," it says.

Of particular concern are al-Qaida sympathizers who attacked a U.N. building in Algeria, killing more than 40 people and wounding more than 150 last year, the report says.