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August 2, 2012
What al Qaeda decline?
The Reuters headline is "Al Qaeda decline hard to reverse after Bin Laden killing: U.S." The story leads with this sentence.
In Reuters' defense, it is summarizing a State Department report.
The message is simple: Obama killed Osama, and now terrorism is dead. All hail Obama.
However, the numbers do not bear that out at all. We can go directly to the 2011 report and the 2010 report from the National Counterterrorism Center itself. The NCC is the source of Reuters' and the State Department's numbers.
It is true that the overall number of deaths from terrorism fell from 13,186 in 2010 to 12,533 in 2011, a 5% decline. But as even Reuters notes, the peak was in 2007 and the number of deaths then was 22,000.
So deaths fell at an average annual rate of 16% per year from 2007 to 2010, but only fell 5% from 2010 to 2011. The rate of declining deaths was greater before Osama was killed!
The decline in terrorist attacks can be more aptly attributed to Bush's "surge" in Iraq than to Obama's "gutsy call" to kill Osama.
Moreover, Osama was not killed until May of 2011. Do you know what month of 2011 saw the fewest mass-casualty attacks? April! The month before Osama was killed. As the NCC said, "There were only 11 mass-casualty attacks in April, fewer than any other month in 2011."
But let's get right to the nub of it. Here is what the NCC says in its 2011 report.
Here are the number of deaths due to terrorism in 2010 and 2011 by perpetrator category (using the NCC's terminology).
The overall number of deaths dropped only 5%, not all that encouraging, especially since it was falling faster the previous three years. The smallest drop was in deaths perpetrated by Sunni extremists. And the largest drop was in deaths perpetrated by "Christian" or "Neo-Nazi/Fascist/White Supremacist," the category which constitutes the smallest fraction of terrorism deaths in the first place (0.6% in 2011, virtually all due to Anders Breivik in one day in Norway).
Did killing Osama disrupt the network of white supremacists and "Christians"?
The numbers in no way support the meme that Obama killed Osama and thereby ended terrorism. Deaths due to terrorism fell at a faster rate before Osama was killed, which can be largely attributed to the "surge" and subsequent US Coalition victory in Iraq.
Sunni extremists accounted for 80% of attributable terrorism deaths in 2011, up from 78% in 2010. The 2011 drop in deaths perpetrated by Sunni extremists was the smallest of any perpetrator category. And deaths perpetrated by al Qaeda itself (a subset of "Sunni extremists") rose by 8%.
Hillary Clinton's State Department wrote a purely political, election year, report to spin these facts beyond recognition. And Reuters dutifully disseminated State's narrative. Same Spin, Different Day.
Randall Hoven can be followed on Twitter.
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