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U.S. report: South Asia is terrorism 'focal point'

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- For the second year in a row, the State Department warned that South Asia "remained a focal point for terrorism directed against the United States" and said trends in terrorism continue to shift from the Middle East to South Asia.

The State Department's "Patterns of Global Terrorism 2000" cites Afghanistan's ruling Taleban as a major reason for South Asia's role as a hub of terrorism, as it "continued to provide safe haven for intentional terrorists, particularly Saudi exile Osama bin Laden and his network."

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"Islamic extremists from around the world ... continued to use Afghanistan as a training ground and base of operations for their worldwide terrorist activities," the report said. "Afghanistan remains a primary hub for terrorists and a home or transit point for ... a web of informally linked individuals ... involved in most major terrorist plots or attacks against the United States in the past 15 years and now engaged in international militant and terrorist acts around the world," the report said.

It added that the Taleban provided logistics support to members of various terrorist organizations in Central Asia, Chechnya and Kashmir.

Unlike last year's report, bin Laden's al Qaeda organization is mentioned, but the 2000 report does not contain a photograph of bin Laden or a lengthy description of him and the group. A senior State Department official told CNN that the U.S. government made a mistake last year by focusing too tightly on bin Laden and "personalizing terrorism ... describing parts of the elephant and not the whole beast."

United Nations Resolution 1333, imposing stricter sanctions against the Taleban until it hands over bin Laden and stops its support for terrorist activity, is cited as progress in the international effort against terrorism.

The report also mentions the trial of suspects charged in the bombing of U.S. embassies in East Africa and the Lockerbie trial as a "further victory for the international effort to hold terrorists accountable for their crimes."

The State Department once again re-designated Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria as state sponsors of international terrorism.

Citing increasing support for Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestine Islamic Jihad and other groups seeking to undermine the Middle East peace process, the report said Iran "remained the most active state sponsor of international terrorism."

The report notes that the State Department is engaged in "ongoing discussions" with North Korea and Sudan on steps they could take to get out of the terrorism business and off the list.

While it noted that Libya "continued efforts to mend its international image" by handing suspects over for the Lockerbie trial and paying compensation for several victims of terrorist acts, the report said Libya still needs to fully comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions and stop its contact with terrorist groups opposing the Middle East peace process before it can be removed from the list.

Conversely, the report said the United States continues to seek intelligence on new states that will be considered for future designation of state sponsors.

Noting concern over "credible reports" that Pakistan continues to support the Taleban and Lebanon's support for terrorist groups, the report warned that those countries could be considered next year.

In the Middle East, the report cites Israeli dissatisfaction with the Palestinian Authority's counter-terrorism efforts. While it does not directly accuse the Palestinian Authority and members of Fatah, Yasser Arafat's security apparatus, of conducting terrorist attacks, the report notes Israeli accusations that the Palestinian Authority and Fatah have taken part in terrorist attacks against Israeli targets.

The "Real IRA," dubbed a "political pressure group" seeking to remove British forces from Northern Ireland and unifying Ireland, was singled out in the report. While the group is not labeled an official Foreign Terrorist Organization, the report noted an increase in membership and in activity. It is widely expected that the Real IRA will receive an official FTO organization in the coming months.

Ethnic Albanian extremists, including the National Liberation Army, were mentioned for armed attacks against government forces in Southern Serbia and Macedonia, although they are also not officially designated as terrorist groups. Most recently, the NLA was condemned by the State Department for its violence against Macedonian forces.

The report attributes most of the terrorist incidents in Africa to civil unrest, but says "international terrorist organizations continued to operate there and to pose a threat to U.S. interests.

There were 200 anti-U.S. attacks in 2000, up from 169 in 1999, the report said. The increase was attributed in large part to 152 bombings against an oil pipeline in Colombia, which is viewed by the terrorists as a U.S. target.

Nineteen U.S. citizens were killed in acts of terrorism last year, including 17 sailors who died in an attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in October. One U.S. aid worker was murdered when a militia-led mob in West Timor attacked the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees office in September. The other victim was journalist Kurt Schork, who was killed in May when rebels in Sierra Leone shot down a U.N. helicopter he was flying in.



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