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Grim report card emerges in my final thoughts

By Henry Schuster
CNN
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Editor's note: Henry Schuster, a senior producer in CNN's investigative unit and author of "Hunting Eric Rudolph," has been covering terrorism for more than a decade. Each week in "Tracking Terror," he reports on people and organizations driving international and domestic terrorism, and efforts to combat them.

(CNN) -- By the numbers, 2006 was a bad year for terrorism.

Worse than 2005, deadlier by at least 10 percent.

There hasn't been a 9/11 or 7/7, at least not in the West, but the almost daily attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially, have taken their toll.

According to Chip Ellis at the Terrorism Knowledge Baseexternal link, which tracks the numbers with data provided by the U.S. government, there were 4,963 terror incidents in 2005. Through November 2006, there have been 5,459 incidents.

Ellis says that attacks in the Middle East and South Asia are up 26 percent and 16 percent, respectively, and again that is just through November. The final figures will not be out until sometime in late January.

Just how many people died from terrorism in 2006? So far, according to Ellis, "the 2006 toll already is 10,107, which is up a significant 23 percent [from 2005]."

It would be hard to call this a progress report; it's more like a grim report card, the numbers increasing even though U.S. forces killed terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq.

The view in 2006

The war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism continue to be linked, even as the grim irony that Iraq was not a terrorist haven before the invasion remains something worth remembering.

I wasn't in Iraq, but I saw the conflict's effects in places such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon and Afghanistan -- even in parts of London, England.

On the desolate border between Saudi Arabia and Iraq, I saw the beginnings of an ambitious multibillion-dollar fence taking shape. It is being built by a Saudi regime desperate to keep the war in Iraq from spilling over into the kingdom.

But razor wire and thermal sensors can't keep out the images coming from next door via satellite TV and the Internet, acknowledge Saudis.

The Saudi authorities have been and remain worried about al Qaeda in their country, not just those homegrown jihadists who have gone off to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. But now, in an interesting turnabout, the Saudis are apparently warning the U.S. government that they will intervene in Iraq on the side of their Sunni brethren if the United States pulls out or fails to end the fighting inside Iraq effectively.

In Jordan, where more than a million Iraqis now live, you can just barely see the physical scars left from the triple suicide bombing that rocked three hotels in Amman in November 2005.

Those strikes were instigated by al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian who launched several attacks at his own country, even as he was doing his damage inside Iraq. Al-Zarqawi is mourned by some in Jordan as a hero, a reminder there that the danger remains.

In Afghanistan, I saw an unsettled country, noticeably worse in September than in May and June.

On the border with Pakistan, we saw rocket attacks, a destroyed school and, at the same time, signs of reconstruction and prosperity -- a market in the town of Bermel where food was plentiful; a building boom in the city of Khost.

Yet the Taliban is stronger than it has been at any time since it was toppled five years ago, and even the most optimistic in the Afghan and coalition military expect next summer's fighting to be the most intense yet.

Iraq's echo can be found in the roadside bomb attacks and the suicide bombings that have become part of Afghanistan's trials. The Taliban tactic, funded in part by drug money, has been simultaneously to intimidate and attack, while presenting itself as the most effective force for security in the country.

A recent BBC/ABC News poll finds that by stunningly large numbers, the Afghan people still loathe and despise the Taliban, but that confidence in the government of President Hamid Karzai is declining.

Across the border in Pakistan, we visited the frontier area of North Waziristan, where the government has cut a deal with the local tribes, including the Taliban.

Pakistanis told us it was up to the local tribes to keep cross-border attacks from taking place, but on the other side of the mountains, U.S. military officers said attacks were up 300 percent since the agreement was signed.

But more importantly for the Pakistani government, the deal was designed to bring peace at home. Ever since the army moved into the border areas, it has been hit with the same sort of roadside bombs and suicide attacks that were taking place in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Better to make peace with the local Taliban, they decided, than to fight.

It is a reminder that different countries choose to fight terrorism in different ways.

Farewell in 2007

I had my job interview at CNN the day Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981. Al Qaeda deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri posted his most recent video the day I told my colleagues here that I was leaving after 25 years.

Somewhere between those endpoints is the story of terrorism in our time: the Marine barracks attack in Beirut, Lebanon; the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland; the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in the U.S.; the rise of al Qaeda and their attacks in Kenya, Tanzania and on the USS Cole in Yemen. 9/11. 7/7. The daily horrors in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

I didn't set out to cover terrorism when I started at CNN, but early on it became a thread in what I do.

Since the mid-1990s and especially since 9/11, it has been a large part of my daily journalistic beat.

I have been fortunate that CNN has allowed and encouraged me to cover the subject. Terrorism may not be the most important issue of our time, but it is symptomatic of a larger historical movement, between the West and Islam.

Not necessarily the clash of civilizations that some historians see and that al Qaeda wants, and certainly not inevitable, but part of a larger history playing out before our eyes.

At the same time, when you cover terrorism, you learn about its victims, about those who use it cynically or, perhaps worse, with the fanaticism brought about by their intolerance for others.

I won't bore you with profound thoughts. I'm not sure they are appropriate, and I doubt I have the best insights.

Instead, I want to thank the folks at CNN.com for carrying my "Tracking Terror" column, and I hope to keep at this in a new job.

If you want to reach me, please contact trackingterror@gmail.com.


story.zarqawi.gi.jpg

The death of terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, pictured in video from Al-Jazeera TV, hasn't stemmed the violence in Iraq.

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