US officials claim they have broken the back of the al-Qaeda network with the assassinations of Osama bin Laden and other top leaders -- dealing the terrorist group a blow from which it is unlikely to recover.
Terrorist attacks have fallen to the lowest levels since 2005, a sign that al-Qaeda is weakened and has lost some of its ability to deal death and destruction, according to a report released on Tuesday by the US State Department.
However, counter-terrorism officials were quick to point out that al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups remain active and dangerous throughout the world.
Still, the annual 'Country Reports on Terrorism' called 2011 a 'landmark year,' marked by the death of al-Qaeda's founder during a dramatic Navy SEAL raid in May and the assassination of US-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen.
'The loss of bin Laden and these other key operatives puts the network on a path of decline that will be difficult to reverse,' according to the State Department.
The report attributed the killings, which included the May 2011 raid in which US commandos shot bin Laden in Pakistan, to improved cooperation on counter-terrorism. But it also cautioned al-Qaeda is adaptable and poses 'an enduring and serious threat.'
While saying there were no terrorist attacks in the United States last year, the report said the US government remains concerned about 'threats to the homeland,' citing the foiled 2009 Christmas Day attempt by the Nigerian 'underwear bomber' who sought to blow up a Detroit-bound aircraft.
he report included a statistical annex prepared by the National Counterterrorism Center, part of the US intelligence community, that showed that the overall number of terrorist attacks worldwide fell to 10,283 last year from 11,641 in 2010.
The number of worldwide fatalities fell to 12,533 last year from 13,193 the year before, according to the statistics, which NCTC issued in a report published on June 1.
That was the lowest level since 2005, when there were more than 11,000 attacks and more than 14,000 fatalities. The general decline in terrorism-related fatalities - which peaked at more than 22,000 in 2007 - reflects, in part, less violence in Iraq.
The State Department report said that as al-Qaeda's 'core has gotten weaker,' affiliated groups have gained ground, citing al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as a particular threat and voicing concern about al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
It also reported an increase in terrorist attacks in Africa, due largely to Nigeria's Boko Haram militant group, as well as in the Western Hemisphere, which it attributed chiefly to FARC insurgents in Colombia.
Daniel Benjamin, the State Department's coordinator for counter-terrorism, said last year was also significant for the 'Arab Spring; of popular protests and what he described as its rebuff to al Qaeda's ideology.
'We saw millions of citizens throughout the Middle East advance peaceful public demands for change without any reference to al-Qaeda's incendiary world view,' he said, adding that upheaval also presents risks.
'Revolutionary transformations have many bumps in the road,' he added. 'Inspiring as the moment may be, we are not blind to the attendant perils.'