Washington: The Islamic State is beating Al Qaeda at being the world’s leading terrorist group, says the US State Department.

The “unprecedented” spread and brutality of IS, its strength in recruiting foreign fighters, messaging and its ability to inspire lone wolf attacks have helped the group supplant Al Qaeda as the leading global terrorist group, said the State Department’s annual terrorism report. 

The report says both groups were adapting their tactics in ways that are more brutal and harder to trace.

“The prominence of the threat once posed by core Al Qaeda diminished in 2014,” the report said. 

In addition to significant losses of its core leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it noted that “Qaeda leadership also appeared to lose momentum as the self-styled leader of a global movement in the face of IS’s rapid expansion and proclamation of a Caliphate”, said the report accessed by CNN on Friday.

The number of terrorist attacks in 2014 increased 35 percent over the previous year, but were more heavily concentrated in a handful of countries. 

More than 60 percent of all attacks took place in five countries — Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Nigeria — according to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland, which compiles statistics on worldwide terrorism.

By a wide margin, the highest number of attacks, fatalities and injuries took place in Iraq, coinciding with the expansion of IS.

The report cited increasingly aggressive tactics and brutality by terrorists such as beheadings, crucifixions and mass casualties.

The report singled out the Nigeria-based Boko Haram as sharing IS’s “penchant for the use of brutal tactics,” such as stonings and enslaving children. 

Although IS was responsible for most of the attacks last year, it was a close second to Boko Haram in the number of fatalities inflicted.

The US also recognised IS’ prowess in using social media to spread its message and recruit followers, noting the group “has been adroit at using the most popular social and new media platforms (YouTube, Facebook and Twitter) to disseminate its messages broadly”.

The report called the Syrian civil war a “significant factor” for many of last year’s terrorist attacks worldwide. 

Despite the worldwide anti-IS coalition and a UN Security Council resolution making the travel of foreign fighters to and from conflict zones illegal, more than 16,000 foreign terrorists travelled to Syria in 2014, according to the report – most of them to join IS.

“The rate of foreign terrorist fighter travel to Syria … exceeded the rate of foreign fighters who travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen or Somalia at any point in the last 20 years,” the report said.

Weak and failed governments were blamed for providing an “enabling environment” for the emergence of extremist radicalism and violence — not only in Syria and Iraq, but also in Yemen and Libya, where jihadi groups have flourished.

The US was “deeply concerned” about the growth of IS beyond Syria and Iraq and the birth of self-proclaimed affiliates, the report said, particularly in Libya, Egypt and Nigeria. 

Although Al Qaida’s leadership has been weakened, the report said the group “continued to serve as a focal point of inspiration” for its worldwide network of affiliates, such as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, Al Nusra Front in Syria and Al Shabaab in Somalia.

The US is working with allies in North Africa and the Middle East to strengthen their counter-terrorism capabilities and help them develop new laws to address the foreign fighter issue.

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