Fri. Sep 29th, 2023

The 2021 CRT is available on the Department’s website.


Since September 11, 2001, the United States has established a strong and sophisticated counterterrorism enterprise to reduce the threat of large-scale terrorist attacks on the homeland.  Twenty-one years later, the terrorist threats we face are more ideologically diverse and geographically diffuse than ever before.  At the same time, the United States is confronting a dynamic range of national security challenges, including strategic competition, cybersecurity threats, and climate change.  Therefore, to confront evolving and emerging terrorist threats within the context of broader national security priorities, the United States is entering a new era of counterterrorism, one increasingly rooted in diplomacy, partner capacity building, and prevention, and recognizing successful counterterrorism efforts require use of the full range of counterterrorism tools and a whole-of government and whole-of-society counterterrorism approach.

In 2021, the United States and its partners continued to make major strides against terrorist organizations under this new framework, bolstering diplomatic and multilateral engagements and partner capacity building efforts.  Through U.S. leadership, the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS (Defeat-ISIS) raised more than $600 million in pledges to support stabilization projects in liberated areas of Iraq and Syria and established the Africa Focus Group (AFFG) to provide a mechanism for direct engagement with African Coalition members on addressing the threat of ISIS affiliates on the African continent.  The United States designated three ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K) leaders, including Emir Sanaullah Ghafari, as Specially Designated Global Terrorists, in response to the August attack on Kabul International Airport, which killed at least 185 people — including 13 U.S. servicemembers supporting evacuation operations — and injured more than 150 others.  The United States also completed nine designations against al-Qa’ida (AQ)-linked individuals and entities and offered a reward of up to $7 million for information leading to the location or identification of Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al‑Anabi, the leader of the terrorist organization AQ in the Islamic Maghreb.  Additionally, the United States increased diplomatic engagement across the globe to counter Iran-backed Hizballah’s destabilizing activities, with more countries using their national authorities to designate, ban, or otherwise restrict the terrorist organization.  The United States released its first-ever National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism, which includes a focus on transnational Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremism (REMVE).  To that end, the United States, in partnership with the United Kingdom and the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law (IIJ), launched the first-ever criminal justice practitioner’s guide on countering REMVE.  The United States, partnering with Norway, also launched a Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) effort to develop a GCTF REMVE Toolkit for policymakers and practitioners that will build on the IIJ’s REMVE guide.

Despite key counterterrorism successes, terrorist groups remained resilient and active.  ISIS continued to promote a large-scale terrorism campaign, responding to increased counterterrorism pressure by adapting its tactics and techniques.  Groups affiliated with ISIS ramped up activities in the Lake Chad Region of Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria.  Despite losing its territorial “caliphate” in 2019, ISIS in Iraq and Syria maintained a significant operational structure and conducted terrorist operations in that region.

In 2021, AQ and its affiliates constituted an enduring threat to the United States and its allies.  AQ continued to leverage its branches in the Middle East and Africa — notably AQ in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Shabaab, and Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin — that remain quite capable of inflicting damage on our allies and targeting our interests.  AQ-related threats expanded from West Africa and the Sahel into the Gulf of Guinea littoral states in 2021, with Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Togo reporting terrorist group activity and attacks in their northern border regions.

In Afghanistan, ISIS, elements of AQ, and regionally focused terrorist groups maintained an active presence and conducted terrorist activities.  Despite taking significant losses from U.S. and NATO forces in recent years, ISIS-K continued to conduct terrorist attacks against civilians and the Taliban.  ISIS-K remained a resilient enemy with roughly 2,000 to 3,000 fighters in the country, although precise estimates are hard to determine.  AQ and its regional affiliate AQ in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) continued to have a presence in Afghanistan.  Haqqani Network members and key leaders also have assumed formal and informal roles within the Taliban.  Although the Taliban committed to preventing terrorist groups from using Afghanistan to stage attacks against the United States or others, the extent of its ability and willingness to prevent AQ and ISIS-K from mounting external operations remained unclear.

Iran continued to be the leading state sponsor of terrorism, facilitating a wide range of terrorist and other illicit activities around the world.  Regionally, Iran supported acts of terrorism in Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen through proxies and partner groups such as Hizballah and Hamas.  Additionally, senior AQ leaders continued to reside in Iran and engaged with other AQ elements from the country.  Globally, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security remained Iran’s primary actor involved in supporting terrorist recruitment, financing, and plots across Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America.  Iran also maintained a near-global procurement network, obtaining cutting-edge technology from companies and locales around the world to bolster its terrorist and military capabilities.

REMVE remained a threat to the United States and our allies.  Violent white supremacists and like-minded individuals continued to promote violent extremist narratives, recruit new adherents, raise funds, and conduct terrorist activities — both online and offline — across Australia, Brazil, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States.  REMVE actors also continued to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to radicalize individuals and incite violence, particularly against health professionals, government officials, and minority populations.  Additionally, the December arrest of four neo-Nazi actors in Brazil for allegedly plotting an attack against Jewish and Black residents on New Year’s Eve demonstrates the growing reach and influence of REMVE adherents globally.

As terrorist threats morphed and metastasized, the United States adapted its counterterrorism approach and marshalled international efforts to counter global terrorism.  In 2021, the United States supported the listing of two individuals to the UN Security Council’s 1267 ISIL/Da’esh and al-Qa’ida Sanctions Committee and three individuals to the 751 Somalia Sanctions Committee; these were the first three additions to the 751 Somalia Sanctions Committee since 2018.  The UN also listed ISIS-Tunisia (aka JAK-T) at the 1267 Sanctions Committee, bringing the total number of ISIS affiliates listed at the UN since 2019 to seven.  In December the United States co-chaired a political director-level meeting of Defeat-ISIS Coalition members that also included an inaugural meeting of the AFFG, an endeavor the United States co-leads with Italy, Morocco, and Niger to counter ISIS networks in the sub-Sahara region.  At this meeting, the Defeat-ISIS Coalition welcomed Burkina Faso as its 84th member.  Further, the United States continued to make notable gains in a high-level diplomatic campaign to counter Hizballah’s terrorist and other illicit activities.  In May, Austria banned the use or display of any Hizballah-related symbols, building on the previous ban that was limited to symbols of Hizballah’s so-called military wing.  In November, Australia announced its intention to expand its domestic designation of Hizballah by declaring the group in its entirety a terrorist organization.  Through U.S. diplomatic efforts, 15 countries have now designated, banned, or otherwise restricted Hizballah, applying their national authorities over the past several years.

The United States prioritized multilateral engagements to advance its counterterrorism priorities, bolster partner capacity to implement international obligations and commitments, and promote greater burden sharing.  To maintain international momentum on the use of battlefield evidence to investigate and prosecute terrorism cases, the United States and the IIJ co-hosted a UN General Assembly side event in September that brought together more than 100 criminal justice practitioners and senior policy officials from around the world to highlight recent advances in collection, exploitation, and international sharing.  In September, the 30-member GCTF adopted a Strategic Vision for the Next Decade and new framework documents that provide the international community with tools to prevent terrorist travel and enhance border security measures; address terrorist financing related challenges; and develop capacity to investigate and prosecute terrorist actors.  Similarly, the United States led the successful negotiation of UNSCR 2617 (2021), which was unanimously adopted in December and renewed the UN Counterterrorism Committee Executive Directorate mandate for another four years, preserving all precedent text related to the protection of human rights, inclusion of civil society, and importance of rule of law-based approaches.  The United States also leveraged other multilateral organizations such as NATO, INTERPOL, OSCE, OAS, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Council of Europe, the IIJ, and Hedayah.

Additionally, the United States continued to bolster partner capabilities to detect, disrupt, and dismantle terrorist networks.  The United States supported partner governments on the front lines against terrorist threats in critical areas, including information sharing, aviation and border security, law enforcement investigations and prosecutions, and countering the finance of terrorism, leading to real-world results that advanced shared security national security interests and protected the U.S. homeland.  To restrict terrorist travel, the United States also signed two new and expanded arrangements under Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6 to share information on known and suspected terrorists, bringing the total number of partner countries to over 75.  Under the Watchlisting Assistance and Support Program, the United States provided capacity building for countries to develop terrorist watchlists and exchange terrorist identity information.  The Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (PISCES) border security platform grew to include 227 ports of entry in 23 countries, with international partners using it to screen hundreds of thousands of travelers each day and disrupt terrorist travel.

Through capacity building efforts, the United States also emphasized to its partners the critical responsibility of governments engaged in counterterrorism operations to ensure that their security forces’ respect international human rights and humanitarian law.  The United States also stressed the importance of partner governments’ holding their security forces accountable for violations and abuses committed against civilians during these counterterrorism operations.

Another major line of effort in 2021 was facilitating the repatriation, rehabilitation, reintegration, and prosecution of ISIS FTFs and family members, where appropriate.  About 2,000 non-Syrian and non-Iraqi FTFs remain in detention facilities controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and some 56,000 associated family members from more than 60 countries remain in displaced persons’ camps across northeastern Syria.  The only durable solution for this complex security and humanitarian crisis is the repatriation, rehabilitation, reintegration, and, where appropriate, prosecution of these populations.  To ensure that ISIS fighters and family members captured by the SDF never return to the battlefield, the United States continued to lead by example in bringing back its citizens and prosecuting them when applicable.  As of December the United States had repatriated 30 U.S. citizens from Syria and Iraq — 13 adults and 17 children — and the Department of Justice charged 10 of the adults with a variety of terrorism-related crimes.  The United States also urged other countries to repatriate, rehabilitate, reintegrate, and prosecute their citizens and assisted several countries in doing so with their citizens or nationals.

Furthermore, the United States continued to promote a whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach to prevent and counter violent extremism by engaging with governments, local religious leaders, and tech companies.  The Department of State supported international initiatives, including the Strong Cities Network and the Global Community Engagement & Resilience Fund, and concentrated on building local resiliency to terrorist radicalization, recruitment, and mis/disinformation, including in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Kenya, Somalia, Tunisia, the Sahel, and the Western Balkans.  The United States also advanced international efforts by engaging the Global Internet Forum to Counterterrorism and endorsing the Christchurch Call to Action to Eliminate Terrorist and Violent Extremist Content Online to support voluntary collaboration with technology companies to address terrorist and violent extremism, including REMVE, content online.  In September, the United States engaged with Twitter, Facebook, and Google/YouTube senior representatives to discuss the digital security of Afghan nationals with U.S. connections who may be targeted by the Taliban and other designated terrorist groups in Afghanistan.

This constitutes a brief overview of the United States’ ongoing work to protect our people from the ongoing threat of terrorism.  Country Reports on Terrorism 2021 provides a detailed review of last year’s successes and the ongoing challenges facing our country and our partners, challenges that will require a continued commitment to and investment in global counterterrorism efforts going forward.

Timothy A. Betts
Acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism

Link to the full report

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