The Middle East is the world's "primary theater" for terrorist activityaccording to the State Department's 2014 Country Reports on Terrorism. The most striking development in the past year is the rise of ISIS - also known as ISIL, Daesh, or the Islamic State - and its self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and Iraq. In 2014, al Qaeda affiliates also took advantage of political instability in the region to conduct operations, particularly in Yemen, Syria, and North Africa. The following are excerpts from the report.

Algeria

"Algeria remained a key partner in global counterterrorism efforts. Its military forces and multiple law enforcement, intelligence, and security services with clearly delineated responsibilities addressed counterterrorism...The Government of Algeria continued an aggressive campaign to eliminate all terrorist activity, and it sustained policing efforts to thwart terrorist activity in the capital and other major urban centers."

"Within Algeria, al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al-Murabitoun, led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, remained active terrorist threats. AQIM’s leader, Abdelmalik Droukdel, and Belmokhtar, both Algerian nationals, remained a threat and were at-large in the region at year’s end. These groups aspired to attack Algerian security services, local government targets, and Western interests. AQIM continued attacks using improvised explosive devices (IEDs), bombings, false roadblocks, kidnappings, and ambushes. The terrorist group Jund al-Khilafa fi Ard al-Jazayer (JAK, Soldiers of the Caliphate in Algeria), emerged in 2014 following a split from AQIM, and swore allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)." 

"Algerian government officials and Muslim religious and political leaders publicly condemned ISIL and criticized acts of violence committed in the name of Islam. In September, the Algerian government underscored the potential risk from ISIL infiltration at a meeting of the High Council on Security (chaired by President Bouteflika with high-level civil, military, and security officials). To build trust and resilience among communities, the government has in place a development plan and a comprehensive national reconciliation policy. It provided social services and family outreach mechanisms to integrate at-risk youth and prevent marginalization, thus reducing the risk of travel to conflict zones for the purposes of joining terrorist activities." 

Bahrain

"The Bahraini government continued to increase efforts to detect, neutralize, and contain terrorist threats in 2014. Some groups’ use of real and fake improvised explosive devices remained a threat to security services, resulting in the death of at least five police officers. The Government of Bahrain also began to implement tougher counterterrorism laws that the legislature approved during the first half of the year. Peaceful opposition groups and some international observers expressed their concern at the scope of the new laws, which they say could easily be used to hinder peaceful opposition activity as well as terrorism."

"The Government of Bahrain has supported the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and on November 9 hosted an international conference on countering ISIL’s financing. The Bahraini government welcomed UN Security Council Resolutions 2170 and 2178. Bahraini leaders have publicly condemned ISIL’s activities, ideology, and recruitment, while the government has worked to detect, counter, and discourage domestic ISIL recruitment and extremist messaging. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) has arrested and charged, or stripped the citizenship of some Bahrainis suspected of supporting ISIL, and in March it called on all Bahrainis fighting in Iraq and Syria to return to Bahrain or face prosecution."

Egypt

"In 2014, the Egyptian government continued to confront active terrorist groups, which conducted deadly attacks on government and military targets throughout the country. The two primary terrorist groups operating in Egypt are Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis (ABM) and Ajnad Misr. ABM, a Sinai-based group, swore allegiance to Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on November 3. While ABM is most active in the Sinai, it has demonstrated a capability to conduct attacks throughout Egypt, including in Cairo. Ajnad Misr is a Cairo-based terrorist group that has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks in downtown Cairo and focuses primarily on government and security targets. 

In June, former head of the Egyptian Armed Forces ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi was elected president, replacing an interim government that had taken over following the removal of former President Mohamed Morsi from office in July 2013. President al-Sisi has focused intently on counterterrorism in Egypt, and he made counterterrorism issues one of the pillars of his first speech at the UN General Assembly in September 2014. Under President al-Sisi’s authority, the Egyptian military and security forces continued to aggressively pursue counterterrorism initiatives, particularly in the Sinai. Some political opposition groups claim that the Egyptian government’s counterterrorism initiatives, while intended to target terrorist groups, have also had the effect of constraining their activities. 

The Muslim Brotherhood (MB), the MB-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), and NGOs affiliated with the MB were outlawed in 2014. The Egyptian government designated the MB as a terrorist organization in December 2013 and the High Administrative Court dissolved the FJP on August 9, 2014. On October 30, the government also declared illegal the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy, which is an informal political advocacy coalition led primarily by MB supporters. These designations have enabled widespread crackdown on MB and its affiliated organizations, including mass arrests by the government and often severe sentences from the judiciary in mass trials."

Iraq

"Iraq witnessed a significant surge of terrorist activity in 2014, primarily as a result of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) seizure of large areas of the country. The resulting security vacuum and humanitarian crisis presented new challenges to the Iraqi government and exacerbated existing ethno-sectarian grievances. Building on military victories in Syria, in January 2014 ISIL captured the city of Fallujah in Anbar Province. On June 7, fighting erupted between ISIL, allied groups, and the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in Mosul, the capital of Ninewa Province and Iraq’s second largest city. Within a week, ISIL had seized control of the city and began using its significant business, industrial, and energy resources to fund its operations. ISIL formations moved south from Mosul through the Tigris Valley in June, seizing multiple cities and putting to flight several Iraqi Army divisions. Outside Tikrit, ISIL terrorists captured nearly 1,700 Iraqi Air Force recruits and executed many of the captives, posting the slaughter on YouTube. Nearby, ISIL surrounded the Bayji refinery – beginning a siege that would last five months. On August 2, ISIL invaded the Sinjar district causing hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee, tens of thousands of whom were forced to seek refuge and became trapped on Mt. Sinjar when they were unable to reach safety ahead of ISIL’s advance. In response, President Obama ordered four initiatives to gather information and help the Iraqis counter the ISIL threat, and on August 8, U.S. airstrikes against ISIL targets began in response to the group’s advance toward Erbil. In mid-September, the United States took the lead in forming the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, uniting over 60 countries in the effort." 

Palestine

"Gaza-based Palestinian terrorist organizations continued rocket and mortar attacks into Israeli territory, and multiple terrorist attacks were launched along Israel’s security barrier with Gaza. Israel was hit by a record volume of rocket and mortar fire from Gaza and the Sinai in 2014, according to the Israeli government, with more than 4,660 projectiles launched, most during the July-August conflict, at Israeli territory compared to 74 launchings in 2013 and 2,557 in 2012. Militants from Gaza also infiltrated Israeli territory using tunnels in six separate attacks and, for the first time, by a sea-borne operation. The Government of Israel reported that it responded to these threats with operations directed at terrorist leaders; infrastructure (including tunnels, weapons production and storage facilities; command and control centers; terrorist training sites; and safe havens), and activities such as rocket and mortar launching; most notably in Operation Protective Edge (OPE) during the July 7 to August 26 Gaza conflict. The Government of Israel reported that during OPE it conducted over 5,240 airstrikes in Gaza and carried out a 20-day military ground operation within Gaza. According to publicly available data, the conflict led to the deaths of 2,205 Palestinians and 74 persons in Israel, among them 67 soldiers, six Israeli civilians, and one Thai civilian. The Israeli government estimated that half of those killed in Gaza were civilians and half were combatants, while the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) recorded 1,483 civilian Palestinian deaths – more than two-thirds of those killed – including 521 children and 283 women."

Jordan

"Jordan remained a key ally and a model partner in combating terrorism and extremist ideology. Jordan’s geographic location leaves it vulnerable to a variety of regional threats, while also facilitating its regional leadership in confronting them. During 2014, the emergence and rapid growth of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other extremist organizations in Syria and Iraq further entrenched terrorism as a top concern for Jordanian security services. Jordan actively participated in Global Coalition to Counter ISIL military efforts, and amended key counterterrorism legislation. Jordan continued to provide diplomatic and political support to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, in addition to its support for a political resolution to conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

Jordan demonstrated regional leadership in the fight against ISIL, joined the Global Coalition from the outset, and participated fully on the diplomatic, political, financial, and military fronts...On December 24, ISIL captured, and ultimately killed, a Jordanian pilot in Syria who was participating in counter-ISIL operations. The JAF in 2014 continued to host United States military units, as well as other Global Coalition partners, for various joint counterterrorism exercises and training on Jordanian territory. Jordan actively worked to prevent flows of foreign fighters to extremist groups in Syria and Iraq, and took steps to restrict terrorism financing."

Lebanon

"Lebanon’s security situation deteriorated in 2014 as a result of worsening spillover from the violence in Syria and the involvement of Lebanese fighters in the conflict, including Hizballah, which had fully mobilized in support of the Asad regime, and to a lesser extent individual Lebanese who supported various anti-regime forces. Incursions by Syria-based Sunni extremists into Lebanon in 2014 underscored both the centrality of border security to Lebanon’s stability and importance of enabling the Lebanese government to exercise its full sovereignty, as mandated by UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1701. Various branches of the Lebanese state, including the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), Internal Security Forces (ISF), and Central Bank continued to cooperate with international partners in countering terrorism and have scored some notable successes in the disruption of terrorist networks and combating militant forces. U.S. programs are meant to enhance the Lebanese state’s capacity to exercise sovereignty over all Lebanese territory, including its borders. 

Border security and spillover from the Syrian conflict remained an immediate, pressing terrorism problem. In retaliation for Hizballah’s actions supporting the Asad regime, Sunni militant groups have carried out more than two dozen suicide attacks against Shia population centers and LAF targets from June 2013 through the end of 2014. Although these attacks declined in the second half of 2014 due to the Lebanese security services’ success at disrupting terrorist networks, Syria-based Sunni extremist groups infiltrated and sought to control Lebanese territory. Al-Nusrah Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL) battled the LAF for control of the Lebanese border town of Arsal in August, before retreating into the nearby hills with more than 30 captured LAF and ISF personnel, four of whom were subsequently killed. The army faced additional attacks in late October in Tripoli by al-Nusrah Front and ISIL-inspired Sunni militants, some of whom professed a desire to establish an ISIL principality in northern Lebanon." 

Libya

"In 2014, Libya’s democratic transition was disrupted by the outbreak of violence between armed factions affiliated with rival tribes, cities, and political actors. The resulting collapse of government authority and fragmentation of the country’s security forces greatly impeded Libya’s ability to counter violent extremist groups active in its territory. Although all sides in the conflict claimed to reject terrorism, there were signs that violent extremist groups in the region sought to take advantage of the security vacuum to expand their foothold in Libya. Libya’s porous borders, vast uncontrolled weapons stockpiles, and critically weak law enforcement institutions continued to make it a permissive environment for terrorist groups, including Ansar al-Shari’a (AAS) in Benghazi and in Darnah as well as elements of al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al-Murabitun. In November, Darnah-based extremist groups pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), although the extent of operational and tactical linkages to ISIL’s leadership in Iraq and Syria was unclear. There were reports of infighting between ISIL and other Libyan violent extremist groups. Libya continued to serve as a key source and transit hub for foreign fighters traveling to Syria and Iraq. 

The Libyan government’s inability to prevent or punish terrorist violence, including a campaign of assassinations targeting activists and security officials in Benghazi, prompted others to take action outside of the state’s writ. In May, retired General Khalifa Heftar launched “Operation Dignity” against violent extremist groups in Benghazi as well as political rivals in other parts of the country. Following the outbreak of nation-wide violence in July, the internationally recognized government in Tobruk endorsed Heftar’s campaign and took some steps to bring it under the authority of the state. However, Heftar’s role within the Libyan military was unclear and he remained a controversial actor for many Libyans. Ansar al-Shari’a elements joined other militias in opposing Operation Dignity in the east of the country. Fighting in Benghazi continued throughout the year, with a spike in violence late in the year." 

Morocco

"Morocco has a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy that includes vigilant security measures, regional and international cooperation, and counter-radicalization policies. The government has treated counterterrorism as a top policy priority since the country experienced suicide bombing attacks in Casablanca in 2003, and that focus has been reinforced by further attacks in 2007 and 2011. Additionally, Moroccan nationals were implicated in the 2004 attacks in Madrid. In 2014, Morocco’s counterterrorism efforts effectively mitigated the risk of terrorism, although the country continued to face threats, largely from numerous small, independent violent extremist cells. Those groups and individuals, referred to collectively as adherents of the so-called Salafiyya Jihadiyya ideology, remained isolated from one another, small in size, and limited in capabilities.

During the year, authorities reported the disruption of multiple groups with ties to international networks that included al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). AQIM and ISIL continued efforts to recruit Moroccans for combat in other countries, and there were reports of Moroccans attempting to join AQIM, ISIL, and other violent extremists in Iraq, Libya, and Syria. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) estimated that between 1,000 and 1,500 Moroccans were fighting in the Syrian conflict, making them one of the largest foreign contingents in the conflict." 

"Morocco is a member of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL and has made contributions and commitments to the effort. In addition, the government was increasingly proactive in 2014 to both stem the flow of foreign terrorist fighters and to counter ISIL propaganda."

Tunisia

"Over the past year, the Tunisian government increased its counterterrorism efforts and cooperation with the United States, with positive results. Former Prime Minister Joma’a’s government, which assumed power in January 2014, made fighting terrorism a top priority and the government took increasingly bold steps to counter terrorism and violent extremism. The government led a sustained campaign to take tough action on terrorists and began a major effort to build the counterterrorism capabilities of its security forces...The Tunisian security forces dismantled several terrorist cells and disrupted a number of plots before they could be executed.

Nevertheless, terrorism remained a serious challenge for Tunisia’s nascent democracy. The rise of violent extremist organizations in Tunisia since the January 2011 revolution – including Ansar al-Shari’a in Tunisia (AAS-T) and al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – posed serious security challenges to a post-revolutionary government. The government continued its efforts to reorient the focus of the security forces toward a counterterrorism mission, but these reforms need time and international support to succeed. Tunisia continued to face challenges that included the potential for terrorist attacks, the influx of arms and violent extremists from across the Algerian and Libyan borders, and the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The disproportionate numbers of Tunisians traveling to fight in Iraq and Syria – and the potential for the return of these fighters – was another cause for concern. Some independent sources estimate that up to 3,000 Tunisians have left their country for Syria and Iraq to join militant groups, including the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)." 

Yemen

"The Government of Yemen took steps to combat al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in 2014, despite significant challenges posed by elements of the former regime, heavily-armed Houthi forces, militant elements of the Hirak movement, and tribal adversaries. Yemeni security forces undertook two offensives against AQAP – one in the governorates of Shabwah and Abyan and one in Hadramawt – which temporarily reduced AQAP-controlled territory and safe havens. Gains in Hadramawt were hindered in the wake of advances by armed Houthi militia into Sana’a. As of the end of 2014, major counterterrorism operations and offensives by Yemen’s armed forces were indefinitely paused."

"The National Dialogue Conference, which convened in 2013 to lay the groundwork for a political transition, concluded in January 2014. However, political maneuvering by elements of the former regime and other spoilers derailed the peaceful transition process. Most notably, the militant elements of the Zaydi Shiite movement known as Ansar Allah or the Houthis, aggressively expanded from their northwestern stronghold of Sa’ada in 2014...The political instability resulting from the Houthi crisis diverted key resources from official Yemeni counterterrorism operations, which were at a near standstill at the end of 2014. Additionally, Houthi expansion in governorates such as Ibb and al-Baydha, including clashes with AQAP, spurred a significant increase in AQAP attacks in these areas, heightening sectarian sentiments and causing formerly neutral or anti-AQAP Sunni tribes to side with AQAP against the Houthis to defend their historic geographic and tribal locations." 

Click here for the full report