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There were more than 10,000 terrorist attacks worldwide last year — five times as many as there were the year of the Sept. 11 attacks, the leader of a new congressionally mandated task force on extremism told reporters.

Expand chart
Data: Global Terrorism Database; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. The incidents labeled as terror attacks include armed assault, assassination, bombing/explosion, facility/infrastructure attack, hijacking, hostage taking (barricade incident), hostage taking (kidnapping) and unarmed assault.

The big picture: After 9/11, the U.S. honed in on confronting terrorists and protecting the homeland, according to former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, a co-chair of the original 9/11 commission and co-chair of the new task force on extremism. But Kean told reporters there's been "no headway" on one of the commissions' recommendations following the 9/11 attacks: preventing the spread of Islamic terrorism.

Terror groups thrive on instability, a newly released report from the task force explains. Areas that have no solid governing power, are in the midst of a civil war or are suffering from a "breakdown of social order" are at the highest risk of fostering extremism.

  • Per the report, 77% of conflicts in the Middle East, the Sahel region in Africa and the Horn of Africa "have a violent extremist element," up from 22% in 2001.
  • But the damage brought on fragile states is only the beginning: "As more states suffer violent outbreaks of extremism ... international order unravels further."
  • And extremism undermines regional influence and fuels chaos, the task force explains, allowing powers like Russia, Iran and China to exploit threats for their own economic and strategic purposes.
  • Per the report, the U.S. "cannot compete effectively against China, Russia, or Iran as long as extremism fuels an arc of instability" in the region.

The bottom line: The report concludes that extremists are now focused on "establishing a new political order." The task force says the U.S. strategy must evolve into one of prevention, starting by strengthening the world's most at-risk states.

"Despite our best efforts since 9/11 to counter terrorism and protect the homeland, the threat of extremism and its danger to the United States has evolved, and it continues to grow.”
— Former Gov. Thomas Kean

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