WASHINGTON (AP) â€” The focus of terrorism has shifted from the Middle East to South Asia, where Afghanistan serves as the primary safe haven for terrorists and Pakistan has supported groups that engage in violence in Kashmir, the State Department said today.
The department's annual report on international terrorism also said terrorism trends have shifted from well organized, localized groups supported by state sponsors to ``loosely organized, international networks of terrorists.''
It said that such a network supported a failed attempt to smuggle explosives material and detonating devices into Seattle last December.
The report, titled ``Patterns of Global Terrorism â€” 1999,'' said the eastward shift of terrorist centers to South Asia occurred after most Middle East governments strengthened their counterterrorist response. In addition to the geographical shift, the report said terrorist activities are more likely than before to be religiously or ideologically motivated as opposed to politically motivated.
``In South Asia, the major terrorist threat comes from Afghanistan, which continues to be the primary safe haven for terrorists,'' the report said.
The Taliban government, while not directly hostile to the United States, ``continues to harbor Osama bin Laden and a host of other terrorists loosely linked to bin Laden, who directly threaten the United States and others in the international community,'' it added.
In Kabul, the Taliban government said in a statement that bin Laden is a guest and Afghan tradition forbids handing him over to an enemy. The statement also condemned terrorism as against Islam.
The State Department report also said Pakistan sends mixed messages on terrorism.
``Despite significant and material cooperation in some areas â€” particularly arrests and extraditions â€” the Pakistani government also has tolerated terrorists living and moving freely within its territory,'' the study said.
It said that credible reports continue to indicate official Pakistani support for ``Kashmiri militant groups'' that engage in terrorism, such as the Harakat ul-Mujahidin (HUM).
The congressionally mandated report, issued each spring, largely mirrors the comments on Pakistan made by President Clinton when he visited that country on March 25.
Clinton pressed Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani leader, to ease tensions with India and restrain Islamic militants from moving across a cease-fire line that divides Kashmir between the two countries.
Pakistan took strong exception to the State Department report.
``Terrorism is a problem worldwide and one that everyone should be concerned about and one that Pakistan's chief executive is particularly concerned about,'' said Javed Jabbar, an adviser to Musharraf.
Despite the criticism of Pakistan, the country is not among the seven which the State Department says engage in international terrorist activities â€” a designation which carries strong economic penalties.
The seven are Syria, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Cuba and Libya. Politically, the United States has generally had friendly relations with Pakistan over the years, in contrast to these seven. Afghanistan is not on the list because the United States does not recognize its government.
On the Middle East, the report said Iran and Syria have continued to support regional terrorist groups that seek to destroy the Middle East peace process.
Iranian institutions ``continue to provide training, financial and political support directly to the Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives who seek to disrupt the peace process.
``These terrorist organizations, along with others, are based in Damascus, a situation the Syrian government made little effort to change in 1999,'' it said.