By Kevin Whitelaw
Al-Qaida leaders frequently claim they don't target Muslims, but the victims of the terrorist group's attacks have been overwhelmingly non-Western, according to a new study.
Between 2004 and 2008, only 15 percent of the 3,010 people killed in 313 confirmed al-Qaida attacks were Westerners, according to the report by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
The figures are even more striking in recent years -- only 2 percent of the victims were Western between 2006 and 2008. The remaining 98 percent were inhabitants of Muslim-majority countries.
The report is squarely aimed at persuading Muslims around the world that al-Qaida's violence is indiscriminate. Researchers, for example, relied solely Arabic press accounts to assemble their data on casualties.
"This allows researchers to avoid accusations of bias associated with Western news outlets or U.S.-based datasets," the report says.
And at least some Arabic media outlets have already taken note. The Kuwaiti newspaper al-Jarida printed the study's findings under the headline "The Land of Islam is burned with the Terrorism Fire of al-Qaida Organization. Muslims Victims 98 % Foreigners 2%."
U.S. intelligence agencies believe that al-Qaida is still actively plotting to strike in Western countries, but it has become more difficult for them in recent years.
In 2004 and 2005, Al-Qaida did manage to stage attacks in London and Madrid that killed a number of Westerners. But more recently, it has struggled to strike outside of Muslim-dominated nations.
There were no Western fatalities from the group's attacks in 2006, while half of the 12 deaths in 2007 and 2008 came in an attack on a Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan, according to the report.
"Al-Qaida has acknowledged that assailants should be patient and wait for the right time to carry out attacks (in martyr videos and announcements), but this report shows there is scant evidence of prudence or effort to limit violence," the report concludes. "Irrespective of al-Qaida's justifications, if history provides a glimpse into the future, the group and its associates will pose the greatest threat to fellow Muslims."