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Terrorism in the United States: 1990.

TERRORISM IN THE UNITED STATES: 1990

BEGINNING IN AUGUST 1990 with the start of the Persian Gulf crisis, heightened security measures were taken throughout the United States as a result of the terrorist threat. Iraq had warned that a US attack in the Gulf would unleash a wave of terrorism against American targets.

Saddam Hussein's call for a "jihad," or holy war, against the United States and its allies as a second front in the Gulf War triggered understandable fears within the public sector. Overseas travel by the public dropped dramatically. Domestic travel suffered as well, but to a lesser extent.

Private security firms reported brisk sales of gas masks, bomb detection equipment, and bulletproof vests. Mental health professionals reported an increase in patients' fears and anxieties related to terrorism.

Law enforcement and security personnel reacted to the threat as well - extensive numbers of security personnel were deployed at airports, nuclear power plants, and military installations across the country. Security was heightened during this time at government buildings and at the US-Mexican and US-Canadian borders.

According to US State Department figures there were over 200 acts of terrorism worldwide from January 16, 1991, through March 15, 1991, with about half of these acts directed against US targets. Most of the incidents in this period resulted in property damage, although there were several fatalities due to these incidents.

Based on available information regarding these incidents, no attacks against US interests were carried out by the traditional Middle East terrorist incidents were claimed by indigenous terrorist groups that used the Gulf War as a backdrop for their rhetoric and actions espousing their goals.

Although it is premature to fully assess at this time, attacks by traditional Middle East terrorist groups may have been prevented by a number of factors to include: increased security at airports, military installations, public buildings, and other potential targets; proactive measures taken by law enforcement and intelligence agencies throughout the world; the excellent communication between these agencies; the speed of the coalition military success; and the diplomatic pressure that caused nations with a previous history of state sponsorship of terrorism to refrain from such activity.

In the aftermath of the Gulf War, there will be a tendency for security to return to the various levels that existed before the Persian Gulf crisis. High-security alerts around the world cannot be maintained indefinitely and without justification. Nevertheless, the threat of terrorism remains. The United States, with its size, open society, and borders, and with an involvement in the global political arena, remains vulnerable to terrorist activity. We should not make an assumption that the threat of terrorism has passed since the Gulf conflict is over. Furthermore, the full ramifications of the Gulf War and the reaction by traditional Middle East terrorist groups have yet to be realized at this time.

Although the threat of terrorism will remain, it should be put in proper perspective and not allowed to unnecessarily alter our life. Intimidation, one of the primary aims of terrorist elements, is used to create a climate of suspicion and works to undermine individuals' sense of security and confidence in their government. It has been found that one of the most effective weapons of terrorists is the fear they aim to create: the fear of the unexpected, the unknown, and the elusive enemy.

Notwithstanding the significance of a terrorist act, the psychological impact of terrorism normally outweighs its actual threat. This was evidenced somewhat by the change in Americans' behavior resulting from Iraq's Saddam Hussein's threat of the "jihad" against the United States and its allies.

A judgment should be made based on the available facts concerning the probability of being involved in a terrorist incident. The United States, due to numerous factors, has been relatively free of terrorist attacks, with only seven such attacks reported last year, and has experienced few international terrorist incidents at this time.

One key ingredient is the distance of the United States from terrorist cells in the Middle East and Europe. This makes the United States a more difficult target logistically.

A sophisticated terrorist operation often may require a great deal of logistical preparation to include the movement of money and supplies between terrorists and their commanders. This factor alone makes the United States a high-risk area for terrorists to operate. It does not imply that terrorism cannot happen in the United States, but it helps to give perspective to the threat.

PRESENTLY, THE PRINCIPAL THREAT FROM domestic terrorist groups emanates from violent Puerto Rican separatist groups. These groups are dedicated to total Puerto Rican independence from the United States and are waging what they perceive as a terrorist war against US imperialism. Five of the seven incidents recorded in the United States in 1990 involved Puerto Rican terrorism, representing 71 percent of known terrorist activity during 1990.

The Pedro Albizu Campos Revolutionary Forces (PACRF) claimed credit for four of the 1990 terrorist incidents in Puerto Rico. Again, the issue of independence was the chief aim stated in these attacks. Also mentioned was the previously scheduled political status plebiscite, which has since been canceled, and a denouncement of recruitment of Puerto Ricans into the US military during the Persian Gulf crisis.

The PACRF is a known terrorist organization that has been operating for several years. It is named in honor of Pedro Albizu Campos, who was a leader of the independence movement in the 1930s and 1940s and who also was a spearhead of the contemporary violence-prone movement. Since then, many independence groups, like the PACRF, have emerged to carry on the fight.

Another significant event in 1990 was the bond default and return to underground status of EPB-Macheteros members Filiberto Ojeda Rios and Luis Alfredo Colon Osorio. Both were free on bond awaiting the trial for their participation in the 1983 multimillion-dollar robbery of a Wells Fargo terminal in West Hartford, CT.

The EPB-Macheteros has been an extremely violent terrorist group throughout the 1980s. Ojeda Rios is the recognized leader of this organization. Colon Osorio has been a key player in Macheteros actions for many years and was involved in the 1983 light anti-tank weapon (LAW) rocket attack against the FBI office in San Juan, PR.

The disappearance of these two terrorists was proclaimed in a Macheteros communique in September 1990 and has been widely reported in the media. It signals a potential for renewed terrorist activity by the Macheteros.

Violent actions of Puerto Rican terrorists have become the major domestic terrorism problem in the United States. The development and maintenance of the independence movement and its violent manifestations have been evident for several decades. The issue that has generated terrorist activity still remains. As long as the issue exists, the potential for terrorism continues.

The other terrorist incidents recorded in 1990 came from groups calling themselves Up the IRS, Inc., and the Earth Night Action Group. These groups are part of the special-interest category of domestic terrorism. They seek specific issue resolutions rather than widespread political changes. While the causes they represent can be understandable or even noteworthy in nature, they are separated from traditional law-abiding special interest groups by their conduct of criminal activity.

DURING THE LATTER PART OF 1990 AND into 1991, the world witnessed several historic events: the annexation of Kuwait by Iraq; the resultant initiation and continuance of diplomatic efforts toward peaceful resolution of the crisis; the massive buildup of US and coalition forces in the Persian Gulf region; and finally, a decisive military victory that led to the liberation of Kuwait.

Throughout this conflict, an underlying concern was, and still is, the threat of terrorism in the United States from Iraq, Iraqi sympathizers, or Middle Eastern terrorist groups sympathetic to the Iraqi cause.

The overwhelming military defeat of Iraq may provide motivation for anti-US terrorist groups to initiate a campaign of terrorism against the United States. However, due to the breakdown of Iraqi operational and communication links and the current political unrest in Iraq, it appears that the threat of Iraqi sponsored activity has diminished, at least in the near term.

In the long term, of particular concern is the threat from traditional Middle Eastern terrorist elements that have demonstrated a calculated and determined approach. These groups are cellular in nature, thereby making them difficult to identify. Also, they would not likely react emotionally to the events in the Persian Gulf region. Rather, they would be expected to engage in terrorist activity only after careful planning and consideration. It is this potential terrorist threat that will remain in the years to come.

In assessing the threat associated with the Persian Gulf crisis, it is important to note that the full ramifications of the crisis have yet to be realized. While the end of the armed conflict has lessened the intensity of the threat, it has not been eliminated. During the next year, it will be essential to follow developments in the Middle East that may impact on potential terrorism related to this crisis.

TERRORIST ACTS ARE OFTEN DISMISSED as senseless violence, since the targets of the attacks are frequently not related to the terrorists' stated causes. But terrorist groups have many objectives, the primary one of which is to create fear, to intimidate, by committing dramatic, shocking acts that provide them a wide degree of publicity.

Terrorist acts, often viewed as a type of theater, are aimed not so much at the actual victims of the attack but at the people watching, who represent a much larger audience.

The media's satellite technology, which provides viewers with instantaneous, global access to international events, has given the terrorists the publicity they strive for, and has mesmerized the public, which identifies with the victims of the crime. This was especially evident during the June 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847 by Islamic Jihad terrorists, in which US Navy diver Robert Stethem was murdered and thrown onto the tarmac of the Beirut International Airport.

Since most terrorist groups are small in size, their violent acts must be all the more dramatic and shocking to create a distorted impression of the importance of their cause and the strength of their movement. The worldwide platform and publicity provided to terrorists enable them to achieve their primary objectives of creating fear, undermining people's confidence in their government, and intimidating.

One major motive of terrorist groups is to obtain specific concessions, such as payment of ransom, the release of prisoners, or the publication of a terrorist message. The seizure of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics had two objectives: publicity and concessions. Although the government of Israel rejected the terrorists' demand to release a number of their imprisoned comrades, television provided the terrorists all the publicity they could desire.

In April 1988, Hizballah terrorists hijacked Kuwaiti Airways flight 422, seeking the release of 17 Shia terrorists imprisoned in Kuwait. The terrorists failed to obtain the release of any of the prisoners, although it was reported that two Kuwaitis were killed by the terrorists during the incident.

Another motive, typical of revolutionary or anarchistic terrorists, is to cause widespread disorder by breaking down the existing social and political order. Germany's Red Army Faction (RAF) and Italy's Brigate Rosse (BR), also known as the Red Brigades, seek to create a revolutionary state through armed struggle against what they perceive to be an imperialistic state. These groups' goals are to destroy the existing forms of government in their countries.

The RAF has successfully targeted figures that symbolize, to the RAF, imperialism and capitalism. On April 1, 1991, Det-lev Rohwedder, chief of the German government agency charged with privatizing eastern Germany's Communist-era businesses, was assassinated. The RAF claimed responsibility for the assassination. In November 1989, the RAF claimed responsibility for the sophisticated bombing that killed Deutsche Bank Chairman Alfred Herrhausen.

In April 1988, a faction of the BR, known as the BR-PCC (the Communist Combatant Party), murdered Christian Democrat Senator Roberto Ruffili. The 1978 kidnap-murder of former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro, president of Italy's dominant Christian Democratic Party, was the BR's most notorious act.

Yet another powerful motivation for terrorist actions is revenge. Press reports have indicated that the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland, on December 21, 1988, which killed 270 people, was committed in revenge for the accidental downing of an Iranian airliner by the US cruiser Vincennes, nearly six months earlier.

In December 1989, the Bolivian terrorist group, the Forces of Liberation Zarate Willka, claimed responsibility for a bombing at the US Embassy, in retaliation for US military actions in Panama.

The primary aim of state-sponsored terrorists is to destroy perceived enemies of the state. In recent years, governments have extended their reach to emigres and exiles living in the United States and elsewhere by hiring terrorists or employing their own agents to attack foes of the regime.

In February 1990, the FBI arrested an American citizen in California who allegedly was hired to commit two assassinations on behalf of a foreign country. The plot was instituted and directed by a diplomat at a foreign establishment in the United States. The alleged assassin was subsequently released from custody and fled from the United States, and the diplomat was then expelled.

Finally, terrorist groups have the motive to survive as a terrorist group by committing violent actions. If the terrorist group does not commit terrorism, it loses its reason to exist. A terrorist group needs to conduct terrorist acts to assert its credibility, to reaffirm its purpose, and to reduce internal tensions among the group.

Highly skilled professional terrorist groups will not allow external events, such as the Gulf War to determine when they will strike. Most of the terrorist incidents that occurred during and after the war were committed by indigenous terrorist groups, some of which used the Gulf War in their rhetoric to justify their actions.

Terrorist groups will normally select the timing of acts that is best for them. Major terrorist operations require time, during which logistical preparations are made, training is conducted, and targets are selected. Terrorists carefully assess which targets are most vulnerable and may conduct surveillance to further develop their intelligence on a target. They select operations that pose a minimum of risk with a maximum chance of success.

Terrorists commit acts in the name of various causes and reasons. In doing so, they at times attempt to rationalize their violence through these causes. However, we must remember that terrorists, despite their rhetoric, are criminals; terrorist acts are first and foremost criminal acts, not political statements.

Table : Numerical Summary/Killed & Injured
 1986 - 1990
 Total Incidents Killed Injured
1986 25 1 19
1987 9 0 0
1988 9 0 0
1989 4 0 0
1990 7 0 0


Total incidents: 54; total killed: 1; total injured: 19 Source: Terrorism in the United States: 1990, Federal Bureau of Investigation, p. 13
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Title Annotation:Special Report; includes related article
Author:Penberthy, Mark
Publication:Security Management
Date:Jan 1, 1992
Words:2472
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