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Is American next?

Will Iraqi-sponsored terrorism continue to be a threat to US interests? We must learn from past mistakes in managing this threat in order to avert future brutality.

IN 1979 THE UNITED STATES WAS CONFRONTED BY A CONflict in the Middle East emerging from the new Islamic Republic of Iran. Islam, the fastest-growing religion in the world, had reared its head in its most fundamentalist form, as interpreted by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

As the call for Jihad, the Holy War, spread it took on many forms. Islamic fundamentalism became intertwined with the Pan-Arab cause, the fate of the Palestinians, and the goals of several despotic Arab leaders, including Muammar Qadhafi of Libya, Hafiz Assad of Syria, and Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

The terrorism emanating from Islamic fundamentalism was particularly brutal. Suicide bombers attacked Israeli, US, and moderate Arab targets throughout the Middle East. The most devastating attack was directed at the US Marine barracks near the Beirut airport on October 23, 1983. More than 240 Marines were killed.

The level of lethality of Palestinian terrorism correspondingly increased. Before 1979, airplanes were targeted for hijackings; now they are blown out of the sky with tremendous loss of life.

The United States and other western nations became increasingly concerned about the expanded levels of state-sponsored terrorism. In the past, state sponsorship had been limited to the Eastern Bloc, North Korea, and a few states in the Middle East.

But as Lebanon crumbled into anarchy, it became a focal point for terrorist groups and individuals from around the world, who found various forms of state sponsorship available in and through that country. State-sponsored training and other forms of support were provided there. Training camps were also established in Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and South Yemen.

The true impact of those terrorist states was ignored by the West, as they terrorized their own populations more than anyone else. Syria, when confronted within its own borders by a faction of the Muslim Brotherhood, simply surrounded the city where the Brotherhood's headquarters and support were located and bombed it into oblivion.

Iraq established an internal security system based on the Soviet KGB but much more brutal. Saddam Hussein was personally responsible for this system, which tortured and murdered thousands of Iraqis. Saddam himself is reported to have been one of the main torturers. His brutality was further demonstrated when he used chemical weapons against Iraq's Kurdish population and against Iran during the Eight Year War.

In another incident, Saddam ordered the eradication of the Kurdish village of Dakan in the province of Mosul. When he learned that 67 women and children had avoided the artillery shelling by hiding in a cave, Saddam ordered them to be burned alive (August 8, 1969). The cave became their grave.

The West was also concerned that nations sponsoring terrorism would send out their own agents to assassinate targets in other countries. Libya received most of the attention for these actions, having assassinated or attempted to assassinate expatriates in Europe, Great Britain, and the United States.

But Iraq was also active in this area, using its military intelligence apparatus to strike out at anti-Ba'ath Iraqis in at least eight countries, including the United States. Between 1977 and 1983 four attacks took place in the Detroit area alone.

Saddam Hussein was an early member of the Ba'ath Party in Iraq. The Ba'ath Party professes to be a Pan-Arab party based on unity, freedom, and socialism. It is a tool of suppression that has been brutal to its own people and aggressive in its actions toward its neighbors. It is a minority party that seized control by force and rules through internal terrorism.

Iraq and the Ba'ath Party have had connections with some of the world's most deadly terrorist leaders for decades. George Habash, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), first contacted Ba'ath leader Michel Aflaq in 1951 and offered to "give the Ba'ath teeth." Abu Nidal, perhaps the most feared terrorist leader in the world, was originally a member of the Ba'ath Party. Both of these groups -- the PFLP and the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO) -- now have offices, along with other terrorist organizations, in Baghdad.

In its effort to undermine the regime in Iran, the United States provided limited support to Iraq during the Eight Year War. This support was provided even though the United States acknowledged Iraq's use of terrorism, internally and externally. As late as 1988, the official US position on state-sponsored terrorism by Iraq was as follows:

"Iraq has worked to improve its international image, beginning with the expulsion of the ANO from Iraq in 1983. The effort was, no doubt, aimed at gathering international support during the Iran-Iraq war. Iraq nonetheless sponsored three assassinations of exiled dissidents in the United Kingdom, Sudan, and Norway in 1988. We suspect but cannot confirm that the Iraqi-backed Mujahedin-e-Khalq was responsible for an attempted bombing at a Tehran bus terminal.

"Iraq also continued to provide safe haven to some Palestinian groups such as the Iraq-created Arab Liberation Front and Abu Abbas's Palestinian Liberation Front (PLF), responsible for the Achille Lauro hijacking in 1985. Baghdad views its safe haven to Palestinian groups as legitimate assistance to the struggle for a Palestinian homeland."

Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1988

US Department of State

Prior to and since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the media have claimed that Saddam is expected to use the weapon of terrorism against Saudi Arabia, the United States, and other countries that oppose his "annexation." This should be no surprise, as he has used terrorism against his enemies, and in some cases his supporters, all of his life.

The following is a summary of the media coverage of the Iraqi terrorist threat:

August 15, 1990. Within days of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait the media reported that Abu Nidal, Abu Abbas, Abu Iyad, George Habash, Ahmed Jibril, Abu Ibrahim, Abu Salim, and Hussein Masawi -- the leader of the Hezbollah group responsible for the attack against the US Marines on October 23, 1983 -- were all in Iraq. If this was true, then it was the greatest gathering of terrorist leaders in recent years.

Some of these leaders have been opponents in the past, vowing to kill each other. Today they are brothers in arms, rallying around Saddam Hussein. Abu Nidal and Abu Abbas received the most publicity, mainly because Nidal is so feared and because Abbas was holding press conferences. The other leaders prefer to remain in relative obscurity.

Israeli intelligence sources claimed that terrorists were planning to attack Saudi and US targets. They too were concerned about the presence of Nidal and Abbas but also pointed out that Ahmed Jibril of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) is also a key player. Jibril is known to possess sophisticated technical capabilities to build bombs and stage terrorist attacks. His group is believed to have been responsible for the Pan Am Flight 103 incident over Lockerbie, Scotland.

September 3, 1990. Western intelligence sources reported that Iraqi agents had been seen monitoring US and Arab targets, particularly Saudi facilities. The Iraqis have been gathering intelligence on potential terrorist targets in the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and Africa. It should also be noted that Abu Abbas claimed in 1986 to be collecting information on targets in the United States. The intelligence sources said they expected a wave of assassination attempts as part of the terrorist campaign.

September 13, 1990. Iran and Iraq became aligned against the great Satan, and Iranian cleric Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for a holy war against Western forces in the Gulf. He declared that Moslems that died fighting to drive the Americans from the region would be martyrs bound for heaven. Although Khamenei claimed to be opposed to the invasion of Kuwait, he said having infidels in Moslem lands was a greater sin -- one that cannot be tolerated.

Iraq warned the United States directly to prepare for terrorist attacks. The threat was received in a letter to the chief US diplomat in Iraq. The actions were to be in response to the "crimes" and "insults" against Arab and Islamic nations.

September 19, 1990. CIA Director William Webster said Saddam Hussein was expanding his ties to anti-Western terrorists and was using his intelligence service to plan terrorist attacks around the world. Webster again voiced concern about potential attacks from groups led by Abu Nidal and Abu Abbas.

September 24, 1990. Reports surfaced that the ANO was preparing to assassinate Saudi diplomats in Europe. ANO has an infrastructure in Europe and can function on its own there. It is also known for attacking Arab targets.

September 30, 1990. The US State Department issued a travel advisory, warning Americans of the threat of Iraqi-sponsored terrorist attacks. Iraq may have already been responsible for the attempted kidnapping of a US Air Force general in Europe, the shooting of an Air Force mechanic in Saudi Arabia, and a grenade attack in Djibouti that killed a French child and injured 17 other people.

October 8, 1990. Sources reported that Iraqi agents continue gathering intelligence on potential terrorists targets in Europe and within the United States. Suspected targets include US diplomats, military personnel and installations, aircraft, airports, seaports, tourist spots, and US businesses abroad. The report pointed out that in addition to the groups currently being sponsored by Iraq, it has its own state-directed terrorists, operating through Iraqi military intelligence, who have committed assassinations around the world.

November 8, 1990. Abu Abbas threatened unspecified reprisals against pro-Western Arab states he accuses of expelling Palestinian residents. He did not elaborate on who these states were but claimed, "These measures as far as we are concerned will not happen without punishment, and we hope Palestinians will not be forced to take necessary measures to protect their interests." He released his threat in an interview with the Algerian newspaper Essalem.

November 21, 1990. A retired CIA official, Vincent Cannistraro, reported that Iraq has a network of terrorists in place around the world waiting for the order to begin killing and bombing Arabs and Americans. He claimed they will first punish Arab countries who support the US and then strike at Americans. If war broke out in the Gulf, Iraq wanted to be able to conduct simultaneous terrorist actions, according to Cannistraro.

Other acts. The initial Iraqi-sponsored terrorist attacks following the invasion of Kuwait were not against US or Saudi targets but against Egyptians. On Friday, October 12, 1990, Speaker of the Egyptian Parliament Rifaat El Mahgoub, his driver, and four security guards all died in a hail of machine gun fire. The act was believed to have been carried out by Islamic fundamentalists, but the ANO is also suspected of involvement in the assassination.

Several days before the assassination of El Mahgoub, a bomb was found in a metro station behind the Nile Hilton (the assassination took place in front of the Hilton). The device was placed in an oil can and timed to go off at rush hour to maximize casualties. It was defused by police.

In another incident during October, four ANO agents were stopped near Beirut by Syrian soldiers. They opened fire, and three were killed immediately, while the fourth was wounded. The soldiers found the car that the ANO agents were driving was rigged with explosives. After interrogating the wounded terrorist, they tied him into the car, placed the other bodies in it, and detonated the explosives.

THE FOLLOWING IS A BRIEF SUMMARY of some of the terrorist groups reported to have been working for Saddam Hussein. Pay particular attention to the tactics used by each group since the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

Abu Nidal Organization

Founded: 1974 Estimated strength: 500 Headquarters: Baghdad Area of operations: International Leadership: Sabri Khalil al-Banna, also known as Abu Nidal

This is the most dangerous terrorist group in the world. The group was formed after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War when PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat decided that terrorist action would be limited to attacks on Israeli targets. Nidal believes no such restrictions should be imposed. The rift between Nidal and Arafat was so strong that they issued death threats against each other.

Abu Nidal was once a member of the Ba'ath Party, and Iraq was the group's first state sponsor. The ANO then moved to Libya and Syria and returned to Iraq in 1990. The group is economically sound and has an infrastructure throughout the Middle East and in Europe.

Nidal has no love for Kuwait or the other moderate Arab states. Several years ago Kuwait refused to pay the $10 million tribute (blackmail) demanded by the group. The ANO responded by placing a bomb on a Kuwaiti commercial jet bound for India, killing all 112 people on board. Kuwait then paid a tribute of $12 million to avoid further bombings of its aircraft.

The tactics used by the group are mixed. It appears to prefer assaults with automatic weapons and grenades. However, it also uses car bombs and has been known, as in the Kuwaiti incident, to place bombs on aircraft. The ANO is known to have suicide terrorists within its ranks.

Palestine Liberation Front

Founded: 1977 Estimated strength: 300 Headquarters: Baghdad Area of operations: Middle East and Europe Leadership: Muhammed Abu al Abbas

This group was originally part of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command but split with that group because the PFLP-GC supported the Syrian invasion of Lebanon in June 1976. It was established with Iraqi support and obtained seats on the Palestinian National Council in 1981.

Abu Abbas has always maintained close ties to Iraq, a relationship that in the past has caused some dissension within the group. Until 1988 the group remained close to the PLO but reportedly split with the organization when the PLO denounced the use of terrorist tactics.

Abbas likes spectacular tactics. His terrorists have struck at Israel using boats from the sea and hang gliders and hot air balloons over land. They specialize in hostage taking and are not known as skilled bomb experts.

Popular Front for the

Liberation of Palestine

Founded: 1967 Estimated strength: 1,000 Headquarters: Previously Syria, currently Baghdad Area of operations: Europe and Middle East Leadership: Dr. George Habash

The PFLP was the group that decided in 1968 to take the Palestinian struggle out of the Middle East and began hijacking aircraft in Europe. This is one of the world's most experienced terror groups, and its leader, Habash, is one of the more effective terrorist leaders in the world. As mentioned earlier, Habash first approached the Ba'ath Party in Iraq in 1951, offering to form a military force for it. Following that contact, he was influential in several different Palestinian organizations until forming the PFLP.

His group has a strong financial base and an infrastructure throughout the Middle East, Europe, and possibly the United States. The PFLP has operated in concert with the Japanese Red Army (JRA). A JRA member was arrested in New Jersey two years ago while en route to bomb a US military facility in New York City. The bomber is now serving a 30-year sentence. His attorney, William Kunstler, claimed that Yu Kikumuro, the JRA member, may be simply a bomb tester who meant no harm!

The tactics used by the PFLP are eclectic. They have hijacked aircraft, attacked unarmed civilians with machine guns and hand grenades, and bombed a variety of targets.

May 15 Organization

Founded: 1979 Estimated strength: 50 to 60 Headquarters: Baghdad Area of operations: Europe, Middle East, Latin America Leadership: Husayn al-Umari, also known as Abu Ibrahim

Abu Ibrahim is known as "the bomb man." During the early 1980s the group was responsible for bombings in London, Rome, Istanbul, Athens, and Vienna. Anti-US attacks included the bombing of a Pan Am flight from Tokyo to Honolulu in August 1982 and the attempted bombing of a Pan Am airliner in Rio de Janeiro in August 1981.

The group has had close ties to Baghdad since it was formed. It has not been active since 1985 when some of the key members decided to join the Special Operations Group of Fatah. Ibrahim may be functioning as a direct asset to Saddam Hussein.

The group was known for its innovative bombings. Ibrahim designed hidden compartments in suitcases to carry bombs, in addition to developing smaller, more clever devices.

Democratic Front for the

Liberation of Palestine

Founded: 1969 Estimated strength: 500 Headquarters: Baghdad Area of operations: Middle East Leadership: Naif Hawatmeh

In May 1974, members of this group took hostages in the schoolhouse in Ma'alot, Israel. They murdered 27 Israelis and wounded another 134, mostly children.

This group depended on Syria for its survival during most of the 1970s. However, it refused to join the Syrian-created Palestine National Liberation Front, causing a break in the alliance. This group is Marxist-Leninist and believes that the Palestinian national goal cannot be achieved without a revolution of the working class.

Other than Ma'alot, most of the group's actions have been bombings and grenade attacks. Almost all of these attacks have been directed at Israeli targets.

Popular Front for the

Liberation of Palestine-General


Founded: 1968 Estimated strength: 500 Headquarters: Believed to still be in Syria Area of operations: Middle East and Europe Leadership: Ahmed Jibril

In the past this group has been sponsored by Syria and Libya. It has also had ties to Iran and reportedly planned the Pan Am 103 bombing under contract to that country.

Jibril was reportedly contacted by Iraq and invited to open an office in Baghdad. Although he initially declined, Jibril may have since received the go-ahead from his patron state Iran and established ties with Saddam Hussein's government.

Jibril's group is best known for the Pan Am 103 bombing, but the group has also been responsible for armed attacks, hijackings, and other smaller bombings.

Force 17

Founded: 1970 Estimated strength: Unknown Headquarters: Baghdad Area of operations: International Leadership: Formerly Abu Iyad

This is Yasir Arafat's personal security force. It has also been responsible for several terrorist acts, including the killing of three Israelis on Cyprus in 1985. Its main support is directly from the PLO, and its headquarters is actually at the PLO headquarters.

Arafat's commitment to Iraq is demonstrated by the fact that he would dispatch Force 17 elements to Baghdad led by Abu Iyad. Iyad wa a top-level PLO member and is reported to have been the head of Black September, the terrorist organization that captured the world's attention during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

Force 17 is designed as a fighting force. The limited terrorist activities it has been involved in have been attacks on civilians. It would need outside assistance if it was to start using terrorist bombs. Iyad was assassinated in Tunisia on January 5, 1991.

That the shia Hezbollah would come to the aid of the Ba'ath Party in Iraq demonstrated the bizarre nature of politics in the Middle East. Hezbollah is a political, religious, and military organization aligned with Iran but composed of the Shia of Lebanon. Its spiritual leader, Sheik Fadallah, is even more of an Islamic fundamentalist than the Ayatollah Khomeini was. And he carries a bitter hatred of the United States.

One of the principal leaders of the group, Husayn Musawi, was reportedly behind the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983. He has also directed a number of other suicide bombing attachs and car bombings.

The group's activities are not limited to bombings. It also kills and kidnaps people and hijacks aircraft. It has attacked US interests throughout the Middle East and in Europe. This group is as ruthless as the ANO.

MANY OF THE GROUPS NOW LOCATED in Iraq have the infrastructure to strike at targets throughout the Middle East and Europe. Some of that infrastructure was lost with the economic and political collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, but Iraq's intelligence system can help compensate for those losses.

The Iraqi Military Intelligence Department, or Istikhbarat, operates with the General Intelligence Department, or Mukhabarat, to provide intelligence and run terrorist operations around then world. Countries in which they have already committed terrorist actions include Lebanon, Sweden, England, Egypt, Sudan, France, Belgium, and the United States.

In addition to state-directed terrorists and state-sponsored groups, we must be concerned about Iraqi symphatizers around the world. These free-lance agents can become loose cannons, striking at Western and Arab targets even when it is not in the best interest of Iraq to do so.

If we are to learn from history of a decade ago, then there is another category of terrorist that we must be concerned about in the United States. The Iranian Revolution resulted in a backlash in this country among right-wing groups. David Duke, as head of one of the major Klan factions, marched across cities in the south telling Iranians to go home. The confrontation with Iran provided an additional rallying cry for the anti-Soviet, anti-Israeli, supremacist organizations. Now they had Iranians to fear and hate as well.

Right-wing white supremacy is alive and well in the United States today, and such organizations are looking for a new cause. The decline of the Soviet Union has left them with a void in their reason for being. Let's hope that an anti-Arab stance does not replace it.

These groups attract individuals who are easily to manipulate because they claim they are on a divine mission ordained by God. One only has to look at the history of the Ku Klux Klan, the Posse Comitatus, or the Brotherhood of Silence to see the three these types of groups represent. If anti-Iraq or anit-Arab sentiments begin to run high in the United States, then these groups will see their membership increase again.

LET'S RETURN TO THE PRIMARY THREAT we are confronting--the threat of Iraqi-directed or -sponsored terrorism.

Our greatest concern must be for US military personnel in the Middle East. Watching camels and civilians wandering through US facilities is frightening. The possibility of bombs or a suicide attacker with a machine gune or just a knife must be considered and the appropriate protective measures taken. We must learn from the lessons of Beirut.

All Arabs aligned with Operation Desert Storm are targets. Egypt may have already paid that price. Saudi and Kuwaiti interests throughout the world are potential targets.

The primary area of concern is the Middle East, but many of the terrorists and groups we are confronting also have operational capabilities in Europe. Bases used to support Operation Desert Storm and other US interests may be targeted. The attacks could be either bombings or machine gun assaults.

Among the state-supported terrorist groups only Abu Abbas has claimed to be planning operations in the United States, but Iraqi intelligence has already assassinated victims here. In addition, the PFLP has a potential infrastructure in the United States. Any of these groups could commit attacks and assassinations using bombs designed and built by Abu Ibrahim, among others.

If attacks occur there could be a backlash among the radical right-wing groups in the United States against the sympathizers and the professional terrorists. Targets would include Iraqi interests and Arab interests in general. Israeli targets would also be hit since these groups consider Zionists to be responsible for all the problems in the Middle East. They would also hit US government targets in retaliation for the government's letting them down. (Don't try to understand it; this is their mindset.)

We should not discount attacks from terrorist groups in other parts of the world. It is possible that Iraq could sponsor attacks against US and Saudi interests in Africa, the Far East, and Latin America. These attacks would be harder for Iraq to undertake, but they are possible.

Iraqi-sponsored terrorism will continue to be a threat to US assets, in particular to military interests. If we are to manage this threat effectively, then we must learn from our past mistakes and from Saddam Hussein's previous actions. If we don't, then we are condemned to see them repeated.

Karl A. Seger, PhD, is an organizational psychologist and president of Corporate Consultants in Lenoir City, TN. He is an antiterrorism consultant to the US military, law enforcement agencies, multinational corporations, and several foreign governments. Seger is also the author of The Antiterrorism Handbook, published by Presidio Press in May 1990. He is a member of ASIS.
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Title Annotation:Special Report; Iraqi-sponsored terrorism
Author:Seger, Karla
Publication:Security Management
Date:Apr 1, 1991
Previous Article:Reactions to the war.
Next Article:Avoiding the pitfalls of private security.

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