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Terrorism: threat from the shadows.

Each year, the US State Department produces its assessment of the terrorist threat from the Third World, not surprisingly with a special emphasis on the Middle East.

INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM in 1992 fell to its lowest level since 1975, but new players have been added to the rogues' gallery spotlighted every year by the US State Department along with warnings that their actions will not go unpunished.

In its Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1992, the State Department has said that despite the statistical drop in incidents there were ominous signs the problem of terrorism would escalate, compounded by the resurgence of regional and ethnic conflicts around the world.

International terrorist attacks declined to 361 last year, the lowest level in 17 years - roughly 35% fewer incidents than the 567 recorded in 1991, a figure that was inflated by a spate of low-level incidents at the time of the Gulf war. According to the survey, United States citizens and property remained the principal targets throughout the world, with nearly 40% of the recorded international terrorist incidents for 1992 directed at Americans.

But the one "spectacular" attack of that year occurred on 17 March when a powerful truck bomb destroyed the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. The blast which killed 29 people and wounded 242 others levelled the embassy in the Argentinian capital and severely damaged a nearby church, school and retirement home. The Islamic Jihad organisation, which the report said was a cover name for the Iranian-backed Hizbollah, claimed responsibility for the attack.

"There is mounting evidence of Iranian government responsibility for this act of terrorism".

Elsewhere, left-wing terrorism, notably in Europe, was in decline in 1992, but ethnic and separatist groups in the Middle East, Latin America and South Asia remained active. More specifically, none of the state sponsors of terrorism has completely abandoned the terrorist option, either against dissidents or severed ties to terrorist surrogates, the report said.

Sudan, which in 1993 earned the honour of being added to the State Department's list of countries supporting terrorism, was mentioned in the 1992 annual report as having persisted in harbouring representatives of Middle East terrorist groups. Khartoum's increasing support for radical Arab terrorist groups is directly related to the extension the Sudanese National Islamic Front's (NIF) influence over the government. "Elements of the Abu Nidal organisation, the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist organisations continue to find refuge in Sudan," it charged.

Equally alarming to officials in Washington has been Sudan's strong ties to Iran, alleged to be a leading state sponsor of terrorism.

Following Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's December 1991 visit to Khartoum, a high level Sudanese military delegation visited Tehran during the summer of 1992 to seek increased support for the government's campaign against insurgents in the south. "Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps personnel are involved in training the NIF-controlled national militia, the People's Defense Forces, used as an adjunct to the Sudanese armed forces," it said.

In Turkey, the home-grown Dev Sol revolutionary leftist group remains a major threat to Americans, with US military personnel and commercial facilities being the prime targets. It failed in two attacks in Istanbul in April and July in attempts to assassinate a US religious hospital administrator and to blow up the US consulate general.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (KWP) also poses a growing threat to American personnel and facilities in Turkey even though it is not targetting them directly, while the shadowy Turkish Islamic Jihad is a definite threat.

In March 1992 the group killed an Israeli diplomat. "The group appears to be comprised of local fundamentalists sympathetic to Tehran. All of its targets have been external enemies of the Iranian regime."

Further east, the report made a passing reference to the former Soviet Union, noting that the Central Asian region in particular offered "potentially fertile ground for some Middle Eastern groups, particularly Iran-supported Hizbollah, to operate or seek recruits".

More specifically in the Middle East region, the report counted 79 international terrorist incidents in 1992, the same number as the previous year, the majority of which it said were Iraqi-sponsored attacks against United Nations personnel working in Iraq.

For its part, Iran is carrying on with its state sponsorship of terrorism, "including its efforts to build closer ties to non-Shia terrorist groups," thereby posing significant threats in the Middle East, Europe, Africa and Latin America, the report claimed.

Despite strong UN sanctions against Iraq, the regime of President Saddam Hussein nevertheless carried out the murder of a defecting Iraqi nuclear scientist on the streets of Amman late in the year and Baghdad continued to provide its traditional support and safe haven to what Washington considers "terrorist Palestinian elements" such as Palestine Liberation Front leader, Abul Abbas.

While Syria has not been directly linked to any terrorist acts since 1986, the report said it still supports and harbours Arab and non-Arab terrorist organisations in Syria and in parts of Lebanon in which Syrian troops are deployed.

"In defiance of UN resolutions demanding that support cease, Libya continued to sponsor international terrorism during 1992," the State Department charged, adding that Tripoli had defied international demands that those indicted in the West for the bombings of Pan Am Flight 103 and UTA Flight 772 be handed over for trial.

"Gaddafi's regime made partial moves to close some terrorist training camps but still provides support and a safe haven to such notorious terrorists as Abu Nidal," it said.

In neighbouring Egypt, 1992 saw a marked increase in domestic terrorism as Islamic radicals expanded their campaign to overthrow the secular government of President Hosni Mubarak by targetting foreign tourists, Egyptian Coptic Christians and security officials, although there were no attacks against Americans or US interests.

In North Africa, the report provides a mixed picture of an improved situation in Tunisia but a deteriorating one in Algeria which suffered from a rash of terrorist attacks, including a bloody explosion at Algiers' Houari Boumedienne International Airport on August 26 that killed 12 people.

International terrorism by Palestinian groups, the survey said, decreased from 17 incidents in 1991 to three in 1992, much of it attributed to restrictions slapped on these groups' activities by Syria and Libya. But, it added, internecine struggles between the movements generated significant violence.

The Islamic fundamentalists of Hamas were behind an upsurge in attacks against Israeli targets, notably in the Occupied Territories as well as in Israel proper. "Over the course of the year, Hamas' anti-military and terrorist operations displayed a new daring and sophistication."

In a two-page spread on Israel and the Occupied Territories, the report lists a series of Palestinian or Lebanese attacks on the Jewish state and settlers along the Israelis retaliatory operations. But it devoted only one paragraph to Jewish extremists which it said the Israeli government believed to be responsible for several anti-Palestinian and anti-US incidents in 1992.

In Lebanon, long viewed by the US and the West as a sanctuary for terrorists, the number of incidents in 1992 dropped to six, compared to 32 in 1991. During the year the central government continued to extend its authority beyond the Beirut and Tripoli areas to parts of the Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley.

"The Lebanese government, however, has not taken steps necessary to disarm Hizbollah or to expand its authority into areas of southern Lebanon controlled by Hizbollah or the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army," stressed the American survey.

In its overview of state-sponsored terrorism, the report said that the United States, its allies and increasingly the United Nations Security Council "recognise the need to make those governments that support, tolerate and engage in international terrorism pay a significant price for doing so."

It said Iran was the most active of all the state sponsors, with Iranian agents or surrogate groups carrying out more than 20 attacks in 1992. Tehran's primary targets were opponents of the regime and Israeli interests. Iraq was the second on the list of villains, followed in turn by Libya, Syria, Cuba and North Korea.
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Title Annotation:Current Affairs; international terrorism
Author:Fadil, Magda Abu
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Nov 1, 1993
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