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Understanding the path of terrorism.

The Shining Path, one of the world's most violent terrorist groups, is in the United States' own backyard.

Dressed in the striped garb of a keystone convict, Abimael Guzman, leader of the infamous Peruvian Shining Path terrorist movement, remained defiant, even menacing, after his arrest. Ever the inveterate Marxist, he lost none of his revolutionary fervor throughout the legal proceedings. Nevertheless, after an eight-day trial, Guzman was found guilty of terrorism, high treason, and organizing subversive groups. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole. The event was an unprecedented episode in the bloody annals of terrorism.

The Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path, is the most dangerous terrorist group in the Western Hemisphere and is considered to be one of the most ruthless terrorist organizations in the world. Shining Path operations are characterized by vicious and calculated violence. The group displays little or no regard for the innocent, as evidenced by the random nature of its attacks and its deadly campaign of assassinations and bombings in Lima, Peru.

Given the inapplicable nature of its attacks, the Shining Path comes close to being a true anarchist organization. The group's goal is to destroy Peru's governmental and social institutions and replace them with a radical Marxist-Maoist regime.

To achieve this objective, the insurgents have carried out a relentless campaign of violence and destruction for more than twelve years, which has left between twenty-four thousand and twenty-five thousand people dead. They have demonstrated that they will use all methods available and will strike any target to achieve their goals. Radically committed to its cause, the Shining Path movement has never made an attempt to negotiate and rejects dialogue with any established government.

The path of terror. The Shining Path takes its name and its political concepts from the militant communist philosophy of China's Mao Zedong, who taught that only through uninterrupted revolutionary violence can change be achieved.

The founder and moving force behind the Shining Path's creation is Abimael Guzman, a former philosophy professor at the San Cristobal de Huamanga University in Ayacucho, a small, impoverished city in the Andes Mountains. An ardent Marxist and idolizer of Mao Zedong, whom he claims to have met, (he carries a tiny icon said to be a gift from the Chinese leader), Guzman concluded that Peru was a corrupt and backward society and vowed to reform it into a Marxist state by means of armed revolution. He recruited university students and organized a revolutionary communist movement.

Guzman's grand strategy was to build a revolutionary army from the native Indian peasantry of Peru. He ascertained that these poor people, who had been exploited and oppressed for centuries, were truly a peasant class and would be fertile ground for revolutionary ideas and recruitment. In general, this proved to be true. While only a small percentage of the Indians of Peru support the Shining Path, the majority of the hard-core insurgents are indigenous Indians or mestizo (mixed race).

The organization evolved slowly and rigidly. Guzman's obsession with political ideology and total devotion to cause delineated the group's organizational character. Recruits were compelled to learn orthodox Maoist doctrine and dedicate themselves totally to the party and its principles. Those who did not conform or were suspected of being impure were purged from the ranks. This massive brainwashing turned members into a mechanical cadre of clinical killers.

Guzman sent these indoctrinated operatives into the countryside to recruit more members, build guerrilla cells, and lay the groundwork for a revolution. The majority of these cadres were Guzman's students; they were highly motivated and fanatically loyal.

The violence begins. After almost ten years of recruitment, structuring, and self-examination, the Shining Path launched its war against Peruvian society. The violence began in July 1980, and by the end of the year the Shining Path stunned the country with a series of attacks and acts of sabotage on Peru's government offices, transportation network, and electricity pylons.

From the start, Shining Path guerrilla operations were noted for their remarkable daring, detailed planning, and excessive violence. Initially, the revolutionaries carried out their operations in the rugged Andean Mountain regions, which were ideally suited for guerrilla warfare. While in these isolated strongholds, the terrorist cells trained and multiplied quickly.

By 1981, the insurgency had increased in size and scope and expanded its target list to include mines, banks, government buildings, and police posts. In early 1982, the Shining Path staged an attack on the Ayacucho jail and freed approximately three hundred prisoners. In April 1983, guerrillas captured the small Andean village of Lucanamarca. The population--close to seventy people--was massacred, including the children. Guzman later acknowledged ordering the killings because the town had rejected the movement. This indiscriminate murder of villagers would become a signature of the Shining Path's grass-roots conversion campaign.

Guzman, adapting the nom de guerre of "Presidente Gonzalo," became a character of mystical dimensions. Despite massive manhunts, he continued to elude authorities. He eventually disappeared altogether, and rumors circulated of his death. He suffered from chronic psoriasis and erythremia and was rumored to have developed cancer and died. Yet, Guzman's directives continued to be disseminated to the Shining Path cells. The mystery and intense secrecy that surrounded Guzman turned him into a legend, worshipped by his followers in cult-like fashion.

By the mid-1980s, Peru's economy and social structure were nearly paralyzed by the conflict. Shining Path attacks, combined with another insurgency by the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), wreaked havoc across the land. Foreigners were singled out as targets and were murdered and kidnapped. Several foreign missionaries, relief workers, and tourists were murdered in theatrical style. The killings wrecked Peru's fledgling tourist industry and discouraged foreign investments in the country.

The Shining Path carried out a brutal campaign of assassinating professionals, such as teachers, clergy, engineers, development and human rights workers, political party officials, government employees, and police officers. They also precipitated a vicious effort to eliminate the state's presence in the countryside by slaughtering suspected collaborators and government sympathizers in the rural areas. Savage acts of murder and mutilation were perpetrated against thousands of peasants and Indians caught in Shining Path territory. Urban guerrilla warfare also began in earnest, and Lima came under increased attack.

The Shining Path pursued its war even more relentlessly in the 1990s. By 1991, almost twenty-three thousand people had died, and more than $18 billion in damages had been lost. Peru's economy was in shambles, and the country's legal and political infrastructure was on the verge of collapse.

Violent terrorist attacks occurred on nearly a daily basis. More than 50 percent of the country was classified as an emergency zone and placed in a state of siege. Most of the terrorism was concentrated in Lima, where six hundred terrorist attacks by both the Shining Path and the MRTA caused approximately 360 deaths.

A record number of murders was perpetrated against foreigners. The most notable of these was the cold-blooded execution of three Japanese agricultural engineers on July 12, 1991, at a Japanese-funded rural research laboratory 50 miles from Lima. Japan responded by recalling fifty-two agronomists from Peru.

Ten foreign nationals were killed by the Shining Path in 1991, including a Soviet textile technician and an Australian nun. Overall, more than twenty-eight hundred people died during the year in an unknown number of terrorist attacks.

A relentless offensive was launched on Lima in 1992. Car bombs were used with deadly effect throughout the city. One blast exploded in a wealthy sector, killing eighteen people and wounding 140 others.

President Alberto Fujimori took drastic measures in April. He unilaterally dissolved Peru's congress, closed down the courts, and suspended the constitution. He also decreed mandatory twenty-five- to thirty-year sentences for convicted terrorists. Fujimori justified these dictatorial measures as the only avenue left to saving the country from total chaos. He reasoned that the only effective way to defeat the terrorists was by suspending civil liberties and giving the police and military a free hand to operate.

Despite the condemnation from the international community, especially the United States, Fujimori stayed the course and managed Peru as a semi-police state. In the following month, police stormed the Canto Grande Prison and recaptured two cell blocks that had been controlled by Shining Path prisoners for nearly six years. Using explosives and tear gas, they flushed out the guerrillas and restored control to the maximum security prison. Eleven inmates and two police officers were killed in the battle.

On September 25, after detailed intelligence work and intense surveillance, DINCOTE, Peru's antiterrorist squad, closed in on a small rented house in a suburb of Lima. In a surprise assault, the unit stormed the house and overwhelmed the suspects inside in a bloodless raid. Among those arrested were Abimael Guzman and five of his top lieutenants.

The narcotics connection. Since the beginning of its war, the Shining Path has vied for control of the Andes Mountain chain. This was achieved by late 1986. In 1987, guerrilla units pushed into the upper Huallaga Valley in northeastern Peru. This lush Amazonian region is the cocoa-growing heartland of Latin America and was hotly contested by drug traffickers, MRTA guerrillas, and U.S.-funded anti-narcotics units. The Shining Path insurgents quickly asserted themselves and became the dominant force in the valley.

To buttress the cocoa eradication effort, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents and Special Forces units were deployed in the Huallaga Valley in support of Peruvian anti-drug units. Sensing a rare political opportunity, the Shining Path declared a "war of national resistance" against the "American imperialists" and enthusiastically moved into action against them.

The guerrillas disrupted eradication programs and launched several attacks against DEA and Special Forces base camps in the valley. Furthermore, DEA and Special Forces personnel were declared to be prime targets by the Shining Path. However, no U.S. personnel were ever killed.

Its presence in the upper Huallaga Valley has reaped great rewards for the Shining Path. Recognizing that the guerrillas were a force to be reckoned with, the narcotics traffickers and producers arranged for an alliance. Revenues from cocoa production were shared with the insurgents in exchange for protection from anti-drug forces.

This arrangement has been profitable for both parties. The Shining Path has allegedly garnered more than $30 million for its war chest and has received shipments of weapons and explosives from the Colombian drug cartels.

Bases of operations. There are few areas in Peru that are not affected in some way by the Shining Path. The guerrilla force has demonstrated a ubiquitous capacity to strike anywhere in Peru. Its primary operational areas are the highland regions along the Peruvian Andes Mountain chain. These rugged and often inaccessible areas are the traditional sanctuary of the guerrillas. The movement has successfully secured the support of the peasants and has established multiple base camps and safe houses along the mountain divide.

In the urban areas, principally in Lima, the Shining Path has entrenched itself in the impoverished barrios of the city. These slums, populated by the desperately poor, are usually sympathetic to the movement. The Shining Path has a network of safe houses throughout these barrios and receives extensive aid and support from the residents. This urban base has allowed the Shining Path to carry out a devastating terrorist offensive in the capital.

"Gonzalo thought." The Shining Path is a self-sufficient force. Rejecting all outside support, the group has successfully sustained its operations for more than twelve years.

Other than a brief link with communist China in its embryonic beginnings, the Shining Path has rejected outside assistance and remains xenophobic. Its principle funding comes from the narcotics traffickers and producers. However, this can be classified as a business arrangement and is not a political coalition. Additional funds for activities come from the "revolutionary taxes" levied on the peasants in Shining Path zones of control.

The Shining Path operates in mobile terrorist cells. These units are highly disciplined and are usually led by an experienced cadre commander. Individual cells vary in size and strength. Rural Shining Path units loosely pattern their operations after the tactics used by the Vietcong during the Vietnam War. Cells operate independently, but will mass with other cells to form a stronger force, then concentrate on a single target and attempt to overwhelm it.

In urban areas, Shining Path death squads prefer to single out targets, such as lone police officers, and ambush them on the streets. As a rule, and true to strategic Maoist form, the Shining Path seldom engages regular military units or sizable police groups in decisive combat.

Bombings have always been a favored weapon of the organization. Guzman is said to have had extensive demolition training in China in the 1960s, and he has passed these skills on to his disciples. Dynamite and TNT are the primary explosives used. Car bombs are also popular. In 1992 alone, more than forty people were killed and hundreds injured by these attacks.

To date, there is no record of an attack against an air carrier. However, on January 25, 1991, a bomb exploded in the parking lot of Jorge Chevez International Airport outside Lima. One person was killed and four others were injured in the attack.

Small arms vary, but the most common weapon used by the Shining Path is the AK-47 assault rifle. Peru's military forces are mostly armed with Soviet bloc weaponry, and in the early stages of the war the insurgents stole most of their arms from the Peruvian military. However, since their contact with the drug traffickers, the Shining Path arsenal has been profoundly upgraded. Currently, new Belgian FN-FAL rifles, RPG rocket launchers, and other rocket-propelled weapons are being used by the terrorists.

The Shining Path is among the world's most secretive and disciplined subversive organizations. The hierarchy flows in descending order from Abimael Guzman. Although a highly capable organizer, Guzman is not considered to be militarily inclined. Therefore, much of the Shining Path's military operations fall to his lieutenants.

Despite its autocratic appearance, Shining Path operations conform to the principle of detailed centralized planning and decentralized execution. The guerrilla cells are generally self-reliant but receive detailed directions and guidance from their regional commanders.

A veil of secrecy and a highly compartmentalized structure shields the group from infiltration by government informers and undercover agents. The highly charged political nature of the movement provides it with an impetus unique in terrorist groups. Gonzalo thought, an odd cultist political doctrine, sustains morale and commitment, and could continue to do so, despite the loss of its creator.

Future Trends. The Shining Path clearly has the capacity to strike anywhere in Peru. Its menacing influence is also felt in neighboring Bolivia, Ecuador, and Colombia, but there is no record of any significant Shining Path operation outside Peru. The xenophobic nature of the organization could be one reason. Sightings of Shining Path operatives in Guatemala and Mexico have been reported but not confirmed. It cannot be known with certainty whether the Shining Path will ever initiate international operations. Since the capture of Guzman, the direction of the movement remains unpredictable.

As Latin America's most successful guerrilla force, the Shining Path is an inspiration to other revolutionary groups throughout the hemisphere. Leftist groups around the world admire the Shining Path and its revolutionary perseverance. In the United States, some left-wing extremist groups announce their moral support for the guerrillas, whom they view as fighting a war of liberation and resistance against political oppression and U.S. intervention. This support is usually expressed in underground publications.

As leading experts in violent insurgency, the possibility also exists that Shining Path operatives may offer their services to other international terrorist groups, including drug traffickers. The Shining Path could act as advisers or provide logistical support. It undoubtedly has the means and capital to export its deadly skills.

While Guzman's arrest was a clear victory for President Fujimori's government and a psychological blow to the Shining Path, the state of the war is uncertain. Some analysts predict that it is only a matter of time before the insurgency dies out. However, others say the war could intensify.

Since their leader's arrest and trial, members of the Shining Path have carried out numerous retaliatory attacks and their forces have killed several police officers across the country. Just hours before Guzman's judgment, the terrorists murdered four Peruvian pilots and two police officers on routine patrol in Lima.

Following the assassinations, the Shining Path delivered a communique stating that more killing will follow. Peru's long nightmare of terrorism may be far from over.

Dan W. Hammack is an operations analyst with Special Operations and Security Consultants in Leesburg, Georgia. He previously served as a U.S. Army Special Forces officer with extensive operational experience in Latin America.
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Title Annotation:Shining Path terrorist group
Author:Hammack, Dan W.
Publication:Security Management
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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