Saddam Hussein has called for a jihad or `holy war' against those who support the UN condemnation of Iraq. On September 13, in response to President Bush's statement that he would hold Iraq responsible for terrorist attacks against the United States, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry warned that the US military presence in the Persian Gulf would `draw a natural reaction from the Arab and Islamic masses.' Earlier, Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz had said that Baghdad is under no moral obligation to refrain from terrorism if threatened by the French, British, or US governments.
Iraq has a worldwide network available to support terrorist operations. In the past, Baghdad has used civilian and military intelligence officers, diplomatic facilities, Iraqi Airways offices, and Iraqi cultural centers to support its own operations, as well as those of non-Iraqi groups, primarily against its regional rivals, Iran and Syria, and Iraqi dissident targets. Baghdad also offers its support to Palestinian terrorist groups. Many of these groups say they are willing to support Iraq by mounting terrorist attacks against Western, Israeli, and moderate Arab facilities and personnel.
Several hundred civilians--mostly from the United States, Western Europe, and Japan--have been dispersed to strategic locations throughout Iraq, and thousands of other civilians have been denied permission to leave the country. Some of those who have left Kuwait and Iraq report that they were forcibly removed from their homes and separated from their families.
Iraq's record shows that it regards terrorism as a legitimate means of striking its enemies, both foreign and domestic. During the 1970s, Baghdad gave logistical support to elements within the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as well as to other groups which advocated armed struggle against Israel and the West. Baghdad has hosted elements of the PLO's security organization (Fatah), including Abdullah al-Hamid Labib (Colonel Hawari) who was linked to a wave of bomb attacks throughout Europe in the 1980s. In 1988, he was convicted in absentia by a French court for his part in assembling an arms cache in Paris.
Saddam Hussein has for years used acts of terrorism against political opponents of his regime. Baghdad sponsored three assassination of exiled Iraqi dissidents, in the UK, Sudan, and Norway.
Iraq hosts dissident organizations which use terrorism against the governments of Syria and Iran, using these ties to increase pressure on his rivals during periods of increased tension. In late 1980, six Syrian dissident organizations operating out of Iraq formed the Syrian National Salvation Front which advocates the use of armed struggle against the Assad regime. The most prominent group within the Syrian National Salvation Front is the militant Muslin Brotherhood, which maintains armed cells inside Syria and reportedly attacked its diplomats overseas in 1989 and again in Brussels in early 1990. Iraq openly supports the Mojahedin-e Khalq, the Iranian dissident group most closely associated with terrorism, and supplies its national liberation army with weapons.
Iraq has historical ties to radical Palestinian groups, including the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO), and splinter factions of George Habbash's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-Special Command (PLFP-SC) and the 15 May Organization led by master bombmaker Abu Ibrahim. The 15 May group was responsible for a number of attacks, including the bombing of a Pan Am flight over Honolulu in 1982, several Israeli embassies and El Al offices, and of department stores in London, Paris, and Brussels. In 1979, the United States designated Iraq a state sponsor of terrorism under Section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act.
Iraq's interest in terrorism against Western targets waned during the 1980-88 war with Iran. In the early 1980s, Baghdad moved closer to the policies of its moderate Arab neighbors by reducing its support for non-Palestinian terrorists and placing restrictions on many Palestinian groups. Consequently, Iraq was removed from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism in 1982. As a further example of its changed policy, Iraq expelled the Abu Nidal Organization in 1983.
Saddam Hussein resumed pursuit of his wider ambitions in the Arab world once the fighting with Iran ended. In Lebanon, Baghdad increased aid to anti-Syrian groups (Lebanese militias and Syrian dissidents) as well as to Palestinian terrorist groups with historical ties to Iraq--the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF), and Colonel Hawari. In early August 1990, Iraq intensified contacts with several Palestinian terrorist groups; some have publicly threatened terrorist attacks against Baghdad's opponents. On September 1, 1990, in response to Iraq's renewed support for terrorist groups and its detention of foreign nationals, the US government returned Iraq to the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Iraq has tried to justify its support for Palestinian groups, including those engaged in terrorism, as being consistent with its public policy of aiding the struggle for a Palestinian homeland. Iraq also views its assistance as a means of enhancing its regional prestige and, most importantly, preventing Syria from gaining control of the Palestinian movement. Over the years, most Palestinian factions reciprocated by offering Iraq political support in its war with Iran; some have helped Iraq oppose Syria.
In recent weeks, leaders of several Palestinian terrorist groups have paid tribute to Saddam Hussein and threatened operations against a wide variety of targets in the event of military action against Baghdad. Iraq's belligerence and promise of support have attracted those groups long favoring the use of force to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Palestinian groups, including members of the PLO, have pledged to use `every means available' to remove US and other forces from Saudi Arabia. Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) leader Abu Abbas has been outspoken in his support for the Iraqis. Within days of Baghdad's invasion of Kuwait, he called for his men to `open fire on the American enemy everywhere. Quake the earth under the feet of the American and NATO invaders and the collaborators.' On October 1, Abu Abbas threatned to down a US airliner if an Iraqi plane was downed as part of the UN-ordered air blockage. (The Abu Abbas-led faction of the PLF is the group which carried out the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruse ship, Achille Lauro, and the unsuccessful May 1990 seaborne attack against civilians on Israeli beaches. Abu Abbas's claim of responsibility for that attack was broadcast from an Iraqi radio station.)
Some Syrian-based Palestinian groups have expressed their willingness to support Saddam Hussein in a conflict with the United States. Their reasons may have more to do with rallying enthusiasm within their own organizations than with support for Baghdad's regional ambitions. George Habbash, leader of the PFLP, has said publicly that he is opening an office in Iraq in support of Saddam Hussein. He has pledged that his organization will carry out attacks against the United States and others opposed to Iraq in the event of a military clash. In the 1970s and early 1980s, the PFLP killed civilians in attacks on airlines and buses in the Middle East and Europe.
Ahmed Jabril's staunchly pro-Syrian Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) and the Abu Musa organization recently have pledged support for Saddam. In late September, Saddam Hussein received Shaikh Al-Tamimi, leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) movement, who declared his support for Iraq. The PIJ claimed responsibility for a February 1990 Egyptian bus attack which left 9 killed and 16 wounded.
The US believes the Abu Nidal organization--one of the most dangerous terrorist groups--is moving elements of its organization back to Baghdad from Libya. Since the ANO was founded in Iraq in 1974, its members have killed or wounded more than 900 people on 3 continents. Over the years, in return for safehaven, logistical support, and financial assistance, the organization conducted operations with the support of three state sponsors--Iraq, Syria, and Libya. In recent months, ANO leaders have killed scores of members in internecine struggles.
Sabri al-Banna, the leader of the ANO, was the PLO representative in Baghdad until 1974 when he and others broke from Fatah, denouncing the PLO leadership for its diplomatic efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. During the 1970s, the ANO carried out attacks from its base of operations in Iraq--mostly against PLO, Syrian, and Jordanian targets. In 1980, Iraqi and ANO interests began to diverge. The ANO launched a series of vicious attacks againt synagogues in Europe that became a trademark of the organization. These attacks interfered with Baghdad's attempts to attract European support for its war with Iran. Probably because of pressure from the United States and Europe, Baghdad insisted the ANO move its base of operations out of Iraq.
Syria allowed Sabri al-Banna's group--sometimes with the helping hand of Syrian intelligence officers--to expand its operations in Europe and the Middle East. In the mid-1980's, the ANO carried out attacks in the Rome and Vienna airports, continued the bombings and machine guns attacks on synagogues in Europe and Turkey, and conducted over a dozen attacks against Jordanian targets, including diplomats in Ankara and Bucharest and Jordanian airline offices in Europe.
Following public revelations of Syrian involvement in terrorist operations in Europe, the cost of Syria of its support for terrorism began to outweigh the benefits. The British prosecution of Nezar Hindawi--the man who attempted to place a bomb on an El Al fight--implicated Syrian Air Force Intelligence officials, the Syrian national airline, and Syrian Embassy personnel. In response the UK broke diplomatic relations with Syria, the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany recalled their ambassadors, and the European Community agreed to various political and economic sanctions against Syria. Under pressure from the United States. European, and friendly Arab nations, the Syrians had ANO move its headquarters to Libya in June 1987. However, Syria continued to allow ANO gunmen to operate in the Syrian controlled Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.
The ANO, which receives substantial Libyan financial and logical support (including weapons and travel documents) conducted an attack in July 1988 against the Greek cruise liner, City of Poros, in which 9 civilians were killed and 98 wounded. The ANO also killed 8 and wounded 21 in its attack on the Acropole Hotel and the British Sudan Club in Khartoum, Sudan in May 1988.
The ANO now has assets in Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, North Africa, and Europe, which could be used to conduct operations against those opposed to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. There are credible reports that ANO operatives are heading for Europe and the Middle East where authorities are taking steps to prevent terrorist attacks.
President Bush and Secretary of State Baker have responded directly to Baghdad's aggression and threats to use terrorism against Americans and others. The US government also is working in cooperation with the international community to dissuade Iraq and the groups its supports from holding hostages and attacking civilians. That cooperation also includes requests through diplomatic channels that those who have influence with Baghdad and the Palestinian terrorist groups was that influence to assure that there is no outbreak of international terrorist violence.
The threat of terrorist attack is taken seriously. Both the Government of Iraq and the groups its supports have carried out operations in the past. They have the resources and infrastructure in place to do so again. The US government has issued travel warnings and threat advisories alerting the American public and others, including foreign governments, to the threat. In response, the international community is working to enhance counter-terrorism cooperation at the operational level--from information-sharing to tightening security to protect against terrorist attack.
The United States has made it clear that it holds Iraq responsible for terrorist attacks it carries out, as well as attacks carried out by those who act on its behalf. There can be no moral defense of terrorism. The United States will continue to work with other nations to exert legal, economic, and other pressure to Baghdad to abandon its holding of civilian hostages and to end its support for terrorist groups who threaten civilians with bombings, assassination, and other violence.