97344. Terrorism Declines But Threat Remains High
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON -- Global terrorism dropped to a 25-year low in
1996, but last year's attacks were much more deadly than in the
past, according to a State Department report released April 30.
The number of international terrorist incidents dropped from
a peak of 665 in 1987 to 296 in 1996, State Department officials
said. The death toll, however, rose from 163 in 1995 to 311 in
1996. Officials attribute this increase to more ruthless attacks
on mass civilian targets and use of more powerful bombs.
"Terrorists proved again in 1996 that they can command a
worldwide audience for their crimes and cause great disruption,
fear and economic damage," the report states.
While the number of international attacks dropped, State
Department officials said, the threat of terrorism remains high.
A growing concern is the possible use of materials of mass
destruction, officials said.
Governments throughout the world have condemned terrorism,
which has led to a decline in state-sponsored terrorism,
officials said. Iran, a primary state sponsor, has not been
deterred, however. "As terrorism becomes more global, cooperation
among states is indispensable," the report states.
U.S. counterterrorist policy is three-pronged. First, make
no deals with terrorists nor submit to blackmail. Second, treat
terrorists as criminals, pursue them aggressively and apply the
rule of law. Third, impose economic, diplomatic and political
sanctions on states that sponsor and support terrorists.
"We will never surrender to terror," President Clinton said
in April. "America will never tolerate terrorism. America will
never abide terrorists. Wherever they come from, wherever they
go, we will go after them. We will not rest until we have brought
them all to justice."
Two-thirds of the 1996 international terrorist attacks were
"minor acts of politically motivated violence against commercial
targets," State Department officials said. The other third
included Marxist terrorists in Lima, Peru, seizing the Japanese
ambassador's residence and hundreds of hostages. Suicide bombings
in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem aimed at destroying the Middle East
peace process killed more than 60. A truck bombing at Khobar
Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in June killed 19 U.S. airmen
and wounded hundreds more.
DoD shifted into high gear to thwart terrorism in the Middle
East and elsewhere following the Khobar Towers attack. The
tragedy sparked a vigorous, DoD-wide campaign to safeguard U.S.
DoD's goal is to be ready for any contingency. About 30
nations now possess chemical and biological weapons programs and
at least 12 have advanced missile capabilities, U.S. Defense
Secretary William S. Cohen said recently at a terrorism
conference at University of Georgia in Athens.
Adversaries may use a variety of creative means searching
for an Achilles' heel, Cohen said. Cyber soldiers and saboteurs
can threaten the nation with computer viruses or logic bombs.
Terrorists who resort to weapons of mass destruction can destroy
hundreds of thousands of lives.
"This scenario of a nuclear, biological or chemical weapon
in the hands of a terrorist cell or rogue nation is not only
plausible, it's quite real," Cohen warned. "The information
superhighway is not traveled only by pilgrims and high priests of
peace. Sick scoundrels, religious zealots, flat-out fanatics
and extreme fundamentalists have entered the stream of electronic
commerce and communication."
Cohen likened terrorism to a chronic disease. He said the
nation must be "constantly alert to the first signs and symptoms
of these cancers that seek to destroy our life blood and the body
politic of our nation."
Algeria, India, Pakistan and other countries are seeing
growing domestic terrorism, according to the State Department
report. The United States has trained more than 19,000 foreign
law enforcement officials from more than 80 countries in airport
security, bomb detection, maritime security, VIP protection
hostage rescue and crisis management, officials said.
U.S. officials are also ramping up against the threat of
domestic terrorism. As part of DoD's Domestic Preparedness
Program, military teams are helping federal, state and local
emergency response officials in 120 American cities prepare for
possible chemical/biological attacks.
The need for such training was highlighted in April in
Washington, D.C., when a package oozing a red-gelatinous
substance was delivered to a religious organization, Cohen said.
Office workers were quarantined and streets barricaded for hours
as local officials tried to identify the substance, which was
later found to be nonhazardous.
The World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings took
terrorism from the realm of the international to America's home
turf, Cohen said. He described domestic terrorism as "a real
threat that's here today" and one heightened by the Information
Age. The Internet, he noted, offers information on how to make
bombs and other weapons -- domestic terrorism will likely
intensify in the years ahead as more groups access this kind of
information and have the ability to use it.