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Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1989

The Year in Review

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The level of international terrorism worldwide in 1989 declined sharply from that of 1988, dropping by almost 38 percent from 856 incidents in 1988 to 528. The Middle East continued to experience the largest number of incidents of international terrorism, incurring 193 attacks -- 37 percent of the total worldwide. The proportion of international terrorism connected with the Middle East

GE 2 POL506 increases to 45 percent, however, when Middle East spillover attacks into other regions are added. These compare to statistics of 36 percent and 41 percent respectively in 1988. With 131 attacks, or 25 percent of the total, Latin America ranked second. Western Europe held third with 96 incidents. With the reduction of Afghan-sponsored attacks in Pakistan, Asia dropped to fourth with 55 incidents. Africa was fifth with 48 attacks. Four international terrorist attacks took place in North America.

In past years, serious violence by Palestinians against other Palestinians in the Occupied Territories was included as international terrorism in the database of worldwide incidents because Palestinians are considered stateless persons. This resulted in such incidents being treated differently from intra-ethnic violence in other parts of the world. As a result of further review of the nature of intra-Palestinian violence, such violence is no longer included in the U.S. government's statistical database on international terrorism. This new refinement in the 1989 statistical base ensures its continuing accuracy and reliability. Intra-Palestinian violence, however, remains a serious concern.

One incident was recorded in Eastern Europe during the year, although Soviet and East European interests were attacked in other parts of the world.

Several factors were responsible for the major decrease in international terrorism:

-- The Afghan Government curtailed its terrorist campaign in Pakistan after Soviet troops were withdrawn.

-- Yasser Arafat's renunciation of terrorism resulted in a sharp decline in operations by groups affiliated with the PLO.

-- Dissension within the Abu Nidal organization (ANO)-- previously one of the most active and deadly terrorist groups--and its focus on Lebanese militia matters decreased the group's operations.

-- A number of states involved in terrorism, including Libya and Syria, remained wary of getting caught sponsoring terrorists and reduced their support. Iran was a notable exception to the trend.

-- Partly in response to internal problems and enhanced counterterrorist measures, many terrorist groups focused on building their infrastructure throughout the world to support attacks in the future.

-- Counterterrorist capabilities continued to improve in most parts of the world, and cooperation among governments increased.

There was only one "spectacular" international terrorist operation in 1989 -- the bombing of UTA Flight 772 over Niger on 19 September. That attack accounted for 171 deaths, the greatest number associated with a single attack during the year. Investigators have not determined who was responsible. Terrorist "spectaculars" may well be becoming more rare as there seems to be a growing perception among terrorists that they have not achieved their goals with operations such as airline hijackings and that such attacks are increasingly difficult to conduct. Moreover, some of the groups most capable of carrying out such operations have focused their energies elsewhere.

The depiction of the alleged execution of U.S. Marine Corps Colonel William R. Higgins on 31 July captured headlines and brought worldwide condemnation of the Iranian-backed terrorists responsible. Elsewhere, narco-traffickers in Colombia are believed responsible for several horrific attacks using terrorist methods to achieve their criminal goals. This likely includes the late November bombing of a domestic Avianca flight out of Bogota in which all 111 on board perished.

The 528 international terrorist incidents recorded in 1989 resulted in 390 victims killed and 397 wounded. Fourteen terrorists were killed and twenty-three wounded. Reflecting the decline in the number of incidents, this represents a drop from 1988 when 638 victims were killed and 1,125 wounded. In 1988, 22 terrorists were killed and six wounded. The downing of UTA Flight 772 emphasized the continuing growth of casualties in Africa, from a total of 125 killed and 130 wounded in 1988 to 269 killed and 39 wounded in 1989. Asia experienced the most significant decline in casualties with the reduction in the Afghan campaign in Pakistan, dropping from 156 killed and 599 wounded in 1988 to 57 killed and 153 wounded in 1989. International terrorism in the Middle East accounted for 29 people killed and 111 injured. Twenty-one people were killed and 73 wounded in Latin America. In Western Europe, there were 14 victims killed and 21 wounded.

The number of terrorist attacks and casualties suffered by the United States declined in 1989 from 1988, but U.S. interests continued to be the most frequently targeted by international terrorists. In 1988, 193 attacks were directed against the United States, compared with 165 in 1989, a decline of 15 percent. Casualties among U.S. citizens also declined, from 192 killed and 40 wounded in 1988 to 16 killed and 19 injured in 1989. The drop reflects, for the most part, the absence of a major incident that caused a large number of casualties, such as the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988. The largest share of the attacks, or 64 percent, took place in Latin America, with bombings of oil pipelines partly owned by U.S. companies accounting for most of the incidents. Almost 14 percent of the anti-U.S. incidents took place in Asia, 13 percent in Western Europe, 5 percent in the Middle East, and 1 percent in Africa.

International terrorists attacked the citizens and property of 74 countries in a total of 60 countries. The United States was the most frequently targeted, followed by Israel. With the continuing increase in security for official interests, terrorists again carried out most of the attacks -- 75 percent of the total worldwide -- against businesses, tourists, and other nonofficial targets. Attacks against international organizations and government targets decreased to 19 percent of the total. Attacks on noncombatant military targets increased marginally, to 41 from 38 in 1988, while there had been 88 in 1987.

The number of attacks by type followed a well established pattern. Terrorists relied most frequently on bombings (44 percent of the total); arson was second (28 percent). Terrorists used firearms and other types of handheld weapons in 14 percent of the attacks. The number of kidnappings declined slightly but was used in about five percent of the attacks. Approximately 44 percent of the kidnappings occurred in Latin America, with 19 percent in the Middle East.

The number of terrorist incidents that could be attributed to state sponsors declined in 1989. Evidence indicated 58 incidents involved state sponsors in 1989, a drop of 67 percent from 1988 when 176 such attacks were noted. The decrease was partly due to the ability of a number of states that have aided terrorist groups to effectively mask their involvement. The greatest portion of the drop resulted from Kabul's apparent curtailment of its bombing campaign in Pakistan following the removal of Soviet military forces. Iran's involvement in terrorism was not detected as frequently in 1989, but we suspect an upturn in its support during the second half of the year reflects a return to a greater pace of operations. Libya and Syria were not directly tied to any attacks in 1989, but they continue to provide various forms of support for several terrorist groups.

The spillover of Middle Eastern terrorism outside that region accounted for 43 attacks in 1989, down from 45 in 1988. The attacks in 1989 resulted in 181 people killed and 15 wounded. Thirty-one incidents took place in Western Europe. Ten incidents took place in the United Kingdom and mostly were attacks on bookstores and businesses connected with Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. Of the remainder, six were in Turkey; four in Pakistan and Belgium, and three in the United States; two each in Austria, France, and the Netherlands; and one each in Afghanistan, Canada, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Niger, Senegal, Sweden, Thailand, and West Germany.

Despite the decline in international attacks in 1989, terrorists retain the potential for resuming a greater level of violence, particularly against the United States. Terrorists in the Philippines appear more likely to broaden their targeting of U.S. citizens to increase pressure on the United States to withdraw, and rebel soldiers may retaliate for U.S. support to the Aquino government during the failed coup attempt in December. In Latin America, U.S. interests in Panama may be targeted by diehard supporters of General Noriega, and other radicals in the region and in other parts of the world may use Washington's military action in Panama as a pretext for stepped up targeting. Other developments worldwide could spark increased terrorist operations; rivalries among Middle Eastern governments -- particularly between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which has already generated a campaign of violence by Iran -- and emerging alliances among Middle Eastern sponsors and groups, such as between Iran and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) and other radical Palestinian groups, are of special concern. Ethnic groups in the Caucasus, Moldavia, and other areas of the Soviet Union may resort to terrorism to achieve their goals, as could some of the numerous factions throughout Eastern Europe. Emigre communities in Western Europe and the United States could be drawn into supporting the violence. West European terrorist groups remain a major threat. Basque and Northern Ireland terrorists are unlikely to reduce the pace of their attacks, and other groups, like the Red Army Faction (RAF) in West Germany and the Revolutionary Organization 17 November in Greece, have increased their technical capabilities. In Turkey, domestic problems seem to be fostering an increase of violence by long-dormant groups.

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