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Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1990

Middle East Overview

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The number of international terrorist incidents in the Middle East dropped sharply, from 193 in 1989 to 63 in 1990. The incidence of Middle Eastern terrorist "spillover" into other parts of the world also declined from 43 to 21 attacks.

International terrorism by Palestinians declined. Although Iraq encouraged many of the Palestinian terrorist groups to conduct operations against the international coalition opposing Baghdad's invasion of Kuwait, at year's end no such attacks had been carried out.

Following the abortive 30 May Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) attack on the beaches at Tel Aviv, President Bush announced his decision to suspend the 18-month-old dialogue between the United States and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The dialogue began in December 1988, after PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat publicly renounced terrorism, accepted UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, and affirmed Israel's right to exist.

The PLF is a constituent group of the PLO, and its leader, Abu Abbas, is a member of the PLO Executive Committee. After the attempted 30 May raid, the PLO refused U.S. calls to condemn the attack, disassociate itself from the PLF, and take steps to discipline Abu Abbas.

A number of Palestinian groups, including the PLF and other members of the PLO, have made public statements supporting Iraq and opposing the multinational forces deployed to enforce the UN resolutions regarding Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Saddam Hussein has attempted to portray his aggression against Kuwait as part of the struggle for a Palestinian homeland. Iraq's belligerence and promise of support have attracted those groups long favoring the use of force to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict. The United States rejects the linkage of these two issues. The PLF, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) are among those who have threatened terrorist attacks against Western, Israeli, and moderate Arab targets in connection with the Gulf crisis.

No new Western hostages were kidnapped this year. Eight Western hostages -- including two Americans, Robert Polhill and Frank Reed -- were released. Although these are positive developments, Iranian-supported Hizballah members in Lebanon continue to hold some 14 Western hostages, six of them American citizens. Three of these hostages (Englishman Alec Collett, Italian Alberto Molinari, and American Lt. Col. William R. Higgins) are feared dead.

Despite the decline in the number of international terrorist incidents undertaken by Middle Eastern groups, domestic terrorism continued in Israel, the occupied territories and Lebanon (see inset on the Palestinian Uprising). The 8 October Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif) incident claimed the lives of 17 Arab civilians, killed by Israeli security forces. Internecine conflicts within and between Palestinian and Lebanese terrorist groups added to the violence.

Iraq's sponsorship of Palestinian terrorist groups (discussed in detail in the section on State-Sponsored Terrorism) poses a great threat. Iran's links to Hizballah, other Islamic fundamentalist groups, and the Palestinians strengthened during the year, increasing the potential that these groups will continue to use terrorism to advance their political goals. The competition for influence in politically unstable Lebanon could also spawn terrorist attacks.


There were no acts of international terrorism in Algeria in 1990. As a longstanding policy, Algeria has permitted radical groups, some of whom engage in terrorism, to live and work in Algeria. Algeria draws a distinction between terrorism, which it condemns, and violence on the part of national liberation movements, which it believes can be legitimate. The ANO, for example, was allowed to keep a representative in Algiers even after Algerian officials condemned an attempt to kidnap an ANO defector. Algiers also allowed representatives of two terrorist groups -- the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Abu Abbas's Palestine Liberation Front -- to appear on national television to rally popular support for Iraq.

Algerian officials are increasingly concerned that domestic groups may resort to terrorism. That concern has grown since August when Iraq's Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and since Islamic fundamentalist groups gained a majority of seats in local elections. However, at year's end no such incidents had been reported.


The most significant terrorist incident of 1990 was the assassination of Dr. Rif'at al Mahgoub, Speaker of the People's Assembly, on 12 October. Dr. Mahgoub's assassins are believed to be associated with radical Islamic elements linked to the assassination of President Anwar Sadat.

There were no terrorist attacks against U.S. personnel in Egypt in 1990, but two attacks were carried out against Israeli citizens. In the first, an Israeli tour bus was ambushed on 4 February between Cairo and Ismailiya, Egypt. The attack, claimed by members of the PIJ, left 11 people, including nine Israelis, dead and 17 others injured. The second terrorist incident occurred 25 November when a lone gunman dressed in an Egyptian paramilitary uniform crossed the Egyptian-Israeli border near Eilat and opened fire on a bus and three vehicles carrying Israeli soldiers and workers. Four Israelis were killed, and 27 were wounded. The perpetrator fled back across the border where he was immediately arrested by Egyptian authorities. Egyptian officials also report the arrests of several suspects in the Mahgoub assassination and Israeli tour bus attack. Egypt has no specific laws dealing with terrorism as a separate issue, although the state of emergency dating from the assassination of President Sadat remains in effect.

The Egyptian Government has waged a campaign to limit the terrorist threat posed by Islamic extremists, Egyptian nationalist groups, and radical Palestinians. Twenty members of Egypt's Revolution -- a radical group espousing the militant nationalism of former Egyptian President Nasser --are on trial for the May 1987 attack on U.S. Embassy personnel and for earlier attacks on Israeli diplomats. The Egyptian prosecution has requested the death penalty for 10 members of the group and life sentences for the rest.

Khaled Abdel Nasser, son of the late president, returned to Egypt from Yugoslavia after three years in exile. He has been identified as the head of the Egypt's Revolution organization. He too is on trial for masterminding the group's attacks on U.S. and Israeli interests.


Israel remained the prime target of Palestinian terrorist attacks during 1990. Escalating tensions resulted in a number of serious incidents during the year.

On 30 May, Israeli forces foiled an attempted seaborne assault against the Tel Aviv beachfront. Four terrorists were killed and 12 captured. The attack was carried out by the Palestine Liberation Front, led by Abu Abbas, with substantial assistance from Libya. PLO Chairman Arafat's failure to take concrete actions against the PLF, a constituent PLO member, led to the suspension of U.S. dialogue with the PLO.

Other terrorist attacks against Israel in 1990 include:

-- A series of letter bombs addressed to Jewish and Christian community leaders were discovered at Tel Aviv's central post office in early January.

-- Nine Israelis were killed and 17 wounded in Egypt on 4 February when their tour bus was ambushed by Arab terrorists. The Palestine Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack.

-- On 28 May, one person was killed and nine others wounded when a pipe bomb exploded in a crowded Jerusalem market. Separate unconfirmed claims of responsibility were made by the Palestine Islamic Jihad, the Abu Musa group, and the General Command of Fatah's Al-Asifah Forces.

-- On 23 June, a pipe bomb exploded at Ein Gedi on the Dead Sea. Two Israelis and two Germans were injured.

-- On 28 July, a pipe bomb exploded on the beach in Tel Aviv, killing a Canadian tourist and injuring 20 other people.

-- On 21 October, a Palestinian stabbed and killed three Israelis and wounded another in Jerusalem. The attack was claimed by two anonymous callers, one claiming to be a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and another claiming to represent Fatah's Force 17 organization.

In early January, a Jewish extremist group known as the Sicarii claimed responsibility for planting a dummy grenade under the car of the wife of Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Peres. The Sicarii also threatened attacks on four Israeli members of Parliament because of their support for a Palestinian peace demonstration. Israeli authorities arrested a suspected leader of the group in June. Israeli peace activists and prominent Palestinian figures received a number of death threats from supporters of Israeli extremist leader Meir Kahane following his assassination on 5 November in New York.

Palestinian groups -- both PLO hardliners and Syrian backed factions outside the PLO -- attempted more than a dozen cross-border raids from Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt. In most cases, the precise targets of the attacks are unclear. Some border infiltrations were the work of disgruntled individuals acting alone or with a few colleagues, but with no discernible connection to any organized group. On 25 November, an Egyptian policeman, believed to have acted alone, ambushed a tour bus of Israelis near the Egyptian border and killed four Israelis.

Israel has consistently taken a strong stand against terrorism and has devoted significant resources to anti- terrorist planning and training.

Israel places strong emphasis on security measures designed to protect its citizens and visitors, the best known of which deal with protection for the Israeli national air carrier El Al at home and abroad. Public awareness of the terrorist threat is also stressed. Ordinary citizens are trained in counterterrorist tactics, and even schoolchildren receive instruction in bomb detection.

Israel also uses more forceful measures to thwart or deter attacks. Israeli military forces have launched preemptive and retaliatory airstrikes and commando raids against suspected terrorist installations in neighboring Lebanon. Israel continued to hold Sheikh Abdul Karim Obeid, a prominent Hizballah cleric from South Lebanon, whom Israeli forces abducted in July 1989, apparently in an effort to exchange him for Israeli hostages and POW's held by Lebanese and other groups.

A number of violent incidents in Israel in 1990, such as the 2 December stabbing of three Israelis on a bus near Tel Aviv, increased Israeli fears that the Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories is spilling over into Israel. During 1990, the West Bank and Gaza were sealed off from Israel on several occasions when the threat was deemed to be especially high. In December, Israeli authorities issued identity cards to a large number of Palestinian activists on the West Bank, barring them from entering Israel. Israel also issued deportation orders for four Arabs accused of being activists in the Islamic group Hamas.

Israeli courts generally hand out strict prison sentences to those convicted of terrorist attacks. The captured terrorists from the failed 30 May seaborne assault near Tel Aviv received 30-year prison sentences in December. In October, Mahmud Abed Atta, a U.S. citizen who is a member of the Abu Nidal organization (ANO), was extradited from the United States to Israel where he will face trial for a 1984 attack on a civilian bus.

In December, an Israeli prison review panel released three convicted members of the Jewish Underground after they had served six years of their 10-year sentences. The three had been convicted of murdering three Arab students, wounding over 30 others, and planting explosives. They were originally given life sentences in 1985, but Israeli President Chaim Herzog commuted the sentences to 10 years in 1989.


Over the course of the year, a Jordan-based leader of the Palestine Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for several attacks against Israel and repeatedly threatened U.S. and Israeli interests. Jordanian authorities briefly detained five PIJ members in June. The PIJ has threatened Western interests and has targeted U.S. and other officials for assassination.

Escalating Arab-Israeli tensions throughout 1990 raised concerns that the Palestinian uprising in the Israeli- occupied territories might spill over into Jordan. The number of armed infiltrations across the demarcation boundary with Israel increased in 1990. These infiltrations were carried out mainly by individuals with no known connection to any political organization. In July, Jordanian authorities intercepted an armed Palestinian guerrilla squad attempting to infiltrate from Syria.

The Jordanian Government is committed to the fight against terrorism. Jordan has increased security along its borders to prevent infiltrations and has cooperated in international counterterrorist efforts.

The Palestinian Uprising

The Palestinian uprising, or intifadah, which has persisted in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip since December 1987, continued throughout 1990. Clashes between Palestinian protestors and Israeli troops and settlers in the occupied territories resulted in hundreds of injuries and the deaths of 140 Palestinians and 10 Israelis. Seventeen Palestinians were killed in an 8 October clash on the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif), the worst incident of the year.

The intifadah as a whole is primarily a civil insurrection that contains elements of terrorism in specific instances. Acts of intifadah violence frequently go unclaimed and are not clearly tied to specific goals and objectives or organized groups.

Without an identifiable perpetrator or motive, it is difficult to apply the criteria of our working definition of terrorism to most intifadah events.

Intifadah casualties for 1990 were fewer than in 1989. Security authorities sought to reduce the levels of violence during the summer of 1990 by measures designed to avoid confrontation, and Palestinian and Israeli casualties declined during July, August, and September. During the last quarter of 1990, however, a series of incidents -- including the immolation of an Israeli Defense Force reservist in the Gaza Strip and the killing of 17 Palestinians on the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif) in Jerusalem -- and widespread Palestinian support for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, led to an emotional heightening of tensions on both sides and an increase in incidents and casualties.

In 1990 there was an increase in violence by Palestinians against Palestinians, including 165 murders that appear to have been politically motivated.


The Kuwaiti Government has opposed terrorism and has cooperated with other governments, including the United States, in this regard, both before and after the 2 August invasion. Despite pressure from terrorist groups in Lebanon, the Amir consistently refused to pardon 15 pro- Iranian Shia terrorists imprisoned in Kuwait for the December 1983 wave of bombings in which the U.S. Embassy was attacked. After the Iraqi invasion, the prisoners, all members of the Dawa Party, either escaped or were released, according to press reports.

Before the Iraqi invasion, Kuwait was concerned about a terrorist threat from Iran, largely via Tehran's manipulation of Kuwaiti Shia. In May, four pro-Iranian Kuwaiti Shia were tried in Kuwait's State Security Court for numerous subversive acts, including attempting to blow up a Kuwait Airways building in 1988 and complicity in a failed bombing attempt in 1987. One of the accused was implicated in the 1989 Hajj bombing in Mecca. The defendants were acquitted on all counts on 18 June 1990. Iran had severely criticized the trial. Earlier in the year, a large number of Iranians, termed infiltrators by the Kuwaiti press, entered Kuwait illegally by sea. Most were captured within days of their entry.


While the number of international terrorist incidents in Lebanon fell to nine in 1990, from 16 in 1989 and 28 in 1988, and the local security situation improved somewhat later in 1990, the country remains deeply fractured, as it has for most of the past 16 years.

Until the 13 October ouster of dissident Gen. Michel Awn, the Lebanese central government controlled only a small part of the country. The bulk of Lebanon came under the control of Syria, Israel, and militias owing allegiance to particular individuals, including General Awn. Many domestic terrorist incidents occurred in 1990, mainly as a result of internecine struggles between the Lebanese factions.

Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Libya continue to support radical groups who engage in terrorism in Lebanon. These countries offer varying degrees of financial, military, and other support to such groups.

In its efforts to rebuild the country, the Lebanese Government has attempted to disband militias, increased pressure on Israel to withdraw from the south, and tried to expand its control southward, but it has had only limited success. The government has not been able to apprehend or prosecute terrorists but has frequently condemned terrorist incidents and called for the release of foreign hostages.

Several international terrorist groups including radical Palestinians, the Japanese Red Army, the Kurdish Worker's Party, the Abu Nidal organization, and the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA), maintain training facilities on Lebanese soil, chiefly in the Syrian-garrisoned Bekaa Valley. Hizballah continues to hold a number of Western hostages, including six Americans. All have been maltreated by their captors, and some were reportedly exposed to poisonous substances such as arsenic. Others were kept chained for long periods of time. The United States continues to urge countries with influence over the hostage holders to use that influence to effect the hostages' unconditional release and to secure an accounting of all hostages who may have died while in captivity.

An American who, with his wife, ran an orphanage in the Israeli self-declared security zone in South Lebanon, was assassinated by individuals believed to be local inhabitants, who apparently thought he was aiding the resettlement of East European Jews.

No Westerners were taken hostage in 1990. In fact, two Swiss hostages, Irish-British dual national Keenan, U.S. hostages Polhill and Reed, one Belgian hostage, and two French hostages were released.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Government concern regarding terrorism deepened in the face of continued attacks from Iran and new threats from Iraq at the onset of the Gulf crisis. Pro-Iranian radical Shia terrorists were believed responsible for the assassination of three Saudi diplomats in Bangkok on 1 February and serious injury to another in the bombing of a Saudi Embassy vehicle in Ankara in January -- undertaken in reaction to the Saudi execution of 16 Kuwaiti Shia in 1989 for their involvement in the Hajj bombings of that same year. Later in 1990, Iraq threatened to attack targets within the country, Saudi interests elsewhere in the Middle East and Europe, and Saudi officials and members of the royal family.

Terrorist acts are capital crimes under Saudi law. In addition to strong statements condemning several attacks against Saudis abroad, the Foreign Ministry published a rebuttal in April of Iranian accusations against Saudi Arabia, including a list of Iran's misdeeds over the past three years and specifically pinning responsibility for the 1989 Mecca bombings on the Iranian Government.

Saudi security officials continue to cooperate with U.S. security agencies on information exchange and training programs. In March, the Saudis took steps to identify illegal residents and to either regularize their status or deport them. This process was accelerated during the Gulf crisis. The Saudis also put additional security measures in effect during the 1990 Hajj, which passed without a terrorist incident.


The five Abu Nidal organization (ANO) terrorists tried and convicted for their roles in the bombings in 1988 at the Acropole Hotel and the Sudan Club remained imprisoned at year's end, but they were released in January 1991. The Sudanese courts had sentenced the five to death but later ruled that the families of the victims, who were all British or Sudanese, had the option of accepting cash payments as compensation -- in which case the terrorists would not be executed. The British families refused to accept payment of "blood money" but also opposed the death penalty.

Khartoum has a close relationship with Iraq and increasingly warm ties to Iran. In 1990, Sudan signed an "integration agreement" with Libya that, among other things, permits the Libyans much easier access to Sudan.


On 22 May 1990, the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) united with the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) to form the Republic of Yemen (ROY).

The PDRY remained on the U.S. Government's list of state sponsors of terrorism until unification. The new unified government was not placed on the terrorist list. However, regular discussions between the United States and Yemen, to ensure that the ROY provides no support to international terrorist groups, have continued since unification.

To address these concerns, the ROY put in place tighter procedures for issuing passports, particularly diplomatic passports, to non-Yemenis, including Palestinians. The government also stated that military training facilities would no longer be available to non-Yemenis. In the past, Palestinians were regularly issued PDRY passports and used a camp outside Aden for military training.

[End of Document]

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