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Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1990

Overview of State-Sponsored Terrorism

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State-Sponsored Terrorism

State sponsorship of terrorism remains one of the most important factors in fostering international terrorism. A number of governments afford terrorists safehaven, travel documents, arms, training, and technical expertise. In addition to support for terrorist groups, some governments engage directly in terrorism as a tool of their foreign and domestic policies. Other governments, though not direct sponsors of terrorist groups, contribute to such groups' capabilities by allowing them unimpeded transit, permitting them to operate commercial enterprises, and allowing them to carry out recruitment and other support activities. Any type of government support for terrorist groups makes law enforcement efforts to counter terrorism much more difficult. Thus, the United States and its allies in the fight against terrorism have focused on raising the costs for those governments who support, tolerate, and engage in terrorism.

The United States currently lists Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, and Syria as state supporters of terrorism. This list is maintained pursuant to Section 6 (j) of the Export Administration Act of 1979. This and related U.S. statutes impose trade and other restrictions on countries determined by the secretary of state to have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism. The list is sent annually to Congress, though countries can be added or subtracted at any time that circumstances warrant. The People's Democratic Republic of Yemen was dropped from the list in 1990 after it merged with its northern neighbor to form the Republic of Yemen. Iraq was added to the list because of its renewed support for terrorist groups in 1990.

The international effort to eliminate state support for terrorism has achieved some notable results. International public opinion and cooperation among like-minded governments have generated great pressure on governments to change their behavior or, at a minimum, make significant efforts to hide their involvement in terrorism. This is reflected in the number of terrorist incidents attributable to governments on the U.S. list of state supporters of terrorism. The totals have declined from 176 in 1988 to 58 in 1989 and finally to 54 in 1990. While these numbers are heartening, it should be noted that the investigations into the terrorist bombings of Pan Am Flight 103 in December 1988 and of UTA Flight 772 in September 1989 continue and could uncover involvement of state sponsors.

Indeed, the continuing danger posed by state sponsorship was demonstrated in 1990 by two developments. First, the 30 May abortive seaborne attack by the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) on crowded Israeli beaches was made possible by Libyan government support for the training, provision, and transportation of the PLF terrorists. While the operation was foiled without civilian casualties, the attack significantly raised tensions in the region and resulted in the termination of the U.S.-PLO dialogue. Had the operation succeeded, it could have led to numerous casualties among bathers on the crowded Tel Aviv public beaches. Second, after Iraq's August invasion of Kuwait, the world saw Iraq assemble an impressive array of terrorist groups aimed at intimidating the international coalition opposed to the invasion.

Libya's involvement in terrorism during 1990 went beyond support for the 30 May attack on Israel. Tripoli continued to shelter and aid the notorious Abu Nidal organization (ANO), to fund other radical Palestinian groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), and to support terrorist groups elsewhere in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

Iran continued its use of and support for terrorism in 1990, targeting and assassinating Iranian dissidents overseas, attacking Saudi officials and interests, continuing to support the holders of the American and other Western hostages in Lebanon, and supporting radical Palestinian groups such as the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the PFLP-GC. Syria continued to give refuge and support to Lebanese, Palestinian, Turkish, Japanese, and Iranian terrorists while maintaining that all attacks on Israel and the occupied territories are legitimate "national liberation" efforts. North Korea continued to harbor some Japanese Red Army (JRA) terrorists and to provide some support to the New People's Army in the Philippines. Cuba continued to supply and support groups that use terrorism in El Salvador, Colombia, Peru, Honduras, and Chile, among others.


Cuba continues to serve as a haven for regional revolutionaries and to provide military training, weapons, funds, and guidance to radical subversive groups that use terrorism. The island today remains a major training center and transit point for Latin subversives and some international groups.

El Salvador's Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) has been the primary beneficiary of Cuba's clandestine support network over the last several years. Havana has been the point of origin for most of the weapons used by the FMLN for insurgent and terrorist operations in El Salvador. Other Central American groups, notably in Honduras and Guatemala, have also received Cuban aid. In South America, Chilean radical leftist groups have been the favored recipients of Cuban support, but their aid may have declined since Chile's peaceful transition to civilian rule in March 1990.

Several rebel organizations have offices and members stationed in Havana. Wounded rebels are often treated in Cuban hospitals. With the demise of the pro-Cuban governments in Panama and Nicaragua, Cuba's support has become even more important to radical groups.


Iran's extensive support for terrorism continued during 1990, although the number of terrorist acts attributed to Iranian state sponsorship dropped to 10 in 1990 from 24 in 1989.

Iran has used its intelligence services extensively to facilitate and conduct terrorist attacks, particularly against regime dissidents. Intelligence officers in embassies have used the diplomatic pouch for conveyance of weapons and finances for terrorist groups. Iran continued to strengthen its relationship with Muslim extremists throughout the world, often providing them with advice and financial assistance. Over the past year, Iranian support for terrorism has included:

-- Repeating the call for the death of the author of The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie.

-- Assassinations of four antiregime dissidents -- in Pakistan, Switzerland, Sweden, and France. -- Supporting radical Shia attacks on Saudi interests, including the assassinations of three Saudi diplomats, in retaliation for the execution of the Hajj bombers.

-- Extensive support for Hizballah, the PFLP-GC, the PIJ, and other groups, including provision of arms, funding, and training.

Iranian-backed Shia groups are believed to be in control of Western hostages in Lebanon, and most observers believe that the key to releasing the hostages rests with Iran. One such group, Hizballah, is believed to hold all of the remaining American hostages. Iranian President All Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, whose domestic political strength increased during 1990, is thought to favor a pragmatic approach to foreign policy and improved relations with the West, which would require resolution of the hostage problem. For example, The Tehran Times, a newspaper considered to reflect Rafsanjani's views, editorialized on 22 February that the hostages should be freed without preconditions. Two months later, U.S. hostages Robert Polhill and Frank Reed were released. The hostage releases received some criticism from hardline elements both in Iran and within Hizballah who questioned whether Iran or the hostage holders had received any benefit for their actions in terms of a good will gesture from the West. No more U.S. hostages were freed in 1990, and press reports indicated that Iran was seeking rewards before any further movement on the hostages was possible.

Major terrorist figures, including Ahmad Jabril of the PFLP-GC and various prominent members of Hizballah, frequently visit Iran. Iran hosted a World Conference on Palestine in Tehran in December in an effort to gain increasing influence over Islamic affairs, in general, and over the Palestinian movement, in particular. Leaders of several radical Palestinian and Lebanese groups including Salqa, Hamas, Hizballah, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad attended.


Iraq was returned to the terrorist list in September 1990 because of its increased contact with, and support for, terrorist groups. After the formation of an international coalition against the invasion of Kuwait, Iraqi officials issued public statements endorsing terrorism as a legitimate tactic.

Following its invasion of Kuwait on 2 August, the government of Iraq systematically seized the citizens of the United States and many other nations. This occurred in both Kuwait and Iraq and continued for several months. Many of the hostages were moved to strategic sites in Iraq, including armaments factories, weapons research facilities, and major military bases.

This mass act of hostage taking was condemned by nations throughout the world, and the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 664, demanding that Iraq release these hostages.

Saddam Hussein eventually released the hostages, starting with women and children. By December, all the Western hostages were freed, but many Kuwaitis remained in captivity.

Hostage taking on the scale undertaken by Iraq is unprecedented in recent history. Saddam Hussein's operation represented a cynical and futile attempt to terrorize both foreign nationals and their governments and to weaken international resolve to oppose his occupation and annexation of Kuwait.

During 1990, and particularly after 2 August, the press reported increasing movement of terrorists to Baghdad, signaling the deepening relationship between these groups and Iraq. Even before the invasion of Kuwait, Iraq provided safehaven, training, and other support to Palestinian groups with a history of terrorist actions. The Arab Liberation Front (ALF) and Abu Abbas's PLF, responsible for the 1985 Achille Lauro hijacking and the terrorist attack on Israel beaches in May, are among these groups. The ANO is also reported to have restablished its presence in Iraq in the first half of 1990. Abu Ibrahim, leader of the now-defunct 15 May terrorist organization and famed for his skill as a bombmaker, is also reportedly based in Baghdad.

With the end of the Iran-Iraq war, Iraq reduced its support for anti-Iranian dissident groups including the Mujahidin- e-Khaiq (MEK). Speculation continues regarding increased Iraqi support for the terrorist Kurdish Worker's Party (PKK) in Turkey. This is coupled with the worsening of Turkish-Iraqi relations over Turkey's enforcement of U.N. mandated trade sanctions after the invasion of Kuwait and disputes over water rights.

Senior Iraqi government officials, including Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, made public statements justifying terrorism as a legitimate Iraqi response in the event of hostilities between Iraq and the multinational force deployed in the region. There were reports that Iraq planned to put these words into effect and that Iraqi officials, as well as Baghdad's Palestinian surrogates, conducted surveillance against various coalition targets.


In 1990, Libya demonstrated its continued support for terrorism by supporting the Palestine Liberation Front's failed 30 May seaborne attack on crowded Israeli beaches. Tripoli helped the PLF plan, train for, supply, and carry out the seaborne operation.

Since 1986, Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi has made public disclaimers about his support for terrorist groups. He continued to provide money, training, and other support to his terrorist clients. Qadhafi's claims of having expelled certain terrorist groups -- the PLF, ANO, and PFLP-GC -- remained unsubstantiated as of the end of 1990. Libya also resumed funding to the PFLP-GC, and possibly other Palestinian terrorist groups, in 1990.

Libya also continues its support for a variety of terrorist/insurgent groups worldwide. In the Philippines, Libya has supported the NPA, which carried out terrorist attacks against Americans that killed five persons in 1990. Costa Rican officials believe that all 15 members of the Santamaria Patriotic Organization (OPS) arrested in Costa Rica in February for grenade attacks against U.S. facilities had undergone terrorist training in Libya. The group that attacked the Trinidad and Tobago Parliament on 27 July in a coup attempt, which killed several persons, received training and financial support from Libya, among others.

In April, Ethiopia expelled two Libyan diplomats for alleged involvement in the 30 March bombing at the Hilton Hotel in Addis Ababa.

Throughout 1990, indications of Libya's previous involvement in acts of terrorism emerged. According to German press reports, German officials uncovered evidence in the files of the now-defunct East German secret police, the Stasi, that demonstrated Libyan responsibility for the 1986 bombing of the La Belle Disco in West Berlin.

In addition, according to press reports, the investigation into the September 1989 bombing of the French UTA Flight 772 -- which killed 170 persons, including seven Americans -- indicates that the bomb was brought into Congo in the Libyan diplomatic pouch and delivered to three Libyan- trained Congolese terrorists by an official of the Libyan Embassy in Brazzaville. African and French press reports state that both the Congolese and Zairians are holding suspects who have implicated Libya in the bombing.

Press reports in late 1990 also laid much of the responsibility on the Libyans for the bombing in December 1988 of Pan Am Flight 103. According to American, British, and French press, investigators discovered that the detonator used in the Pan am Flight 103 bombing was identical to one carried by two Libyan agents arrested in Dakar, Senegal, in February 1988. The official investigation into both of these cases was continuing through the end of 1990.

North Korea

North Korea is not known to have sponsored a terrorist attack since members of its intelligence service planted a bomb on a South Korean airliner in 1987. However, it continues to provide safehaven to a small group of Japanese Red Army (JRA) members who hijacked a JAL airliner to North Korea in 1970. North Korea has provided some support to the New People's Army in the Philippines. It has not renounced the use of terrorism. Syria

There is no direct evidence of Syrian government involvement in terrorist attacks outside Lebanon since 1987, although Syria continues to provide support and safehaven to groups that engage in international terrorism.

Syria has made some progress in moving away from support for some terrorist groups. Syria has also cooperated with Iran and others to obtain the release of Western hostages held by terrorist groups in Lebanon, including the successful release of American hostages Polhill and Reed in the spring of 1990. The government-controlled media has described the Abu Nidal organization as a terrorist organization, but the Syrian government has failed to take concrete measures against the ANO in Syrian-controlled areas of Lebanon.

At the same time, Syria publicly supports the Palestinians' right to armed struggle for their independence. President Assad has publicly defended and supported Palestinian attacks in Israel and the occupied territories. Syria continues to provide political and material support for Palestinian groups who maintain their headquarters in Damascus and who have committed terrorist acts in the past, most notably the PFLP-GC whose propaganda radio station, al Quds, broadcasts from Syrian soil. It also hosts the Abu Musa group, the Popular Struggle Front (PSF), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). The leader of the PFLP had publicly stated that he would carry out attacks against U.S. targets and others opposed to Iraq in the event of a military clash in the Gulf. At year's end, no such attacks had occurred.

The United States continued to express its serious concern to the Syrian government -- both publicly and privately -- about terrorist groups supported by Syria. The Syrian government has taken some positive steps, particularly since the beginning of the Gulf crisis in August 1990, to rein in terrorist groups based in Syria. The did not, however, take steps to close down these groups or expel them from Syria.

Syria has taken no steps to disband or eliminate the presence of other terrorist organizations, such the Kurdish Worker's Party (PKK), the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA), and the Japanese Red Army. A number of these groups have camps in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, which is under the control of Syrian forces. Syria also tolerates the presence of a faction of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad that took responsibility for the massacre in February of nine Israeli civilians on a tour bus in Egypt. The PIJ statement was broadcast on the PFLP-GC-controlled radio station in southern Syria.

In 1990, and particularly since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Syria has attempted to minimize its public association with terrorist activities and groups in the international arena, apparently in an attempt to improve its standing with the West. Syrian officials have said that Syria is committed to bring to justice and punish those individuals within Syria's jurisdiction accused of acts of terrorism, if given supporting evidence of their crimes. They have also repeated that any organization that is involved in terrorist crimes will have to bear the consequences. Following the September visit by Secretary of State James Baker, Syrian Foreign Minister Shara' stated publicly that Syria condemned all forms of terrorism, including hijacking and hostage taking. However, Syria continues to draw a distinction between "legitimate struggle against the occupation troops" and acts of terrorism -- a fundamental difference between U.S. and Syrian news.

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