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Patterns of
Global Terrorism

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Terrorism in 1996 continued to cause grave concern and disruption in scores of countries. Combating this menace remains a very high priority for the United States and many other nations. But finding clear "patterns" in this form of political violence is becoming more difficult.

The Department of State's annual Patterns of Global Terrorism focuses primarily on international terrorism involving citizens or territory of two or more states. It also describes but does not provide statistics on domestic terrorism abroad, which is an even more widespread phenomenon. The number of international terrorist incidents has fallen, from a peak of 665 in 1987, to 296 in 1996, a 25-year low. Moreover, about two-thirds of these attacks were minor acts of politically motivated violence against commercial targets, which caused no deaths and few casualties.

Yet while the incidence of international terrorism has dropped sharply in the last decade, the overall threat of terrorism remains very serious. The death toll from acts of international terrorism rose from 163 in 1995 to 311 in 1996, as the trend continued toward more ruthless attacks on mass civilian targets and the use of more powerful bombs. The threat of terrorist use of materials of mass destruction is an issue of growing concern, although few such attempts or attacks have actually occurred. Finally, domestic terrorism, in countries such as Algeria, India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan, appears to be growing and is more serious, in gross terms, than international terrorism.

It is clear, in any case, that the damage to society from terrorism is very high, and not just in terms of the dead and wounded. Terrorism, by definition, is aimed at a wider audience than its immediate victims. Terrorists proved again in 1996 that they can command a worldwide audience for their crimes and cause great disruption, fear, and economic damage. A dramatic truck bombing of the Al Khubar apartment complex near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in June killed 19 US airmen, wounded 240 other US citizens, and resulted in many other casualties. A series of suicide bombings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem by extremist groups aiming to destroy the Middle East peace process killed more than 60 and led to early elections and a change of government in Israel. And at the year's end, Marxist terrorists in Lima, Peru, grabbed the spotlight by seizing the Japanese Ambassador's residence and hundreds of hostages.

Terrorism by religious fanatics and groups manipulating religion, especially Islam, for political purposes continued to dominate international terrorism in 1996. Organized groups such as HAMAS and the Palestine Islamic Jihad, that were behind the bus bombings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and the al-Gama'at al-Islamiyya, which continued acts of terror in Egypt, remained active and dangerous. And freelance, transnational terrorists, many of whom were trained in Afghanistan and are backed by international terrorist financiers such as the Saudi dissident Usama Bin Ladin, are a growing factor. Ethnic terrorism in such places as Chechnya, Tajikistan, and Sri Lanka took a heavy toll, and the Kurdistan Workers' Party maintained its campaign of terror against Turkey.

Although the variety and complexity of terrorism and its dynamic quality are challenges to defining clear patterns, there has been a heartening trend among governments to condemn terrorism absolutely, irrespective of motive. One positive result of this growing policy of zero tolerance for terrorism is a decline in state-sponsored terrorism, although Iran, the primary state sponsor, has not been deterred. As terrorism becomes more global, cooperation among states is indispensable. President Clinton has given high priority to counterterrorism in our diplomatic agenda, and the United States consults with dozens of governments and participates in a growing variety of multilateral initiatives against terrorism.

Six international counterterrorist meetings were held in 1996:

The counterterrorist policy of the United States stresses three general rules:

The United States took several steps in 1996 to sharpen our tools against terrorism in this country and abroad. In April the President signed into law the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. Among its many sections are a ban on fundraising in the United States by terrorist organizations to be designated by the Secretary of State, and improved means for excluding and deporting terrorists from the United States. Last August the President signed the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996, which imposes sanctions on foreign companies that invest in the development of Iran's or Libya's petroleum resources. The purpose is to help deny revenues that could be used to finance international terrorism.

The United States has trained more than 19,000 foreign law enforcement officials from more than 80 countries in such areas as airport security, bomb detection, maritime security, VIP protection, hostage rescue, and crisis management. We also conduct a research and development program to use modern technology to defeat terrorists.

We can be proud of the successes we have achieved, but we cannot be complacent. Terrorism is a dynamic, moving target. Our defenses and deterrence mechanisms must be aggressive and flexible. As President Clinton declared in April: "We will never surrender to terror. 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."

Legislative Requirements

This report is submitted in compliance with Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f(a), which requires the Department of State to provide Congress a full and complete annual report on terrorism for those countries and groups meeting the criteria of Section (a)(1) and (2) of the Act. As required by legislation, the report includes detailed assessments of foreign countries where significant terrorist acts occurred, and countries about which Congress was notified during the preceding five years pursuant to Section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act of 1979 (the so-called terrorism list countries that have repeatedly provided state support for international terrorism). In addition, the report includes all relevant information about the previous year's activities of individuals, terrorist organizations, or umbrella groups known to be responsible for the kidnapping or death of any US citizen during the preceding five years, and groups known to be financed by state sponsors of terrorism.

In 1996 Congress amended the reporting requirements contained in the above-referenced law. The amended law requires the Department of State to report on the extent to which other countries cooperate with the United States in apprehending, convicting, and punishing terrorists responsible for attacking US citizens or interests. The law also requires that this report describe the extent to which foreign governments are cooperating, or have cooperated during the previous five years, in preventing future acts of terrorism. As permitted in the amended legislation, the Department is submitting such information to Congress in a classified annex to this unclassified report.


No one definition of terrorism has gained universal acceptance. For the purposes of this report, however, we have chosen the definition of terrorism contained in Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f(d). That statute contains the following definitions:

Domestic terrorism is probably a more widespread phenomenon than international terrorism. Because international terrorism has a direct impact on US interests, it is the primary focus of this report. However, the report also describes, but does not provide statistics on, significant developments in domestic terrorism.


Adverse mention in this report of individual members of any political, social, ethnic, religious, or national group is not meant to imply that all members of that group are terrorists. Indeed, terrorists represent a small minority of dedicated, often fanatical, individuals in most such groups. It is those small groups-and their actions-that are the subject of this report.

Furthermore, terrorist acts are part of a larger phenomenon of politically inspired violence, and at times the line between the two can become difficult to draw. To relate terrorist events to the larger context, and to give a feel for the conflicts that spawn violence, this report will discuss terrorist acts as well as other violent incidents that are not necessarily international terrorism.


(1) For purposes of this definition, the term noncombatant is interpreted to include, in addition to civilians, military personnel who at the time of the incident are unarmed and/or not on duty. For example, in past reports we have listed as terrorist incidents the murders of the following US military personnel: Col. James Rowe, killed in Manila in April 1989; Capt. William Nordeen, US defense attache killed in Athens in June 1988; the two servicemen killed in the La Belle discotheque bombing in West Berlin in April 1986; and the four off-duty US Embassy Marine guards killed in a cafe in El Salvador in June 1985. We also consider as acts of terrorism attacks on military installations or on armed military personnel when a state of military hostilities does not exist at the site, such as bombings against US bases in the Persian Gulf, Europe, or elsewhere.

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