Great Seal logo Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1998

Asia Overview

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The overall number of terrorist incidents in East Asia decreased in 1998. Individual countries still suffered terrorist attacks and endured continued terrorist group activities, however.

In Cambodia, the last remnants of the weakened Khmer Rouge (KR) virtually disbanded in 1998, and two of the group's top three leaders came out of hiding to surrender. Earlier in the year, KR elements committed two acts of international terrorism that caused 12 deaths. The US Secretary of State has designated the KR a foreign terrorist organization pursuant to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

In Japan, the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult, accused of attacking the Tokyo subway system with sarin gas in March 1995, increased its membership and business activity in 1998. Prosecution of cult leaders continues at a sluggish pace. In June a Lebanese court rejected appeals by five imprisoned Japanese Red Army members; Japan has asked that they be deported to Japan upon completion of their three-year jail terms. Both groups are designated foreign terrorist organizations pursuant to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

The Philippines experienced violent attacks in the southern province of Mindanao from rebels in the Moro Islamic Liberation Army (MILF), the New Peoples Army (NPA), and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). The government began negotiations with the MILF that showed little progress in 1998. The ASG experienced a major setback in December when its leader was killed during a government ambush. Other incidents, including attacks on rural police posts around the country and kidnappings of foreign nationals, occurred in 1998.

In Thailand, a strong military offensive against Muslim separatists of the New Pattani United Liberation Organization (New PULO)--in cooperation with Malaysia--helped restore calm in the south, which had experienced a wave of bombings in January. The Thai Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Hossein Dastgiri, an Iranian charged in 1994 with plotting to bomb the Israeli Embassy in Bangkok.

In South Asia, the Taliban has made Afghanistan a safehaven for international terrorists, particularly Usama Bin Ladin. The United States made it clear to the Taliban on numerous occasions that it must stop harboring such terrorists. Despite US engagement of the Taliban in an ongoing dialogue, its leaders have refused to expel Bin Ladin to a country where he can be brought to justice.

In 1998 the United States continued its efforts to ascertain the fate of the four Western hostages--including one US citizen--kidnapped in India's Kashmir in 1995 by affiliates of the Harakat-ul-Ansar (HUA). Despite ongoing cooperative efforts between US and Indian law enforcement authorities, we have been unable to determine their whereabouts. The HUA was designated a foreign terrorist organization in 1997 pursuant to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

In Pakistan, sectarian violence continues to affect lives and property. In Karachi and elsewhere in the Sindh and Punjab Provinces, clashes between rival ethnic and religious groups reached dangerously high levels. As in previous years, there were continuing credible reports of official Pakistani support for Kashmiri militant groups that engage in terrorism.

In Sri Lanka, the government continues to battle the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Designated a foreign terrorist organization in 1997 pursuant to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, the LTTE has continued its attempts to gain a Tamil homeland through a campaign of violence, intimidation, and assassination. By targeting municipal officials and civilian infrastructure and conducting random attacks, the LTTE seeks to force the government to meet to its demands. The Government of Sri Lanka is pursuing a two-track policy of fighting the Tigers and building support for its ambitious package of political reforms aimed at addressing many of the Tamil minority's grievances. Recent military setbacks may push the government toward negotiations, but the LTTE has shown no willingness to move in this direction.

Islamic extremists from around the world--including large numbers of Egyptians, Algerians, Palestinians, and Saudis--in 1998 continued to use Afghanistan as a training ground and a base of operations for their worldwide terrorist activities. The Taliban, which controls most of the territory in Afghanistan, facilitated the operation of training and indoctrination facilities for non-Afghans and provided logistical support and sometimes passports to members of various terrorist organizations. Throughout 1998 the Taliban continued to host Usama Bin Ladin, who was indicted in November for the bombings in August of two US Embassies in East Africa.

Weakened by defections and internal discord, the last remnants of the Khmer Rouge virtually disbanded in 1998 following 30 years of civil war and terror. The KR suffered significant losses in 1998, including the death of leader Pol Pot in April. During crackdowns in August, the government arrested Nuon Paet, a former KR fugitive suspected of ordering the execution of three European tourists after holding them hostage for two months in 1994. By late December the last main fighting unit of the KR had surrendered, including two of the group's top three leaders: Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea.

Before fragmenting, Khmer Rouge elements committed two acts of international terrorism in 1998. In January, KR militants reportedly placed a handgrenade near the Vietnamese military attache's office in Phnom Penh. In April, KR forces murdered 12 Vietnamese nationals at a fishing village near Tonle Sap lake.

Shoko Asahara, Aum Shinrikyo leader

Security problems persisted in India in 1998 because of ongoing insurgencies in Kashmir and the northeast. Kashmiri militant groups stepped up attacks against civilian targets in India's Kashmir and shifted their tactics from bombings to targeted killings, including the massacres of Kashmiri villagers. In April the massacres spilled over to Udhampur district, where 28 villagers died in two simultaneous attacks. Elsewhere in India, election-related violence at the beginning of 1998 claimed more than 150 lives. In an effort to disrupt a Bharatiya Janata Party rally on 14 February, Islamic militants in Coimbatore conducted a series of bombings that killed 50 and wounded more than 200.

The Indian and Pakistani Governments each claim that the intelligence service of the other country sponsors bombings on its territory. The Government of Pakistan acknowledges that it continues to provide moral, political, and diplomatic support to Kashmiri militants but denies allegations of other assistance. Reports continued in 1998, however, of official Pakistani support to militants fighting in Kashmir.

Three years after the sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in March 1995, the prosecution of high-level Aum Shinrikyo religious cult leaders--including cult founder Shoko Asahara--continues. Press reports indicate that, if it maintains its current sluggish pace, the trial could take 30 years to complete. Japanese security officials reported a rise in Aum Shinrikyo membership and business activity in 1998, despite a severe police crackdown on the group following the sarin attack. The United States designated Aum Shinrikyo a foreign terrorist organization in 1997 pursuant to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

On 3 June the highest criminal court in Lebanon rejected an appeal made by five convicted Japanese Red Army members and endorsed their three-year prison sentence for forgery and illegal residency. Tokyo has asked that they be deported to Japan upon completion of their jail terms.

Sectarian and political violence surged in Pakistan in 1998 as Sunni and Shia extremists conducted attacks against each other, primarily in Punjab Province, and as rival wings of an ethnic party feuded in Karachi. The heightened political violence prompted the imposition of Governor's rule in Sindh Province in October. According to press reports, more than 900 persons were killed in Karachi from January to September, the majority by acts of domestic terrorism.

In the wake of US missile strikes on terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, several Pakistani-based Kashmiri militant groups vowed revenge for casualties their groups suffered. At a press conference held in Islamabad in November, former Harakat ul-Ansar and current Harakat ul-Mujahidin (HUM) leader Fazlur Rehman Khalil reportedly vowed: "We will kill one hundred Americans for one Muslim." Other Kashmiri and domestic Pakistani sectarian groups also threatened to target US interests. The leader of the Lashkar-i-Taiba declared a jihad against the United States, and the leader of the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi vowed publicly to kill US citizens and offered his support to Bin Ladin.

Pakistani officials stated publicly that, while the Government of Pakistan provides diplomatic, political, and moral support for"freedom fighters" in Kashmir, it is firmly against terrorism and provides no training or materiel support for Kashmiri militants. Kashmiri militant groups continued to operate in Pakistan, however, raising funds and recruiting new cadre. These activities created a fertile ground for the operations of militant and terrorist groups in Pakistan, including the HUA and its successor organization, the HUM.

The new government of President Joseph Estrada continued the previous administration's attempts to reach a peaceful settlement with rebels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. In August the two sides pledged to begin substantive talks in September. By yearend, however, little progress had been made toward ending the conflict, and both sides continued to engage in low-level violence. The Communist New People's Army also was active in 1998, conducting a series of attacks on rural police posts throughout the country.

Clashes between government forces and various insurgent groups were particularly violent in the southern province of Mindanao. In this remote region the Philippine Armed Forces sporadically engaged militants of the MILF and the smaller, more extremist Abu Sayyaf Group. These periodic military sweeps appear to have weakened both groups. The ASG, in particular, suffered a major setback in late December when government security forces killed its leader during an ambush.

Islamic insurgents were responsible for several international terrorist incidents in the Philippines in 1998. In early September, suspected MILF and ASG militants conducted a rash of kidnappings of foreign nationals, including three Hong Kong businessmen and an Italian priest. Two months later, one group of rebels freed the Italian after 100 MILF fighters surrounded the rebels' jungle hideout and forced his release.


Temple of Tooth bombing, Kandy, Sri Lanka, 25 January

Sri Lanka
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam conducted significant levels of terrorist activity in 1998. The LTTE attacked government troops, bombed economic and infrastructure targets, and assassinated political opponents. An LTTE suicide vehicle bombing at the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy in January 1998 killed the three suicide bombers and 13 civilians--including three children--and injured 23. The LTTE's deadliest terrorist act in 1998 was a vehicle bomb explosion in the Maradana district of Colombo in March that killed 36 persons-- including five schoolchildren--and wounded more than 250.

The LTTE assassinated several political and military officials in 1998. In May a suicide bomber killed a senior Sri Lankan Army commander, Brigadier Larry Wijeratne. Three days after that attack, armed gunmen assassinated newly elected Jaffna Mayor S. Yogeswaran--a widow of an LTTE-assassinated Tamil politician--in an attack claimed by the Sangilian Force, a suspected LTTE front group. In July an LTTE mine explosion killed Tamil parliamentarian S. Shanmuganathan, his son, and three bodyguards. In September an LTTE bomb planted in a Jaffna government building killed new Jaffna Mayor P. Sivapalan and 11 others.

During the year, the LTTE conducted numerous attacks on infrastructure and commercial shipping. In the first half of 1998 the LTTE bombed several telecommunications and power facilities in Sri Lanka. In August the LTTE stormed a Dubai-owned cargo ship, the Princess Kash, which was carrying food, concrete, and general supplies to the Jaffna Peninsula. The Tigers took hostage the 21 crewmembers--including 16 Indians--but released the Indians five days later.

"Operation Sure Victory," the Sri Lankan military's ground offensive aimed at reopening and securing a ground supply route through LTTE-held territory in northern Sri Lanka, continued through 1998. The offensive ended in December about 40 kilometers short of its goal. The Sri Lankan military immediately initiated a new offensive in the same area.

The Sri Lankan Government strongly supported international efforts to address the problem of terrorism in 1998. Colombo was quick to condemn terrorist attacks in other countries and has raised terrorism issues in several international venues, including the UN General Assembly in New York and the UN High Commission for Refugees in Geneva. Sri Lanka was the first country to sign the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings at the United Nations in January.

There were no confirmed cases of LTTE or other terrorist groups targeting US interests or citizens in Sri Lanka in 1998. Nonetheless, the Sri Lankan Government was quick to cooperate with US requests to enhance security for US personnel and facilities and cooperated fully with US officials investigating possible violations of US law by international terrorist organizations. Sri Lankan security forces received training in explosive incident countermeasures, vital installation security, and post-blast investigation under the US Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program.

On February 18 the Thai Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Iranian Hossein Dastgiri, who had been prosecuted for a plot in 1994 to bomb the Israeli Embassy in Bangkok. The court ruled that conflicting eyewitness testimony failed to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that Dastgiri was the driver of the bomb-laden truck. In southern Thailand, Muslim separatists of the New Pattani United Liberation Organization conducted a series of bombings in January. Thai authorities launched a military counteroffensive in mid-January that netted several PULO militants. These arrests, combined with unprecedented assistance from Malaysia, where PULO militants had traditionally found refuge, helped to restore calm in the south.

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