Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1998
The number of terrorist incidents declined in Europe in 1998, in large part because of increased vigilance by security forces and the recognition by some terrorist groups that longstanding political and ethnic controversies should be addressed in negotiations. Terrorism in Spain was attributable almost entirely to the Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) group. In Turkey, most incidents were related to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). In Greece, a variety of anarchist and terrorist groups continued to operate with virtual impunity. The deadliest terrorist act occurred in Omagh, Northern Ireland, when a splinter Irish Republican Army (IRA) group exploded a 500-pound car bomb that killed 29 persons, including children.
In Northern Ireland, the Catholic and Protestant communities made a major commitment to end the violence by signing the Good Friday Accord. Under the leadership of the British and Irish Governments, both communities and the political parties that represent them agreed to compromises that are to create new, local governmental institutions for resolving conflicts and turn away from terrorism as an accepted political instrument. In support of the peace process, most paramilitary terrorist groups on both nationalist and loyalist sides agreed to a cease-fire. The issue of "decommissioning" the IRA's weaponry and bombs continued to complicate the process, however.
In Spain, the terrorist ETA declared a cease-fire on 16 September to provoke negotiations with the central government. Public outrage throughout Spain over the ETA assassinations of several local Spanish officials earlier in 1998 and the government's infiltration and dismantling of several ETA "commandos" in recent years prompted the group's cease-fire. Strong French legal pressure also eroded the ETA's support base in neighboring French provinces.
The Turkish Government's threat to act against PKK safehavens in neighboring Syria led Damascus to expel PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who for years had been directing PKK terrorist activities from his villa there. Ocalan's departure and subsequent flight to seek a new safehaven left the PKK in some disarray, although its members conducted several deadly suicide bombings in Turkey after his departure from Syria.
The Greek Government's counterterrorist efforts remained ineffective. The Revolutionary Organization 17 November group struck six times in early 1998, and several other groups claimed responsibility for bombings in various locations in Greece. The Greek Government has not arrested a single 17 November member in the 23 years since the group killed its first victim, a US Embassy employee; the group subsequently eliminated 22 other persons.
In Germany, the remnants of the Red Army Faction (RAF) announced the dissolution of their organization, once among the world's deadliest. The declaration suggested that the remaining members realized their terrorist group had lost its purpose.
Albania took an active stance against international terrorism in 1998 by launching a campaign of arrests and investigations against suspected Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) terrorists operating in the capital, Tirana. In late June, Albanian security forces captured four Egyptian extremists and rendered them immediately to Egypt. Despite public EIJ threats, Albanian police continued to pursue the group. In October security forces raided an EIJ safehouse, killing one suspected terrorist.
While these examples demonstrate the government's commitment to fight terrorism, Albania's poor internal security provides an environment conducive to terrorist activity.
Belgian police arrested 10 suspected Armed Islamic Group (GIA) members in March during raids in Brussels. Police seized false documents, detonators, and some small caliber weapons. During a follow-up raid, police uncovered explosives in a GIA supporter's home. The arrests were part of a joint security operation with France, Britain, Sweden, and Italy before the World Cup soccer match in Paris.
In April, Belgium prosecuted three suspected GIA members for the grenade attack in December 1995 on two police officers in Bastogne. Two suspects, Kamel Saddeddine and Youssef El Majda, were convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. The other, Ah El Madja, also was convicted and sentenced to serve three years.
French authorities initiated a large-scale security effort across Europe before France hosted the World Cup soccer match last summer. In late May police apprehended about 100 suspected Algerian GIA members during simultaneous operations in France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, and Switzerland. Antiterrorism magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguiere described the coordinated effort as a "preventive" measure to protect the games.
In 1998, French authorities brought numerous terrorists to justice for past acts of violence. In September, French prosecutors began a mass trial of 138 Algerian terrorists for a wave of bombings committed in 1995 and 1996. Controversy marred the two-month trial, however, and more than 50 politicians signed a petition denouncing the proceedings as unfair and racist. Those convicted received sentences ranging from four months to 10 years.
In late November, France prosecuted eight suspected members of Algeria's Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) on charges of smuggling arms to terrorists. The suspects allegedly belong to a network headed by FIS leader Djamel Lounici, currently under house arrest in Italy pending trial. A French court already has sentenced Lounici in absentia to five years in prison for arms smuggling in another case concerning Morocco.
The Red Army Faction announced its "self-dissolution" in April, following more than two decades of struggle against the German Government. Meanwhile, German courts continued to adjudicate cases against RAF members for terrorist acts committed in the 1980s.
German police took an active stance against terrorism in 1998. Acting on a request from the United States, they detained Salim Mamdouh Mahmud, an associate of Usama Bin Ladin, in September and extradited him to the United States in December. In the weeks before the World Cup soccer match, they worked closely with the French to disrupt Algerian terrorist networks in Germany.
On the judicial front, the trial of five suspected terrorists continued for their part in the La Belle discotheque bombing in 1986 in Berlin. Controversy has plagued the trial from the start, and at the current pace a verdict is not expected before the year 2000.
The German Government showed less resolve in November when PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan arrived unannounced in Rome. Germany withdrew its longstanding international arrest warrant for the Kurdish terrorist leader after PKK militants threatened riots and violence in German cities if Ocalan were prosecuted there. The German action effectively precluded Ocalan's extradition from Italy.
The majority of the international terrorist incidents committed in Europe in 1998 occurred in Greece. Most of these attacks were firebombings that numerous leftist and anarchist groups conducted against businesses and Greek Government offices. The government made arrests in connection with only one attack.
Greece's most deadly terrorist group, the Revolutionary Organization 17 November, claimed responsibility for six attacks against US or US-related businesses in Athens between February and April, including a rocket attack on a Citibank office. As in the past, Greek efforts failed to achieve any tangible success against 17 November terrorists. To augment their counterterrorism capability, Greek officials met in September with FBI Director Louis Freeh. The discussions improved Greek cooperation with US law enforcement agencies.
In January an Athens appeals court denied Italy's petition to extradite Enrico Bianco, a former Red Brigades member whom Greek police arrested in November 1997 and subsequently freed. Bianco continues to live freely in Greece.
Greek relations with Turkey remained tense as numerous members of the Greek Parliament continued to court PKK members. In April some Greek parliamentarians attended a reception hosted by the PKK's political wing, the ERNK. At the reception a self-proclaimed PKK representative announced plans to open an office in Athens under the PKK's rubric. Greek officials interceded to prevent the opening.
In November, 109 Greek parliamentarians-mostly from the governing PASOK party-signed a letter reiterating a standing invitation to PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan to visit Greece. The Greek Government distanced itself from the invitation, saying Ocalan was not welcome. In November, Ocalan arrived in Rome at the beginning of what became an odyssey to gain asylum in Europe. (After his capture in Nairobi in February 1999, it became known that Ocalan had transited Greece at least twice during his travels with the knowledge and assistance of highly placed Greek officials. At one point, Ocalan remained in Greece for several days. Senior Greek officials took responsibility for providing Ocalan with haven in the Greek Embassy residence in Kenya in February 1999.)
On 12 November, PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan arrived unexpectedly in Rome and requested political asylum. He initially was detained there on an international warrant issued by Germany. Italy declined to act on a Turkish extradition request, citing Turkey's long-unused capital punishment statute, which prohibits extradition to countries with capital punishment. Italy also declined to exercise its option under international law to prosecute Ocalan. After Bonn withdrew the warrant, the Italians told Ocalan he was free to leave. After trying unsuccessfully to find a country willing to take him, Italian officials said he no longer was welcome in Italy. Ocalan eventually left for Russia, with the apparent assistance of Italian officials, beginning an odyssey that culminated in his seizure in Kenya in February 1999.
In October police arrested five Islamic terrorists in Turin for weapons violations and reported links to Usama Bin Ladin. The next month police arrested suspected GIA terrorist Rahid Fetter in Milan on charges of forgery, counterfeiting, and membership in a subversive organization. The Italians accused Fetter of providing shelter, funds, and false identification papers to GIA militants.
A series of bomb attacks in the Latvian capital, Riga, targeted Russian and Jewish interests in 1998. On 2 April a bomb exploded in the courtyard of the main Jewish synagogue in Riga's historic Old Town. The blast caused extensive damage to the main entrance and a swastika-adorned Latvian flag was found on the scene, according to press reporting. On 5 April a mine exploded in a park across the street from the Russian Embassy in Riga. The explosion did not damage the Embassy, but it shattered the windows of four Embassy vehicles. These incidents, which occurred late at night, caused no casualities. There were no claims of responsibility, but authorities suspect members of Eduard Limonov's Russian National Bolshevist Party, a Russian ultranational group. On 19 October, Israeli officials discovered a mail bomb during a routine check of packages mailed to the Israeli Embassy in Riga. Latvian authorities safely destroyed the device.
The terrorist group Basque Fatherland and Liberty announced a unilateral and unconditional cease-fire on 16 September. At yearend the cease-fire was holding. ETA has not renounced terrorism and continued to engage in terrorist activity before the cease-fire. In 1998, the ETA killed six persons, compared with 13 in 1997. On 3 November, President Aznar called for direct talks with ETA to make the cease-fire permanent, but the two sides appear to have differing agendas for the talks. The government is offering some measures of relief for 530 ETA prisoners in Spanish jails and an estimated 1,000 exiles, while ETA wants to include political issues of sovereignty and self-determination.
The Spanish Government energetically and successfully has sought extradition of ETA fugitives from some countries, including France and several Latin American nations. A Spanish request for extradition from the United States of accused ETA terrorist Ramon Aldasoro was delayed in 1998, but on 4 February 1999 the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta paved the way for Aldasoro's extradition.
In addition to ongoing police and law enforcement action to break up ETA commandos and arrest their members, the Spanish Government in 1998 undertook a series of measures designed to debilitate ETA's financial infrastructure. These measures included attempts to limit ETA's fundraising capabilities, shut down businesses with ETA involvement, and locate ETA's financial assets. In July the government shut down the pro-ETA newspaper Egin.
The leftwing terrorist First of October Anti-Fascist Resistance Group (GRAPO) reemerged in 1998 after a three-year hiatus. The government discounts GRAPO's operational capability, but the organization claimed responsibility for a number of bombings and sent extortion letters to businessmen.
Turkey achieved some notable successes in its battle against terrorism in 1998, especially against the PKK, its foremost terrorist group. Turkey continued its vigorous campaign against the PKK in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq. Turkey's large-scale military offensives appear to have affected greatly the PKK's ability to operate in Turkey. In March, Turkish military commandos captured Semdin Sakik, the PKK's second in command, in northern Iraq and bought him to Turkey. Turkish security forces launched a series of successful military campaigns in late spring and early fall that hampered PKK activity in southeast Turkey. In October, Turkey applied intense pressure on the Syrian Government to discourage Syrian support for the PKK. As a result, Syria forced PKK leader Ocalan to leave. Ocalan fled to Russia and then on to Italy where he requested political asylum. Italy subsequently refused to extradite Ocalan to Turkey and Ocalan left Italy. (Turkey scored a major coup against PKK terrorism in February 1999, when Turkish officials tracked down Ocalan in Nairobi, captured him, and brought him back to Turkey to stand trial.)
During 1998 the PKK continued to conduct acts of violence against military and civilian targets. On 10 April, PKK terrorists on a motorcycle threw a bomb into a park near the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. The explosion injured two Indians, a New Zealander, and four Turkish citizens. The PKK also continued its campaign of kidnappings in southeast Turkey. In early June, PKK terrorists kidnapped a German tourist and a Turkish truckdriver at a roadblock in Karakose. The German tourist was found unharmed the next morning near the kidnapping site, but the truckdriver still is missing. Immediately after Ocalan's arrest in Italy, the PKK conducted three suicide bombings in southeastern Turkey, which killed three persons and injured dozens of Turkish citizens, despite Ocalan's public renunciation of terrorism.
Several extreme leftist and other groups were active in Turkey in 1998. Leftist groups operating in Turkey include the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front, Turkish Workers' and Peasants' Liberation Army, Turkish Peoples' Liberation Army, and the Turkish Peoples' Liberation Front. Fundamentalist Islamic organizations operating in Turkey include the so-called "Turkish Hizballah," the Islamic Movement Organization, and the Islamic Great Eastern Raiders Front. Effective Turkish security measures appear to have reduced the threat from these fringe groups over the years. For example, on 31 December, Turkish police arrested the head of the Islamic Great Eastern Raiders Front, Salih Mirzabeyoglou, in Istanbul.
In April feuding Catholic and Protestant parties signed the landmark Good Friday Accord. This historic agreement outlined a comprehensive power-sharing arrangement between both communities in a multiparty administration of Northern Ireland. For the first time, the Irish Republican Army's political wing, Sinn Fein, was allowed to join the new administration, as long as its leaders remained committed to "exclusively peaceful means." Both sides hotly debated the meaning of this and other provisions in the accord following the signing. The most contentious issue was whether the IRA would abandon its weapons and bombs. Notwithstanding the IRA's commitment to uphold its cease-fire, several splinter groups continued to engage in terrorist activity.
As the debates wore on over the summer, Ireland suffered its worst single terrorist act. On 15 August terrorists from one of the splinter groups, the self-styled Real IRA, exploded a 500-pound car bomb outside a courthouse in downtown Omagh, killing 29 persons and injuring more than 330 others. This attack followed another terrorist bombing by the Real IRA in Banbridge on 1 August, which injured 35 persons and damaged approximately 200 homes.
By November the accord appeared on the verge of collapse as neither side could come to agreement on key issues. Both sides worked vigorously to jump-start negotiations by Christmas so that the new government could take power by February 1999. Only one paramilitary group-one of Northern Ireland's most vicious, the Loyalist Volunteer Force-willingly has surrendered a cache of weapons. Both sides viewed the group's disarmament as a sign that a breakthrough in the stalled peace accord was possible. The IRA continued to resist what it labels a "surrender" of its arms, however, while in its view the conditions that caused the conflict remain unresolved.
The United Kingdom continued to cooperate closely with the United States on counterterrorism issues in 1998. In September, British authorities arrested Khalid al-Fawwaz, a Saudi national, who is wanted by the United States for conspiring to murder US citizens between January 1993 and September 1998. Al-Fawwaz remains in British custody pending his extradition to the United States.
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