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Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1991

Overview of State-Sponsored Terrorism

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The United States and its allies focus on raising the costs for those governments that support, tolerate, and engage in international terrorism. It is widely recognized that government support for terrorist groups enhances their capabilities and makes more difficult law enforcement efforts to counter terrorism.

A number of governments continue to provide 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. During 1991 Iranian and Iraqi agents carried out international terrorist attacks, and the evidence of Libyan responsibility for, the bombings of Pan Am 103 in 1988 and UTA 772 in 1989 was made public. Other governments, though not direct sponsors of terrorist groups, contribute to such groups' capabilities by allowing them unimpeded transit, and permitting them to carry out recruitment and other support activities.

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 removed at any time that circumstances warrant.

The international effort to curtail state support for terrorism achieved tangible results in 1991. The United States in concert with the international community responded swiftly and firmly to Iraq and the groups pledging to carry out terrorist attacks on behalf of Saddam Hussein. Messages were sent warning Iraq and these groups of the consequences of a resort to terrorism. Many governments preemptively expelled more than 200 Iraqi diplomatic and intelligence personnel to reduce the threat posed by Iraq's network of support. Many countries also alerted their citizens to the threat posed by Iraqi-sponsored terrorism and upgraded security at facilities likely to be terrorist targets such as airports and the airlines of coalition countries. Cooperation among law enforcement and intelligence services in many different nations increased the effectiveness of national counterterrorist measures against Iraq.

Scottish authorities and the U.S. Department of Justice on 14 November publicly charged two Libyans with carrying out the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 on 21 December 1988 and the resulting murder of 270 innocent people. An exhaustive nearly three-year investigation, relying on cooperation among law enforcement and intelligence services in many countries, resulted in the indictment against a senior Libyan intelligence official, a former manager of a Libyan Arab Airlines office, and unidentified coconspirators. French judicial authorities had issued international arrest warrants two weeks earlier charging four Libyan officials with involvement in the September 1989 bombing of UTA Flight 772. The bombings of Pan Am 103 and UTA 772 are part of a historical pattern of Libyan Government-sponsored terrorist attacks.

Despite these counterterrorism accomplishments, there is a continuing danger posed by state sponsorship. Iranian agents have been charged with the August murder of former Iranian Prime Minister Bakhtiar and his aide outside Paris. Iran has also strengthened its relationship with extremist groups throughout the world by providing advice and financial and material assistance, often through its embassies. Iran's support is increasingly important not only to Islamic extremist organizations but also to Palestinian groups that may have lost some support from other state sponsors. Libya continues to provide financial, logistic, and training facilities for international terrorist groups, including the notorious Abu Nidal organization (ANO), which is headquartered in Libya. Syria continues to allow terrorists to operate within its territory and allows numerous terrorist groups -- of both Palestinian and non-Palestinian origin to have training facilities in the Bekaa region of Lebanon, which is under effective Syrian military control. Cuba and North Korea continue to provide safehaven and training for various terrorist groups.

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