Great Seal logo Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1999

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Five gunmen attacked Armenia's Parliament in October, killing eight members, including the Prime Minister and National Assembly Speaker. Later in the year a grenade was thrown at the Russian Embassy, damaging several cars but causing no injuries.

A major Central Asian regional crisis erupted in Kyrgyzstan when members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) twice crossed the border from Tajikistan and took hostages. Among the several dozen hostages taken in the second incident were four Japanese geologists, who eventually were released after several nations intervened; ransom was rumored to have been paid.

Russian cities, including Moscow, were subjected to several bomb attacks, which killed and injured hundreds of persons. Police accused the attackers of belonging to Chechen and Dagestan insurgent groups with ties to Usama Bin Ladin and foreign mujahidin but presented no evidence linking Chechen separatists to the bombings. The attacks prompted Russia to send military forces into Chechnya to eliminate "foreign terrorists." Neighboring Caucasus states within the Russian Federation as well as surrounding countries feared Russia's military campaign in Chechnya would increase radicalization of Islamic internal populations and encourage violence and the spread of instability throughout the region. The Russian campaign into Chechnya also raised fears in Azerbaijan and Georgia, as well as Russia, that the Chechen insurgents increasingly would use those countries for financial and logistic support.

Uzbekistan experienced several major attacks by IMU insurgents seeking to overthrow the government. In February five coordinated car bombs exploded, killing 16 persons, in what the government labeled an attempt on the President's life. In September the IMU declared a jihad against the Uzbekistani Government. In November the IMU was blamed for a violent encounter outside the capital city of Tashkent that killed 10 Uzbekistani Government officials and 15 insurgents.

On 27 October five Armenian gunmen opened fire on a Parliament session, killing eight government leaders, including Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisyan and National Assembly Speaker Karen Demirchyan. The gunmen claimed they were protesting the responsibility of government officials for dire social and economic conditions in Armenia since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The gunmen later surrendered to authorities and at yearend were being detained with 10 other Armenians accused of complicity. An investigation of the incident was ongoing.

Russian facilities in Armenia also came under attack. On 25 November a grenade was thrown into the Russian Embassy compound in Yerevan, causing no injuries but damaging several cars.

Although Azerbaijan did not face a serious threat from international terrorism, it served as a logistic hub for international mujahidin with ties to terrorist groups, some of whom supported the Chechen insurgency in Russia. Azerbaijan increased its border controls with Russia when the Chechen conflict reignited during the year to prevent foreign mujahidin from operating within its borders.

On 13 October terrorists kidnapped seven UN observers near Abkhazia and demanded a significant ransom for their release. Georgian officials secured the victims' freedom within two days, however, without acceding to the kidnappers' demands.

Georgia also faced spillover violence from the Chechen conflict and, like Azerbaijan, contended with international mujahidin seeking to use Georgia as a conduit for financial and logistic assistance to the Chechen fighters. Russia pressured the Georgian Government to introduce stronger border controls to stop the flow of men and arms. Russian officials also alleged that armed Chechen fighters entered Georgia with refugees to hide until a possible Chechen counterattack against Russia in the spring of 2000.

Violence again colored Georgian domestic politics, especially attacks against senior leaders. Although no attacks were conducted against the President this year, Georgian security officials disrupted an alleged coup plot in May, and other prominent officials were the victims or targets of political and criminal violence.

International terrorism shocked Kyrgyzstan for the first time in August when armed Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) militants twice crossed into Kyrgyzstan and instigated a two-and-one-half-month hostage crisis. From 6 to 13 August, IMU militants from Tajikistan held four Kyrgyzstanis hostage in southern Kyrgyzstan before they released them without incident and retreated to Tajikistan. The militants returned in a larger force on 22 August and seized 13 hostages, including four Japanese geologists, their interpreter, a Kyrgyzstani Interior Ministry general, and several Kyrgyzstani soldiers. IMU militants continued to arrive in subsequent weeks, numbering as many as 1,000 at the incursion's peak.

The IMU's implicit goal was to infiltrate Uzbekistan and destabilize the government. The militants first demanded safe passage to Uzbekistan; additional demands called for money and a prisoner exchange. Uzbekistan refused to allow them to enter, leaving Kyrgyzstan's ill-prepared security forces to combat the terrorists with Uzbekistani military assistance, Russian logistic support, and negotiation assistance from other governments. The militants' guerrilla tactics enabled them to maintain their position in difficult mountainous terrain, frustrating the Kyrgyzstani military's attempts to dislodge them. Observers speculated that only the approach of winter forced the militants to retreat into Tajikistan, where negotiators were able to facilitate an agreement between the IMU and Kyrgyzstani representatives.

On 25 October the militants finally released all hostages except a Kyrgystani soldier they had executed. Kyrgyzstan released an IMU prisoner, but Kyrgyzstani and Japanese officials denied Japanese press reports that they paid a monetary ransom for the hostages' release. Although an agreement stipulated that all IMU militants would leave Tajikistani territory after the hostage crisis, some IMU militants may have remained in the region. Central Asian officials and most external observers feared that a similar IMU incursion into Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan could occur in the spring, either from bases in Tajikistan or from terrorist camps in Afghanistan.

In the fall a series of bombings in Russian cities claimed hundreds of victims and raised concern about terrorism in the Russian Federation. On 4 September a truck bomb exploded in front of an apartment complex at a Russian military base in Buynaksk, Dagestan, killing 62 persons and wounding 174. Authorities discovered a second bomb on the base the same day and disarmed it before it caused further casualties. On 8 and 13 September powerful explosions demolished two Moscow apartment buildings, killing more than 200 persons and wounding 200 others. The two Moscow incidents were similar, with explosive materials placed in rented facilities on the ground floor of each building and detonated by timing devices in the early morning. The string of bomb attacks continued when a car bomb exploded in the southern Russian city of Volgodonsk on 16 September, killing 17 persons and wounding more than 500 others.

A caller to Russian authorities claimed responsibility for the Moscow bombings on behalf of the previously unknown "Dagestan Liberation Army," but no claims were made for the incidents in Buynaksk and Volgodonsk. Russian police suspected insurgent groups from Chechnya and Dagestan conducted the bombings at the behest of Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev and the mujahidin leader known as Ibn al-Khattab, although Russian authorities did not release evidence to confirm their suspicions. Russian authorities arrested eight individuals and issued warrants for nine others believed to be hiding in Chechnya but presented no evidence linking Chechen separatists to the bombings.

In response to the apartment building bombings and to an armed incursion by Basayev and Khattab into Dagestan from Chechnya, Russian troops entered Chechnya in October in a campaign to eliminate "foreign terrorists" from the North Caucasus. The forces fighting the Russian army were mostly ethnic Chechens and supporters from other regions of Russia. They received some support from foreign mujahidin with extensive links to Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Central Asian Islamist extremists, as well as to Usama Bin Ladin. At yearend, Chechen militant activity had been localized in the North Caucasus region, but Russia and Chechnya's neighboring states feared increased radicalization of Islamist populations would encourage violence and spread instability elsewhere in Russia and beyond.

There were few violent political acts against the United States in Russia during the year. Anti-NATO sentiment during the Kosovo campaign sparked an attack on the US Embassy in Moscow in late March when a protester unsuccessfully attempted to launch a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) at the facility. The perpetrator sprayed the front of the building with machinegun fire after he failed to launch the RPG. At yearend no progress had been made in identifying or apprehending the assailant.

Security for the international community in Tajikistan did not improve in 1999. The U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe suspended operations in September 1998 because of the Tajikistani Government's limited ability to protect the safety of US and foreign personnel there. U.S. personnel were moved to Almaty, although they travel regularly to Dushanbe.

The IMU's use of Tajikistan as a staging ground for its incursion into Kyrgyzstan was the most significant international terrorist activity in Tajikistan in 1999. The IMU militants entered Kyrgyzstan from bases in Tajikistan and returned to the area with their Japanese and Central Asian hostages when they fled Kyrgyzstan in late September and October. As part of the agreement that resolved the incident, the Uzbekistani militants left Tajikistan, although some IMU fighters may have remained in some regions of the country.

On 16 February five coordinated car bombs targeted at Uzbekistani Government facilities exploded within a two-hour period in downtown Tashkent, killing 16 persons and wounding more than 100 others. Such an attack was unprecedented in a former Soviet republic. Uzbekistani officials feared the attacks were aimed at assassinating President Islom Karimov and suspected the IMU, some of whose members had opposed the Karimov regime for many years. By summer the government had arrested or questioned hundreds of suspects about their possible involvement in the bombings. Ultimately the government condemned 11 suspects to death and sentenced more than 120 others to prison terms.

The IMU threat to Uzbekistan continued, however, with the group's incursion into Kyrgyzstan in August. Although the IMU militants did not attack Uzbekistani soil or personnel at the time, they tried to achieve a foothold in Uzbekistan for future IMU action. The militants in Kyrgyzstan also publicly declared jihad against the Uzbekistani Government on 3 September.

In November a group of Uzbekistani forest rangers encountered a group of IMU members in a mountainous region approximately 80 kilometers east of Tashkent. Initially reported to be bandits, the IMU militants killed four foresters and three Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) police. An extensive MVD search-and-destroy operation resulted in the death of 15 suspected insurgents and three additional MVD special forces officers. During a press conference, the Minister of the Interior identified some of the insurgents as IMU members who had taken hostages in Kyrgyzstan in August.

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