Terrorism Declines But Threat Remains High
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 3, 1997 Global terrorism dropped to a 25-year low in 1996, but last year's attacks were much more deadly than in the past, according to a State Department report released April 30.
The number of international terrorist incidents dropped from a peak of 665 in 1987 to 296 in 1996, State Department officials said. The death toll, however, rose from 163 in 1995 to 311 in 1996. Officials attribute this increase to more ruthless attacks on mass civilian targets and use of more powerful bombs.
"Terrorists proved again in 1996 that they can command a worldwide audience for their crimes and cause great disruption, fear and economic damage," the report states.
While the number of international attacks dropped, State Department officials said, the threat of terrorism remains high. A growing concern is the possible use of materials of mass destruction, officials said.
Governments throughout the world have condemned terrorism, which has led to a decline in state-sponsored terrorism, officials said. Iran, a primary state sponsor, has not been deterred, however. "As terrorism becomes more global, cooperation among states is indispensable," the report states.
U.S. counterterrorist policy is three-pronged. First, make no deals with terrorists nor submit to blackmail. Second, treat terrorists as criminals, pursue them aggressively and apply the rule of law. Third, impose economic, diplomatic and political sanctions on states that sponsor and support terrorists.
"We will never surrender to terror," President Clinton said in April. "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."
Two-thirds of the 1996 international terrorist attacks were "minor acts of politically motivated violence against commercial targets," State Department officials said. The other third included Marxist terrorists in Lima, Peru, seizing the Japanese ambassador's residence and hundreds of hostages. Suicide bombings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem aimed at destroying the Middle East peace process killed more than 60. A truck bombing at Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in June killed 19 U.S. airmen and wounded hundreds more.
DoD shifted into high gear to thwart terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere following the Khobar Towers attack. The tragedy sparked a vigorous, DoD-wide campaign to safeguard U.S. service members.
DoD's goal is to be ready for any contingency. About 30 nations now possess chemical and biological weapons programs and at least 12 have advanced missile capabilities, U.S. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said recently at a terrorism conference at University of Georgia in Athens.
Adversaries may use a variety of creative means searching for an Achilles' heel, Cohen said. Cyber soldiers and saboteurs can threaten the nation with computer viruses or logic bombs. Terrorists who resort to weapons of mass destruction can destroy hundreds of thousands of lives.
"This scenario of a nuclear, biological or chemical weapon in the hands of a terrorist cell or rogue nation is not only plausible, it's quite real," Cohen warned. "The information superhighway is not traveled only by pilgrims and high priests of peace. Sick scoundrels, religious zealots, flat-out fanatics and extreme fundamentalists have entered the stream of electronic commerce and communication."
Cohen likened terrorism to a chronic disease. He said the nation must be "constantly alert to the first signs and symptoms of these cancers that seek to destroy our life blood and the body politic of our nation."
Algeria, India, Pakistan and other countries are seeing growing domestic terrorism, according to the State Department report. The United States has trained more than 19,000 foreign law enforcement officials from more than 80 countries in airport security, bomb detection, maritime security, VIP protection hostage rescue and crisis management, officials said.
U.S. officials are also ramping up against the threat of domestic terrorism. As part of DoD's Domestic Preparedness Program, military teams are helping federal, state and local emergency response officials in 120 American cities prepare for possible chemical/biological attacks.
The need for such training was highlighted in April in Washington, D.C., when a package oozing a red-gelatinous substance was delivered to a religious organization, Cohen said. Office workers were quarantined and streets barricaded for hours as local officials tried to identify the substance, which was later found to be nonhazardous.
The World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings took terrorism from the realm of the international to America's home turf, Cohen said. He described domestic terrorism as "a real threat that's here today" and one heightened by the Information Age. The Internet, he noted, offers information on how to make bombs and other weapons -- domestic terrorism will likely intensify in the years ahead as more groups access this kind of information and have the ability to use it.