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Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1990
The Year in Review
The year 1990 was one of the few in recent times in which there were no "spectacular" terrorist incidents resulting in the death or injury of a large number of victims. Despite this fact, there were a number of major terrorist developments, including a heightened international terrorist threat owing to Iraq's renewed association with terrorist groups worldwide.
Perhaps the most significant development occurred in the wake of the 2 August Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. A number of Palestinian groups, including the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF), the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), pledged their support for Saddam Hussein, and most threatened terrorist attacks against the West, Israel, and moderate Arab targets in the event of war. Although by year's end no such attacks had taken place, the threat remained high.
Another significant development was the abortive 30 May attack on Israeli beaches by the PLF. The PLF is a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and is therefore subject to the PLO's "renunciation" of terrorism. Following the PLO's refusal to condemn the attack, the United States suspended its dialogue with the PLO, pending action by the PLO demonstrating that it abides by the conditions it accepted in December 1988.
Both of these events highlight the continuing importance of states that support terrorists and sponsor terrorist attacks. The PLF attack on Israel was planned and executed from Libya. In 1990 Iraq, which provides support for a growing number of terrorist allies, was returned to the U.S. government's list of state sponsors of terrorism. The other countries on the list -- Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, and Syria -- continued to provide varying degrees of support -- safehaven, travel documents, arms, training, and technical expertise -- to terrorists.
Latin America emerged in 1990 as the most frequent site for terrorist attacks against U.S. interests. Most of these attacks took place in Chile, Peru, and Colombia. Latin American radical or guerrilla groups engaging in terrorism tended to attack domestic, rather than foreign, targets. Thus, although the number of international terrorist incidents was high, the escalating domestic political violence had an even greater impact on the region.
There was a marked increase in international terrorism in Asia in 1990, primarily because of increased activity by the Communist New People's Army (NPA) in the Philippines. At the same time, South Asia suffered from a notable upsurge in terrorism, particularly in Pakistan where the Afghan secret service was responsible for a rash of terrorist attacks.
There were several positive developments regarding terrorism in 1990. Eight Western hostages held in the Middle East -- including Americans Robert Polhill and Frank Reed -- were released from captivity. Furthermore, no Westerners were taken hostage in Lebanon during 1990. Another positive development was the marked decline in terrorism in the Middle East and a reduction in Middle Eastern "spillover" terrorism in other regions.
The advent of democracy in Eastern Europe brought a change in East European states' attitudes toward terrorism. The new East European governments were eager to expose the support previous regimes had provided to terrorists, such as East German safehaven for Red Army Faction (RAF) terrorists and Czechoslovak sales of Semtex plastic
GE 3 TXT204 explosives. Terrorists no longer find official support or safehaven in the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe.
The trend toward multinational cooperation on counterterrorist issues continued during the year. Following major terrorist attacks such as the Pan Am 103 and UTA 772 bombings, the United Nations directed the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to develop a method of "marking" plastic explosives for preblast detection. Substantial work was completed by ICAO members on a convention requiring all manufacturers of plastic explosives to add chemicals to the explosives that would make them easier to detect. An agreement, called the Convention on the Marking of Plastic Explosives for the Purpose of Detection, was signed in early 1991.
Continuing the trend of previous years, a number of important terrorist trials took place in 1990, as governments continued to impose the rule of law on terrorists.