Although terrorism remains a concern in East Asia, national reconciliation efforts in Cambodia and the Philippines, and successful prosecutions in Japan, have helped reduce the terrorist profile in the region. Continuing defections by Khmer Rouge troops in Cambodia have reduced their numbers considerably, although the Khmer Rouge is still considered active and dangerous. Talks between the Philippine Government and a major insurgent group there have resulted in a peace agreement, although another major insurgent group has continued attacks in the southern Philippines, and terrorist groups continue to plague that nation. In February the Philippines hosted an international conference on counterterrorism at Baguio, which was attended by representatives of 20 nations, including the United States. The prosecution of a series of leaders of the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan, based primarily on the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack in the Tokyo subway, and the continued pursuit of Aum leaders still at large have dealt a heavy blow to that group. Terrorist activities by the Free Papua Movement (OPM) in Indonesia and by insurgent groups in a number of East Asian countries continue to pose a threat.
In South Asia, terrorist training camps located in Afghanistan remain open. The fate of the four Western hostages, who were kidnapped in July 1995 by Kashmiri militants believed to be associated with the Pakistan-based Harakat ul-Ansar (HUA), remains unknown. Reports from Kashmiri militant sources maintain that the hostages were killed in December 1995, although these reports have not been confirmed.
In Sri Lanka, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) continued to carry out extremely violent attacks in its ongoing campaign to cripple the economy and target government officials. A truck bomb destroyed the Central Bank, killing some 90 persons and wounding hundreds more. A commuter train was bombed, and a bus was ambushed, killing more than 80. The LTTE continued to assassinate political opponents, both civilian and military.
The Indian and Pakistani Governments each claim that the intelligence service of the other country sponsors bombings on its territory.
Plagued by the absence of a cohesive central government and ongoing fighting among rival factions, Afghanistan remained a training ground for Islamic militants and terrorists in 1996. Ahmed Shah Masood, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf all maintained training and indoctrination facilities in Afghanistan, mainly for non-Afghans. They continue to provide logistic support and training facilities to Islamic extremists despite military losses in the past year. Individuals who trained in these camps were involved in insurgencies in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chechnya, Tajikistan, Kashmir, the Philippines, and the Middle East in 1996.
Usama Bin Ladin
The Taliban militia, which took over the capital city, Kabul, in September, has permitted Islamic extremists to continue to train in territories under its control even though they claimed to have closed the camps. The group confiscated camps belonging to rival factions and turned them over to groups such as the Pakistan-based Kashmiri terrorist group Harakat ul-Ansar.
Saudi-born extremist Usama Bin Ladin relocated to Afghanistan from Sudan in mid-1996 in an area controlled by the Taliban and remained there through the end of the year, establishing a new base of operations. In August, and again in November, Bin Ladin announced his intention to stage terrorist and guerrilla attacks against US personnel in Saudi Arabia in order to force the United States to leave the region.
Continuing defections throughout 1996 have greatly reduced the number of Khmer Rouge guerrillas. Defectors are in the process of being integrated into the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. Nevertheless, Khmer Rouge hardliners conducted numerous violent attacks, primarily against Cambodian military forces, and were also responsible for the killings, kidnapping, and abduction for forced labor of civilians.
In March the Khmer Rouge kidnapped a British citizen who was involved in clearing mines. Rumors of his death have been denied by Khmer Rouge spokesmen. There has been occasional Khmer Rouge rhetoric suggesting that Westerners especially are being targeted for terrorist acts, but a terrorist campaign specifically directed at Westerners has not developed.
India continues to face security problems because of the insurgency in Kashmir and separatist movements elsewhere in the country. Numerous small bombings and assassination attempts against local politicians occurred throughout the year, but particularly during the fall, when the first legislative assembly elections since 1987 were held in Kashmir and the newly elected state government was installed. A militant group based in Pakistan calling itself the Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Front (JKIF) claimed responsibility for car bombings in New Delhi in January and May and a bus bombing in Rajasthan in May that killed at least 40 people. Kashmiri militants, believed to be associated with the Pakistan-based Harakat ul-Ansar (HUA), may have killed the four remaining Westerners-one US citizen, two Britons, and one German-whom they captured in July 1995 hiking near Srinagar, Kashmir, although their deaths have not been confirmed. Another US citizen managed to escape, but a Norwegian hostage was killed in 1995.
The Government of India has been largely successful in controlling the Sikh separatist movement in Punjab State, but Sikh groups claimed to have worked with the Kashmiri JKIF to bomb targets in New Delhi.
Other insurgent groups in the northeastern state of Assam and the southern state of Andhra Pradesh attacked security officials, rival political leaders, civilians, and infrastructure targets throughout 1996. Insurgents in Assam damaged oil pipelines for the first time in November. In Andhra Pradesh, the Naxalite People's War Group staged several attacks on police and local political leaders from September through November after a previous ban on the group was reimposed.
The Indian and Pakistani Governments each claim that the intelligence service of the other country sponsors bombings on its territory. There were reports that official Pakistani support to militants fighting in Kashmir, including the HUA, continued well into 1996. Pakistan alleged in a detailed press report that India sponsored a series of bombings in Pakistan's Punjab Province from late 1995 to mid-1996 in which at least 18 civilians were killed.
The prosecution of Aum Shinrikyo leader Shoko Asahara and other cult leaders continued in 1996. Several additional Aum Shinrikyo members who had been implicated in the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack in the Tokyo subway that killed 12 persons were arrested in Japan in 1996.
Five former cult officials have testified in court that Asahara instructed them to carry out the subway gas attack and other killings. In addition to the murder charge stemming from the gas attack, Asahara faces 16 other charges ranging from kidnapping and murder to illegal production of drugs and weapons.
Although no longer active in Japan as a terrorist group, Japanese Red Army members remain at large elsewhere around the world.
Terrorist-related violence continues in Pakistan as a result of domestic conflicts. Sectarian violence, including bombings, continued throughout the year in Sindh, Punjab, and in the North-West Frontier Provinces, resulting in about 175 deaths. Although the government has quelled much of the violence in Karachi, it has yet to produce a political settlement that would provide a lasting peace. The Pakistani Government has attributed most terrorist acts in Karachi either to the ethnically-based Mohajir Quami Movement (MQM) or to the Shaheed Bhutto group of the Pakistan People's Party, which was led by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's brother until his death in a clash with police on 20 September.
The Government of Pakistan acknowledges that it continues to provide moral, political, and diplomatic support to Kashmiri militants but denies allegations of other assistance. Reports continued in 1996, however, of official Pakistani support to militants fighting in Kashmir. One Pakistan-backed group, the Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Front (JKIF), claimed responsibility for three bombings in and near New Delhi in early 1996 that killed at least 40 persons. There also are reports that militants associated with the Harakat ul-Ansar (HUA) may have killed four Westerners kidnapped in Kashmir in July 1995.
Pakistan alleged in a detailed report in the press that India had sponsored a series of bombings in Pakistan's Punjab Province from late 1995 to mid-1996, in which at least 18 persons were killed. In July authorities arrested a Pakistani national who claimed that Indian intelligence agents recruited him and provided him with explosives for the bombings. In mid-November a court in Lahore sentenced one individual to death and another to life imprisonment for their involvement in the bombings.
The Philippine Government scored a major triumph when it concluded a peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front, the largest Muslim rebel group, ending its 24-year insurgency. Negotiations with the second-largest insurgent group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), proceeded slowly, however, and clashes continued between MILF and government forces in the southern Philippines. The MILF and the smaller, extremist Abu Sayyaf Group are both fighting for a separate Islamic state in the southern Philippines. Earlier in the year, a wave of bombings in Mindanao was attributed to Muslim extremists; several of the attacks targeted Christian churches. For the most part, these attacks have been limited to the southern Philippines, but in February a grenade attack in the Makati business district of Manila wounded four persons and damaged the local headquarters of both Shell and Citibank. Police suspect the Abu Sayyaf Group. Other terrorist groups in the Philippines include the Alex Boncayao Brigade, which claimed responsibility for the assassination of a former provincial vice governor in June 1996, and the New People's Army. These three groups were believed to have been planning attacks during the APEC conference, held in Manila in November; a bomb was discovered and defused at Ninoy Aquino International Airport that week. No group claimed responsibility, and no arrests were made.
The successful prosecution in the United States of Ramzi Ahmed Yousef on charges of plotting to bomb US passenger jets in Asia and the Pacific was due largely to outstanding cooperation from the Philippine Government. At the same time, persons convicted of terrorist acts in the Philippines are among those eligible to apply for amnesty under a national reconciliation program set up for former rebels who committed crimes in pursuit of political objectives.
In February the Philippines hosted the Baguio Conference, an international conference on counterterrorism. The 20 nations represented there, including the United States, issued a communique expressing their collective commitment to combat terrorism in several important ways.
The separatist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) continued its campaign of violence in 1996, attacking economic and infrastructure targets and assassinating political opponents. The LTTE exploded a truck bomb near the Central Bank in Colombo on 31 January, killing some 90 persons; bombed a commuter train on 24 July, killing 70; and ambushed a bus in September, killing 11 civilians. The group staged a suicide bomb attack on the Minister of Housing in Jaffna in July. Although the minister survived, 25 persons were killed, including a Brigadier General.
The LTTE has refrained from targeting Western tourists, but a front group-the Ellalan Force-continued to send threatening letters to Western missions and the press.
Damage from truck bomb exploded by LTTE in Colombo, 31 January.
(Copyrighted Daily News)