News

TERRORISM REMAINS A GLOBAL THREAT

By Edmund F. Scherr USIA Staff Writer 30 April 1997

Washington -- The casualties of international terrorism have increased the past year even though the number of attacks have declined, according to the annual U.S. survey of these incidents. "Terrorists appear to be using much more lethal explosives against mass non-combatant targets," Ambassador Philip Wilcox, Jr., State Department coordinator for counterterrorism, said April 30. In 1996, he reported, the number of international terrorist acts fell to 296, a 25-year low. But the number of people killed rose to 311 from 177 in 1995. Wilcox spoke at a press briefing marking the release of the State Department's report, "Patterns of Global Terrorism -- 1996." This is the department's 16th annual report, mandated by Congress, on international terrorism. International terrorism is defined as terrorism involving citizens or territory of more than one country. "Terrorism is...a more lethal threat than it has ever been in the past, because of growing access of terrorists to technology," the ambassador stressed. Today conventional explosives and the technology to make them are readily available, he said. "And worse yet, terrorists have increasing access to materials of mass destruction -- nuclear, chemical and biological." He said that the "volatile mix of religious fanaticism, pathological terrorists, and other dangerous and perverse forces and their access to modern technology increases the danger of terrorism tremendously." But the expansion of international media and communications, gives terrorists "a much broader stage upon which to perform, to intimidate, and to terrorize," Wilcox added. Terrorism is a major threat to the security interests of the United States and its friends because of the human toll it takes and its "grave" economic damage, he argued.. He said the United States takes the threat of international terrorism "very seriously." c The report designates seven countries -- the same seven as in recent years -- as "state" sponsors of terrorism -- Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. Wilcox said that Iran remains the premier state sponsor of terrorism in 1996. A recent verdict in a German court dramatically showed Iran to be a flagrant violator of international norms, he continued. That verdict convicted Iranian agents in the murders of four Iranian dissidents. German prosecutors charged that the top Iranian leadership approved the killings. Since 1990, Wilcox pointed out, "we estimate -- and indeed, we have solid information -- that Iran was responsible for over 50 murders of political dissidents and others overseas." He said the decision-making process in Iran is a collective one in which the most senior members of the government participate. " These acts of Iranian-supported terrorism abroad are not the result of rogue elements within the Iranian bureaucracy; they are sanctioned at the very highest levels." "The decline of international terrorist acts is a result, in part, of tougher policies by the U.S. government and by our friends," Wilcox said. "There is a growing consensus around the world that terrorism is a pure crime, that it cannot be condoned nor excused for political purposes." While international terrorism has declined, he noted that incidents of domestic terrorism in other countries appear to be rising. "It's exacting a terrible cost in countries like Sri Lanka, Colombia, India, and Pakistan, for example, and Algeria." And, he continued, the Basque terrorist group, the ETA, again last year heightened its campaign against tourists in Spain. Citing such events last year as three terrorist bombings in Israel and the attack on a U.S. barracks in Saudi Arabia, he noted that these events "prove again that small groups of terrorists can do tremendous damage." Also, he noted that there is more "freelance" terrorism, acts committed by terrorists not linked to a group or a state sponsor. On other points, Wilcox said: -- "As part of our growing concern" about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction -- especially chemical and biological weapons -- "we are paying a great deal of attention to monitoring the threat of this kind of terrorism, developing technology to detect such substances, and developing contingency plans to deal with such an attack." He noted that the "record of such attacks is very, very slim.... But the catastrophic impact of a terrorist attack using these substances more than justifies a major effort to deter such attacks." -- Libya is no longer a major player in terrorism but "we will not be satisfied until the suspects in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 are brought to justice." Libya has refused to turn over for trial two Libyan suspects. -- "Iran has sought --- by exporting terrorism and subversion -- to create instability in the Persian Gulf region and elsewhere. They have worked very hard to undermine the Middle East peace process by support for Hizballah, HAMAS, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad" groups. -- In the recent hostage crisis in Peru, "we had hoped very much that it could be resolved through peaceful means. And, indeed, the Peruvian government did too." He said that the situation for the hostages (after 171 days) became "intolerable," and the Peruvian government decided in the end to use force. "It was an extraordinarily successful hostage rescue operation."