Middle East Terrorism 1998

Middle Eastern terrorist groups and their state sponsors continued to plan, train for, and conduct terrorist acts in 1998, although their actions cumulatively were less lethal than in 1997. The lower level of fatalities resulted from more effective counterterrorist measures by various governments and from the absence in 1998 of the kinds of major incidents that had killed dozens the previous year, such as the attack on Luxor temple in Egypt and a series of HAMAS suicide bombings in public places in Israel. The most dramatic terrorist acts attributed to Middle Eastern terrorists in 1998 actually occurred in Africa, where Usama Bin Ladin's multinational al-Qaida network bombed the US Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

In Egypt, government security forces scored some successes in reducing violence by Islamist opponents, particularly the al-Gama'at al-Islamiyya, which had conducted the lethal attack on tourists at Luxor in 1997. Judicial proceedings brought convictions against many terrorists. Deaths from terrorism-related incidents in 1998 fell to 47, fewer than one-third the number in 1997. Nonetheless, there was troubling evidence of a growing collaboration in other countries between Egyptian extremists--from both the Gama' and the Egyptian al-Jihad--and Usama Bin Ladin.

The Algerian Government also made progress in combating domestic terrorism in 1998, undertaking aggressive counterinsurgency operations again the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) that slowed the GIA's campaign of indiscriminate violence against civilians. As the GIA's bloody tactics drew increasing criticism both inside and outside Algeria, other militants joined the unilateral cease-fire that the Islamic Salvation Army had declared in late 1997.

Palestinian groups opposed to the peace process mounted terrorist attacks in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. HAMAS conducted car bombings, shootings, and grenade attacks--injuring dozens of civilians--while two terrorists belonging to the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ) launched a suicide bombing at a Jerusalem market. Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority conducted raids and arrests that undercut the extremists' ability to inflict as many fatalities as in previous years.

Security conditions in Lebanon improved in 1998, but the lack of complete government control in parts of Beirut, portions of the Bekaa Valley, and the so-called Israeli security zone in southern Lebanon enabled numerous terrorist groups to operate with relative impunity. Hizballah, HAMAS, the PIJ, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine--General Command (PFLP-GC) used camps in Lebanon for training and operational planning. The conflict in southern Lebanon between Lebanese armed groups and Israel and its local allies continued unabated.

In Yemen, foreign and indigenous extremists in 1998 conducted several bombings and numerous kidnappings, including the abduction and subsequent release of more than 60 foreign nationals. A group calling itself the Islamic Army of Aden claimed responsibility for the seizure of 16 Western tourists. The terrorists killed four of the hostages when Yemeni Government security forces tried to free them.

Iran, Syria, Libya, and Iraq all persisted in their direct and indirect state sponsorship of terrorism. In most cases, this support included providing assistance, training, or safehaven to terrorist groups opposed to the Middle East peace process. In some cases, particularly Iran and Iraq, it also included targeting dissidents and opponents of these authoritarian regimes for assassination or harassment.


The Government of Algeria in 1998 made progress in combating domestic terrorism, which has claimed approximately 75,000 lives since Islamic extremists began their violent campaign to overthrow the government in 1992. The government intensified its counterinsurgency operations against the Armed Islamic Group, and several militant groups in 1998 joined the unilateral cease-fire declared by the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS)--the armed wing of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS)--in October 1997. The GIA also suffered a number of setbacks to its networks in Europe. No foreign nationals were killed in acts of terrorism in Algeria during the year.

The GIA continued to conduct terrorist operations in Algeria in 1998, targeting a broad spectrum of Algerian civilians. The worst incident of 1998 occurred on 11 January during the holy month of Ramadan, when GIA extremists massacred numerous civilians in Sidi Hamed. Official estimates put the death toll at more than 100 civilians; press accounts reported the death toll even higher. Other smaller civilian massacres and acts of violence also continued throughout the year.

The seemingly indiscriminate and horrific violence against civilians--including women and children--was condemned widely in domestic and international circles and eroded Islamist support for the group abroad. The GIA's campaign of attacking civilians also exacerbated internal divisions: dissident GIA leader Hassan Hattab in May publicly criticized GIA faction leader Antar Zouabri for his attacks on civilians and in September formally separated from the GIA. Hattab created a new element, the Salafi Group for Call and Combat, aimed primarily at attacking security force elements. Despite the split from Zouabri, Hattab's faction continued to commit violence in Algeria throughout 1998. Hattab claimed responsibility for assassinating the popular Berber singer Matoub Lounes in June, an act that further alienated the Algerian public.


Minor security incidents continued to plague Bahrain in 1998. Bahraini security forces in November arrested several Bahraini and Lebanese citizens, seizing weapons and explosives, in connection with a plot to attack public facilities and other installations in Bahrain. Bahraini Prime Minister Shaykh Khalifa claimed the operation was planned in Lebanon, where members of the group reportedly had received military training. Some of those arrested allegedly also confessed to conducting arson attacks.

Bahrain continued in 1998 to seek the extradition of eight individuals--including five in the United Kingdom--who were convicted in absentia in November 1997 for orchestrating and funding from abroad a campaign aimed at disrupting Bahraini security.


The number of deaths in 1998 from terrorist-related incidents fell to 47, fewer than one-third of the tally for 1997 and the lowest since 1992. Egyptian security forces increased security and counterterrorist operations against Egyptian extremists, particularly al-Gama'at al-Islamiyya, following its attack in November 1997 at Luxor that killed 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians. Trials of Egyptian extremists responsible for various terrorist acts were held throughout the year, resulting in several convictions. The improving security situation led tourism to increase in 1998. Egypt also hosted in October an Interpol conference that promoted international cooperation in the fight against terrorism. Egypt also worked closely with other Arab countries in counterterrorism efforts, pursuant to an agreement reached among Arab interior ministers earlier in the year.

Despite the intensified security and counterterrorist actions following the Luxor incident, Egyptian extremists--particularly al-Jihad--continued to levy threats against Egypt and the United States for the arrests and extradition in 1998 of their cadre from Albania, Azerbaijan, South Africa, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Both al-Jihad and al-Gama'at al-Islamiyya signed terrorist sponsor Usama Bin Ladin's fatwa in February that called for attacks against US civilians, although al-Gama'at publicly denied that it is a member of Bin Ladin's World Islamic Front for the Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders. Al-Gama'at leaders imprisoned in Egypt followed the lead of imprisoned Shaykh Umar Abd al-Rahman, issuing a public statement in early November that called for the cessation of operations in Egypt and urged al-Gama'at to create a "peaceful front." Gama'at leaders abroad endorsed the idea but emphasized they would continue to target US interests and support the jihad.

Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip

Violence and terrorism by Palestinian groups opposed to the peace process continued in 1998, albeit at a reduced level as compared with the previous two years. HAMAS alone launched more than a dozen attacks over the year. Among the more notable were grenade attacks in Hebron in September that injured 25 persons and in Beersheva in October that injured more than 50. A HAMAS car bomb in the Gaza Strip in late October killed one Israeli soldier and injured several schoolchildren. The PIJ attempted a car bombing in November in Jerusalem that killed only the two militants.

Other serious attacks against Israel and its citizens also occurred, including the shooting deaths of two settlers on guard duty in early August and the assassination of a prominent rabbi in Hebron later that month. Small bomb explosions in Tel Aviv in August and in Jerusalem in September wounded a total of 13 Israelis.

For its part, Israel continued vigorous counterterrorist operations, including numerous arrests and seizures of weapons and explosives. In one of the most significant actions of the year, Israeli forces on 10 September raided a farmhouse near Hebron, killing two leading HAMAS terrorists, Adil and Imad Awadallah.

The Palestinian Authority (PA), which is responsible for security in Gaza and most major West Bank cities, continued to act against Palestinian perpetrators of anti-Israeli violence. The PA's security apparatus preempted several attacks over the year, including a planned HAMAS double-suicide bombing staged from the Gaza Strip in late September. The PA launched several large-scale arrest campaigns targeting individuals with ties to terrorist organizations and detained several leading HAMAS and PIJ political figures. In one of the more significant operations of the year, the PA in late September uncovered a HAMAS bomb lab filled with hundreds of kilograms of explosives. At the same time, more PA effort is needed to enhance its bilateral cooperation with Israel and its unilateral fight against terrorism.

In late October, the PA and Israel signed the Wye River Memorandum, which includes a number of provisions for increased security cooperation.


There were no major international terrorist attacks in Jordan in 1998, but several low-level incidents kept security forces focused on combating the terrorist threat. In February, amid rising tensions over Iraqi weapons inspections, the British Embassy in Amman was the target of a firebomb attack that caused no damage. Between mid-March and early May, the Reform and Defiance Movement--a small, mostly indigenous radical Islamic group--conducted a string of small bombings in Amman targeting Jordanian security forces, the Modern American School, and a major hotel. These attacks caused minor property damage.

Amman continued to maintain tight security along its borders and to interdict and prosecute individuals caught smuggling weapons and explosives, primarily intended for Palestinian rejectionist groups in the West Bank. In September, Amman convicted two Jordanians of possession of illegal explosives with the intent to commit terrorist acts and sentenced them to 15 years in prison with hard labor. The two reportedly had planned to attack Israelis in Israel or the West Bank. In October the state prosecutor referred to the security court the case of six men accused of possessing and selling of explosives to support terrorist aims.

Jordan permitted and monitored the limited presence of several Palestinian rejectionist groups, including HAMAS, the PIJ, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Palestine-General Command. The Jordanian Government allowed the HAMAS Political Bureau to maintain a small information office in Amman as well as personal offices for senior HAMAS members who live in Jordan, several of whom are Jordanian citizens. In 1998, Jordan did not permit known members of the group's military wing to reside or operate in country, however. In November, Jordan issued a public warning to HAMAS and other rejectionist groups that it would not tolerate acts that "impede implementation" of the Wye River Memorandum.

Jordan continued to cooperate with other regional states concerning terrorist threats to the region and in April signed the multilateral Arab Anti-Terrorism Agreement. King Hussein publicly voiced support for the US-UK initiative in the Pan Am 103 case.


Security conditions in Lebanon continued to improve in 1998, but lack of complete government control in several areas of the country--including portions of the Bekaa Valley and Beirut's southern suburbs--and easy access to arms and explosives throughout much of the country contributed to an environment with the potential for acts of violence. The Lebanese Government did not exert full control over militia groups engaged in fighting in and near the so-called security zone occupied by Israel and its proxy militia, the Army of South Lebanon.

In these areas, a variety of terrorist groups continued to operate with relative impunity, conducting terrorist training and other operational activities. These groups include Hizballah, HAMAS, the Abu Nidal organization (ANO), the PIJ and the PFLP-GC. Hizballah presents the most potent threat to US personnel and facilities in Lebanon by an organized group. Although Hizballah has not attacked US interests in Lebanon since 1991, its animosity toward the United States has not abated, and the group continued to monitor the US Embassy and its personnel in Beirut. Hizballah leaders routinely denounced US policies in the region and sharply condemned the Wye River Memorandum between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

One anti-US attack occurred in Lebanon in 1998. On 21 June four rocket-propelled grenades were fired at the US Embassy in Beirut from some 700 meters away, falling only a short distance from their launch site and causing no damage. The grenades were launched from a crudely manufactured firing device, suggesting that the attack was not conducted by an organized group. Lebanese authorities responded swiftly to the incident, but as of 31 December investigators had not determined who had conducted the attack and there were no claims of responsibility. The reason for the attack is unclear, but its occurrence two days after Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri had visited Washington suggested it was intended as a sign of displeasure with US-Lebanese relations or was an attempt to embarrass Hariri.

Truck bombing of the US military's Khubar Towers housing

Lebanese citizens also were the targets of random bombings in 1998. Car bombs targeted Amal and PIJ leaders in south Lebanon in October, a resident of Sidon in July, and a Sunni mayoral candidate in west Beirut in May. Although no one was killed, these incidents illustrate the potential danger from random political violence in Lebanon.

The Lebanese Government continued to support publicly international counterterrorist initiatives, and its judiciary system made limited progress in prosecuting terrorist court cases. In early June the Lebanese Supreme Court rejected a defense appeal for a retrial of five Japanese Red Army members and endorsed the three-year prison sentence handed down last year.

Saudi Arabia

There were several reported threats against US interests in Saudi Arabia in 1998 but no terrorist incidents. The US Embassy in Riyadh and Consulates in Jiddah and Dhahran closed for a few days in early October after receiving information that a terrorist attack was being planned against the Embassy.

Terrorist Usama Bin Ladin, whose Saudi citizenship was revoked in 1994, continued publicly to threaten US interests in Saudi Arabia in 1998. In a press conference in Afghanistan in May, Bin Ladin declared a holy war against US forces in the Arabian Peninsula, many of whom are stationed in Saudi Arabia. The declaration followed a communiqué in February in which Bin Ladin and other terrorists called for attacks on US and allied civilians and military interests worldwide.

The investigation into the bombing in June 1996 of the Khubar Towers housing facility near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, continued in 1998, but it has not been resolved. In that incident, a large truck bomb killed 19 US citizens and wounded more than 500 others. The Saudi Government has requested that the United States extradite Hani al-Sayegh--a Saudi national arrested by the Canadians and deported to the United States in 1997--so they may question him about his alleged role in the bombing. At the end of 1998 a decision on al-Sayegh's extradition case was pending with the US Immigration and Naturalization Service. In November, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayif stated publicly that Bin Ladin was not responsible for the Khubar Towers bombing or the bombing in November 1995 of the Office of the Program Manager-Saudi Arabia National Guard (OPM/ SANG) facility in Riyadh, which killed seven persons. Nayif allowed that individuals motivated by Bin Ladin could have conducted the attacks, however.


There were no terrorist incidents reported in Tunisia in 1998. The Government of Tunisia remains publicly committed to countering terrorist threats, particularly from Islamic extremists. The government continued publicly to express its opposition to international terrorism, strongly condemning the terrorist attacks in August against the US Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. Tunis also remains concerned about Algeria's violence spilling over into Tunisia and employs strict domestic security controls to counter this threat.

Tunisia continued to participate in regional counter-terrorism efforts. In January the government hosted a meeting of Arab League interior ministers at which an agreement was reached to enhance inter-Arab counterterrorism cooperation. Tunisia agreed to extradite convicted terrorists, improve information exchanges, and strengthen control on the infiltration and travel of suspected terrorists in Arab countries.

The government continued to prosecute individuals for membership in the outlawed An-Nahda movement, which it considers a terrorist organization, although there were no reports of terrorist attacks by the group in 1998. On 2 June a Tunisian court found two Tunisian nationals guilty of assassinating Belgian Vice Premier Andre Cools in Liege in 1991 and sentenced them to 20-year prison terms.


A series of bombings in 1998 in Sanaa and southern Yemen caused numerous casualties and some property damage. A bombing in April at a mosque near Sanaa killed two persons and injured 27 others, including two US citizens. In response to the bombings, Yemeni authorities in August announced the arrest of several Yemeni oppositionists, alleging they were working for "foreign parties." Interior Minister Arab also blamed "foreign groups" for a bombing in September at a market in Aden that caused two deaths and 27 injuries. In August the United States warned US citizens in Yemen of a threat to US interests there, days after terrorists bombed the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Three persons were killed and several were injured in November when a car bomb exploded near the German Embassy in Sanaa.

Yemeni tribesmen kidnapped and released more than 60 foreign nationals in l998, more than three times the number abducted in 1997. The Islamic Army of Aden--a little known Islamic group that has issued anti-US threats--claimed responsibility for the kidnapping in late December of 16 Western tourists, including two US citizens. Four of the tourists died, and two others--including one US citizen--were wounded during a Yemeni Government rescue attempt that liberated the remaining hostages. Following the incident, the group issued a statement calling for the lifting of sanctions against Iraq. In addition, gunmen in December shot and wounded a US citizen working on a Dutch agricultural development project while they were attempting to hijack his car. The Yemeni Government issued a decree in August implementing severe punishment--including execution--for kidnappers and stepped up enforcement of the law on unlicensed weapons in major cities.

Continuing efforts begun in 1997, the Yemeni Government took further steps to rein in foreign extremists. Sanaa increased its security cooperation with other Arab countries and reportedly forced several foreign extremists to leave Yemen. The government also instituted the requirement that Algerian, British, Egyptian, Libyan, Sudanese, and Tunisian nationals seeking entry into Yemen travel directly from their home counties. Nevertheless, the government's inability to control many remote areas continued to make the country a safehaven for terrorist groups.

Source: Patterns of Global Terrorism 1998, U.S. State Department.