Middle East Terrorism 1999


Middle Eastern terrorist groups and their state sponsors continued to plan, train for, and carry out acts of terrorism in 1999 at a level comparable to that of the previous year. Casualties remained relatively low, partly as result of counterterrorist measures by various governments, improved international cooperation, and the absence of major incidents that might have caused high numbers of fatalities. Nonetheless, certain terrorist groups remained active and continued to try to mount lethal attacks. These included Usama Bin Ladin's multinational al-Qaida organization as well as The Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS) and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), both of which receive support from Iran.

In Egypt, for the first time in years, there were no terrorism-related deaths, due in large measure to successful counterterrorist efforts by the Egyptian Government and a cease-fire declared by the Gama'at al-Islamiyya, Egypt's largest terrorist group. Egyptian authorities released more than 2,000 Gama'at prisoners during the year but continued to arrest and convict other active Gama'at terrorists as well as Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) members. The EIJ continued to threaten Egyptian and U.S. interests despite the eruption of internal schisms that wracked the group during the year.

The Algerian Government also made progress in combating domestic terrorism during the year, undertaking aggressive counterinsurgency operations against the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), weakening the GIA's campaign of indiscriminate violence against civilians. The pace of killings slowed, but suspected GIA militants still carried out massacres, the worst of which left 27 dead in a village in Bechar in August. The Islamic Salvation Army maintained its cease-fire throughout the year.

Palestinians and Israeli Arabs opposed to the peace process mounted small-scale terrorist attacks in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, injuring a small number of civilians. Several failed bombing attempts were traced to HAMAS and the PIJ. Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) scored successes in their efforts to disrupt these groups' operations; Israeli officials publicly credited the PA with preventing a bombing in Tel Aviv in March.

Jordanian authorities in December arrested a group of terrorists associated with Usama Bin Ladin's al-Qaida organization reportedly planning to attack US and Israeli targets in connection with millennium events. Jordan also closed the Amman offices of the HAMAS political bureau in August, arrested a number of HAMAS activists, and expelled several group leaders.

Overall security conditions in Lebanon continued to improve in 1999, despite several local terrorist incidents that included the assassination of four judges in Sidon in June. The lack of effective government control in parts of Beirut, the Bekaa Valley, and southern Lebanon enabled numerous terrorist groups to operate with impunity, as they had in previous years. Hizballah, HAMAS, the PIJ, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), and other Palestinian groups used camps in Lebanon for training and operational planning. Hizballah continued to fire rockets from southern Lebanon at civilian centers in Israel. The Lebanese Government remained unresponsive to U.S. requests for cooperation in bringing to justice terrorists responsible for attacks on US citizens in the 1980s.

Iran, Syria, and Iraq all persisted in their direct or indirect state sponsorship of terrorism. In most cases, the support included providing assistance, training, or safehaven to terrorist groups opposed to the Middle East peace process. In some cases, particularly Iran, it also included targeting regime dissidents and opponents for assassination or harassment. Libyan support for terrorism has declined significantly in recent years, but Libya continued to have residual contacts and relationships with terrorist organizations.

Algeria

The Government of Algeria in 1999 made significant progress in combating domestic terrorism, which President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said has claimed approximately 100,000 lives since Islamist extremists began their brutal campaign to overthrow the secular regime in 1992. As a result, terrorist attacks--especially against civilians--decreased significantly. Increased factionalization within the ranks of Antar Zouabri's Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and Hassan Hattab's dissident faction, the Salafi Group for Call and Combat (GSPC), contributed further to the reduction in terrorist activity. Bouteflika, who in April replaced President Liamine Zeroual, initiated an amnesty plan under the Law on Civil Concord that is intended to expand the cease-fire with the Islamic Salvation Army that took effect in October 1997. At yearend the government was attempting to convince the GSPC to surrender, but dissidents within the GSPC and the GIA--which denounced the reconciliation plan and vowed to continue fighting--were attempting to thwart those efforts.

No foreign nationals were killed in Algeria during the year. Although the tempo of violence in Algeria decreased noticeably in 1999, the killings continued. The worst terrorist incident occurred on 17 August when suspected GIA extremists massacred 27 civilians in Bechar near the Moroccan border. In November a senior official of the banned Islamic Salvation Front, Abdelkader Hachani, was assassinated. Other massacres and acts of violence continued throughout the year.

Egypt

No terrorist-related deaths were reported in Egypt in 1999. In early September, a lone assailant attacked President Hosni Mubarak during a campaign rally in Port Said. Mubarak was wounded slightly, but it is unclear whether the attack had links to terrorism. The absence of international terrorist incidents in 1999 is attributable in part to the unilateral cease-fire that Egypt's largest terrorist group, al-Gama'at al-Islamiyya, issued in March and in part to successful Egyptian counterterrorist efforts. Al-Gama'at's incarcerated spiritual leader, Shaykh Umar Abd al-Rahman, initiated the cease-fire, which senior Gama'at leaders imprisoned in Egypt later endorsed. Al-Gama'at's external leaders also endorsed the cease-fire in an attempt to negotiate with the Egyptian Government for the release of their jailed comrades. Although Cairo said publicly it would not negotiate with al-Gama'at, it released more than 2,000 Gama'at prisoners during the year. The Egyptian Government continued to arrest other Gama'at members in Egypt, and security officials in September disrupted a Gama'at cell outside Cairo, resulting in the death of Farid Kidwani, the group's operational leader in Egypt.

The Egyptian Government tried and convicted more than 100 Egyptian extremists in April, including Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) members responsible for planning an attack against the US Embassy in Albania in August 1998. A faction of the EIJ closely allied to Usama Bin Ladin's organization continued to levy threats against the United States.

Gama'at leader Rifa'i Taha Musa--who is closely associated with Bin Ladin--broke ranks with other Gama'at leaders, threatening anti-US action in October and warning in late November of another attack similar to the one at Luxor in November 1997 that killed 58 foreign tourists. International counterterrorist cooperation remained a key foreign policy priority for the Egyptian Government in 1999.

Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip

Violence and terrorism by Palestinian groups opposed to the peace process continued in 1999. Throughout the year, HAMAS and the PIJ were responsible for numerous small-scale attacks, such as shootings and stabbings, although the number of incidents continued to decline from previous years. Among the more notable attacks were two failed bombing attempts in Haifa and Tiberias on 5 September carried out by Israeli Arabs working on behalf of HAMAS's military wing. The bombs--intended for Israeli buses--exploded prematurely, killing three of the perpetrators and injuring two Israelis.

Other terrorist incidents included a shooting in early August in Hebron that injured two Israeli settlers; a double murder of a young Israeli couple hiking near Megiddo in late August; and several explosions of homemade pipe bombs in Netanya in August, November, and December, one of which injured more than 30 Israelis. In mid-August a West Bank Palestinian, who was reported to have been inspired by literature on HAMAS, rammed his car into a group of hitchhiking Israeli soldiers, injuring at least 11. In late October a shooting attack on a bus near the Tarqumiya junction wounded five Israelis.

Israel continued vigorous counterterrorist operations, including numerous arrests and seizures of weapons and explosives. In early May, Israeli officials uncovered a plan to smuggle several wanted Palestinians--who were carrying paraphernalia for manufacturing bombs--from Gaza into Israel. In mid-August, Israeli authorities apprehended seven members of a PIJ cell near Janin who admitted to perpetrating four attacks on Israelis dating back to 1998. Israeli authorities also captured a four-man PIJ squad in late August as the men tried to infiltrate into Israel to carry out a suicide mission. In mid-December an undercover unit of the Israeli Defense Force killed two HAMAS members--one of whom was a leader of the group's military wing--in a shootout near Hebron. Authorities detained three other HAMAS militants in the incident.

The Palestinian Authority (PA), which was responsible for security in Gaza and most major West Bank cities, continued to act against Palestinian perpetrators of violence against Israel. The PA's security forces preempted several terrorist attacks over the year, including the arrests in mid-May of two close associates of a senior HAMAS military leader and, in early June, of 10 HAMAS members who planned to carry out anti-Israeli bombings. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and other senior officials publicly acknowledged the continuing improvement in Israeli-PA security cooperation. Israeli security officials publicly credited the Palestinian security services for foiling a terrorist bombing in Tel Aviv in March and for preventing at least two attacks against Israeli civilians in October. The PA also sought more actively to develop leads about HAMAS and PIJ activity and acted--in some cases--in cooperation with Israel to disrupt the groups' activities. While the PA's counterterrorist campaign showed improvement, it continued to face challenges from the resilient terrorist infrastructure of groups opposed to the peace process.

In early September the PA and Israel signed a follow-on accord to the Wye agreement at Sharm el-Sheikh, which reaffirmed a number of provisions regarding security cooperation.

Jordan

There were no major international terrorist attacks in Jordan in 1999. Jordan continued its strong counterterrorist stand, highlighted by the arrests in December of several extremists reportedly planning terrorist attacks against US and Israeli tourists during millennium celebrations in Jordan, its crackdown on HAMAS in August, and its quick response to various security incidents in the latter part of the year.

In early December, Jordanian authorities arrested a group of Jordanians, an Iraqi, and an Algerian with ties to Bin Ladin's al-Qaida organization who reportedly were planning to carry out terrorist operations against US and Israeli tourists visiting Jordan over the new year. The Jordanians in mid-December took custody of Khalil al-Deek, a dual US-Jordanian citizen arrested in Pakistan, who allegedly had links to the arrested group. Some group members had undergone explosives and weapons training in Afghanistan, according to Jordanian authorities.

In late August, Jordanian authorities closed the HAMAS Political Bureau offices in Amman, detained 21 HAMAS members, and issued arrest warrants for the group's senior Jordan-based leaders, three of whom were in Iran at the time. Jordanian officials arrested two of the HAMAS officials--Jordanian citizens Khalid Mishal and Ibrahim Ghawsha--upon their return to Amman in September and refused entry to a third--Musa Abu Marzuq, who holds Yemeni citizenship. Jordanian authorities in November expelled Mishal, Ghawsha, and two other members to Qatar; released the remaining detainees; and announced that the HAMAS offices would remain closed permanently. Charges against the HAMAS officials included possession of weapons and explosives for use in illegal acts--crimes that can carry the death penalty.

Several low-level incidents kept security forces focused on combating threats to the Kingdom. Police in Ma'an detained approximately 60 suspects in connection with the firebombings on 25 October of cars belonging to professors at al-Hussein University and Ma'an Community College and a machinegun attack two days later on a female student residence at al-Hussein University. Leaflets distributed by a group calling itself the "Islamic Awakening Youths" charged that the professors were masons and that the female students fraternized with men. The assailants appeared to have ties to the outlawed al-Tahrir movement, which was the target of a government crackdown in 1998.

In late November, Jordanian authorities arrested a 22-year-old Jordanian of Palestinian descent who had pointed a fake gun at the Israeli Embassy in Amman. An Embassy guard shot the suspect in the hand, wounding him slightly. Authorities released him after it was determined that he had not committed any crime, had a history of mental problems, and was not affiliated with any terrorist group.

The Jordanian State Security Court in April sentenced members of the outlawed "Reform and Defiance Movement"--a small, mostly indigenous radical Islamist group--for conducting a string of small bombings in Amman between mid-March and early May 1998 targeting Jordanian security forces, the Modern American School, and a major hotel. The attacks caused minor property damage but no casualties. The individuals were convicted of membership in an illegal terrorist organization, possession of illegal arms and explosives, and conspiracy to commit terrorist acts. Three were convicted in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labor, while another received a 15-year prison sentence. Three others were acquitted. Meanwhile, no ruling was issued against six members of the Takfir wa al-Hijra (Apostasy and Migration) group, whose case was referred to the courts in October 1998. The six had been arrested for possession and sale of explosives with the intent to conduct terrorist attacks.

Amman continued to maintain tight security along its borders to thwart any attempts to smuggle weapons and explosives via Jordan to Palestinian rejectionist groups in the West Bank. Jordan permitted the limited presence-- and monitored closely the activities--of several Palestinian rejectionist groups, including the PIJ, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC). Amman allowed HAMAS members to reside in Jordan but banned them from engaging in activities on behalf of the group.

The Jordanian Government was outspoken in its support for the Middle East peace process and made it clear it would not tolerate efforts to undermine the negotiations from its territory. Senior government officials, including King Abdallah, condemned major terrorist incidents in the region, including attacks by Palestinian rejectionist groups against Israeli targets. In October, Jordan hosted a meeting between leaders of the DFLP and Israeli Knesset members to discuss the possible entry of DFLP members into the Palestinian-controlled areas.

Jordan continued to cooperate with other regional states and the United States concerning terrorist threats to the region. In August the government refused to grant a request by a lower house of Parliament committee to pardon Ahmed Daqamseh, a Jordanian soldier who killed six Israeli schoolgirls in 1997, and 11 Jordanian "Arab Afghans" serving life sentences for their conviction in 1995 for plotting against the state.

Lebanon

Security conditions in Lebanon continued to improve in 1999 despite a series of terrorist-related activities. The government's continued lack of control in parts of the country, however--including portions of the Bekaa Valley, Beirut's southern suburbs, Palestinian refugee camps, and south Lebanon--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.

A variety of terrorist groups continued to operate with relative impunity in those areas, conducting terrorist training and other operational activities. The groups include Hizballah, HAMAS, the PIJ, the PFLP-GC, the Abu Nidal organization (ANO), Asbat al-Ansar, and several local Sunni extremist organizations. Hizballah represents the most potent threat to U.S. interests in Lebanon by an organized group. Although Hizballah has not attacked US targets in Lebanon since 1991, its animosity toward the United States has not abated, and the group continued to monitor the U.S. Embassy and its personnel in the country. Hizballah leaders routinely denounced US policies in the region and continued to condemn the peace process.

Lebanon suffered several terrorist attacks in 1999 involving local actors and victims. On 8 September, for example, a bomb exploded at the Customs Department office in Sidon, causing no injuries. Unidentified gunmen on 8 June shot and killed four judges at a courthouse in Sidon. Although Lebanese authorities had not apprehended the assailants, they believed the Palestinian extremist group Asbat al-Ansar was responsible. Moreover, a previously unknown group, the Liberation Army of Veneration, on 28 June issued a communiqué containing a death threat to the U.S. Ambassador in Lebanon. Local authorities speculated that the Asbat al-Ansar was behind the threat.

The Lebanese Government continued to support international counterterrorist initiatives. It agreed in principle to examine a Japanese request to take custody of five Japanese Red Army members whose jail sentences in Lebanon end in March 2000. The Lebanese Government, however, did not act on repeated US requests to turn over Lebanese terrorists involved in the hijacking in 1985 of TWA flight 847 and in the abduction, torture, and--in some cases--murders of US hostages from 1984 to 1991.

Saudi Arabia

Several threats against US military and civilian personnel and facilities in Saudi Arabia were reported in 1999, but there were no terrorist incidents. Terrorist Usama Bin Ladin, based in Afghanistan, continued publicly to threaten US interests in Saudi Arabia during the year.

The Saudi Arabian Government, at all levels, continued to reaffirm its commitment to combating terrorism. Saudi Crown Prince Abdallah stated publicly that terrorist actions are un-Islamic and called for a "concerted international effort" to eradicate terrorism. The Saudi Minister of Defense indicated during a visit to Washington that he was determined to work with the United States to defeat terrorism. The Saudis urged the Taliban to expel Bin Ladin from Afghanistan so that he may be brought to justice in another country.

Usama Bin Ladin

Usama Bin Ladin

The bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on 7 August 1998 underscored the global reach of Usama Bin Ladin--a longtime sponsor and financier of extremist causes--and brought to full public awareness his transition from sponsor to terrorist. A series of public threats to drive the United States and its allies out of Muslim countries foreshadowed the attacks, including what was presented as a fatwa (Muslim legal opinion) published on 23 February 1998 by Bin Ladin and allied groups under the name "World Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders." The statement asserted it was a religious duty for all Muslims to wage war on US citizens, military and civilian, anywhere in the world.

The 17th son of Saudi construction magnate Muhammad Bin Ladin, Usama joined the Afghan resistance almost immediately after the Soviet invasion in December 1979. He played a significant role in financing, recruiting, transporting, and training Arab nationals who volunteered to fight in Afghanistan. During the war, Bin Ladin founded al-Qaida (the Base) to serve as an operational hub for like-minded extremists. The Saudi Government revoked his citizenship in 1994, and his family officially disowned him. He moved to Sudan in 1991, but international pressure on Khartoum forced him to move to Afghanistan in 1996.

Bin Ladin has stated publicly that terrorism is a tool to achieve the group's goal of bringing Islamic rule to Muslim lands and "cleanse" them of Western influence and corruption. To this end, Bin Ladin in 1999 led a broad-based, versatile organization. Suspects named in the wake of the Embassy bombings--Egyptians, one Comoran, one Palestinian, one Saudi, and U.S. citizens--reflect the range of al-Qaida operatives. The diverse groups under his umbrella afford Bin Ladin resources beyond those of the people directly loyal to him. With his own inherited wealth, business interests, contributions from sympathizers in various countries, and support from close allies like the Egyptian and South Asian groups that signed his fatwa, he funds, trains, and offers logistic help to extremists not directly affiliated with his organization. He seeks to aid those who support his primary goals--driving US forces from the Arabian Peninsula, removing the Saudi ruling family from power, and "liberating Palestine"--or his secondary goals of removing Western military forces and overthrowing what he calls corrupt, Western-oriented governments in predominantly Muslim countries. His organization has sent trainers throughout Afghanistan as well as to Tajikistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen and has trained fighters from numerous other countries, including the Philippines, Egypt, Libya, Pakistan, and Eritrea.

Using the ties al-Qaida has developed, Bin Ladin believes he can call upon individuals and groups virtually worldwide to conduct terrorist attacks. In December 1998, Bin Ladin gave a series of interviews in which he denied involvement in the East Africa bombings but said he "instigated" them and called for attacks on US citizens worldwide in retaliation for the strikes against Iraq. Bin Ladin's public statements then ceased under increased pressure from his Taliban hosts. Nonetheless, in 1999, Bin Ladin continued to influence like-minded extremists to his cause, and his organization continued to engage in terrorist planning. His Egyptian and South Asian allies, for example, continued publicly to threaten US interests. Bin Ladin's public remarks also underscored his expanding interests, including a desire to obtain a capability to deploy weapons of mass destruction.

The Government of Saudi Arabia continued to investigate the bombing in June 1996 of the Khubar Towers housing facility near Dhahran and to cooperate with the United States in its investigation of the incident. Saudi authorities arrested and detained several persons in connection with the attack but reached no conclusion in the investigation. The Saudi Government stated that it still was looking for three Saudi suspects linked to the bombing who authorities believed were outside the Kingdom. The United States expelled Saudi national Hani al-Sayegh to Saudi Arabia on 11 October. He faces charges there for his alleged role in the bombing. Al-Sayegh originally was detained in Canada in March 1997, and documents submitted to the Canadian court alleged al-Sayegh, as a member of the Saudi Hizballah, had participated in the Khubar Towers bombing.

Yemen

Yemen expanded security cooperation with other Arab countries in 1999 and signed a number of international antiterrorist conventions. The government introduced incremental measures to better control its borders, territory, and travel documents and initiated specialized training for a newly established counterterrorist unit within the Ministry of Interior. Nonetheless, lax and inefficient enforcement of security procedures and the government's inability to exercise authority over remote areas of the country continued to make the country a safehaven for terrorist groups. HAMAS and the PIJ had official representatives in Yemen, and sympathizers or members of other international terrorist groups--including the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, al-Gama'at al-Islamiyya, Libyan opposition groups, and the Algerian Armed Islamic Group--also resided in the country.

Yemeni courts convicted the four surviving terrorists involved in the kidnapping in December 1998 of Western tourists in Mudiyah following a lengthy trial and appeals process. The 16 Western tourists held captive in that incident included 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. The leader of the Islamic Army of Aden, Zein al-Abidine al-Midhar, admitted to all charges against him in the incident and was executed by firing squad on 17 October. The three other defendants each received 20-year prison sentences. In a separate case, a Yemeni court in August convicted 10 terrorists--eight Britons and two Algerians--of conspiring to commit terrorist acts, including attacks targeting US citizens.

Kidnappings of foreigners by well-armed and independent tribesmen continued to be fairly common in Yemen. The tribesmen's grievances were more often with the Yemeni Government than with Western governments. Tribesmen kidnapped and released fewer than 30 foreign nationals during the year, a significant decline from the number abducted the previous year. On 17 January, two US Embassy employees escaped a kidnap attempt; later the same day, tribesmen kidnapped six Europeans, who overheard their captors saying they wanted "to kidnap an American." In October, tribesmen kidnapped three US citizens and released them unharmed in less than two days. In an effort to contain the kidnapping of foreigners, the Yemeni Government in October announced the creation of a special court and prosecutor to try suspects charged under a law, promulgated in August 1998, that imposes severe punishment for convicted kidnappers and saboteurs


Source: Patterns of Global Terrorism 1999, U.S. State Department