Middle East Terrorism--1996
Spectacular and horrific bombings in Dhahran, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem
dominated terrorist incidents in the Middle East in 1996, and
nearly doubled the number of terrorist casualties to 837 from
445 in 1995. The truck bombing of the residential building occupied
by US military personnel participating in the Joint Task Force/Southwest
Asia near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on 25 June killed 19 US citizens
and wounded over 500 persons. Several groups claimed responsibility,
and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Saudi Government continue
their investigations into the incident.
In Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, suicide bombs in February and March
killed 65 persons, including three US citizens. The radical Islamic
Resistance Movement (HAMAS) was responsible for three of the bombings,
and HAMAS and the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ) both claimed responsibility
for a fourth. In December the Popular Front for the Liberation
of Palestine claimed responsibility for the shooting of an Israeli
woman and her son. Israeli extremists were responsible for several
attacks in 1996 that resulted in the deaths of at least two Palestinians.
Following the February and March bombings, 29 world leaders from
the Middle East, Europe, North America, and Asia met in March
and held the "Summit of the Peacemakers" in Sharm ash
Shaykh, Egypt. They pledged to support the Middle East peace process
and to take practical steps to expand regional cooperation against
The Palestinian Authority continued its effortsin cooperation
with Israeli authoritiesto combat the threat posed by terrorist
groups such as HAMAS and the PIJ and to root out those who plan
and carry out these attacks.
The Egyptian Government cracked down on extremist violence and
significantly reduced terrorist incidents at the country's popular
tourist sites where attacks had occurred during the previous two
years. Fatalities from security incidents in Egypt decreased in
1996. However, extremist violence in upper Egypt and some outlying
areas continued. In Cairo, 18 tourists were shot and killed by
members of alGama'at alIslamiyya (Islamic Group or
IG). Also, the men responsible for carrying out the assassination
attempt against President Mubarak in June 1995 remain at large.
In Algeria, political violence and random killings continued on
a large scale around the country, causing major loss of life.
Car bombs targeting Algerian municipalities, a press center, schools,
and cafes were set off regularly. Indiscriminate killing of civilians
at false highway checkpoints or in outlying towns were almost
daily occurrences. Terrorists often targeted the families of members
of government security services.
The Armed Islamic Group (GIA) kidnapped and subsequently killed
seven French monks when its demands for the release of GIA members
were not fulfilled. Otherwise, attacks against foreigners in Algeria
decreased in 1996. Algerian extremists are believed to be behind
a deadly bombing of a Paris commuter train in which four persons
died and some 80 other passengers were wounded. Elsewhere in North
Africa, there were few terrorist incidents.
In Lebanon, the security situation improved as the government
continued its efforts to expand the rule of law to more of the
country. Lebanese courts are increasingly active in prosecuting
terrorists. One was convicted of terrorist attacks on Kuwaiti
interests in Beirut in the early 1990s, and two others for the
carbombing death of the brother of a senior Hizballah official.
A military appeals court upheld the conviction of the murderer
of a French military attache killed in 1986, and another court
extradited to Germany a man accused in the 1986 bombing of the
La Belle discotheque in Berlin. A Lebanese court upheld the conviction
for kidnapping of two men involved in the 1976 kidnapping and
murder of two US diplomatsbut then released the two under
a Lebanese amnesty law. Terrorist groups, especially Hizballah,
continued to operate with relative impunity in large areas of
Lebanon, particularly the Al Biqa` (Bekaa Valley), southern Lebanon,
and Beirut's southern suburbs.
The internal security situation in Algeria has improved since
1994, but the incidence of domestic terrorism, which is among
the world's worst, remained high. At least 60,000 AlgeriansIslamic
militants, civilians, and security personnelhave been killed
since the insurgency began in 1992.
Government security forces made substantial progress against the
Islamic Salvation Army (AIS)the reported military wing of
the Islamic Salvation Frontthat primarily attacks governmentrelated
targets. The government was less successful against the Armed
Islamic Group (GIA), the most radical of the insurgent groups,
which continued terrorist operations against a broad spectrum
of Algerian civilian targets in 1996, including women, children,
The GIA continued to target foreigners in 1996 and killed at least
nine, a sharp decline from the 31 foreigners the group killed
in 1995. The total number of foreigners killed by the GIA since
1992 exceeds 110. Most were "soft" targets, including
a former Bulgarian attache, who was found beheaded in a forest
in midNovember. Although no claims were made for his murder,
Algiers blamed the GIA for his death. In August the GIA claimed
responsibility for the murder of the French Bishop of Oran, who
was killed by a bomb placed outside his residence.
Earlier in 1996 the GIA kidnapped and later beheaded seven French
monks from their monastery near Medea. The GIA issued a communique
claiming that the monks had been killed because Paris had refused
to negotiate with the insurgent group. Algerian extremists are
suspected in an explosion in a Paris subway on 3 December that
killed four and wounded more than 80. The bomb used in that attack
was similar to those used by the GIA in its bombing campaign in
France in 1995.
The Algerian Government prosecuted numerous cases of persons charged
with committing terrorist acts or supporting terrorist groups
in 1996. In July, for example, four men accused of committing
murder on behalf of terrorist groups were sentenced to death.
Algiers also continued its limited clemency program. Members of
militant groups who had surrendered to the authorities for committing
murders received 20year prison sentences instead of the
death penalty; those found guilty of membership in terrorist groups
received shorterthannormal prison sentences. President
Liamine Zeroual told the Algerian press that, as a result of this
program, nearly 2,000 Algerians had surrendered to authorities
The security situation in Bahrain deteriorated somewhat early
in the year but showed signs of improvement at year's end. Antiregime
unrest was generally limited, with a few notable exceptions. In
the worst incident, seven South Asians were killed in a 14 March
arson attack on a restaurant. On 1 July three Bahrainis were convicted
and sentenced to death, and five others received lengthy prison
sentences for this incident. There were several other attacks,
including some using small bombs and incendiary devices. Most
of the unrest has consisted of burning tires, exploding propane
gas cylinders, and acts of vandalism. Security forces, in return,
have conducted a crackdown, killing more than 20 Bahrainis and
arresting more than 2,000 since the unrest began in November 1994.
At the end of 1996 the scope and intensity of the unrest diminished,
though this may be temporary.
Only two incidents directly involved US citizens. On 28 August
a US student rented a car that had an improvised incendiary device
in the gas tank. The device failed to operate. On 16 September
a US citizen's car, parked in front of a luxury hotel in downtown
Manama, was firebombed. In neither case, however, does it appear
the US citizens were targeted because of their nationality.
Manama in June publicly announced the discovery of an active Bahraini
Hizballah cell that was recruited, trained, and supported by Iran.
Diplomatic relations between Bahrain and Iran have been strained
since the announcement. Bahrain retaliated by recalling its ambassador
from Tehran and by restricting commercial services and air transportation
between the two countries.
Islamic extremist violence fell in 1996. The number of fatalitiesincluding
noncombatants (105), police (59), and extremists (38) killedfell
sharply from 375 in 1995 to 202. Most incidents continued to occur
in the provinces of upper Egypt. In spite of improved security,
however, alGama'at alIslamiyya (Islamic Group or IG)
succeeded in conducting a shooting attack against foreign tourists
at a Cairo hotel in April. Although this hotel attack generated
the largest casualty count from a single incident in Egypt's modern
history, the total number of deaths from extremist violence dropped
sharply in 1996 after increasing steadily during the previous
The IG continued its pattern of hitandrun attacks
in upper Egypt against police and suspected police informers and
its robberies of jewelry stores to finance its operations. Minya
Governorate ranked highest in terrorist incidentswhich included
the IG's killing of a highranking police official in Aprilbut
attacks also occurred in Asyut Governorate. The IG's shooting
attack in April outside the Europa Hotel in Cairo that killed
18 Greek tourists waiting to board a bus disrupted the previous
year's lull in incidents in Cairo and northern urban areas. The
IG said it had intended to kill Israeli tourists to avenge Israeli
strikes earlier that month against Hizballah forces in southern
Lebanon. The smaller group alJihad also condemned Israeli
action and threatened to hit "American and Israeli targets
everywhere." AlJihad did not claim responsibility for
any attacks in Egypt during 1996.
Although the IG carried out no attacks outside Egypt in 1996,
a senior IG leader who said he was speaking from Afghanistan publicly
threatened in April to kidnap US citizens in retaliation for the
sentencing to life in prison by the United States of Shaykh Umar
Abd alRahman, the IG's spiritual leader, in January. The
shaykh was convicted in October 1995 for planning to carry out
several terrorist conspiracies in the United States.
The Egyptian Government hosted the Summit of Peacemakers in March
at Sharm ash Shaykh to discuss terrorism and the peace process.
President Clinton joined President Mubarak, then Prime Minister
Peres, King Hussein, Chairman Arafat, and other heads of state
and government at the meeting.
Israel and the Occupied Territories/Palestinian Autonomous
Terrorism continued to have a major impact in Israel and the occupied
territories in 1996. Palestinian extremists opposed to peace with
Israel conducted four massive suicide bombings in Tel Aviv and
Jerusalem early in the year, which killed 65 civilians. The overall
number of antiIsraeli terrorist attacks instigated by Palestinians
declined to 14 in 1996 from 33 in 1995.
On 25 February a suicide bomber blew up a commuter bus in Jerusalem,
killing 26, including three US citizens, and injuring 80 others,
including another three US citizens. The Islamic Resistance Movement
(HAMAS) claimed responsibility for the bombing. (HAMAS also claimed
responsibility for a second bombing on the same day in Ashkelon,
killing two persons, in an act of domestic terrorism.) On 3 March
a suicide bomber detonated a bomb on a bus in Jerusalem, killing
19 and injuring six others. This bomb was wrapped with ball bearings
and other metal fragments to increase casualties. A HAMAS spokesman
claimed responsibility and said the attack was in response to
Israel's rejection of a conditional ceasefire offered by
HAMAS. On 4 March a suicide bomber detonated a bomb outside the
Dizengoff Center, Tel Aviv's largest shopping mall, killing 20
and wounding 75 others, including two US citizens and children
celebrating the Jewish Purim holiday. HAMAS and the PIJ both claimed
responsibility for this bombing.
HAMAS suicide bombing in Jerusalem on 25 February left 25 dead
and 80 injured.
Other Palestinian groups that reject the peace process also launched
antiIsraeli attacks in 1996, including the Popular Front
for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Abu Musa's FatahIntifada.
Unidentified gunmen, presumably Palestinian rejectionists, conducted
another crossborder attack from Lebanon in March, killing
2 soldiers and wounding 9 others. On 11 December gunmen from the
PFLP attacked a car carrying Israeli settlers near the settlement
of Bet El north of Ram Allah in the West Bank, killing a woman
and her 12yearold son. The PFLP claimed responsibility
and threatened other attacks on settlers. Palestinian Authority
(PA) courts later convicted three PFLP members for the attack.
Israeli extremists also committed terrorist acts in 1996. On 4
February an unidentified Israeli reportedly fired on a group of
Palestinian students on the main NablusRam Allah road, wounding
a 16yearold boy. On 1 October a Palestinian man died
after being shot near Bet Shemesh. On 21 October an Israeli reportedly
shot and killed a Palestinian man near the West Bank village of
The United States and Israel increased cooperation against terrorism
in 1996. In April President Clinton and then Prime Minister Peres
agreed to form the USIsrael Joint Counterterrorism Group,
which held its first meeting in Washington in November. In response
to the President's request, the US Congress voted to give Israel
a grant of $100 million for the purchase of equipment to fight
The Palestinian Authority, which is responsible for security in
the Gaza Strip and most West Bank towns, continued in 1996 its
effort to rein in Palestinian violence aimed at undermining the
peace process. The PA security apparatus prevented several planned
terrorist attacks and arrested Palestinians suspected of involvement
in terrorist operations, including one who admitted his involvement
in the murder of a dual USIsraeli citizen on 13 May. Chairman
Arafat and other senior PA officials regularly condemned acts
Jordan and Israel continued implementation of their peace treatysigned
on 26 October 1994which commits the two parties to cooperate
against terrorism. Amman maintains tight security along its border
with the West Bank and has interdicted individuals attempting
to infiltrate into the West Bank.
Jordanian security and police closely monitor secular and Islamic
extremists inside the country and detain individuals suspected
of involvement in violent acts aimed at destabilizing the government
or its relations with other states. Jordanian authorities detained
dozens of people in terrorismrelated cases in 1996, including
several individuals who reportedly infiltrated into Jordan from
Syria with plans to attack Jordanian officials and Israeli tourists.
After King Hussein raised the issue of possible Syrian complicity
with President Asad in July, Damascus arrested some of the infiltrators'
supporters in Syria.
Several Palestinian rejectionist groups maintain a closely watched
presence in Jordan, including the Abu Nidal organization (ANO),
the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the Democratic Front for the
Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), the Popular Front for the Liberation
of Palestine (PFLP), and the Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS).
Following the February 1996 suicide bombings in Israel, Jordanian
security forces detained dozens of HAMAS members, including an
alleged politburo official, and in May once again warned HAMAS
spokesman Ibrahim Ghawsha, a Jordanian citizen, not to issue statements
supporting antiIsraeli violence.
US military and diplomatic facilities and personnel came under
increasing threat in 1996. International terrorist financier Usama
Bin Ladin publicly threatened US interests in the Gulf, including
Kuwait, in September and again in December. US and Western establishments
received numerous telephoned and faxed bomb threats during the
Kuwaiti Hizballah, a Kuwaiti Shia organization that may have links
to Iran, in 1996 allegedly assisted a Bahraini opposition group
by smuggling weapons into Manama. Kuwaiti Hizballah may also have
been engaged in activities directed against the US military presence
Lebanon's security environment continued to improve in 1996 as
the country worked to rebuild its infrastructure and institutions.
However, parts of southern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley, and portions
of Beirut's southern suburbsincluding areas surrounding
Lebanon's main airportremain effectively beyond the government's
control. In these areas, a variety of terrorist groups, including
Hizballah, the Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS), the Abu Nidal
organization (ANO), the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and the
Popular Front for the Liberation of PalestineGeneral Command
(PFLPGC), continued to operate with relative impunity, conducting
terrorist training and other operational activities.
Although no antiUS attacks occurred in Lebanon in 1996,
the official US presence there remains under threat. Hizballah's
animosity toward the United States has not abated, and the group
continues to monitor the US Embassy and its personnel. Group leaders
routinely denounce US policies and condemn the Middle East peace
Lebanon pursued several highprofile court cases against
suspected terrorists in 1996:
- In October Mohammed Hilal, a former official of a Palestinian
terrorist group, was convicted (in absentia) of throwing a hand
grenade at the Kuwaiti Embassy in Beirut in March 1993 and of
attempting to bomb the offices of Kuwait Airways in August 1993.
The court sentenced him to life at hard labor and determined that
he had acted on the orders of the Iraqi Government.
- Two men were tried in connection with the 1994 carbombing
death of Fuad Mughniyah, brother of senior Hizballah security
official Imad Mughniyah. Both were found guilty. One was sentenced
to 10 years' hard labor, the other to death. The death sentence
was carried out 21 September.
- In October a military appeals court confirmed the life sentence
of Hussein Tlays. Tlays had been found guilty previously of the
1986 assassination of a French military attache on the orders
of a Hizballah official.
- The Lebanese courts also extradited a Palestinian, Yasser
Shraydi, to Germany for trial in connection with the La Belle
discotheque bombing in Berlin in 1986, in which three US servicemen
and one Turkish woman were killed.
The Lebanese Government pursued through several appeals the case
of the 1976 kidnapping and murder of US Ambassador Francis E.
Meloy and Economic Counselor Robert O. Waring. In March the civil
courts found the two accused guilty of the kidnappings but not
the murders. Although the murder of diplomats is not covered by
Lebanon's 1991 amnesty law, the law did apply to the kidnappings.
Consequently, one of the accused was freed; the other continues
to be held for unrelated crimes.
There were few terroristrelated incidents in Morocco in
1996. In July the Russian Embassy in Rabat received a letter from
a group calling itself "The Dar alIslam Western Front"
threatening to attack specific Russians in Morocco, but no such
attacks followed. On 18 June a prominent Moroccan Jew was the
victim of an assassination attempt in Casablanca. It was unclear,
however, whether the attempt was the result of a personal vendetta
or terrorist activity. Later that month, the US Consulate and
another prominent Moroccan Jew, both in Casablanca, received threatening
phone calls that future attacks would take place against the Jewish
community. The Government of Morocco has demonstrated a readiness
to respond to terrorist threats and has investigated such incidents
On 22 April Saudi authorities televised the confessions of four
Sunni Saudi nationals who admitted to planning and conducting
the bombing of the Office of the Program Manager/Saudi Arabian
National Guard (OPM/SANG) headquarters building in Riyadh in November
1995. They said their disillusionment with the way the regime
practiced Islam and Islamic law motivated them to carry out the
attack. Three were veterans of the conflicts in Afghanistan, Bosnia,
and Chechnya. The four were executed on 31 May in accordance with
On 25 June a large fuel truck containing explosives detonated
outside the US military's Khubar Towers housing facility near
Dhahran, killing 19 American citizens and wounding some 500 persons.
Khubar Towers housed US Air Force personnel and other Western
military personnel assigned to duty in Saudi Arabia's Eastern
Province as part of the Joint Task Force/Southwest Asia, which
enforces the nofly zone over southern Iraq. Several groups,
both Shia and Sunni, purportedly claimed responsibility for the
bombing, including: the "Brigades of the Martyr Abdallah
alHudhaifi," "Hizballah alKhalij,"
and the "Islamic Movement for Change." Saudi and US
authorities are still investigating the incident.
In June a truck bomb destroyed the Khubar Towers housing facility
near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Nineteen US citizens were killed and
some 500 other persons were wounded. (Department of Defense)
Following the Khubar Towers bombing, a variety of US facilities
received bomb threats. International terrorist financier Usama
Bin Ladin, for instance, in August and again in November, publicly
called on his supporters to attack US interests in Saudi Arabia
and the other Gulf states.
There were no reported acts of terrorism in Tunisia in 1996, but
the Government of Tunisia remains publicly committed to taking
necessary actions to counter terrorist threats, particularly from
religious extremists. Tunis continued throughout the year to prosecute
individuals belonging to the illegal anNahda group, which
it considers a terrorist organization, but did not blame anNahda
for any specific terrorist attacks this year. In October the Tunisian
Government arrested two individuals suspected of involvement in
the assassination of Belgian Vice Premier Andre Cools in 1991.
The investigation is expected to continue in 1997.
In 1996 the Government of Yemen deported Abu Nidal organization
(ANO) members residing in the country. Yemen also signed extradition
agreements with the Governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. According
to press reports, in October the Yemenis turned over to the Saudi
Government several Saudi suspects. Furthermore, an Ethiopian national
who hijacked an airliner to Yemen in April was arrested and jailed.
He has not yet been tried.
Yemen, however, remained a base for some terrorist elements. The
Yemeni Government has been unable to exercise full control over
its territory, and terrorists have committed kidnappings and attacks
on foreign interests in remote areas of the country. There were
several attacks of this type in 1996:
- In January tribesmen in al Ma`rib Governorate kidnapped 17
elderly French tourists in order to pressure authorities into
releasing a member of the tribe. The tourists were released unharmed
three days later.
- In June an unidentified assailant threw an explosive device
from a passing car into a vacant lot 30 meters from a US Embassy
officer's residence near the office of the Canadian Occidental
oil company. The company has been accused of polluting Yemeni
- A French diplomat was kidnapped by tribesmen in the al Ma`rib
Governorate in late October and was released unharmed in early
Moreover, Yemeni border security measures are lax and Yemeni passports
are easily obtained by terrorist groups. The ruling government
coalition also includes both tribal and Islamic elements which
have facilitated the entry and documentation of foreign extremists.
Source: Patterns of Global Terrorism 1996, U.S. State Department: http://www.state.gov/www/dept.html