Strategic Analysis

Strategic Analysis:
A Monthly Journal of the IDSA

August 2000 (Vol. XXIV No. 5)


US Initiatives on Terrorism: Patterns of Terrorism–1999
By P.R. Rajeswari *


Numerous international events in the late 1980s and early 1990s have created the right atmosphere for transnational terrorism. The key events include the fall of the Berlin Wall, the start of the Gulf War in January 1991, the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact, and the break-up of the Soviet Union, which marked the start of the democratisation of Central and Eastern Europe. Following democratisation there was an increased risk of terrorism owing to freedom of association, freedom of movement, the institution of due process, and the freedom of the press. 1

The issue of terrorism has been on the arena of international security, with serious implications for India, the US, and the whole of the international community. This big menace, at all levels, has traversed across borders, be it the acquisition of weapons, or amassing people, or carrying out plans in other countries. India has been facing this problem of transnational cross-border terrorism for a long period of time, but the world community, particularly the US, which is the sole superpower nation in the post-Cold War structure, had not recognised the intensity of the problem till such time that the US itself had to face it. Money and weapons, and even the terrorists flow across borders, and establish strong bases in other countries.

Terrorism has been an age-old phenomenon, but the changing methods and techniques that they employ today make it a more horrifying problem. The possession of the deadly weapons of mass destruction in the hands of these people gives a new dimension to the old phenomenon of terrorism.

Terrorist groups are generally small in number, functioning against the governments of particular countries. The target and aim of all categories of terrorists has been to pose a threat to those they consider oppressors, enemies, and obstacles in the achievement of their goals. Their tactics have been identified as hijacking, blackmail, ruthless killing by shooting, and use of bombs etc. However, violence is not an immediate goal of these groups and they insist on psychological rather than practical results. The purpose of terrorism has always been to create a sense of extreme fear in the minds of the people and the governments and ultimately alter the behavioural pattern of the people or even try to bring about a change in the basic structure of the society and government.


Recent Initiatives

Recently, the annual report on terrorism, Patterns of Terrorism: 1999 released by the Department of State of the United States made some critical remarks on Pakistan and the South Asian region on the whole. In 1999, the locus of international terrorism has shifted from the Middle East to South Asia. Terrorism has sprung up throughout the region, the latest being the increased fighting in Sri Lanka that has assumed new dimensions, with Jaffna almost slipping out of the Sri Lankan armed forces control.

The number of persons killed or wounded in international terrorist attacks during 1999 fell sharply because of the absence of any attack causing mass casualties. In 1999, 233 persons were killed and 706 were wounded, as compared with 741 persons killed and 5,952 wounded in 1998. The number of terrorist attacks rose, however. During 1999, 392 international terrorist attacks occurred, up 43 per cent from the 274 attacks recorded the previous year. 2 The number of attacks increased in every region of the world except in the Middle East, where six fewer attacks occurred. There are several reasons for the increase.

In 1999, incidents that particularly targeted US interests numbered 169, which is an increase of 52 per cent from 1998, and the increase was focused on four countries: Colombia, Greece, Nigeria and Yemen. 4

The report has identified 28 groups as Foreign Terrorist Organisations (FTOs) and seven states as sponsors of terrorism. Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Cuba and Sudan have been identified as the state sponsors of international terrorism under the Department of State classification. Iran continued its support to several terrorist groups, including the Lebanese Hizobollah, Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), in their efforts to sabotage the Middle East Peace Process. The political change that has been taking place in Iran since 1999 made little progress, but certain state institutions in support of terrorism has made Iran hit the top in the list. Iraq too continued its support towards a variety of terrorist groups, including Mujahidin-e-Khalq (MEK, an Iranian group that opposes the present Iran regime), by providing safe haven, men and material, bases and weapons. 5

Syria also figures in this list as it continues its support to many terrorist groups most of which oppose the Middle East Peace Process. Libya has been figuring on this list due to its failure to comply with the requirements of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions related to the trial of those accused of downing Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. 6 North Korea has been harbouring several hijackers of a Japanese Airlines flight to North Korea in the 1970s and maintains ties with Osama bin Laden and his organisation. 7 Cuba too has been providing safe haven to many terrorist groups and maintained ties with other state sponsors of terrorism and several other insurgent groups operating in Latin America. Finally, Sudan continued to serve as a meeting place, safe haven, and training hub for members of bin Laden’s al-Qaida, Lebanese Hizobollah, al-Jihad, al-Gama'at, PIJ, Hamas, and the Abu Nidal Organisation (ANO). 8

In 1999, the threat of the possible use of weapons of mass destruction–chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN)–became an issue of increasing concern. Traditionally, terrorists resort to the use of conventional tactics like kidnapping, shooting, bombing etc. but certain groups have tried to use CBRN capabilities like that of Aum Shinrikyo’s use of sarin nerve gas agent on the Tokyo subway in March 1995. Hence, the possibility cannot be totally ruled out. Also, recently, the easy availability of CBRN materials, information and technology makes it possible for the use of these facilities by the terrorist groups.

The report also made certain policy formulations to combat this big menace. The US counter-terrorist policies are made to face the changing trends and patterns of terrorism. One trend is the shift from well-organised, localised groups supported by state sponsors to loosely organised, international networks of terrorists. These groups, not getting major financial support from states/governments, have turned to new forms of making money like drug trafficking, private sponsorship, crime and illegal trade. 9 Simultaneously, there is a change taking place from primarily politically motivated terrorism to one that is more religiously or ideologically motivated. The next major trend is the shift in the region of primary focus from Middle East to South Asia.

In South Asia, the threat basically emanates from Afghanistan, which continues to provide safe haven to several militant outfits and also other kinds of support. Osama bin Laden and his organisation, al-Qaida continue to get moral as well as material support and safe haven from the Taliban in Afghanistan. Afghanistan has been identified as the chief base of operations in 1999 for Islamic extremists from around the world–be it from North America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, or Central, South and Southeast Asia. The Taliban controlled most parts of Afghan territory and used its soil for “training, indoctrination facilities for non-Afghans and provided logistic support to members of various terrorist organisations and Mujahideen, including those waging jihads in Chechnya, Lebanon, Kosovo, Kashmir, and elsewhere”. 10 Afghanistan has continued to remain a host to Osama bin Laden who was the mastermind of the two US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

There have been continual talks between the Taliban and the United States and the US demand to the Taliban to comply with the United Nations Security Council resolution demanding that they turn bin Laden over to a country where he can be brought to justice.

Pakistan continues to send mixed responses to terrorism, according to the US officials and even the annual report on terrorism. There has been some improvement on this issue from Pakistan–assistance in arrests and extraditions–but the Pakistan government has tolerated terrorists living and moving out of its territory freely. The United States has omitted Pakistan in the list of state sponsors of terrorism only because it has been a friend of the US. It has made a request to Pakistan to end its support to international terrorism by halting any support–men/and material in Afghanistan and also urged the government to close some of the religious schools operating in Pakistan that serve as centres of religious fanaticism and violence that springs from there. There has been tangible evidence indicating Pakistan’s support for Kashmiri militant groups like the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) that engage in cross-border terrorism and violence. This group till 1997 had worked under the name of Harkat-ul-Ansar (HUA) which was responsible for the kidnapping involving citizens from the US, Britain, and Germany. Followed by the declaration of HUA as a terrorist group, the group changed its name into Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM).

The US policy on counter-terrorism has been clearly spelt out in the annual report on terrorism. The policy has four elements:

The US government has primarily used two tools to implement these policy measures–designations of state sponsors of terrorism, and of Foreign Terrorist Organisations (FTOs) and imposing sanctions on those countries that support international terrorism. Sanctions are tools used by the United States to isolate states from the international community, which condemns and rejects the use of terror as a legitimate political tool.

In addition to the declaration of FTOs and state sponsors of terrorism, the US government also has bilateral and multilateral cooperation with close allies like the United Kingdom, Canada, Israel and Japan. In February 2000, the US began a bilateral initiative with India, after the meeting between US Deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott and India’s Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh in London. India and the US have established a Joint Working Group on Counter-terrorism. The two sides unequivocally condemned all acts, methods, and practices of terrorism as criminal and unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious, or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them. 12



Note *: Research Officer, IDSA.  Back.

Note 1: The idea of terrorism spreading after the end of bi-polarity has been brought forth by Alexander, Y., and D. Puchinsky Europe's Red Terrorists: The Fighting Communist Organisations (London: Frank Cass, 1992).  Back.

Note 2: Department of State, Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1999.  Back.

Note 3: Ibid.  Back.

Note 4: Ibid.  Back.

Note 5: Ibid.  Back.

Note 6: Ibid.  Back.

Note 7: Ibid.  Back.

Note 8: Ibid.  Back.

Note 9: Ibid.  Back.

Note 10: Ibid.  Back.

Note 11: Ibid.  Back.

Note 12: US Department of State, “Joint US-India Statement on Counterterrorism Working Group,” February 8, 2000.  Back.