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Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1997

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During 1997 there were 304 acts of international terrorism, eight more than occurred during 1996, but one of the lowest annual totals recorded since 1971. The number of casualties remained large but did not approach the high levels recorded during 1996. In 1997, 221 persons died and 693 were wounded in international terrorist attacks as compared to 314 dead and 2,912 wounded in 1996. Seven US citizens died and 21 were wounded in 1997, as compared with 23 dead and 510 wounded the previous year.

Approximately one-third of the attacks were against US targets, and most of those consisted of low-level bombings of multinational oil pipelines in Colombia. Terrorists there regard the pipelines as a US target.

The predominant type of attack during 1997 was bombing; the foremost target was business related.

The following were among the more significant attacks during the year:

  • The deadliest terrorist attack ever committed in Egypt occurred on 17 November when six gunmen entered the Hatsheput Temple in Luxor and for 30 minutes methodically shot and knifed tourists trapped inside the Temple's alcoves. Fifty-eight foreign tourists were murdered, along with three Egyptian police officers and one Egyptian tour guide. The gunmen then commandeered an empty tour bus and fled the scene, but Egyptian security forces pursued them and all six were killed.
  • On 18 September terrorists launched a grenade attack on a tour bus parked in front of the Egyptian National Antiquities Museum in Cairo. Nine German tourists and their Egyptian busdriver were killed, and eight others were wounded.
  • On 12 November four US citizens, employees of Union Texas Petroleum, and their Pakistani driver were shot and killed when the vehicle in which they were riding was attacked 1 mile from the US Consulate in Karachi.
  • The Government of Iran conducted at least 13 assassinations in 1997, the majority of which were carried out in northern Iraq.
  • On 30 July two suicide bombers attacked a market in Jerusalem. Sixteen persons--including a US citizen--were killed, and 178 were wounded.
  • On 4 September three suicide bombers attacked a pedestrian mall in central Jerusalem, killing seven persons--including a 14-year-old US citizen--and injuring nearly 200 persons.
  • Frank Pescatore, a US geologist and mining consultant working in Colombia, was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in December 1996 and later killed by his captors; his body was discovered 23 February 1997.
  • On 30 March unknown assailants threw four grenades into a political demonstration in Phnom Penh, killing 19 persons and wounding more than 100 others. Among the injured were a US citizen from the International Republican Institute, a Chinese journalist from the Xinhua News Agency, and opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who led some 200 supporters of his Khmer Nations Party in the demonstration against the governing Cambodian People's Party.
  • In April, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, police discovered and defused 23 landmines under a bridge that was part of Pope John Paul II's motorcade route in Sarajevo, several hours before the Pope's arrival.
  • On 30 July, in Colombia, National Liberation Army terrorists bombed the Cano Limon-Covenas oil pipeline in Norte Santander. They had wrapped sticks of dynamite around the pipes of the pump, which caused a major oil spill on detonation. Pumping operations were suspended for more than a week, resulting in several million dollars in lost revenue.

In a notable counterterrorism achievement, Peruvian security forces staged on 22 April a raid on the Japanese Ambassador's residence in Lima where members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) were holding 72 hostages for four months. All but one of the hostages were freed; after being shot during the rescue, that one suffered a heart attack and subsequently died. All the MRTA hostage takers were killed. The United States strongly supported the Government of Peru's steadfast refusal to make any concessions to the terrorists holding the hostages during the four-month ordeal.

Terrorists were brought to trial in various countries throughout the year:

  • In April a judgment by a court in Berlin found that the highest levels of Iran's political leadership followed a deliberate policy of murdering political opponents who lived outside the country. The court found four defendants guilty in the 1992 murders of four Iranian Kurdish opposition figures in Berlin's Mykonos restaurant. Three of the four convicted were members of the Lebanese Hizballah organization; the fourth was an Iranian national. The court made clear that other participants in the murders had escaped to Iran, where one of them was given a Mercedes for his role in the operation. In March 1996 a German court had issued an arrest warrant for former Iranian Minister of Intelligence and Security Ali Fallahian in this case.
  • On 18 November the trial of five defendants suspected in the 1986 La Belle discotheque bombing opened in Berlin. Two US soldiers, Sgt. Kenneth Ford and Sgt. James Goins, were killed in the attack along with a Turkish citizen, and some 200 other persons were wounded, including 64 US citizens. The United States believes the attack was sponsored by Libya. The trial is expected to last two years.
  • The notorious terrorist Illich Ramirez Sanchez, known as "Carlos the Jackal," was convicted in December by a French court for the 1975 murders of two French investigators and a Lebanese national. Although Ramirez had proclaimed during the trial that "There is no law for me," the court sentenced him to life in prison.

Several notable trials of international terrorist suspects in the United States also took place during the year:

  • On 12 November a federal jury in Manhattan convicted Ramzi Ahmed Yousef of directing and helping to carry out the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. Eyad Mahmoud Ismail Najim, who drove the truck that carried the bomb, was also found guilty. Yousef was extradited to the United States from Pakistan in February 1995; Najim was arrested in Jordan in August of that year pursuant to an extradition request from the United States, and he was returned to the United States. (In January 1998 Yousef was sentenced to 240 years in solitary confinement for his role in the World Trade Center bombing. He also received an additional sentence of life imprisonment for his previous conviction in a terrorist conspiracy to plant bombs aboard US passenger airliners operating in East Asia.)
  • In June 1997 US authorities arrested Mir Aimal Kansi, the suspected gunman in the attack on 25 January 1993 outside Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Headquarters that killed two CIA employees and wounded three others. Kansi was apprehended abroad, remanded into US custody, and transported to the United States to stand trial. In November a jury in Fairfax, Virginia, found Kansi guilty of the capital murder of Frank A. Darling, the first degree murder of Lansing H. Bennett, and the malicious wounding of Nicholas Starr, Calvin R. Morgan, and Stephen E. Williams, as well as five firearms charges. (In January 1998, Kansi was sentenced to death.)
  • A member of the Japanese Red Army terrorist organization, Tsutomu Shirosaki, was turned over to US authorities in 1996 in an Asian country and brought to the United States to stand trial for the improvised mortar attacks against the US Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, on 14 May 1986. The projectiles landed on the roof and in a courtyard but failed to explode. In November a US federal court in Washington, DC, found Shirosaki guilty of all charges, including attempted murder of US Embassy personnel and attempting to harm a US Embassy. (In February 1998 Shirosaki was sentenced to a 30-year prison term.)

There were 13 international terrorist incidents in the United States during the year, 12 involving letter bombs:

  • In January a total of 12 letter bombs with Alexandria, Egypt, postmarks were discovered in holiday greeting cards mailed to the United States. On two separate days during January, nine letter bombs were discovered in the Washington, DC, and United Nations offices of the Saudi-owned al-Hayat newspaper. In addition, three letter bomb devices were sent to the federal prison in Fort Leavenworth Kansas. None of the letter bombs detonated, and there were no public claims of responsibility. A similar device mailed to the al-Hayat office in London on 13 January did explode, injuring two persons. Subsequently, three more devices were found. The incidents are under investigation by the FBI.
  • On 23 February a Palestinian gunman entered the observation deck at the Empire State building in New York City and opened fire on tourists, killing a Danish man and wounding visitors from the United States, Argentina, Switzerland, and France before turning the gun on himself. A note carried by the gunman indicated that this was a punishment attack against the "enemies of Palestine."

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