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E-mail From Washington

From: Ralph Begleiter/CNN World Affairs Correspondent
In: Washington
Posted: 4-30-97

Subject: Annual U.S. Report Documents '96 Terrorism Incidents

The United States government reports the number of worldwide terrorist incidents last year was smaller than anytime in the last quarter century, but the number of casualties in terrorism was among the highest ever.

The U.S. attributes that result to more focused attacks on "mass" civilian targets and the use of more powerful bombs.

The U.S. annual report on worldwide terrorism notes a decline in what the United States considers "state-sponsored" terrorism, acknowledging that in 1996 there was no evidence of "direct" government involvement in terrorism by the governments of Cuba, Libya, North Korea and Syria, although those nations remain on the U.S. list of "sponsors of terrorism." (Others on the list are Iran, Sudan and Iraq.) The U.S accuses these countries of supporting terrorism by allowing terrorist groups and leaders to operate from their territory.

Iran is singled out again by the U.S. government report as "the premier state sponsor" of international terrorism in 1996. But the United States notably does not accuse Iran of any role in what the U.S. report calls the "spectacular and horrific" bombing in Saudi Arabia of a U.S. military housing complex at Khobar Towers.

According to the U.S government report, the most comprehensive accounting of terrorism worldwide, here are some key findings:

  • The largest number of casualties in terrorism in 1996 occurred in Asia, where 1,409 people were injured and 98 killed by terrorism last year. Most of those casualties occurred in a single incident, the deadliest of the year worldwide, when a truck loaded with explosives rammed into the central bank in Colombo, Sri Lanka in January 1996.

  • The Middle East featured the second-highest number of casualties in terrorism, including the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia (where 19 were killed and more than 500 wounded, according to the U.S. report) and suicide bombings in Israel killed 65 people. The number of casualties from terrorism in the Middle East nearly doubled compared to 1995.

  • Terrorism in Europe declined "significantly" in 1996, with the number of incidents down to 121 last year, most of them non-lethal.

  • Still, European casualties placed third after Asia and the Middle East (473 wounded; 30 dead). The report notes that during last year the Irish Republican Army resumed its bombing campaign, abandoning a cease-fire in its dispute with Britain. European casualties came primarily from the attack on a Paris subway last December and from arson and vandalism against Turks living in Germany.

The U.S. report praises the Palestinian Authority for its cooperation with Israel to combat terrorism.

The number of U.S. citizens killed in terrorism last year was 24, more than double the number in 1995. Most died in the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. In Latin America, the U.S. report says drug-related terrorism -- and the attack on the Japanese Embassy in Peru -- accounted for most of the terrorism in 1996. But the number of international incidents in Colombia declined slightly last year.

The report notes the lack of progress toward assigning responsibility for terrorism in Argentina, notably the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and the 1994 bombing of another Jewish community organization in Buenos Aires.

On Khobar Towers, the U.S. report notes that several groups, both Shiia and Sunni, have claimed responsibility for the truck bombing last June. Although several groups are named, the U.S. makes no mention of a group called "Saudi Hezbollah," which has been cited in Canadian court documents as a participant in the Khobar attack. Likewise, there is no reference to a Saudi suspect arrested in Canada this year and accused of taking part in the bombing.

The U.S. report says "Iran's terrorist network in the Persian Gulf remained active in 1996," accusing Iran of backing terrorism in Bahrain, northern Iraq and Turkey. Iran is also accused of supporting terrorism in France and Germany, and of failing to work to revoke the death threat against author Salman Rushdie. Iran is accused of conducting "at least" eight assassinations of Iranian dissidents outside Iran in 1996.

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