Editor’s Preview: Terrorism: the great fear of the late twentieth century. Only recently have so many ordinary citizens felt they were in peril simply because of their nationality, their religion, or their misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Chauffeurs now go to school to learn how to drive defensively against potential aggressors. Couples cancel or change vacation plans because of alleged violence in a particular country. Airlines reinforce security systems, and the nightly news broadcasts are often dominated by reports of terrorist activity, which may encourage terrorists and spawn further attacks.
In the United States, terrorism raises concerns about the ability of a constitutional democracy to combat such threats effectively and within the legal bounds of its system. What kinds of responses are and are not justified by terrorism? Can terrorism be traced to known sources and eradicated? Is terrorist treachery rooted in values so hostile to civilization that its practitioners are incapable of negotiating or of abandoning violence?
In recent years the West has become keenly aware of terrorism as a perceived threat, and there have been many calls for the formulation of a general anti-terrorist policy. However, if this is to be accomplished, we should begin by putting terrorism in its proper perspective.
Terrorism, in one form or another, is as old as civilization itself. There is a great variety in the methods of attack which can be used today, and these include bombing, kidnapping, hijacking, indiscriminate car bombs or explosive devices left in aircraft, assassinations aimed at individuals or groups, attacks against public utilities, sabotage, product contamination, and computer hacking.
There is variation too among the attackers: Seudero Luminoso in Peru does not operate outside its boundaries, but the PLO and FLP Islamic Jihad freely operate in Europe and the Mediterranean. Other groups proliferate. Furthermore, with such states as the Soviet Union, Syria, Iran, Libya, and Cuba covertly or openly backing terrorism, complex foreign policy considerations are involved which transcend national incidents such as Red Brigade actions in Italy, ETA attacks in Spain, or acts of terrorism elsewhere around the world.
In view of this, it is very unlikely that any general anti-terrorist policy can be formulated, but the West should strive for flexibility without discarding the goal of coordinated response.
It is obvious too that Western governments are bound by certain restraints in their actions against terrorists. One terrorist objective is to provoke governments into illegal action, which will involve them in difficulties with their own people and with their allies. Democratic governments are bound by restraints which do not apply to dictatorships and non-democratic governments, which accounts in part for the latter’s immunity from attack. Not long ago, when Soviet diplomats were kidnapped in Lebanon, the Soviets, through their Syrian friends, arranged for the families of the kidnappers to be seized. At least one was dismembered and the pieces were sent to the kidnappers to induce them to release the remainder of the Soviet diplomats. Obviously, this is not an option open to democratic governments.
While there is no question that we should do more to bolster our security against terrorism, there are limits and parameters which govern our actions. Terrorism will increase and will remain a threat as long as our society remains open and our media unfettered. The media reports all terrorist incidents and gives them maximum publicity, which is exactly what terrorists want, but short of controlling the press, there is little that can be done about this or about television, which brings into every household the horrors of terrorism in the most sensationalist fashion.
Terrorism and Criminal Activity
There are several thousand terrorist groups around the world, but they are not, as yet, a vast or organized army. Some 40,000 to 50,000 Americans are killed in car accidents each year while only an average of 200 to 300 are killed in terrorist incidents. Some believe, on this evidence, that it would be better to ignore terrorism or to simply regard it as one more variety of criminal activity. However, there are some very considerable differences between terrorism and simple criminal activity. Terrorism operates outside any civilized norms, even outside the rules of war, forcing political leaders to make life-or-death decisions with visible consequences. Terrorism, in fact, affects politics at the highest level, and can even affect presidential elections, while at the same time casting doubt on the competence of our political and military leaders. Nobody is immune to terrorism—the Pope, Lord Mountbatten, President Sadat, Prime Minister Gandhi, politicians, businessmen, diplomats, military personnel, and the general public at large. Terrorism can divide the Western alliance just as easily as it can shatter the lives of ordinary citizens.
A Georgetown University report on terrorism states that “The ability of small nations to threaten larger ones using the tactics of terror has become painfully obvious. As a strategic tool, terrorism works well. It works so well that it appears to be emerging as the political instrument of choice of the states, great and small, that benefit from the disruption of the West”
Although terrorism is an ancient form of intimidation, both the targets and the weapons have changed. Civilization today is vulnerable as never before to sabotage and attack. We rely on electricity for our transport and communications, for industry, for light, and heat, for the pumping of water and for the treatment of sewage, and indeed for an immense variety of our activities, from the computers which control our banking systems and the automation in our factories to the power which runs our refrigerators and domestic applicances. At the same time, electricity, and the plants which generate it, are vulnerable to sabotage. Attacks against electric generators and public utilities are becoming increasingly common.
More and more, we rely on the processing and packaging of food, which creates another target for terrorists: One man can introduce botulism or poison into packaged food intended for national or international distribution. It will not only kill, but it will spread panic on a wide scale. In France, a West German/French terrorist group was actually caught manufacturing an anthrax culture which could have killed countless thousands. (Anthrax was put down on a small island off the west coast of Scotland in 1942 in a controlled experiment. It was still fully active and lethal 40 years later. It is cheap, easy to manufacture and easy to spread.)
Another terrorist ploy is to take advantage of growing high technology. Incomprehensible sums of money are processed solely by the memories of computers, using communications systems that are vulnerable to disruption and electronic tampering. The introduction of a “computer virus” to alter the records or destroy data is today a real possibility. These so-called “viruses” are hidden codes within normal programming instructions. Rather like biological organisms, they may be able to propagate through the system, defeating even carefully designed security barriers. A virus can be programmed to act quickly, or to wait for a predetermined trigger. Most software systems, even military ones, could probably be crippled, and at the moment there does not seem to be any easy defense or overall solution to the problem. High school students have penetrated federal computer to fear more sophisticated forms of computer hacking. Our entire standard of living, our industrial productivity, and our national security are at risk.
Terrorism is a highly cost-effective method of attacking Western civilization, and it offers possibilities for a single man or for a small team to cause damage and disruption out of all proportion to the cost of their training or the cost of the operations themselves. In this way, an individual, or a group, can strike a devastating blow as an act of revenge, out of political idealism, to fan the flames of religious fanaticism, or to achieve notoriety and publicity for a special cause.
Terrorist Organizations in Europe
Italy: The Red Brigades are being reformed after Italian police succeeded in arresting most of their leaders and disrupting their organization. A cutting edge is being supplied by the Union of Fighting Communists, and the party of Fighting Communists, two distinct groups, somewhat different in composition, which carry out acts of terrorism on behalf of the Red Brigades. Kidnapping continues much as before, although it is less frequently reported to the police. The Red Brigades are in close contact with Syrian and Middle Eastern terrorist groups, and their geographical center seems to have moved to Genoa. There is a greater degree of cooperation than ever before between Italian and French terrorist groups.
France: “Action Directe” recently suffered a serious blow with the arrest of several of their leaders together with the seizure of weapons and literature by the French authorities. They remain active, however, and work now in concert with the West German Red Army Faction, and with Middle Eastern terrorist groups. They remain a very dangerous organization.
Spain: ETA continues with its attacks on senior military and police figures together with bomb attacks on the Civil Guards. Various attempts on the part of the socialist government to achieve a dialogue with ETA have not been successful, and have been mainly disregarded by ETA-M, the action wing of the movement. ETA has succeeded in reducing the Basque region, once the wealthiest area in Spain, to the poorest, as businessmen and industrialists faced with extortion, kidnapping and murder have packed up and moved elsewhere.
It should be remembered that ETA, once solely interested in an autonomous Basque homeland, has since become a Marxist organization which aims at the transformation of the whole of Spain into a Marxist Peoples’ Republic. ETA provides direct proof of Soviet sponsorship. At a meeting between the Spanish Foreign Minister and his Soviet counterpart in Madrid some three years ago, the Soviets offered to withdraw support from ETA, and even to help to destroy it if Spain would sever all links with the NATO allies. The Spaniards refused, and immediately the Soviets delivered a large consignment of assault rifles and rocket launchers to the ETA. ETA received a setback in the summer of 1987 when France, infuriated by ETA attacks in the French Basque region, extradited 50 leading ETA terrorists back to Spain.
Portugal: The terrorist movement of FP 25 still exists and from time to time carries out attacks against embassies and sporadic acts of terrorism—usually rather inefficiently. However, Portugal has become a haven for terrorists on the run, and is also the favored site for international terrorist conventions. This is due to the fact that since the old PIDE, and later the DGS, in the days of Salazar and Caetano, were disbanded there has been no other security or intelligence organization in the country. Responsibility for security is in the hands of the judiciary police, and they do not have the manpower, the training, or the resources to cope.
West Germany: The Red Army Faction has been reorganized, and although small, it is dedicated, extremely violent and efficient. It receives close support from Action Directe in France and from the Fighting Communist Cells in Belgium. U.S. personnel, NATO installations and Western businessmen are the favored targets.
Northern Ireland: The Provisional IRA continues to be very active and there are an average of two to three terrorist murders every week. The Provisionals have suffered a number of bad blows in the last year. First there was an attempted raid on a police station: News of this attack was leaked and the Provisional gunmen ran into an ambush set by the SAS, and they were all killed. Then a very large Libyan consignment of weapons was intercepted, although there is reason to think that previous shipments got through. Finally, there was the Provisional bombing of a civilian crowd gathered at the War Memorial for a Remembrance Day service for those who had been killed in World War I and II. Public reaction to this atrocity was enormous and overwhelming, condemned by all the bishops of Ireland. It sickened thousands who previously may have had some sympathy for the IRA. It should be remembered that the Provisionals today seek to impose a Marxist revolution on the whole of Ireland and maintain strong links with ETA and Action Directe.
In October of 1986-87, a ship was stopped by French Customs off the port of Brest. The crew consisted of four Irishmen and the cargo turned out to be 150 tons of modern weapons, including SAM 7 ground-to-air, hand-held missiles; heavy Russian machine guns, capable of penetrating light armored vehicles; over one thousand Kalashnikov assault rifles; grenades; and about a million rounds of small arms ammunition. The serial numbers had been removed to prevent identification, but the weapons were all of Soviet manufacture.
The ship in which they were found was owned by an Irishman living in Bray (near Dublin). Under his instruction, the newly purchased ship sailed from Sweden to Valetta harbor at Malta. The new owner and his crew then arrived from Ireland to take possession. Clearing port at Malta, they filed a declaration that the ship was sailing empty. It then disappeared, to be found later sailing towards Gibraltar. However, it did not stop there, as the authorities had been told that it would, but sailed north, across the Bay of Biscay and towards Start Point in southern England.
It appears that here there was an engine failure and the ship drifted towards France, where it was picked up by Customs off the coast of Brest. The first thing that the French Customs officers discovered was that the ship had been booby-trapped, and that the cargo was rigged to explode upon any interference. (French experts removed the detonators and unloaded the deadly cargo.) It is likely that the weapons were picked up either in Tripoli, a few hours’ sailing away from Malta, or from Lampedusa, where Colonel Qaddafi has bought up most of the island and which lies just off the coast of Libya. The value of the cargo ran into several millions of dollars and was beyond the known financial means of the IRA, prompting authorities to assume that it was a “gift.” One of the crew has been identified as a leading IRA figure, and another was an IRA operative with a long record who had escaped from prison. Whether this enormous consignment was all intended for Ireland, or whether it was to be distributed to other European terrorist organizations remains open to speculation. It has been further suggested that while this shipment was caught, at least three others have gotten through. What is intriguing is the extent to which Colonel Qaddafi is apparently prepared to back terrorism in Europe.
Another supply line was uncovered in August of last year when a Panamanian-registered ship broke down with engine trouble at Bari and was found to contain both arms and drugs. This ship was one of three leased by a Greek shipowner to Abu Nidal, which openly maintains an office in Kolonaki, a small residential part of Athens. All these ships had at least two names, and had multiple false registrations. They were involved in an incredibly intricate maneuver to smuggle Italian anti-personnel, anti-tank and sea mines from Italy together with other weapons which went first to Lebanon, then from Beirut to Damascus, and from Syria to Iran by air. The ships then returned from Beirut carrying what are now the standard terrorist weapons of choice—RPGs, ground-to-air missiles, bazookas, and a substantial quantity of drugs. All this was off-loaded at La Spezia, and while the weapons went into a central terrorist depot, the drugs were handed over to the Mafia which in return provided facilities for handling the weapons, arranged for transport, dock clearance, and also donated a portion of the profits from the sale of the drugs to finance terrorist operations. Behind this is Abu Nidal which provided the shipping, and in addition to its headquarters in Athens, operated out of offices in Beirut and probably Genoa in close cooperation with other terrorist groups. Hezbollah arranged to handle the supply of terrorist weapons and drugs in Lebanon, and the Syrian Secret Service organized the transfer of the weapons to Iran.
Money for terrorist organizations is not lacking. For example, after the Achille Lauro incident the terrorists who were released by the Italian authorities had to wait at Fiumincino airport while cases containing $70 million were loaded onto the aircraft which flew them and the money to Yugoslavia. (This represented only a part of the PLO assets held in Italian banks. Arafat himself is an enormously rich man.)
The sources of supply, meanwhile, are the Middle East, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Libya and, to some extent, Algeria. In the Americas, the supplies come through Cuba. The origin of the weapons is the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet bloc nations.
It was the Italian terrorist Giangiacome Feltrinelli who was originally responsible for persuading George Habash to bring Middle Eastern terror to Europe in the 1960s. Since then, we have seen numerous terrorist attacks carried out in Europe by the PLO under Arafat, the Front for the Liberation of Palestine under George Habash, and by splinter groups, the most deadly and important of which is the Abu Nidal organization, under a variety of names. They have been responsible for the murder of tourists in the Rome airport, for bombings in Rome and elsewhere in Italy, for the kidnapping of a cruise ship, plane hijackings and other outrages. Abu Nidal terrorists are in prisons in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and England, but for everyone of them, how many remain at large?
In many cases—in fact in most—these main organizations and splinter groups have received active assistance from Libya which has provided money, training facilities, weapons, embassy protection, and general encouragement. The same assistance has been offered by Syria and to a lesser extent by Iran.
The South Yemen has been, and still is, a main advanced training area for post-graduates in terror, while terrorists training is also offered by the Soviet Union, East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Libya, Algeria, Syria, North Korea and, on a huge scale, by Cuba. There is now a considerable degree of cooperation between terrorist groups and we may witness them working together on more than one occasion; the Italians with the French, the French with the Germans and Belgians, the IRA with ETA, and so on.
Most of these terrorist organizations are motivated to a greater or lesser extent by Marxist ideology. The PLO and FLP seek a Palestinian homeland and the expulsion of the Jews from Israel, and many subscribe to a Marxist ideological vision. The Italian Red Brigades, the German Red Army Faction, ETA, the IRA, the French Action Directe and the Belgian Fighting Communist Cells also share a certain common Marxist ideology although this may range from a sort of nihilism to Trotskyism or Maoism.
To this group can be named some of the AMAL terrorists, but here the ideological motivation is less strong and they mainly fight for a Shiite Republic in Lebanon.
Iranian terrorism differs from all other variations in a number of ways: Islamic Jihad provides not only a line of personal conduct, but is also state policy. It has no real organization whatever, no secretariat, no chain of command and no structure. It has no limited objective—such as the establishment of a national homeland, the imposition of a Marxist Peoples’ Republic or anything of that sort. Its goal is nothing less than the conversion of the whole world to Islam, by force if necessary. It will not go into partnership with any other terrorist organization, and it promises Paradise for those who die in its service. Thousands have volunteered for suicide missions. Their burning ambition is to die in an attack on the infidel. The threat of Islamic Jihad (Holy War) is still not understood in the West, and this is very dangerous.
President Carter’s Ambassador to Teheran reported that the Ayatollah Khomeni was a “twentieth century saint”; Carter himself believed that once the Ayatollah perceived that he, Carter, was a religious man, it would be possible to deal with him. More recently, the Reagan White House seems to have believed that it was also possible to deal with the mullahs in Teheran, and it was not alone. The French believed that Khomeni was their man and that once in power in Teheran he would give them preferential treatment and all the oil they wanted. The Archbishop of Canterbury and his emissary, Terry Waite, noted that Khomeni was “a very holy man” and would hear nothing against him. In view of all this it is interesting to see what Khomeni and the mullahs think of the West:
“Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those who say this are witless. Islam says KILL ALL THE UNBELIEVERS just as they would kill you. Islam says KILL THEM, PUT THEM TO THE SWORD AND SCATTER THEIR ARMIES. Islam says KILL IN THE SERVICE OF ALLAH. Whatever good there exists is thanks to the sword, and the shadow of the sword. People can not be made obedient except by the sword. The sword is the key of Paradise, which can only be opened for Holy Warriors.”
—Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini
Or let us consider another “twentieth century saint,” the Mullah Mahammad Taqi Sabzevari who last year in Qom said,
“Allah has promised that the day will come when the whole of mankind will live united under the banner of Islam, when the sign of the Crescent, the symbol of Muhammad, will be supreme everywhere. But the day must be hastened through our Jihad, through our readiness to offer our lives and to shed the unclean blood of those who do not see the light brought from the heavens by Muhammad…the Satanic rulers must be brought down and put to death.”
There are thousands of such injunctions to kill all unbelievers and unite the whole world under Islam which are fervently believed by hundreds of thousands of fundamentalist Moslems.
We have been warned: The suicide bomber who drove his truck into the Marine barracks in Beirut, the suicide bomber who did the same thing at the American Embassy, the suicide bomber who attacked French paratroopers, the seventeen-year old girls who blew themselves and their Israelis victims to pieces in the south of Lebanon, are just the tip of an iceberg. To lie and cheat in order to deceive the infidel is expressly enjoined on the Faithful of Islam, and the young girls who each strapped six kilos of explosives to their bodies expressly commanded their families not to mourn them but to give a great feast as if it was their wedding day. In Iran more than 20 terrorist training centers have been identified, at which thousands of young men and women are being trained to kill. Selected centers are exclusively for suicide volunteers, sometimes for a single sex. American, Irish, European and Latin American women are known to be at one center.
The general line of conduct is laid down by the “Holy Man,” the Ayatollah Khomeni, and the Holy Warriors of Islamic Jihad are responsible only to him. Islamic Jihad commands its members to kill the infidel. How, when, or where is largely up to the individual or group concerned. There are large organizations within Islamic Jihad such as Hezbollah (The Party of God) in Lebanon, and some of the AMAL terrorists belong to Islamic Jihad, but the lack of any structure or organization makes the network almost impossible to penetrate. However, there is a headquarters of a sort in a building opposite the American Embassy in Teheran; there is a titular leader, who is really nothing more than a religious front, and who in fact disapproves of violence. The Hezbollah commands some 3,000 to 4,000 men. It has recently received a large reinforcement from the Teheran Revolutionary Guards. Their leader is Sheik Fazlollah, and, while they receive general guidance directly from the Ayatollah Khomeni and his emissaries, they have total independence of action. They are fanatical fundamentalists based in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. This region is under general Syrian control and the Syrians were initially prepared to back Hezbollah, but have now realized that Hezbollah constitutes a threat to Syrian aspirations in Lebanon and even to the Syrian government of President Assad which Khomeni and his fundamentalists eventually plan to replace with an Islamic Peoples’ Republic.
The Iranian AMAL which operates under Hussein al Mussayi also takes its directives from Teheran. It is not as fanatical as Hezbollah but nonetheless constitutes a dangerous terrorist organization. The Lebanese AMAL’s leader is Nabil Berri, a graduate from an American university with many relatives living in America. His organization is more like a private army seeking Shiite dominance in Lebanon.
When considering Iranian terrorism, which so far we have seen only in the Middle East, we should perhaps remember that some 20,000 Iranians are students in the United States, out of a total of 40,000 from the Middle East. We should also recall that the leader of the students who assaulted the American Embassy in Teheran was himself a former student at Berkeley, and there are many more cases where the United States have provided student training for those who have now been identified as leaders of terrorist groups.
Khomeni has a dream of creating an army of 20 million fundamentalist Moslems for the conquest of the world to Islam. He believes that the Crusades never stopped. He even has a program which envisages first the conquest of Iraq, then Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. When the Middle East is secure, it will be Europe and America’s turn. It is not such a mad idea as it sounds; there are millions of Muslims living in the West today. One day Khomeni believes that the conquests of the Spanish Moors and the Turks will be repeated. The Moors reached Chalons and the Turks Vienna; with the aid of the millions of Moslems living in the West, Khomeni thinks that this time they will get further. Virtually all the European and American hostages captured in Lebanon have been taken by the Islamic Jihad, and some have been killed by them.
The Terrorist Threat In America
William Webster, the director of the CIA, recently stated that his organization had been successful in countering terrorists in the United States. He said that they had identified some 20 organizations in the United States. He was adamant that the situation was under control. However, he went on to warn that America is a wide open target, with thousands coming in illegally across the southern border of Mexico, with 20,000 students from communist countries currently studying in the United States—together with students from the Middle East and Iran—and no less than 90,000 visitors from communist countries who come to America each year.
He stressed the vital importance of intelligence which can prevent a terrorist attack, and he went on to say that congressmen should make up their minds as to whether they will support covert operations, bugging, telephone tapping and the whole range of intelligence surveillance which alone can penetrate terrorist and spy organizations. A clear directive is urgently required. If covert operations are to be authorized, then the security services should be allowed to get on with them without continual interference from Congress. The idea of a congressional committee which would oversee and control all covert operations, as has been suggested, is completely impractical, and would result in a fiasco as it has in Italy, where such a system has been tried.
America is the main target for terrorist attack—the lynchpin of NATO, the leader of the free world: for the Marxists and for the Islamic fanatics it is the “Great Satan.” American nationals are mainly at risk whether the attacks come in Latin America, in the Middle East, the Far East or Europe. It is only a matter of time before terrorist attacks will spread to the American heartland itself. If they are to protect themselves against it, Americans must perceive the danger and prepare to meet and defeat it.
There are a number of reasons why America has been temporarily safe from terrorism at home. In Europe, there are few places from which in a matter of two or three hours it is not possible to cross a national frontier or to reach the sea where a boat can be waiting to take terrorists outside the three-mile limit. Extradition is lengthy and seldom effective, due to the reluctance of nations to extradite for “political” offenses. Some 130 wanted members of Italian terrorist organizations are living happily in France. More members of the Italian Red Brigades live in Felipe Gonzales’ socialist Spain, and the British have consistently failed to get wanted men extradited from Ireland. It even took the Belgians some two years to get football hooligans extradited from Britain. In Europe, a terrorist can explode his bomb and be out of the country hardly before the dust has settled.
Americans are easier to attack in Europe, and easier still in the Middle East. However, this may change as the new methods of terrorism are developed and refined: The insertion of a virus within an industrial or banking computer system does not require a quick get-away; the preparation and dissemination of product contamination allows days rather than hours for the contaminator to make an unhurried and unsuspected withdrawal as the contaminated food, medicines, drink or other products will take some days to reach the markets. The development of new sophisticated delay mechanisms for detonators can allow an explosive charge to be planted weeks ahead and set to explode within a second or two of the desired time. The use of bacteriological agents also create such a panic as to facilitate the escape of the terrorist.
Nor should we forget that some 2,000 young Americans went to Cuba to be trained in terrorist techniques in the Venceremos Brigades, and that more have gone since. Or that there is a very large Shiite community in the United States, and that Colonel Qaddafi sent a video message to a huge gathering of American black Muslims urging them to revolt in the armed forces. We have seen that in the training schools of Iran and elsewhere young men and women—some of them Europeans, North and South Americans and Asiatics are being trained in suicide missions. We have been warned over and over again by Khomeni and others that they will use terrorism as a weapon against the American heartland. It would be foolish to ignore these warnings, and we should be prepared.