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Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1997

Asia Overview

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Asia Overview


Incidents of terrorism in East Asia increased in 1997. Continuing defections from the Khmer Rouge to Cambodian forces reduced the threat from the terrorist group, but guerrillas in the Cambodian provinces have been responsible for deadly attacks on foreigners. The unstable political situation in Cambodia has led to marked political violence, and the most significant act of terrorism there was a grenade attack on an opposition political rally in March, which left 19 persons dead and injured more than 100, including a US citizen. In October, the Secretary of State designated the Khmer Rouge as a foreign terrorist organization pursuant to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

In the Philippines, implementation of a peace agreement with insurgent groups has reduced fighting with government forces, but former members of these insurgent groups and members of Philippine terrorist organizations continued attacks. Foreigners number among their victims. In October, the Secretary of State designated one of these terrorist organizations, the Abu Sayyaf Group, as a foreign terrorist organization pursuant to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. In China and Indonesia, separatist violence not targeted against foreigners but having the potential to claim foreigners as collateral victims continued.

In Japan, the trial of the leader of Aum Shinrikyo, the group responsible for the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995 continued. A government panel decided not to invoke an Anti-Subversive Law to ban Aum Shinrikyo, concluding that the group poses no future threat, although the group continued to operate and to recruit new members. In October, the Secretary of State designated Aum Shinrikyo as a foreign terrorist organization pursuant to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

In South Asia, many of the factions involved in the Afghanistan civil war--including large numbers of Egyptians, Algerians, Palestinians, and Saudis--continued to provide haven to terrorists by facilitating the operation of training camps in areas under their control. The factions remain engaged in a struggle for political and military supremacy over the country.

Efforts to ascertain the fate of the four Western hostages kidnapped in July 1995 in Kashmir by affiliates of the Harakat ul-Ansar (HUA) continued through 1997. There is no evidence to corroborate claims by multiple Kashmiri militant sources that the hostages were killed in December 1995. In October, the HUA was designated a foreign terrorist organization pursuant to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

In Pakistan, deadly incidents of sectarian violence, particularly in Sindh and Punjab Provinces, continued throughout 1997. In November, four US employees of Union Texas Petroleum and their Pakistani driver were murdered in Karachi when the vehicle in which they were riding was attacked 1 mile from the US Consulate in Karachi. In addition, five Iranian Air Force technicians were killed in September in Rawalpindi.

There continue to be credible reports of official Pakistani support for Kashmiri militant groups that engage in terrorism, such as the HUA.

In Sri Lanka, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) showed no signs of abandoning their campaign to cripple the Sri Lankan economy and target government officials. The group retains its ability to strike in the heart of Colombo, as demonstrated by an October bomb attack on the World Trade Center in the financial district that was reminiscent of the January 1996 truck bomb attack that destroyed the Central Bank. The LTTE was designated a foreign terrorist organization in October pursuant to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.


Islamic extremists from around the world--including large numbers of Egyptians, Algerians, Palestinians, and Saudis--continued to use Afghanistan as a training ground and home base from which to operate in 1997. The Taliban, as well as many of the other combatants in the Afghan civil war, facilitated the operation of training and indoctrination facilities for non-Afghans in the territories they controlled. Several Afghani factions also provided logistic support, free passage, and sometimes passports to the members of various terrorist organizations. These individuals, in turn, were involved in fighting in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chechnya, Tajikistan, Kashmir, the Philippines, and parts of the Middle East.

Saudi-born terrorist financier Usama Bin Ladin relocated from Jalalabad to the Taliban's capital of Qandahar in early 1997 and established a new base of operations. He continued to incite violence against the United States, particularly against US forces in Saudi Arabia. Bin Ladin called on Muslims to retaliate against the US prosecutor in the Mir Aimal Kansi trial for disparaging comments he made about Pakistanis and praised the Pakistan-based Kashmiri group HUA in the wake of its formal designation as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States. According to the Pakistani press, following Kansi's rendition to the United States, Bin Ladin warned the United States that, if it attempted his capture, he would "teach them a lesson similar to the lesson they were taught in Somalia."


The explosion in April of a parcel bomb at the house of a senior official in Burma's military-led government was the most significant terrorist event in Burma in 1997. The blast killed the adult daughter of Lieutenant-General Tin Oo, Secretary Number Two of the ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council. No group or individual claimed responsibility for the attack, but the Government of Burma attributes the act to Burmese antigovernment activists in Japan; the package bore Japanese stamps and postmarks. The Burmese expatriate and student community in Japan denies any involvement in the incident.


Continued defections from the Khmer Rouge to the government and the split of the group into pro- and anti-Pol Pot factions have greatly reduced the threat it poses. Nevertheless, the hardliners based in the Khmer Rouge stronghold at Anlong Veng regularly launched guerrilla-style attacks on government troops in several provinces from July onward. Guerrillas are also suspected in two deadly attacks against ethnic Vietnamese civilians in Cambodia, but they have denied playing a role in the disappearance of two Filipino and two Malaysian employees of a logging company in December 1997.

The most significant terrorist incident in Cambodia in 1997 was the grenade attack on an opposition political rally on 30 March. Nineteen persons were killed in the attack, and more than 100 were injured, including one US citizen. Those responsible for the attack have not yet been apprehended.

Reacting to political violence throughout July, Second Prime Minister Hun Sen announced an eight-point program in August designed to improve the security situation in Cambodia. The new measures include government crackdowns on illegal roadblocks and weapons and a ban on tinted windows intended to discourage kidnapping and arms smuggling.

The fate of British mineclearing expert Christopher Howes, allegedly kidnapped by the Khmer Rouge in March 1996, remained unresolved in 1997. Unconfirmed reporting suggested Howes was with forces loyal to Pol Pot, and some Cambodian officials expressed fears publicly that he had been killed. In May, Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan denied any knowledge of Howes' whereabouts.


There were no incidents of international terrorism in China in 1997, but Uygur separatists continued a campaign of violence. The Uygurs are a Chinese Muslim ethnic minority group concentrated in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region in far western China. In February, Uygur separatists conducted a series of bus bombings in Urumqi that killed nine persons and wounded 74. Uygur rioting earlier in the month in the city of Yining caused as many as 200 deaths. Uygur exiles in Turkey claimed responsibility for a small pipe bomb that exploded on a bus in Beijing in March and which killed three persons and injured eight. In August, Uygur separatists were blamed for killing five persons, including two policemen. The Chinese Government executed several individuals involved in both the rioting and bombings. Beijing claims that support for the Uygurs is coming from neighboring countries, an accusation these countries deny.


Security problems persist in India as a result of insurgencies in Kashmir and in the northeast. The violence also has spread to New Delhi; there were more than 25 bombings in the city in 1997--mainly in the marketplaces and buses of old Delhi--that left 10 persons dead and more than 200 injured. These attacks appeared to be aimed at spreading terror among the public rather than causing casualties. Nearly 100 bombings with similar characteristics took place elsewhere in the country in 1997, most with no claims of responsibility. Although foreigners were not the likely targets of these attacks, foreign tourists were injured in a train bombing outside Delhi in October.

The Indian and Pakistani Governments each claim that the intelligence service of the other country sponsors bombings on its territory. The Government of Pakistan acknowledges that it continues to provide moral, political, and diplomatic support to Kashmiri militants but denies allegations of other assistance. Reports continued in 1997, however, of official Pakistani support to militants fighting in Kashmir.


Separatist groups in East Timor apparently continued to target non-combatants and were involved in several bombmaking activities in 1997. In Irian Jaya, an attack allegedly by the separatist Free Papua Organization against a road surveying crew in April left two civilians dead.


The trials of Aum Shinrikyo leader Shoko Asahara and other members of the sect continued in 1997. Prosecutors reduced the number of victims listed in the indictments against Asahara to speed up the proceedings, which entered their second year. In addition to the murder charges stemming from the March 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, Asahara faces 16 other charges ranging from kidnapping and murder to illegal production of drugs and weapons. Nine former Aum members pleaded guilty or received sentences from 22 months to 17 years for crimes they committed on behalf of Asahara; one Aum member was acquitted of forcibly confining other cult members.

Despite the legal proceedings against Asahara and other members, what remained of Aum following the arrests of 1996 continued to exist, operate, and even recruit new members in Japan in 1997. In January a government panel decided not to invoke the Anti-Subversive Law against Aum Shinrikyo, which would have outlawed the sect. The panel ruled that Aum posed no future threat to Japanese society because it was financially bankrupt and most of its followers wanted by the police had been arrested.

Several members of the Japanese Red Army (JRA) were arrested in 1997. Five members were convicted in Lebanon on various charges related to forgery and illegal residency and sentenced to three years in prison. Another member, Jun Nishikawa, was captured in Bolivia and deported to Japan where he was indicted for his role in the 1977 hijacking of a Japanese Airlines flight.

Tsutomu Shirosaki was captured in 1996 and brought to the United States to stand trial for offenses arising from a rocket attack against the US Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 1986. He was convicted in Washington, DC, of assault with the intent to kill, attempted first degree murder of internationally protected persons, attempted destruction of buildings and property in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, and the committing of a violent attack on the official premises of internationally protected persons. (In February 1998 he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.)

Seven hardcore JRA members remain at large.


In November four US employees of Union Texas Petroleum and their Pakistani driver were murdered in Karachi when the vehicle in which they were traveling was attacked 1 mile from the US Consulate in Karachi. Shortly after the incident, two separate claims of responsibility for the killings were made: the Aimal Khufia Action Committee--a previously unknown group--and the Islami Inqilabi Mahaz, a Lahore-based group of Afghan veterans. Both groups cited as the motive for the attack the conviction of Mir Aimal Kansi, a Pakistani national who was tried in the United States in November for the murder of two CIA employees and the wounding of three others outside CIA Headquarters in 1993. Kansi was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Deadly incidents of sectarian violence, particularly in Punjab Province, surged in 1997. According to press reports, 200 people died during the year. In addition, five Iranian Air Force technicians were killed in September in Rawalpindi. Lashkar i-Jhangvi, a violent offshoot of the anti-Shiite Sunni group Sipah i Shahaba Pakistan, claimed responsibility. The Iranian Government-controlled press holds Pakistan responsible for failing to stop the attack and accused the United States of conspiring in the murders.

The United States designated the HUA a foreign terrorist organization in October. This group is responsible for the still unresolved July 1995 kidnapping of six Westerners in Kashmir; one of the six, a US citizen, managed to escape, but a Norwegian hostage was killed in August 1995.

Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, who was extradited from Pakistan to the United States in 1995, was convicted in New York in November for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York City.


The Philippine Government began implementing terms of a peace agreement signed with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1996 and continued efforts to negotiate a peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The government began the process of integrating former MNLF rebels into the Philippine military. A cease-fire with the MILF reduced the fighting that peaked in the first half of 1997, but the two sides failed to agree on a more comprehensive arrangement. The MILF and the smaller Abu Sayyaf Group continue to fight for a separate Islamic state in the southern Philippines.

Muslim rebels in the southern Philippines conducted several attacks against foreigners in 1997. A Japanese businessman and three Filipino boys were kidnapped in June by members of the Abu Sayyaf Group. A rescue operation by the Philippine military freed the Japanese hostage. A German businessman was abducted in September by former members of the MNLF and was released in December only after his family agreed to pay the kidnappers some $100,000 in ransom. In separate incidents in October and November, former MNLF members abducted priests--one Irish and one Belgian--and demanded payment of funds owed them under a government rehabilitation program. The captives were released after the government agreed to expedite disbursal of the funds.

The government had mixed results in its efforts against communist rebels in 1997. Philippine police captured some key communist personnel. The government again suspended negotiations with the political arm of the communist New People's Army (NPA) in late 1997 following an upsurge in small-scale attacks by the NPA on police and government units. In May communist guerrillas ambushed a vehicle owned by a subcontractor of a major US firm, killing two Filipino employees. In December, New People's Army rebels ambushed two army detachments and abducted 21 paramilitary troops in Davao City in Mindanao. The government pledged to revisit the issue of a dialogue with the communists if acceptable circumstances could be met. Another communist rebel group, the Alex Boncayao Brigade, is not participating in peace talks with the government.

In September a previously unknown group calling itself the Filipino Soldiers for the Nation claimed responsibility for grenade attacks at bus terminals in Manila and Bulcalan City that killed six persons and wounded 65. Press reports indicated the group claimed to favor a constitutionally prohibited second term for President Ramos. The Ramos government strongly condemned the attacks and blamed them on unknown provocateurs.

The Philippine Government continued its strong support for international cooperation against terrorism and actively sought to build a multilateral approach to counterterrorism in regional and other forums. The government cooperated in providing additional personnel to protect likely targets and to identify, investigate, and act against likely terrorists. The government quickly responded when a US company experienced what appeared to be an NPA attack on one of its subcontractors in Quezon, and officials at the Cabinet level met with company executives to discuss what could be done to improve security.

Sri Lanka

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam continued its terrorist activities in 1997, attacking government troops, economic infrastructure targets, and assassinating political opponents. The LTTE's most spectacular terrorist attack in 1997 was a truck bombing directed at the newly opened Colombo World Trade Center on 15 October. The explosion injured more than 100 persons, including many foreigners, and caused significant collateral damage to nearby buildings. Eighteen persons--including LTTE suicide bombers, hotel security guards, and Sri Lankan security forces--died in the explosion and aftermath. Two of the terrorists were shot by Sri Lankan authorities as they tried to escape, and another three killed themselves to avoid capture. One of the bombers lobbed a grenade into a monastery yard as he fled the scene, killing one monk.

In two separate incidents in June in the Tricomalee area, the LTTE assassinated two legislators and nine other civilians.

Also, during the summer months, naval elements of the LTTE conducted several attacks on commercial shipping, including numerous foreign vessels. In July LTTE rebels abducted the crew of an empty passenger ferry and set fire to the vessel. The captain and a crewmember--both Indonesian--were released after three days. Also in July, the LTTE stormed a North Korean cargo ship after it delivered a shipment of food and other goods for civilians on the Jaffna Peninsula, killing one of the vessel's 38 North Korean crewmembers in the process. The Tigers freed its North Korean captives five days later and eventually returned the vessel. Sri Lankan authorities charged the LTTE with the July hijacking of a shipment of more than 32,000 mortar rounds bound for the Sri Lankan military. In September the LTTE used rocket-propelled grenades to attack a Panamanian-flagged Chinese-owned merchant ship chartered by a US chemical company to load minerals for export. As many as 20 persons, including five Chinese crewmembers, were reported killed, wounded, or missing from the attack.

In August a group calling itself the Internet Black Tigers (IBT) claimed responsibility for e-mail harassment of several Sri Lankan missions around the world. The group claimed in Internet postings to be an elite department of the LTTE specializing in "suicide e-mail bombings" with the goal of countering Sri Lankan Government propaganda disseminated electronically. The IBT stated that the attacks were only warnings.

The Sri Lankan Government strongly supports international efforts to address the problem of terrorism. (It was the first to sign the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings in January 1998.) Colombo was quick to condemn terrorist attacks in other countries and raised terrorism issues in several international venues, including the UN General Assembly and the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Edinburgh.

No confirmed cases of LTTE or other terrorist groups targeting US citizens in Sri Lanka occurred in 1997. The LTTE was among the 30 groups designated as foreign terrorist organizations by the United States on 8 October.


An appeals court in Thailand upheld the conviction and death sentence passed on an Iranian convicted of a 1994 plot to bomb the Israeli Embassy in Bangkok. The defendant, Hossein Dastgiri, has appealed to the Supreme Court.

Muslim separatist groups in southern Thailand carried out a series of bombings and other violent attacks in 1997. Bomb attacks in October killed seven persons, and a bombing of a Chinese religious festival in December killed three and wounded 15. Government authorities credited separatist groups with assassinating 11 policemen in a two-month period and blowing up a railroad in May.


A Vietnamese court sentenced two persons to death and three others to life in prison for carrying out a grenade attack on the waterfront in Ho Chi Minh City in 1994, in which 20 persons, including 10 foreigners, were injured. The five were part of the "Vietnam Front for Regime Restoration," an antigovernment exile group based in the United States.

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