International terrorism has long been recognized as a foreign and domestic security threat. The tragic events of September 11 in New York, the Washington, D.C., area, and Pennsylvania have dramatically re-energized the nation's focus and resolve on terrorism. This issue brief examines international terrorist actions and threats and the U.S. policy response. Available policy options range from diplomacy, international cooperation, and constructive engagement to economic sanctions, covert action, physical security enhancement, and military force.
The September 11th terrorist incidents in the United States, the subsequent anthrax attacks, as well as bombings of the U.S.S. Cole, Oklahoma City, World Trade Center in 1993, and of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, have brought the issue of terrorism to the forefront of American public interest. Questions relate to whether U.S. policy and organizational mechanisms are adequate to deal with both state-sponsored or -abetted terrorism and that undertaken by independent groups.
Terrorist activities supported by sophisticated planning and logistics as well as possible access to unconventional weaponry raise a host of new issues. Some analysts' long-held belief that a comprehensive review of U.S. counterterrorism policy, organizational structure, and intelligence capabilities is needed has now become a mainstream view.
U.S. policy toward international terrorism contains a significant military component, reflected in current U.S. operations in Afghanistan and (on a smaller scale) the Philippines and in planned deployments of U.S. forces to Yemen and the former Soviet republic of Georgia. President Bush has expressed a willingness to provide military aid to "governments everywhere" in the fight against terrorism. Important issues for Congress include whether the Administration is providing sufficient information about the long-term goals and costs of its military strategy and whether military force is necessarily an effective anti-terrorism instrument in some circumstances.
A modern trend in terrorism is toward loosely organized, self-financed, international networks of terrorists. Another trend is toward terrorism that is religiously- or ideologically-motivated. Radical Islamic fundamentalist groups, or groups using religion as a pretext, pose terrorist threats of varying kinds to U.S. interests and to friendly regimes. A third trend is the apparent growth of cross- national links among different terrorist organizations, which may involve combinations of military training, funding, technology transfer or political advice.
Looming over the entire issue of international terrorism is a trend toward proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). For instance Iran, seen as the most active state sponsor of terrorism, has been aggressively seeking a nuclear arms capability. Iraq is thought to be stockpiling chemical and biological agents, and to be rebuilding its nuclear weapons program. North Korea recently admitted to having an ongoing program on nuclear arms. Also, indications have surfaced that the Al Qaeda organization attempted to acquire chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons. As a result, stakes in the war against international terrorism are increasing and margins for error in selecting appropriate policy instruments or combinations of them to prevent terrorist attacks are diminishing correspondingly.
MOST RECENT DEVELOPMENTS
Allegations surfaced in a hearing before the House International Relations Committee in April 2002 that three Irish nationals linked to the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), who were detained in Colombia in August 2001, had been instructing Colombian guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the use of explosives and other terrorist tactics in the FARC Demilitarized Zone (since retaken by the government).
According to a June 30 Washington Post article, U.S. and European intelligence officials see evidence of growing "ad hoc and tactical" cooperation between al Qaeda and the Lebanese-based terrorist group Hizballah. Reportedly, such collaboration involves "explosives and tactics training, money laundering, weapons smuggling, and acquiring forged documents."
During July, the Greek government arrested more than a dozen members of the terrorist group November 17, considered one of Europe's most elusive guerrilla bands. Two founding members of the group were captured by the authorities.
In August 2000, the Palestinian terrorist leader Abu Nidal (born Sabry al-Banna), whose organization is deemed responsible for killing or wounding more than 900 people in 20 countries during the 1970s and 1980s, was found dead of gunshot wounds in his home in Baghdad.
A nightclub bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali on October 13 killed at least 188 people, most of them foreigners. Indonesian authorities have attributed the attack to local Islamic militants linked to al Qaeda.
BACKGROUND AND ANALYSIS
September 11th and Aftermath
On September 11, 2001, in an apparently well-financed/coordinated attack, hijackers rammed jetliners into each of the New York World Trade Center's Towers and ultimately collapsed them. A third hijacked airliner plowed into the Pentagon and a fourth hijacked airliner crashed near Pittsburgh, raising speculation that a related mission--aimed at the Capitol or the White House--had failed. In the absence of a final death toll from New York City, the U.S. State Department's Patterns of Global Terrorism 2001 estimates that approximately 3,000 persons died in the attacks, including nationals of 78 different countries in the destruction of the World Trade Center alone. A study by the New York City Partnership and Chamber of Commerce (November 2001, revised February 2002) calculates the direct and indirect economic costs of the destruction of the World Trade Center at $83 billion in 2001 dollars.
The Administration's response to the September 11 events was swift, wide-ranging and decisive. Administration officials attributed responsibility for the attack to Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda organization. A full-scale campaign was launched, using all elements of national and international power, to go after Al Qaeda and its affiliates and support structures. The campaign involved rallying the international community, especially law enforcement and intelligence components, to shut down Al Qaeda cells and financial networks. A U.S. military operation, Operation Enduring Freedom, was launched in early October 2001 against the Taliban regime--which had harbored Al Qaeda since 1996--and against Al Qaeda strongholds in Afghanistan. A total of 136 countries offered a range of military assistance to the United States, including overflight and landing rights and accommodations for U.S. forces. As a result of Operation Enduring Freedom, the Taliban was removed from power, all known Al Qaeda training sites were destroyed, and a number of Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders were killed or detained. In March 2002, ground troops from the United States and five other nations commenced Operation Anaconda, designed to raid remote Al Qaeda hiding places and to crush the remnants of the organization. Yet pockets of Al Qaeda resistance remain and key figures--such as Osama bin Laden and the Taliban's Mullah Mohammed Omar--still are unaccounted for.
Signs point to a widening war against terrorism. In addition to the 7,000 U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan, U.S. forces have been dispatched to Yemen, the Philippines and the former Soviet Republic of Georgia to train local militaries to fight terrorists. The Administration is seeking congressional approval to use U.S. military aid to Colombia to support the Colombian government's "unified campaign against narcotics trafficking terrorist activities and other threats to its national security." Until now, such assistance has been restricted to supporting counterdrug operations in Colombia.
In the context of this campaign the United States has stepped up intelligence-sharing and law enforcement cooperation with other governments to root out terrorist cells. It is increasingly apparent that such cells are operating not just in places where they are welcomed or knowingly tolerated but in many other places, including Western Europe and the United States. (Much terrorist fund-raising and banking activity occurs in Western countries.) As of August 2002, an aggressive international law enforcement effort had resulted in detention of 2,400 terrorists and their supporters in more than 90 countries and in freezing of $112 million in terrorists' assets in 500 bank accounts around the world, including $34 million in the United States alone.
An encouraging sign in the anti-terrorism struggle has been the evident willingness of certain state sponsors of terrorism to distance themselves from extremist groups that they had supported in the past or from international terrorism generally. For example, Libya has been "sending signals" that it wants to get out of the …