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East: Terrorism Problem Dominant In Ex-USSR

By Sonia Winter/Julie Moffett

Washington, 1 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. State Department has named 15 countries in Europe and the former Soviet Union where it says international terrorists carried out bombings, kidnappings and other attacks in 1997.

The State Department's annual report on global terrorism released Thursday says the number of terrorist incidents in Western Europe was low, but there were numerous attacks in Tajikistan, Bosnia, Russia, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

In Tajikistan, the report says most terrorist attacks were directed against Russian servicemen.

But the report adds that militant followers of Tajik warlords Rezvon and Bahrom Sodirov also continued a campaign of kidnapping employees of international organizations, including personnel from the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Russian journalists were also held hostage by terrorists, and in one case, even the Tajik Security Minister.

In Bosnia, the report says in 1997 most terrorist attacks were aimed at the NATO-led international peacekeeping force.

The attacks were triggered mostly by dissatisfaction over the international community's handling of voter registration procedures, the return of refugees, and the apprehension of suspected war criminals, says the report.

However, it says the attacks were mostly small-scale bombings or assaults that resulted primarily in material and structural damage and very few deaths.

The most serious terrorist incident in Bosnia, says the report, was the mining of a bridge during the visit of Pope John Paul II. An unidentified assailant placed 23 remote-controlled land mines beneath a bridge that was part of the Pope's intended motorcade. The landmines were diffused after someone reported a suspicious person near the bridge, says the report, and no group ever claimed responsibility.

In Russia, despite the resolution of the armed conflict between federal forces and Chechen separatists, the report says there were still "numerous incidents of kidnapping and other acts."

Among the incidents mentioned by the report, all took place in Chechnya -- the kidnapping of an Italian photojournalist; the abduction of the son of the late Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia; and the kidnapping of five Polish nationals working for a Catholic charity.

The report says Chechen insurgents have been aided with equipment and training by "mujahedin with extensive links to Middle Eastern and Southwest Asian terrorists."

The report cites statistics from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) which says that at year's end, 71 hostages remained in captivity, including 15 foreign nationals, five of whom are journalists and ten who are members of non-governmental organizations.

Violence in the Caucasus was mostly related to ethnic conflict, says the report, although other incidents were cited.

In Georgia, the report noted that the highly publicized trial of Jaba Ioselliani, the former head of the Mkhedrioni paramilitary organization got underway on December 1. Ioselliani and 14 others are accused of attempting to assassinate Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in August 1995.

The report also mentions other terrorist incidents in Georgia, including the kidnapping of an Egyptian and a Jordanian -- both military observers; and an attack in which terrorists deliberately placed landmines that killed six Russian soldiers. In Azerbaijan, the report says a terrorist attack took place last February when unidentified assailants killed a prominent member of the Azeri parliament in his Baku apartment complex.

Overall, the report says a total of more than 300 terrorist attacks, mostly bombings, were carried out worldwide last year. That is a slight increase over 1996, but still the lowest annual total since 1971.

The report says the death toll from terrorist attacks dropped to 221 from 314 in 1996. More than 690 people were injured.

Iran remains the most active state sponsor of international terrorism, states the report. It adds that although Iranian public statements have become more conciliatory since the August election of President Mohammad Khatami, Iran still carried out 13 assassinations in 1997 -- mostly against opposition groups based across the border in northern Iraq.

The report also reviews continuing terrorist activity in Turkey which it attributes to increasingly violent Islamic extremists and Kurdish separatists.

The U.S. report says the deadliest terrorist attack in 1997 took place last November in Egypt. It says six gunmen entered the Hatsheput Temple in Luxor and for 30 minutes methodically shot and knifed tourists trapped inside the alcoves. Fifty-eight foreign tourists were murdered, along with three Egyptian police officers and one Egyptian tour guide.

The report says most terrorist attacks in 1997 occurred in Latin America, but the highest number of casualties were in the Middle East, followed by Asia.