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World: Terrorist Attacks Drop In 1998, But Casualties Are Highest Ever

Washington, 3 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. State Department says that while 1998 saw the lowest number of terrorist attacks around the world since 1971, the number of persons killed and wounded by such attacks was the highest ever recorded.

In its annual report entitled "Patterns of Global Terrorism," the department says there were 273 international terrorist attacks during 1998, a drop from the 304 attacks recorded in 1997. It says 741 people were killed and 5,952 injured.

The report notes that most of the casualties came from the August bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Both embassies were located in congested downtown areas resulting in the deaths of 291 people and the injury of another 5,000.

The report says about 40 percent of the terrorist attacks in 1998 -- 111 -- were directed against U.S. targets. The majority -- 77 -- were bombings of a multinational oil pipeline in Colombia, which the report says terrorists regard as a U.S. target.

Of the 273 terrorist attacks, the report says 166 of them were bombings. The usual type of target was business related, it says.

At a press briefing Friday, a senior State Department official said the trend of terrorism in 1998 is appallingly clear: fewer incidents, higher lethality.

The official said: "What we require of the state sponsors is the same as we always have. Stop planning, stop financing, stop supporting terrorist acts; stop providing safe haven and shelter for those who are involved in terrorist activities."

In the region of the former USSR, the report cites terrorist incidents in Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as being particularly troubling.

In Russia, the report says the November 20 murder of noted reformist and State Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova by two unidentified assailants was possibly a "politically motivated contract killing." Her murder, says the report, highlights "both the terrorist tactics used by domestic antagonists to influence Russian politics and Moscow's inability to curb this kind of violence."

The report also highlights the murder of Shadid Bargishev, head of the Chechen anti-kidnapping squad by Chechen militants, and the bombing of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's car in which Maskhadov escaped, but four others were killed.

In Georgia, the report notes the assassination attempt against President Eduard Shevardnadze in February. Shevardnadze survived, but two persons in his entourage and a terrorist died in the ensuing gunfight. The report also says the arrest of some of his attackers provoked further incidents.

Also in Georgia, the report cites the abduction of four UN military observers in July, and the ambush and wounding of UN observers in September in the breakaway region of Abkhazia.

In Armenia, the report says that last April, local U.S. Embassy guards discovered and safely disarmed a hand grenade outside the ambassador's residence. There was no claim of responsibility and no one was harmed.

In Central Asia, the report notes the cooperation between the U.S. and Kazakhstan in 1998. That cooperation, says the report, was able to avert potential security threats to the U.S. Embassy in Almaty. In February, the report says officials of the Kazakh Committee for National Security arrested and expelled three Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security agents for" illegal activities," possibly for planning an action against the U.S. The report does say, however, that the Kazakh government failed to publicize the details of the Iranian's agents activities or prosecute them before their expulsion.

Still, the report notes that Kazakhstan and the U.S. signed a joint statement on combating terrorism in November.

In Kyrgyzstan, the report says Kyrgyz officials believe Islamic extremists identified as "Wahhabis" conducted two bombings in Osh, the nation's second-largest city. Also, on May 30, an explosion occurred in a public minibus killing two people and wounding 10.

The report says that in Tajikistan, "security for the international community did not improve significantly."

A number of criminal and terrorist activities occurred in Tajikistan, says the report, including bombings, assaults and murders. The report says the most serious incident occurred on July 20 when attackers shot and killed four members of the UN mission of observers to Tajikistan as they patrolled 150 kilometers east of Dushanbe.

In other regions, the report says Iran was heavily involved in the planning and execution of terrorist acts in 1998, despite government statements "condemning certain terrorist acts or expressing sympathy for victims of the bombings" of the U.S. embassies in Africa. Among the numerous incidents cited was the possible involvement of Iran's ministry of security and intelligence in five murders of Iranian writers and political activists.

Iraq is criticized by the report as possibly trying to carry out an attack against RFE/RL in Prague in October, and for continuing to provide a safe haven and support for a variety of terrorist organizations.

Afghanistan is singled out by the report as allowing Islamic extremists from around the world to use its territory as a base of operations for worldwide terrorist activities.

The report says the Taliban, which controls most of the territory in Afghanistan, facilitated the operation of training and indoctrination facilities for non-Afghans and provided logistical support and sometimes passports to members of various terrorist organizations. Afghanistan also continued to host Osama bin Laden, who was indicted last November in the U.S. for the two American embassy bombings last August in East Africa.

(NOTE: The entire report is available now on the State Department's web page at: