Testimony of Ambassador Michael A. Sheehan, Coordinator For Counterterrorism Department of State, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, November 2, 1999. He notes that while the Middle East continues to receive "special attention" from his office, the center of anti-American terrorism has moved to South Asia, then spells out the causes and implications of this shift.In recent years, we have observed a shift in the locus of terrorism directed against us. In past decades, the Middle East has been the center of activity for some of the world's most dangerous anti-U.S, terrorist groups and for some of the most brazen state sponsors of terrorism. No one in the State Department---least of all my office nor I personally---will forget the 241 U.S. Marines killed at Beirut airport in 1983, the Americans killed in Lebanon in the embassy bombings, the TWA 847 hijacking, and hostage-takings in the mid- 1980's, the 270 passengers who perished in the Pan Am 103 bombing in 1988, or the 19 U.S. servicemen who died at Khobar Towers in Dhahran in 1996. I deal with the families of many of these victims, and it is my responsibility to see the perpetrators of these terrorist acts brought to justice. For this reason, I think it is fair to say that my office devotes special attention to the Middle East.
But the center of anti-American terrorism has moved eastward, from Libya, Syria, and Lebanon to South Asia. As direct involvement in terrorism by most Middle Eastern state sponsors and groups has declined, our attention has increasingly focused on Usama bin Ladin and the alliance of groups operating out of Afghanistan with the acquiescence of the country's de facto rulers, the Taliban. This Afghan-based terrorist conglomerate brought about the bombings of our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in August 1998. I will discuss this in more detail later; I'll start with an overview of the Middle East.
Signs of Progress in the Middle East
It is important to note the progress we have brought about in reducing terrorism in the Middle East. State sponsorship of Middle Eastern terrorism has declined. During the 1970's and 1980's, the governments of Syria, Libya, and Iran played a prominent role in supporting and directing the activities of terrorist groups, as well as carrying out terrorist attacks themselves using state security or intelligence personnel. These state sponsors routinely used terror as an instrument of state policy to attack their opponents, both foreign and domestic, and to put pressure on their neighbors.
Today, following years of more coordinated, generally U.S.-led international pressure and sanctions, governments realize they can no longer blatantly support terrorist groups, plan terrorist attacks, and harbor criminals with impunity.
Make no mistake---I do not mean to suggest we no longer have problems with Middle Eastern governments--- Iran remains an active state sponsor, and Syria, Libya, and Iraq remain on our list because they provide safe haven and material support to terrorist groups---but their direct sponsorship of terrorist acts has diminished. …
New Challenges in South Asia
But we are confronting new problems and new challenges in South Asia- Usama bin Ladin's al-Qa'ida network is a prime example. Today's terrorist threat comes primarily from groups and loosely-knit networks with fewer ties to governments.
Bin Ladin's organization operates on its own, without having to depend on a state sponsor for material support. He possesses financial resources and means of raising funds---often through narcotrafficking, legitimate "front" companies, and local financial support. Today's non-state terrorists benefit from the globalization of communication, using e-mail and internet websites to spread their message, recruit new members, raise funds, and connect elements scattered around the world.
Bin Ladin and al-Qa'ida represent an alarming trend in terrorism directed against us. Bin Ladin has created a truly trans-national terrorist enterprise, drawing on recruits from areas across Asia, Africa, and Europe, as well as the Middle East. Bin Ladin's alliance draws together extremist groups from different regions, linked only by hatred of the United States and those governments with which we have friendly relations. Perhaps most ominously, bin Ladin has avowed his intention to obtain weapons of mass destruction.
Afghanistan has become a new safehaven for terrorist groups. In addition to bin Ladin and al-Qa'ida, the Taliban play host to members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the Algerian Armed Islamic group, Kashmiri separatists, and a number of militant organizations from central Asia, including terrorists from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. …
Within the territory of Pakistan, there are numerous Kashmiri separatist groups and sectarian groups involved in terrorism which use Pakistan as a base. Pakistan has frequently acknowledged what it calls "moral and diplomatic support" for militants in Kashmir who employ violence and terrorism against Indian interests. We have continuing reports of Pakistani material support for some of these militants. One such group, the Harakat ul-Mujahidin (HUM), was involved in the still-unresolved July 1995 kidnapping of four westerners, including one American, in Indian-controlled Kashmir. In February 1998, the HU[M's leader co-signed bin Ladin's anti-American fatwa. The HUM has openly promised to kill Americans "everywhere in the world." In addition, the HUM cooperates with bin Ladin and receives his assistance in maintaining its training facilities in Afghanistan.1 . . .
U.S. Designation of Foreign Terrorist Organizations
Under the antiterrorism and effective death penalty act of 1996, we designate 28 groups as "foreign terrorist organizations" (FTO's), almost half of which are from the Middle East or South Asia. We also continue to label seven countries, including four Middle Eastern governments, as state sponsors of terrorism under U.S. law. …
In the case of the Middle East and South Asia, we have strong evidence of the direct involvement in terrorist attacks over the past two years of groups such as Hamas, Hizballah, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Egyptian Islamic group, the PFLP-GC, the Algerian Armed Islamic group, the Pakistan-based Harakat ul- Mujahideen, and the Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers, also known as the LTTE. These groups are a long way from being considered for removal from the FTO list.
Then, there are a number of groups which have not carried out an overt terrorist act in recent years but continue to recruit, train, equip, and plan for terrorism. These groups include the Abu Nidal organization, the PFLP, the PLF (Abu Abbas faction), and the two Jewish extremist groups, Kach and Kahane Chai.
Any of these groups could end all activities in preparation for possible terrorist acts and eventually qualify for removal from the FTO list. We designate foreign terrorist organizations not to develop a "black list" for its own sake, but to curb their funding. We urge other governments to take similar steps. As Congress stated in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, "foreign organizations that engage in terrorist activity are so tainted by their criminal conduct that any contribution to such an organization facilitates that conduct." We encourage other governments to tighten their laws and regulations, and we are developing a training program to help them identify and block terrorist money flows.
Now turning to state sponsors, four of the seven state sponsors on our list are Middle Eastern states-Libya, Syria, Iran, and Iraq. Although more reluctant today to sponsor terrorist attacks directly, they continue to give safe haven and support to terrorist groups, individuals, and activities.
First, Iran. Iran remains a leading state sponsor of terrorism. CIA Director Tenet affirmed before Congress earlier this year that "hard-liners continue to view terrorism as a legitimate tool of Iranian policy, and they still control the institutions that can implement it." As noted in this year's Patterns of Global Terrorism---the State Department's primary annual publication on terrorism---Iran continues to be involved in a range of terrorist activities.
These include providing material support and safehaven to some of the most lethal terrorist groups in the Middle East, notably Hizballah, Hamas, and the PIJ. Iranian assistance has taken the form of financing, equipping, offering training locations, and offering refuge from extradition. In the case of Hizballah and Hamas, Iranian support totals tens of millions of dollars in direct subsidies each year. Tehran also continues to target Iranian dissidents abroad.
In particular, two Iranian government organs, the Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, have institutionalized the use of terrorism as an instrument of policy over the past two decades. These two government organs have longstanding ties to the terrorist groups I mentioned earlier, among others, and they appear determined to maintain these relationships regardless of statements to the contrary from some of Iran's political leaders. …
Syria. International sanctions in the 1980's, following a 1986 Syrian directed attempt to bomb an El AI flight, had a dramatic effect on Syrian actions. Syrian officials have not been directly linked to a specific terrorist attack in this decade. Nonetheless, Syria continues to provide support and safehaven to a number of key terrorist groups, many of which have offices in Damascus and training facilities on Syrian soil and in Syrian-controlled areas of the Bekaa valley in Lebanon. These groups include Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the PFLP-GC.
We recognize that Syria's role in sponsoring Middle Eastern terrorist groups has substantially diminished by comparison with its involvement in terrorism 20 years ago. We also note the recent Syrian moves to put pressure on various Palestinian groups to move from armed struggle to political action. But, until Syria ceases to give safehaven to these groups, it will remain on the state-sponsors list.
Iraq. Iraq's capabilities to cause trouble through international terrorism have been seriously eroded, largely through international cooperation. Nonetheless, Saddam Hussein retains a willingness to attack us by terrorist means--and the connections to Middle Eastern terrorist groups that could lead to such acts. We are concerned over the fact that Abu Nidal relocated himself and his terrorist organization to Iraq over the past year. Iraq also continues to host and arm the Iranian Peoples' Mujahedin, a terrorist group with American blood on its hands. Thus, we are not looking at removing Iraq from the list any time soon.
Finally, Libya. In the mid-80's, Libya hosted and supported some of the most violent and deadly terrorist groups, including the Abu Nidal organization (ANO), which operated terrorist training camps on Libyan soil. A decade of international sanctions and isolation, however, has clearly had an effect on Libyan policy. It appears they have expelled the ANO, and we no longer have evidence that terrorist camps still exist in Libya. On April 5th, following years of U.S.-led pressure, Libya turned over two individuals who will be tried in the Hague for carrying out the Pan Am 103 bombing, eleven years after that December 1988 tragedy. … A French court convicted Qadhafi's brother-in-law, Libyan intelligence chief Abdallah Senoussi, for his involvement in the UTA 772 bombing. Last month, the French magistrate investigating the UTA 772 case is seeking to indict Qadhafi himself. …
Beyond these officially designated state sponsors, we remain concerned about other countries in the Middle East and South Asia. I spoke earlier about our efforts to persuade Pakistan to use its influence to bring Usama bin Ladin to justice. This is a bone of contention between Pakistan and the United States. I am also disturbed that Lebanon remains a haven for terrorist groups and individuals, some of whom are fugitives from U.S. justice for acts committed against Americans in the 1980's.
1 Editor's note: The HUM was apparently the group behind the hijacking of an Indian airliner in December 1999 that attracted world-wide attention as it sat for days on a tarmac in Kandahar, Afghanistan.