Middle East Overview
Middle Eastern terrorist groups and their state sponsors continued to plan, train for, and carry out acts of terrorism throughout 2000. The last few months of the year brought a significant increase in the overall level of political violence and terrorism in the region, especially in Israel and the occupied territories. Much of the late-year increase in violence was driven by a breakdown in negotiations and counterterrorism cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The breakdown sparked a cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians that continued to spiral at the end of the year.
Israeli-Palestinian violence also prompted widespread anger at Israel, as well as the United States, throughout the Middle East, demonstrated in part by numerous, occasionally violent protests against US interests in several Middle Eastern countries. Palestinian terrorist groups, with the assistance of Iran and the Lebanese Hizballah, took advantage of Palestinian and regional anger to escalate their terrorist attacks against Israeli
Other terrorists also keyed on Israeli-Palestinian difficulties to increase their rhetorical and operational activities against Israel and the United States. Usama Bin Ladin's al-Qaida organization, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups that focus on US and Israeli targets escalated their efforts to conduct and promote terrorism in the Middle East. Several disrupted plans to attack US and Israeli targets in the Middle East purportedly were intended to demonstrate anger over Israel's sometimes disproportionate use of force to contain protests and perceptions that the United States "allowed" Israel to act.
Al-Qaida and its affiliates especially used their ability to provide money and training as leverage to establish ties to and build the terrorist capabilities of a variety of small Middle Eastern terrorist groups such as the Lebanese Asbat al-Ansar.
The most significant act of anti-US terrorism in the region in 2000--the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen on 12 October--was not driven by events in the Levant. Although the joint US-Yemeni investigation into the savage bombing--which killed 17 US sailors and wounded 39 others--continued through the end of 2000, initial indications suggested the attack may have originated in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, where al-Qaida, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups are based and some of the alleged USS Cole attackers received training. The Yemeni Government, as much a victim of the attack as the United States, was working closely with the US Government to bring to justice those responsible for the act.
Many other Middle Eastern governments also increased their efforts to counter the threat from regional and Afghanistan-based terrorists, including the provision of enhanced security for high-risk US Government targets. The Government of Kuwait, for instance, cooperated with regional counterparts in November to disrupt a suspected international terrorist cell. Kuwait arrested 13 individuals and recovered a large quantity of explosives and weapons. The cell reportedly was planning to attack both Kuwaiti officials and US targets in Kuwait and the region.
President Bouteflika's Law on Civil Concord in 2000 initially contributed to a decrease in violence against civilians inside Algeria. Nonetheless, two main armed groups continued to reject the government's amnesty program for terrorists, and it is estimated that domestic terrorism kills between 100 to 300 persons each month. Antar Zouabri's Armed Islamic Group (GIA) actively targeted civilians, although such tactics caused his group to lose popular support. In contrast, Hassan Hattab's splinter faction--the Salalfi Group for Call and Combat (GSPC)--stated it would limit attacks on civilians, enabling it to co-opt Zouabri's supporters and eclipse the GIA as the most effective terrorist group operating inside Algeria.
Although at year's end the GSPC had not staged an anti-Western terrorist attack, various security services in January suspected Algerian extremists associated with the GSPC of planning to disrupt the Paris-Dakar Road Rally, leading organizers to reroute the race.
No foreign nationals were killed in Algeria during 2000, although in May GSPC troops crossed into Tunisia and attacked an outpost, killing three border guards. The GSPC frequently used false roadblocks to rob passengers of money. In one incident on 3 May, 19 persons were killed and 26 injured when militants sprayed a bus with bullets after the driver refused to stop.
No terrorist attacks in Egypt or by Egyptian groups were reported in 2000. The Egyptian Government continued to regard terrorism as its most serious threat. Cairo tried and convicted numerous terrorists in 2000, including 14 al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya members, in connection with attempts to reactivate al-Gama'a in Egypt. Two Egyptian Islamic Jihad members, who were convicted in 1999 for planning an attack against the US Embassy in August 1998, were executed in February. Security forces attacked a terrorist hideout in Aswan in late October, killing two al-Gama'a members, including the group's military leader in charge of armed operations in Qina, Suhaj, and Luxor.
International counterterrorism cooperation remained a key foreign policy priority for the Egyptian Government throughout the year. In September, at the UN General Assembly Millennium Summit, Egypt signed the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Financing.
The Egyptian Government worked closely with the United States on a broad range of counterterrorism issues in 2000. It cooperated with US authorities after the bombing in October of the USS Cole in Yemen, conducting a security survey of the Suez Canal and recommending measures to protect ships from possible terrorist attacks while transiting the canal. Egypt also played an important role in sharing its expertise at the Central Asian Counterterrorism Conference sponsored by the US Department of State and held in Washington in June.
In 2000, Egyptian security forces and government agencies continued to place a high priority on protecting US citizens and facilities in Egypt from terrorist attacks. The Egyptian Government increased security for the US Embassy and other official facilities in light of disturbances in Israel and the Palestinian territories and related threats against US interests.
Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip
Terrorism by Palestinian extremist groups opposed to the peace process increased in late 2000 against the backdrop of violent Palestinian-Israeli clashes. The Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS) claimed responsibility for several attacks during the crisis, ending a period of more than two years without a large-scale successful terrorist operation. Both groups publicly threatened more anti-Israeli attacks to avenge Palestinian casualties.
In an operation almost certainly timed to mark the anniversary of the death of PIJ founder Fathi Shaqaqi in 1995, on 26 October a PIJ operative on a bicycle detonated an explosive device near a Jewish settlement in Gaza, killing himself and injuring an Israeli soldier. The PIJ also claimed responsibility for a car bomb that exploded near a Jerusalem market on 2 November, killing two Israeli civilians--including the daughter of Israeli National Religious Party leader Yitzhak Levy--and wounding nine. The bomb--which was concealed in a parked car--reportedly was remotely detonated; the perpetrators escaped. On 28 December, PIJ operatives detonated explosive charges near the Sufa crossing in Gaza, injuring four Israeli explosives-disposal experts, two of whom later died. The PIJ claimed the attack in honor of a PIJ member killed by Israeli forces earlier that month and promised further revenge attacks.
The PIJ stepped up its rhetoric condemning Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at Camp David and Israel for its role in clashes with the Palestinians and vowed to continue attacks against Israel. Before the crisis, PIJ leader Shallah had issued threats against US interests in response to speculation during the summer that Washington was considering moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
HAMAS also claimed responsibility for several attacks during the unrest, including the bombing of an Israeli bus on 22 November in downtown Hadera that killed two Israeli civilians and wounded more than 20. Resembling the car-bombing on 2 November, the bomb apparently also was hidden in a parked car and detonated as the bus passed; at year's end no suspects had been arrested for the attack. The group also took responsibility for launching an explosives-laden craft against an Israeli naval patrol boat off the Gaza coast on 7 November. The operative died in the explosion, according to a HAMAS statement, but the Israeli boat suffered no damage. A suicide bomber killed himself and injured three Israeli soldiers at a cafe in Moshav Mehola on 22 December; HAMAS's military wing claimed responsibility four days later.
Two Israeli civilians were killed when a powerful car bomb exploded next to this bus in the Northern Israeli town of Hadera on 22 November. The attack also injured more than 30 others.
In addition, other groups or individuals may have carried out terrorist attacks during the year. Three little-known groups--Palestinian Hizballah, Umar al-Mukhtar Forces, and the Martyrs of al-Aqsa--claimed responsibility for the bombing of an Israeli settler school bus in Gaza on 20 November that killed two Israelis. The al-Aqsa group also claimed responsibility for killing prominent Jewish extremist Binyamin Kahane, himself the leader of a terrorist organization, and his wife on 31 December. Kahane's death prompted heightened concern among Israeli security services that Jewish extremists would extend their violent attacks against Palestinian civilians to include "spectacular" operations, including against the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. A group calling itself Salah al-Din Battalions claimed responsibility for bombing a bus in Tel Aviv on 28 December, injuring 13 persons. Israeli authorities accused Palestinian Authority (PA) security officials of facilitating the attack. The Salah al-Din Battalions reportedly also carried out a shooting attack in mid-November that killed at least one Israeli soldier.
In late summer, Israeli authorities arrested Nabil Awkil, a militant they suspect has links to HAMAS and Usama Bin Ladin. Israeli officials claim that Awkil underwent terrorist training in Bin Ladin-affiliated camps in Afghanistan before returning to the West Bank and Gaza to establish terrorist cells.
Earlier in the year, PA and Israeli security forces disrupted HAMAS networks that were planning several large-scale anti-Israeli attacks. On 10 February a botched bombing plot in Nabulus led to the discovery of a HAMAS explosives lab, several caches, and a multicell network in the West Bank. The network was preparing major terrorist operations designed to inflict mass casualties, including the bombing of a high-rise building in Jerusalem. The Israelis linked those arrested to a series of pipe-bomb attacks in Hadera in 1999. In March, an Israeli raid on a HAMAS hideout in the predominantly Israeli-Arab town of Et Taiyiba uncovered an extensive HAMAS network with ties to Gaza that was planning multiple terrorist attacks in Israel. The cell planned to carry out four-to-five simultaneous suicide bombings against Israeli targets, including bus stops and hitchhiking stations inside Israel frequented by Israeli soldiers. The PA discovered additional explosives in a Gaza kindergarten and arrested a bodyguard of HAMAS leader Shaykh Yasin on suspicion of having links to the Et Taiyiba cell. Israeli authorities arrested a Jewish settler and indicted an Israeli Arab for allegedly assisting the cell.
Israeli and PA security officials took additional measures, often coordinated, to further disrupt HAMAS terrorist planning. PA police in mid-March, following up on the Et Taiyiba raid, uncovered a HAMAS explosives lab in Tulkarm. Separate Israeli and PA operations disrupted HAMAS cells in Janin later that month. The PA also disrupted in mid-July another HAMAS explosives lab in Nabulus and made at least a dozen arrests. The PA inflicted additional damage on HAMAS's military wing with the arrest of two key leaders in 2000. In May, PA security forces arrested Gaza military wing leader Muhammad al-Dayf. In November, Dayf escaped from PA custody. West Bank military wing leader Mahmud al-Shuli (a.k.a. Abu Hanud) surrendered to PA security officials in August after a firefight with IDF soldiers in his hometown of `Asirah ash Shamaliyah near the West Bank town of Nabulus. Three IDF soldiers were killed by friendly fire in the incident. At year's end Abu Hanud remained in Palestinian custody, serving a 12-year sentence handed down by a PA security court.
During the unrest HAMAS issued numerous statements calling for Palestinians to fight the Israelis with all means available and threatened to continue attacks to avenge Palestinian casualties. The group also vowed revenge for the killing of several HAMAS operatives during the unrest at year's end, including Ibrahim `Awda, who was killed on 23 November in Nabulus. HAMAS issued public statements accusing the Israelis of assassinating `Awda, who reportedly died when the headrest in the car he was driving exploded, although the Israelis claim he died transporting an explosive device. HAMAS vowed revenge for the killing of activist Abbas Othman Ewaywi, who was gunned down by Israeli security forces in front of a shop in Hebron on 13 December.
Despite demonstrated Palestinian efforts to uproot terrorist infrastructure earlier in the year, Israeli officials publicly expressed their dissatisfaction with PA counter-terrorism efforts during the crisis. The Israelis also accused PA security officials and Fatah members of facilitating and taking part in shooting and bombing attacks against Israeli targets, including the bus bombing in Tel Aviv on 28 December. The Israelis charged that the release of several prisoners during the crisis had facilitated terrorist planning by the groups and that Palestinian security officials had not been responsive to their calls for more decisive measures against the violence.
Israeli officials publicly expressed well-founded concern that Iran supported Palestinian rejectionist efforts to disrupt the Middle East peace process. The Israelis also stated Palestinian rejectionists increasingly were influenced by Lebanese Hizballah. Public statements by HAMAS, the PIJ, and other Palestinian rejectionist officials since the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May lauded Hizballah's actions and called for emulating Hizballah's victory in the territories.
Jordan remained vigilant against terrorism in 2000. On 18 September, the State Security Court convicted several Sunni extremists, some in absentia, for plotting terrorist attacks against US and Israeli targets during the millennium celebrations in late 1999. The accused allegedly acted on behalf of Usama Bin Ladin. The three-member military tribunal sentenced eight defendants to death but immediately commuted two of the sentences to life imprisonment at hard labor, citing family reasons. Six others, including a minor, were acquitted, while the remaining 14 received prison sentences ranging from seven-and-a-half to 15 years. Lawyers for 10 of the convicted men have appealed the verdicts.
On 9 December the State Security Court indicted Ra'id Hijazi, a US-Jordanian dual national who had been sentenced to death in absentia in January for having had a role in the millenial plot. He had been recently remanded by Syria. Khalil Deek, another US-Jordanian dual citizen, was brought to Jordan from Pakistan in December 1999 to face charges in the plot but at year's end had yet to be tried. Jordanian authorities were handling his case separately from the other suspects.
Two Israeli diplomats in Jordan were targets of shooting attacks in the latter part of the year. An unidentified gunman shot at Israeli Vice Consul Yoram Havivian outside his home in Amman on 19 November. On 5 December, an unidentified gunman wounded another Israeli diplomat, Shlomo Ratzabi, as he, his wife, and bodyguard left a grocery store in Amman. Both diplomats suffered minor injuries and returned to Israel soon after the attacks. By year's end, Jordanian authorities had detained several suspects and were continuing their investigation. Two previously unknown groups, the Movement for the Struggle of the Jordanian Islamic Resistance and the Holy Warriors of Ahmad Daqamseh, claimed responsibility for the attacks, which coincided with rising public sympathy in Jordan for Palestinians in ongoing violence with Israel. (Ahmad Daqamseh is a Jordanian soldier currently serving a life sentence for killing six Israeli schoolgirls in 1997.)
Jordan continued to ban all HAMAS activity, and the Supreme Court upheld the expulsion of four Political Bureau leaders. Jordan's Prime Minister reiterated the government's conditions for their return at a meeting with HAMAS leaders during the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit in Doha in November. The conditions reportedly included a renunciation of their HAMAS affiliation. In December, lawyers for the group announced their intention to appeal once again to Jordan's Supreme Court to contest the deportation. Jordan refused to permit HAMAS military wing members to reside or operate in the country but allowed other lower-level HAMAS members to remain in Jordan provided they did not conduct activities on the group's behalf.
Several low-level incidents kept security forces focused on combating threats to Jordan. Police in the southern city of Ma'an in January detained 15 suspects in connection with two shooting attacks against a female dormitory at Al-Hussein University. Four women were injured slightly in one attack. Police sources reported that the suspects were affiliated with a group called the Islamic Renewal and Reform Organization. Before the attacks, leaflets denouncing coeducation and calling for women to wear veils were distributed on campus.
The Government of Jordan also regularly interdicted the smuggling across Jordan's borders of weapons and explosives, which, in many cases, may have been destined for Palestinian rejectionist groups in the West Bank and Gaza. The government prosecuted individuals suspected of such activity.
In March, the government expelled eight Libyans it suspected of having terrorist links, and in September it refused entry to the leader of Israel's Islamic Movement, Shaykh Ra'id Salah. The Israelis publicly claimed that followers of Shaykh Salah have links to HAMAS and were involved in plans to conduct terrorist operations against Israeli interests earlier in the year.
Jordanian security forces coordinated closely with the US Embassy on security matters and acted quickly to bolster security at US Government facilities in response to other threats, including one against the US Embassy in June 2000.
In November the Government of Kuwait disrupted a suspected international terrorist cell. Working with regional counterparts, Kuwaiti security services arrested 13 individuals and recovered a large quantity of explosives and weapons. The terrorist cell reportedly was planning to attack both Kuwaiti officials and US targets in Kuwait and the region.
Throughout the year, the Lebanese Government's continued lack of control in portions of the country--including parts of the Bekaa Valley, Beirut's southern suburbs, Palestinian refugee camps, and the southern border area--as well as easy access to arms and explosives, contributed to an environment with a high potential for acts of violence and terrorism.
A variety of terrorist groups--including Hizballah, Usama Bin Ladin's (UBL) al-Qaida network, HAMAS, the PIJ, the PFLP-GC, `Asbat al-Ansar, and several local Sunni extremist organizations--continued to operate with varying degrees of impunity, conducting training and other operational activities. Hizballah continued to pose the most potent threat to US interests in Lebanon. Although Hizballah has not attacked US targets in Lebanon since 1991, it continued to pose a significant terrorist threat to US interests globally from its base in Lebanon. Hizballah voiced its support for terrorist actions by Palestinian rejectionist groups in Israel and the occupied territories. While the Lebanese Government expressed support for "resistance" activities along its southern border, it has only limited influence over Hizballah and the Palestinian rejectionists.
UBL's al-Qaida network maintained a presence in Lebanon. Although the Lebanese Government actively monitored and arrested UBL-affiliated operatives, it did not control the Palestinian refugee camps where the operatives conducted terrorist training and anti-US indoctrination.
In the fall, Hizballah kidnapped an Israeli noncombatant whom it may have lured to Lebanon on a false pretense. Hizballah has been using hostages, including captured IDF soldiers, as bargaining chips to win the release of Lebanese prisoners in Israel.
In January, Lebanese security forces clashed in the north with a Sunni extremist movement that had ambushed and killed four Lebanese soldiers. The group had ties to UBL operatives. The same month, Asbat al-Ansar launched a grenade attack against the Russian Embassy. In October, the Sunni extremist group, Takfir wa Hijra, claimed responsibility for a grenade attack against a Christian Member of Parliament's residence, though there are indications others may have been behind this attack.
The Lebanese Government continued to support some international counterterrorist initiatives and moved against UBL-affiliated operatives in 2000. In February, Lebanese authorities arrested members of a UBL cell in Lebanon. In March, the government fulfilled a Japanese Government request and deported four Japanese Red Army (JRA) members after it had refused to do so for years. It allowed one JRA member to remain in Lebanon. It did not act, however, on repeated US requests to turn over Lebanese terrorists involved in the hijacking in 1985 of TWA flight 847 and in the abduction, torture, and--in some cases--murders of US hostages from 1984 to 1991.
Several threats against US military and civilian personnel and facilities in Saudi Arabia were reported in 2000, but there were no confirmed terrorist incidents. At year's end Saudi authorities were investigating a shooting by a lone gunman who opened fire on British and US nationals near the town of Khamis Mushayt in early August 2000. The gunman fired more than 100 rounds on a Royal Saudi Air Force checkpoint, killing one Saudi and wounding two other Saudi guards. The gunman was wounded in the exchange of fire.
Terrorist Usama Bin Ladin, whose Saudi citizenship was revoked in 1994, continued to publicly threaten US interests in Saudi Arabia during the year. In a videotaped statement released in September, Bin Ladin once again publicly threatened US interests.
The Government of Saudi Arabia continued to investigate the bombing in June 1996 of the Khubar Towers housing facility near Dhahran that killed 19 US military personnel and wounded some 500 US and Saudi personnel. The Government of Saudi Arabia publicly stated that it still was looking for three Saudi suspects whom it wanted for questioning in connection with the bombing and whom authorities believed to be currently outside Saudi Arabia. The Saudis continued to hold in detention a number of Saudi citizens linked to the attack, including Hani al-Sayegh, whom the United States expelled to Saudi Arabia in 1999.
The Government of Saudi Arabia reaffirmed its commitment to combating terrorism. It required nongovernmental organizations and private voluntary agencies to obtain government authorization before soliciting contributions for domestic or international causes. It was not clear that these regulations were enforced consistently; however, allegations continued to surface that some international terrorist organization representatives solicited and collected funds from private citizens in Saudi Arabia.
On 12 October a boat carrying explosives was detonated next to the USS Cole, killing 17 US Navy members and injuring another 39. The US destroyer, en route to the Persian Gulf, was making a prearranged fuel stop in the Yemeni port of Aden when the attack occurred. At least three groups reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack, including the Islamic Army of Aden, Muhammad's Army, and a previously unknown group called the Islamic Deterrence Force.
On 12 October an explosives-laden craft was detonated next to the destroyer USS Cole in Aden Harbor, killing 17 US service persons and injuring 39 others.
The Yemeni Government strongly condemned the attack on the USS Cole and actively engaged in investigative efforts to find the perpetrators. On 29 November, Yemen and the United States signed a memorandum of agreement delineating guidelines for joint investigation to further facilitate cooperation between the two governments. The Yemeni Government's ability to conduct international terrorism investigations was enhanced by joint investigative efforts undertaken pursuant to these guidelines.
Several terrorist organizations maintained a presence in Yemen. HAMAS and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad continued to be recognized as legal organizations and maintained offices in Yemen but did not engage in terrorist activities there. Other international terrorist groups that have an illegal presence in Yemen included the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, Libyan opposition groups, the Algerian Armed Islamic Group, and al-Qaida. Press reports indicated indigenous groups such as the Islamic Army of Aden remained active in Yemen.
The Government of Yemen did not provide direct or indirect support to terrorists, but its inability to control fully its borders, territory, or its own travel documents did little to discourage the terrorist presence in Yemen. Improved cooperation with Saudi Arabia as a result of the Yemeni-Saudi border treaty, concluded in June, promised to reduce illegal border crossings and trafficking in weapons and explosives, although border clashes continued after the agreement's ratification. The government attempted to resolve some of its passport problems in 2000 by requiring proof of nationality when submitting an application, although terrorists continued to have access to forged Yemeni identity documents.