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A History of Terror

February 6, 2002

Tags War and Foreign Policy

CIA director George Tenet told the Senate Intelligence Committee that there is every reason to expect more terror attacks in the coming months, because al-Qaida has not been destroyed. He is probably right, and he might have gone on to note that government has failed in its promise to protect Americans against terrorism, and that would-be terrorists of the world are now more motivated than ever before. This should raise some fundamental questions about the whole rationale of the war and U.S. foreign policy.

In a 1997 report on the scourge of terrorism, the Pentagon's Defense Science Board observed: "Historical data show a strong correlation between U.S. involvement in international situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United States." 1 Recognizing that fact is crucial to understanding why both terror and the response to terror have become such grave threats to freedom and prosperity.

As a part of its status as the world's only "superpower," the U.S. is the only country in the world that actively attempts to police regions outside its own, so it should come as no surprise that one-third of all terrorist attacks worldwide are perpetrated against U.S. targets. Far from providing security, U.S. policy is stirring up security threats, even as the government uses the aftermath of successful attacks as rationales to expand government power.

Let's recount some highlights of the last half-century of terror in light of U.S. foreign policy:

  • November 1, 1950: Puerto Rican nationalists attempt to assassinate President Truman. In 1954, the House of Representatives would be sprayed with gunfire, wounding five congressmen. In 1973 and again in 1974, bombs would be set off in New York City. In 1975, the FALN would plant bombs in New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., killing several people and wounding dozens.      
  • June 5, 1968: Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian immigrant who regarded RFK as a collaborator with Israel.      
  • March 1971: The U.S. Senate is bombed again. Suspected this time are opponents of the Vietnam fiasco.      
  • November 4, 1979: Supporters of the Ayatollah Khomeini storm the U.S. embassy in Teheran in anger at the longtime U.S. support for the Shah's despotic regime. It would not be until two years later that the hostages would be freed.      
  • December 1979: A mob of Iranians burns down the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, Libya. Iranian-sponsored terrorism against the United States is promoted as a just cause in retaliation for U.S. support for the Shah and Israel.      
  • April 8, 1983: The Iranian-backed Hezbollah bombs the U.S. embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. The attack kills 17 Americans. All attacks by Hezbollah in Lebanon around this time are in retaliation for the U.S. openly choosing sides, supporting the Christian government against the Muslim militias by training and arming the Lebanese National Army (the LNA). U.S. Marines even began patrolling with the LNA, and the U.S. Navy and Marines began shelling the Muslims to support the LNA.      
  • October 23, 1983: A suicide truck-bomber from Hezbollah attacks the U.S. embassy and destroys the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 290 people and wounding 200 more. The U.S. Marines soon withdraw from Beirut. A Hezbollah spokesman brags that it took only two "martyrs" to force the Marines out of Lebanon: one who blew up the embassy, and the other who drove the truck that destroyed the Marine barracks. In September 1984, Hezbollah would bomb the U.S. embassy annex in East Beirut, killing 23 people and wounding four Marine guards. During the 1980s, Hezbollah would kidnap 19 American diplomats, educators, businessmen, clergy, journalists, and military personnel, and kill at least four.      
  • March 1986: The largest peacetime American naval armada ever assembled sails across the "line of death," which, according to Khadafy, marks Libyan territorial waters in the Gulf of Sidra. Fulfilling the predictions of U.S. defense analysts, he shoots off missiles at the fleet. U.S. forces then destroy a missile site and three Libyan naval craft. In retaliation, Khadafy sponsors the bombing on April 5, 1986, of the La Belle nightclub in West Berlin, which killed an American soldier and a Turkish woman. On April 15, 1986 (two weeks after the "line of death" incident in late March), the U.S. retaliates for the La Belle bombing with air strikes against Libya.

According to the Defense Science Board (and contrary to neocon belief), these air strikes did not cause Khadafy to abandon terrorism. In fact, he expanded his terrorist campaign against Western Europe to the United States. (See the next eight entries.) Beginning in April 1986, State Department analysts began to link Libyan terrorist agents to an average of one attack per month against U.S. targets. Some examples of these are:

    • April 1986: An American hostage in Lebanon is sold to Libya and executed.      
    • 1986: Libyans attempt to blow up the U.S. embassy in Lomé, Togo.      
    • September 1987: Abu Nidal, working for Libya, hijacks Pan Am Flight 73 in Karachi, Pakistan. Several Americans are killed during the hijacking.      
    • April 12, 1988: A Japanese Red Army operative with three bombs is arrested in New Jersey with a plan to attack a military base in the United States. The attack has been timed to coincide with the second anniversary of the U.S. air strikes on Libya.      
    • April 14, 1988: The Japanese Red Army, under contract from Abu Nidal, plants a bomb at the USO military club in Naples, Italy, to coincide with the anniversary. Five people are killed.      
    • December 1988: Two Libyan intelligence agents allegedly bomb Pan Am Flight 103. The bomb kills 270 people, 200 of whom were Americans.      
    • 1988: Libyan agents bomb U.S. library facilities in Peru, Colombia, and Costa Rica.      
    • September 1989: Libyan agents recruit a Chicago gang to shoot down U.S. airliners with shoulder-fired missiles, the same type so generously given to the Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan in the late '70s and the '80s. The plot, fortunately, is foiled.  
  • March 10, 1989: The wife of the commander of the U.S.S. Vincennes is pipe-bombed in retaliation for the July 3, 1988, shooting down of an Iranian airliner over the Persian Gulf that killed 290 civilians.      
  • March 31, 1990: Four terrorists attack a U.S. Air Force bus in Honduras. Eight people are injured. The Moranzanist Patriotic Front claims responsibility, to protest U.S. military presence in Honduras.      
  • May 13, 1990: New People's Army assassins kill two U.S. airmen near Clark Air Base in the Philippines.     
  • May 1990: A group led by Ramzi Yousef assassinates, in the United States, Rabbi Meir Kahane, leader of the Jewish Defense League. The murder would later be discovered to be a part of a larger revenge campaign against U.S. foreign policy--a campaign that included the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.     
  • January 2, 1991: A U.S. military helicopter is shot down by the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front militants (a Marxist guerrilla group) in San Miguel, El Salvador. The two crewmen are then executed, most likely because the U.S. provided military aid and advisers to the government of El Salvador.     
  • Mid-January to late February 1991 (during the Persian Gulf War): The number of terrorist attacks on American targets all over the world sharply increases: 120, compared with 17 over the same period in 1990. Terrorism analysts label these incidents "freelance" Iraqi-inspired terrorism.      
  • March 12, 1991: A U.S. Air Force sergeant is blown up at the entrance to his residence in Athens, Greece. The deadliest terrorist group in Greece, known as November 17, claims responsibility and says the attacks are in response to "American imperialism-nationalism."     
  • March 28, 1991: Three U.S. Marines driving near Jubial, Saudi Arabia, are shot by an Arab.     
  • October 28, 1991: Turkish Islamic Jihad claims responsibility for a car bomb that kills a U.S. Air Force sergeant.     
  • June 10, 1992: A U.S. Army vehicle traveling between Panama City and Colón, Panama, is sprayed with gunfire, killing the driver and a passenger and wounding a civilian bystander. The incident is likely related to the U.S. presence in Panama and control of the Panama Canal.     
  • January 23, 1993: Mir Aimal Kansi, a Pakistani, opens fire on CIA employees on the street outside the agency's headquarters in Virginia. Kansi allegedly is angry about the treatment of Muslims in Bosnia; in retaliation, he had planned to get even by shooting up the CIA, the White House, and the Israeli embassy.     
  • February 26, 1993: Islamic terrorists truck-bomb the World Trade Center. The perpetrators had wanted to kill up to a quarter million people by toppling the twin towers like two dominos. Ramzi Yousef, the leader of the bombers, said they intended to inflict Hiroshima-level casualties as punishment for U.S. policies in the Middle East.     
  • March 3, 1993: A bomb explodes in front of the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, most likely in response to U.S. policy toward Serbia and Bosnia.     
  • April 15, 1993: Seventeen Iraqis are arrested in Kuwait smuggling in a large car bomb and weapons as part of an Iraqi plot to assassinate former president George Bush on his visit to Kuwait. President Clinton would later retaliate against Iraq for the plot with cruise missiles strikes against the headquarters of Iraqi intelligence, killing several Iraqi civilians.     
  • June 1993: Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman and other Muslims conspire to attack several New York landmarks all on the same day to inflict maximum casualties. As a sequel to the bombing of the World Trade Center, the group planned to blow up, on July 4, the headquarters of the U.N., the Lincoln and Holland tunnels under the Hudson River, the George Washington Bridge, and the federal government's main office building in New York. The group also planned to assassinate Senator Alfonse D'Amato and others. At the time they were arrested, the conspirators were mixing fertilizer and diesel fuel to create a bomb like the one used on the World Trade Center. Rahman and nine others were convicted in a public trial October 1, 1995.     
  • July 1, 1993: Terrorists fire two rockets at the U.S. Air Force base at Yokota, Japan. The incident happens a few days before President Clinton is due to visit the base. The attacks are most likely from opponents of the U.S. military occupation of Japan.     
  • July 7, 1993: Just six days later, four rockets are fired at the headquarters of the U.S. Air Force in Japan at Camp Zama, Japan.     
  • October 3, 1993: After U.S. armed forces kill thousands of Somalians--an attack about which the commander of the operation, Marine Lt. Gen. Anthony Zinni, told the press, "I'm not counting bodies . . . I'm not interested"--al-Qaeda-trained Somalian tribesmen conduct ambushes of U.S. "peacekeeping" forces in Somalia. The attacks down two helicopters and kill 18 American Army Rangers, resulting in the infamous dragging of dead American soldiers through the streets of Mogadishu. An indictment alleges that al-Qaeda believes the United States has plans to occupy Islamic countries, as demonstrated by its involvement in Somalia and Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf War. U.S. forces would be withdrawn from Somalia, and bin Laden would later call the Somalia operation his group's greatest victory.     
  • October 21, 1994: Members of Abu Nidal's organization are convicted of plotting to kill Jews in the United States, to blow up the Israeli embassy in Washington, and to kill anyone who exposed their plans.     
  • February 7, 1995: Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the World Trade Center bombing, is finally arrested in Pakistan. The arrest foils a plan already set in motion to bomb 12 U.S. jumbo jets in flight over the Atlantic and kill 4,000 passengers.     
  • March 20, 1995: The Japanese apocalyptic cult Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth) releases sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway. According to the group's beliefs, the last years of the millennium would give rise to an Armageddon between Japan and the United States, and the cult believed that attacking the Tokyo subway would hasten this Armageddon. The group was hoping to kill tens of thousands of people.     
  • April 1995: Members of the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult plan a nerve-gas attack on Disneyland in Anaheim, California. The group plans to attack during a fireworks celebration at which attendance at the park would reach maximum capacity. Tipped off by Japanese police, U.S. authorities apprehend members of the group at the Los Angeles airport before they can launch the attack. The plan also called for an attack on petrochemical facilities in Los Angeles.The Aum Shinrikyo cult has assets of at least $1.2 billion and the capability to produce sarin and VX gas--agents that cause anthrax and botulism--and radiological weapons. This cult is still active.     
  • August 18, 1995: The Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front bombs an office building of the American company Fluor Daniel in Santiago, Chile, citing as its reason solidarity with Cuba and opposition to the U.S. economic blockade.     
  • September 13, 1995: A rocket-propelled grenade is fired at the U.S. embassy in Russia. The attack is suspected to have been retaliation for U.S. involvement in the NATO air strikes on Bosnian Serb targets.     
  • November 13, 1995: A military complex in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, housing U.S. troops is car-bombed, killing seven people, including five Americans, and wounding 42 others. Muslims seeking to overthrow the oppressive Saudi monarchy and expel the United States from Saudi Arabia carried out the bombings. Three groups, including the Islamic Movement for Change, claim responsibility, and U.S. officials suspect Osama bin Laden was involved.     
  • November 15, 1995: An explosive device is discovered on a power line to a U.S. military complex in Sagmihara, Japan.     
  • February 15, 1996: A rocket is fired at the U.S. embassy compound in Athens, Greece, causing minor damage to three diplomatic vehicles and surrounding buildings. The State Department says the circumstances of the attack suggest it was another attack by the group known as November 17.     
  • June 25, 1996: A U.S. military apartment complex, Khobar Towers, near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, is truck-bombed, killing 19 U.S. airmen and wounding 515 people, including 240 U.S. citizens. U.S. officials have linked Osama bin Laden to the bombing, and some analysts also suspect Iran of complicity.     
  • February 23, 1997:  A Palestinian, Ali Hassan Abu Kamal, opens fire on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, killing and wounding several tourists before committing suicide.     
  • July 31, 1997: Police in Brooklyn arrest two Palestinian men who allegedly are planning suicide bombings of the subway and a commuter bus.     
  • November 12, 1997: Four employees of Union Texas Petroleum are killed in an attack one mile from the U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan. The Islamic Revolutionary Council and the Aimal Secret Committee claim the killings are revenge for the conviction of Mir Aimal Kansi, the Pakistani man who murdered CIA employees in their cars in January 1993.     
  • December 23, 1997: The teachers' residential compound of the Karachi American School is fired upon. This attack is also probably in retaliation for the conviction of Mir Aimal Kansi.     
  • April 3, 1998: November 17 claims responsibility for a rash of attacks against U.S. targets in Greece. Since 1975, its victims include a CIA station chief and three other Americans.     
  • August 7, 1998: Simultaneous car-bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, both linked to Osama bin Laden, kill more than 200 Africans--mostly Muslims. Before the bombings, bin Laden issues a Fatwa that he will kill Americans and will not discriminate between military personnel and civilians. In retaliation, on August 20, 1998, the U.S. launches cruise missiles on bin Laden's al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and a factory in Sudan. The Clinton administration claims the Sudanese factory produced chemical weapons and was linked to bin Laden. This is later proven to be a lie, but it would not stop Clinton from declaring his own, although fragmentary, "War on Terrorism" in the midst of impeachment.     
  • August 25, 1998: A Planet Hollywood restaurant in South Africa is bombed. A local terrorist group called Muslims Against Global Oppression is said to be the likely culprit, seeking revenge on the United States for the cruise missile attacks on Afghanistan and Sudan.     
  • August 26, 1998: A U.S. government information center in Pristina, Kosovo, is fire-bombed, most likely in opposition to U.S. and NATO policy on Kosovo.     
  • Early September 1998: The Ugandan government and the FBI uncover a plot by Osama bin Laden to attempt to bomb the U.S. embassy in Kampala, Uganda, for a second time. Ugandan officials say that the cruise missile strike on Sudan in retaliation for the bombings in Kenya and Tanzania might have prompted bin Laden to try a second time to attack the embassy in Kampala. Several arrests are made in connection with the bombing.     
  • October 2000: The USS Cole is dinghy-bombed while in port in Yemen. Al-Qaeda is widely suspected, in bin Laden's ongoing personal war against U.S. policies in the Middle East.     
  • September 11, 2001: The World Trade Center is bombed a second time, killing nearly 3,000 and sparking a new "war on terrorism," a resurgence in statism throughout the Western world, and increased nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan.

These examples illustrate the folly of the uniquely modern American theory of self-defense, which decrees that the U.S.government must occupy and manipulate the globe in order to prevent wars that drag in the United States and destroy the lives of American men and women. The policies result in, not  less, but more terror.

Richard Betts, writing in Foreign Affairs before September 11, raised the prospect that "some angry group that blames the United States for its problems may decide to coerce Americans, or simply exact vengeance, by inflicting devastation on them where they live." He concluded that "the best way to keep people from believing that the United States is responsible for their problems is to avoid involvement in their conflicts." 2

Yet the supporters of this latest war believe the solution to criminal acts against Americans is yet more criminal behavior--the destruction of innocent lives and property--by the United States done in their name. In the interest of peace, security, and the freedom of global commercial relations, all Americans and non-Americans the world over must forcefully oppose the hyper-interventionism of the United States government, which by its own admission endangers the lives and property of Americans. Interventionism and jingoism are not the solutions to terrorism, but rather its motive force.


  • 1. Defense Science Board, The Defense Science Board 1997 Summer Study Task Force on DoD Responses to Transnational Threats (Washington: U.S. Department of Defense, October 1997), vol. 1, Final Report, p. 15. Cited in "Does U.S. Intervention Overseas Breed Terrorism: The Historical Record" by Ivan Eland, Foreign Policy Briefing , Cato Institute, December 17, 1998 Foreign Policy Briefing , Cato Institute, December 17, 1998. Much of the information in this article comes from Eland's excellent piece.
  • 2. Richard Betts, "The New Threat of Mass Destruction," in Foreign Affairs 77, no. 1 (January-February 1998): 28.

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