U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
1997 APRIL: PATTERNS OF GLOBAL TERRORISM, 1996
Office of the Secretary
Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Philip C. Wilcox, Jr.
LATIN AMERICA OVERVIEW
Terrorists from the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA)
took over the Japanese Ambassador's residence in Lima, Peru, during
a diplomatic reception on 17 December. More than 500 persons were
taken captive, including eight US officials, numerous foreign
ambassadors, prominent Peruvians including the Foreign and Agriculture
Ministers, six supreme court justices, high-ranking members of
the police and military, as well as members of the Peruvian and
international business community. Most hostages were freed in
the first several days after the attack, including all of the
US officials. At the end of the year efforts to resolve the crisis
peacefully were under way.
Peru hosted the Inter-American Specialized Conference on Terrorism
in Lima in April. Sponsored by the Organization of American States,
the conference, which reflected heightened inter-American cooperation
against terrorism, adopted the Declaration and Plan of Action,
which strongly endorsed the characterization of terrorist acts,
regardless of motivation, as common crimes rather than political
Colombian guerrillas continued in 1996 to foment violence directed
at that country's infrastructure and armed forces. Efforts by
the Colombian Government to negotiate a peace agreement were spurned
by the guerrillas. There was a high level of domestic political
violence, but international terrorist incidents declined, from
76 in 1995 to 66 in 1996. The guerrillas continued to use kidnapping
for ransom as a major source of income. At year's end, guerrillas
held four US citizens hostage.
In Mexico, the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) carried out a
series of small-scale attacks, killing 17 persons including several
civilians, and the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) signed
an agreement on indigenous peoples' rights with the government.
Investigations into three major acts of international terrorism
in Latin America-the 1992 bombing attack against the Israeli Embassy
in Buenos Aires, the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center
building in Buenos Aires, and the 1994 bombing of a commuter airliner
in Panama-continued without significant progress.
The Government of Guatemala and the Guatemalan National Revolutionary
Unity (URNG) ended their 36-year armed conflict, the hemisphere's
longest running, with a final peace accord signed 29 December.
During 1996 the Argentine Government continued its investigation
into the bombing in 1994 of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association
(AMIA) in which 86 persons were killed and about 300 were injured.
In July the investigating judge ordered the arrest of one former
and three current police officers from Buenos Aires Province.
On the basis of leads developed after the 1995 arrest of Carlos
Telleldin, accused of involvement in illegally obtaining the van
used in the bombing, these officers were charged with possession
of that van and were accused of being part of a police extortion
ring that received the van as part of a down payment on an extortion
debt owed by Telleldin. The policemen, however, have not been
charged with complicity in the AMIA attack. The Argentine Government
throughout the year reaffirmed its commitment to resolve this
case and established a special congressional commission to follow
and assist the court's investigation.
The Supreme Court's investigation into the March 1992 bombing
of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires failed to develop new leads.
Interior Minister Carlos Corach on 27 November increased from
$2 million to $3 million the reward offered to develop new leads
in the investigations of the 1992 and 1994 bombings.
The Interior Minister negotiated and began implementing border
security measures with Brazil and Paraguay to help address the
growing security concerns in the "triborder" area where
the frontiers of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil meet. Argentina
adopted a machine-readable passport as part of its program to
control the improper use of its passports.
Colombia continued to grapple with widespread violence in 1996,
suffering numerous terrorist bombings, murders, kidnappings, and
narcotics-related violence. Drug traffickers, leftist insurgents,
paramilitary squads, and common criminals committed with impunity
scores of violent crimes. Although most of the politically motivated
violence was directed at domestic targets, Colombia recorded 66
international terrorist incidents during 1996, a drop from 76
such incidents in 1995. The most frequent targets of international
terrorist attacks were the nation's oil pipelines, which are operated
in partnership with foreign oil companies.
The nation's two main leftist insurgent groups-the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army
(ELN)-showed little interest in pursuing serious peace talks with
the government, preferring to press their violent agenda.
Throughout the year ECOPETROL, the national oil company, was forced
to shut down production repeatedly due to ELN attacks. Foreign
oil company employees were kidnapped and held for ransom as part
of the guerrillas' continuing war of terror against the Colombian
oil industry. ELN carried out 45 attacks against the oil pipeline,
justifying its actions by claiming the government is giving away
its precious oil reserves to foreigners.
The ELN and FARC staged numerous attacks against police and military
installations throughout the year. In a 15 April attack on an
army patrol in Narino Department, guerrillas killed 31 soldiers.
In a countrywide offensive conducted in late August and early
September, the ELN and FARC launched a major offensive in reprisal
for the government's efforts to eradicate coca. At least 150 persons
were killed in the attacks, including an unknown number of civilians.
On 30 August the FARC overran a Colombian Army base in Putumayo
Department, killing 27 soldiers and taking prisoner more than
60 others. By year's end the soldiers had not been released. A
guerrilla attack in Guaviare Department on 6 September left 22
Narcoterrorists are suspected of placing a 173-kg car bomb on
5 November outside a Cali business owned by the family of a senator
who advocated reinstating extradition of Colombians to the United
States. Although the bomb did not explode, flyers found at the
scene threatened US citizens and businesses as well as Colombian
supporters of extraditing Colombian nationals.
Colombian guerrillas earn millions of dollars from ransom payments
each year. Nearly three dozen foreigners were kidnapped by guerrillas
during the year. In one major kidnapping, members of a group with
possible terrorist links abducted Juan Carlos Gaviria, brother
of former Colombian president and current Organization of American
States General Secretary Cesar Gaviria. At the request of Cesar
Gaviria and the Colombian Government, Cuba in June agreed to admit
nine of the terrorists in exchange for the safe release of Juan
The United States issued arrest warrants against 12 members of
the FARC for the murders of two New Tribes Missionaries, Steven
Welsh and Timothy Van Dyke, who were killed while being held hostage
by the FARC in June 1995. Four other US citizens remained hostage
in Colombia at year's end: three missionaries from the New Tribes
Mission who were abducted in 1993, and a US geologist who was
kidnapped in early December. (The geologist was killed in February
1997.) Two other US hostages were released in May and June.
Some individual fronts of the FARC, and to a lesser extent the
ELN, have symbiotic links with narcotraffickers, especially to
the east of the Cordillera Oriental. In some instances, guerrillas
have been known to provide security for coca fields, processing
facilities, and clandestine shipping facilities. Drug-related
activities-along with kidnapping for ransom, extortion, and robbing
banks-help generate needed revenues to finance the groups' terrorist
Guatemala's 36-year insurgency, the oldest in the hemisphere,
formally came to an end 29 December with the signing of a final
peace accord between the Guatemalan Government and the Guatemalan
National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) guerrillas. The URNG is an
umbrella organization formed in 1982 when four separate guerrilla/terrorist
groups joined together: the Revolutionary Organization of the
Armed People (ORPA), the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP), the
Rebel Armed Forces (FAR), and factions of the Guatemalan Labor
(Communist) Party (PGT).
President Alvaro Arzu, who took office in January, assigned top
priority to achieving a final peace accord in 1996. Negotiations
resumed in an atmosphere of mutual confidence, and both sides
suspended offensive military actions in March. Major agreements
on economic and military issues were signed in May and September,
although negotiations were temporarily suspended in October following
the URNG's kidnapping of the 86-year-old handicapped wife of a
prominent businessman. The victim was released unharmed in exchange
for the release of a high-ranking guerrilla commander. The commander
of ORPA accepted responsibility for the kidnapping and resigned
from the URNG leadership, enabling negotiations to resume.
Despite the ongoing negotiations and the March suspension of hostilities,
which held for the remainder of the year, isolated incidents by
renegade URNG elements, or by common criminals claiming to be
URNG, were reported. Several terrorist bombings by unknown perpetrators
occurred; at least two persons died, and several were injured
in the bombings. Several explosive devices were accompanied by
As part of the peace accords, URNG guerrillas will demobilize
in the first half of 1997, under verification of UN military observers.
Ex-URNG members will then form a legal political party.
The self-proclaimed Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) unveiled
itself in the southwestern Guerrero State on 28 June during a
ceremony marking the anniversary of a state police massacre of
local peasants. The EPR has conducted small-scale attacks in several
states, mostly against Mexican military and police outposts, public
buildings, and power stations. The group has killed at least 17
persons, including several civilians. The Zedillo government has
characterized the EPR as a terrorist group.
The Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) launched no violent
attacks in 1996. On 16 February EZLN representatives signed an
agreement in southeastern Chiapas with the Mexican Government
on the rights of indigenous people and made a commitment to negotiate
a political settlement.
During 1996 Mexico moved to facilitate the extradition of suspected
ETA terrorists by implementing its amended extradition treaty
Panamanian authorities have made no arrests in connection with
the bombing in July 1994 of a commuter airliner that killed all
21 persons aboard, including three US citizens. Panamanian officials
continue to cooperate closely with the United States in the ongoing
In the 1992 murder case of US Army Corp. Zak Hernandez, suspect
Pedro Miguel Gonzalez remains in custody. The case has been before
a Panamanian Magistrate for over a year, awaiting a decision on
whether to proceed to trial. The two other suspects remain at
Elements of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)
maintain a presence along the Panama-Colombia border and often
cross over to Panama's Darien Province to hide from the Colombian
Army and to obtain supplies.
The Peruvian Government's largely successful campaign against
terrorism suffered a setback with the takeover of the Japanese
Ambassador's residence in Lima on 17 December. In this attack,
Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) terrorists captured
more than 500 hostages, including eight US officials, numerous
foreign ambassadors, prominent Peruvians, including the Foreign
and Agriculture Ministers, six supreme court justices, and high-ranking
members of the police and military, as well as members of the
Peruvian and international business community. The heavily armed
terrorists boobytrapped and mined the Japanese Ambassador's residence.
Most hostages were freed in the first several days after the attack,
including all of the US officials. At the end of the year, 81
hostages were still being held.
Interior of Japanese Ambassador's residence in Lima, Peru, where MRTA rebels were holding hostages. (Copyrighted Reuters)
The MRTA's main demand was the release by the Peruvian Government
of imprisoned MRTA members in Peru, a demand that stalled attempts
to resolve the hostage situation. The crisis was exacerbated when
an Uruguayan court denied extradition requests from Peru and Bolivia
and released two MRTA members detained in Uruguay. The MRTA hostage
takers in Lima released, almost simultaneously, the Uruguayan
Ambassador from captivity. At year's end, efforts to resolve the
crisis peacefully were under way.
The Government of Peru hosted the Inter-American Specialized Conference
on Terrorism, sponsored by the Organization of American States,
in Lima in April. This conference adopted the Declaration and
Plan of Action, which strongly endorsed the characterization of
terrorist acts, regardless of motivation, as common crimes rather
than political offenses.
Sendero Luminoso was significantly weakened when its founder Abimael
Guzman was arrested in 1992, but it continued to carry out bombings
and assassinations in 1996 against domestic targets. As in the
previous year, in 1996 most terrorist violence took place in the
Upper Huallaga and Apurimac Valleys, but even there Army-sponsored
self-defense militias helped counter the terrorists. There were
two international terrorist incidents in Peru in 1996: a car bombing
of a Shell oil warehouse on 16 May and the MRTA hostage seizure
Throughout 1996 Peruvian security forces captured several important
terrorist suspects, including Elizabeth Cardenas, a.k.a. Comrade
Aurora, a senior Sendero Luminoso leader who was arrested in December.
In another blow against international terrorism, the Peruvian
police in May arrested Yoshimura Kazue, a leading member of the
Japanese Red Army wanted for her role in the 1974 seizure of the
French Embassy in The Hague. She was subsequently deported to
Japan. On 11 January Miguel Rincon, MRTA's second-highest ranking
leader, was sentenced to life imprisonment.