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Office of the Secretary
Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Philip C. Wilcox, Jr.

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During 1996 there were 296 acts of international terrorism, the lowest annual total in 25 years and 144 fewer than in 1995. In contrast, the total number of casualties was one of the highest ever recorded: 311 persons killed and 2,652 wounded. A single bombing in Sri Lanka killed 90 persons and wounded more than 1,400 others.

Two-thirds of the attacks were bombings or firebombings. Only about one-sixth of the total number (45) resulted in fatalities. Approximately one-fourth (73) were anti-US attacks, and most of those were low-intensity bombings of oil pipelines in Colombia owned jointly by the Government of Colombia and Western companies but seen as US targets by Colombian terrorists.

Approximately one in four attacks (76) recorded last year were part of an ongoing terrorist campaign being waged by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Germany. Most of these attacks were minor bombings that produced no casualties and caused little damage. The level of PKK attacks during 1996 was significantly lower than in previous years.

Among the significant attacks during the year:

  • On 25 June a large fuel truck exploded outside the US military's Khubar Towers housing facility near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 US citizens and wounding some 500 persons.
  • On 17 December terrorists belonging to Peru's Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) took over the Japanese Ambassador's residence in Lima during a diplomatic reception, taking some 500 persons hostage, including eight US officials who were released after five days. The group's primary demand was the release of convicted MRTA terrorists from prison. At year's end, 81 hostages remained in captivity, and attempts to resolve the siege peacefully were ongoing.
  • There were several deadly bombings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem by the Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS). On 25 February a suicide bomber blew up a bus in Jerusalem, killing 26 persons, including three US citizens, and injuring at least 80 others, including another three US citizens. On 3 March a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device on a bus in Jerusalem, killing 19 persons, including six Romanians, and injuring six others. On 4 March a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device outside Dizengoff Center, a large shopping mall in Tel Aviv, killing 20 persons and injuring 75 others, including two US citizens.
  • The deadliest attack of the year occurred in Sri Lanka on 31 January, when terrorists belonging to the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rammed an explosives-laden truck into the Central Bank in the heart of downtown Colombo, killing 90 persons and wounding more than 1,400 others. Among the wounded were two US citizens, six Japanese, and one Dutch national. The explosion caused major damage to the Central Bank building, an American Express office, the Intercontinental Hotel, and several other buildings.
  • On 9 February a bomb detonated in a parking garage in the Docklands area of London, killing two persons and wounding more than 100 others, including two US citizens. The Irish Republican Army claimed responsibility for the attack.

Twenty-four US citizens died in international terrorist attacks last year, more than twice the number that died in 1995. Nineteen were killed in the 25 June truck bombing of the US military housing facility near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. This was the highest number of US citizens killed in a single act of international terrorism since the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103, in which 189 US citizens died. Five US citizens died in bus bombings and drive-by shootings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Two hundred and fifty US citizens were wounded in acts of terrorism around the world last year, five times the number injured in 1995.

There were no international terrorist attacks in the United States during the year.

On 19 July a US district court in Washington, DC, convicted Omar Mohammed Ali Rezaq of air piracy in connection with the 1985 terrorist hijacking of Egypt Air Flight 648. The Athens-to-Cairo flight was diverted to Malta by Rezaq and two other hijackers. On the plane, Rezaq separated US and Israeli passengers from the others and shot them in the head at point blank range. One US citizen and one Israeli died; two US citizens and one Israeli survived their wounds. When Egyptian commandos stormed the plane, dozens more died. Rezaq, the sole surviving hijacker, was tried and convicted in Malta on various charges and sentenced to 25 years in prison, but he was released after serving only seven years. With cooperation from the Governments of Nigeria and Ghana, FBI agents arrested Rezaq in Nigeria in 1993 and brought him to the United States to be tried for air piracy. Rezaq, a member of the Abu Nidal organization, claimed at his trial that he had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and was therefore insane at the time he hijacked the airplane. He further claimed that, because of his insanity, he could not be held criminally liable for his conduct. The jury found Rezaq guilty and rejected his claim that he was insane at the time he committed the crime. In October Rezaq was sentenced to life imprisonment.

On 5 September Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, Abdul Hakim Murad, and Wali Khan Amin Shah were convicted of a terrorist conspiracy to plant bombs aboard a number of US passenger airliners operating in East Asia. Yousef also was found guilty of placing a bomb aboard a Philippine airliner bound for Tokyo in December 1995 that exploded in midair, killing one person and injuring several others. This bombing was intended as a "trial run" for the planned multiple attacks against US aircraft, which were to take place over two days. Yousef is awaiting trial on charges that he was involved in the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.

On 22 September an Asian country turned over to US custody suspected Japanese Red Army terrorist Tsutomu Shirosaki to stand trial for a 1986 mortar attack against the US Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia.

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