Turbulent globe

International | Terrorism, financial crisis, and attacks on the freedom of Christian worship make headlines around the world in 1997

Issue: "Year in Review 1997," Dec. 27, 1997

In November the U.S. State Department took the unusual step of issuing a statement of "Worldwide Caution" to American citizens traveling or living abroad. Normally confining public warnings to countries in turmoil, the department's concern about "the possibility of random acts of anti-American violence" in all parts of the globe reflects this dichotomy: The growth of the economy and peace at home are no bulwark against rumblings of trouble abroad.

The warning for Americans "to exercise greater than usual caution" came after four American businessmen were gunned down in Karachi, Pakistan. Their deaths were in "retaliation" for the lawful convictions of two Muslim terrorists in the United States. A Virginia jury recommended the death penalty for Mir Aimal Kasi, a Pakistani, after finding him guilty of killing two CIA workers in 1993. A federal jury in New York on Nov. 12 convicted Ramzi Yousef of masterminding the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Those incidents coincided with the year's largest attack by terrorists, in Luxor, Egypt. Six Islamic Group militants shot or knifed to death 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians on Nov. 17 outside a 3,400-year-old temple.

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When terrorists weren't leading the news in November, Saddam Hussein was. The Iraqi leader held UN weapons inspectors at bay, turning them away from key installations eight times in nine days. Separate intelligence reports-from the United States, the British Foreign Office, and the UN inspectors-indicate that the means for delivering a deadly arsenal of chemical and biological weapons still exist in Iraq, and that hundreds of tons of the materials themselves are still unaccounted for. Still, Mr. Hussein was winning the public-relations war, too, deflecting attention from the weapons build-up to the deprivation among Iraqis and a plea for increasing oil exports to refuel the country's depleted economy.

Less reported was trouble in Iran, where two leading Muslim clerics-both opposed to Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei-disappeared from Iran's holy city of Qom. Hussein Ali Montazeri was taken away by security police in November and is believed to be in prison. Another ayatollah, Mohammad Rouhani, was found dead earlier this year and is believed to have been poisoned. Both had been possible successors to the late Ayatollah Khomeini and had failed to endorse his successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The silencing of the clerics followed a May election in which Iranian voters chose for president moderate cleric Mohammad Khatami, who promised reforms under the strict Islamic regime. He beat Mr. Khamenei's hand-picked candidate by a 70-30 margin.

In September Iranian war planes struck two outposts for Iranian opposition groups located inside Iraq, violating the U.S.-enforced "no-fly zone" over southern Iraq. Iran Brief publisher Kenneth Timmerman calls the recent events either "the beginning of a newly violent and aggressive Islamic Republic" or "the first hesitant rays of democracy in Iran."

Iran continued to be the chief sponsor of international terrorism, according to an annual State Department report released in April. The report said terrorists have increasing access to weapons of mass destruction, including chemical, biological, and nuclear materials.

Terror kept pace in the disputed territories of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. In January Israel began a long-awaited withdrawal from Hebron, the last major West Bank city to come under Palestinian control. But in February Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu renewed plans for a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem. Israeli construction in the traditionally Arab sector angered Palestinians and prompted new waves of terrorism. By September the death toll from four suicide bombs in Jerusalem markets alone was 20. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was photographed embracing the leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who claimed responsibility for the bombings, further alienating both sides.

At year's end the Clinton administration was pressing Mr. Netanyahu to announce further withdrawals from the West Bank, a move seen in part as garnering more support within the Arab world for the U.S. position against Iraq.

On another continent, terrorist tactics met their match in Alberto Fujimori. The president of Peru brought an end to a 126-day hostage crisis in April when he ordered Peruvian commandos into the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima, seized by Tupac Amaru rebels during a diplomatic reception.

Anti-government forces held 72 hostages at the time of the raid, including Mr. Fujimori's brother, the Japanese ambassador; the Bolivian ambassador; and Peru's foreign minister. All 14 rebels were killed in the raid, which was launched via underground tunnels during the rebels' daily indoor soccer game. One hostage was wounded and died of a heart attack en route to the hospital. Two Peruvian soldiers involved in the surprise rescue were also killed. One American became a casualty of the hostage-taking: Lori Berenson, a 27-year-old New York native serving a life sentence for complicity with Peruvian rebels. She lost hope of parole when Mr. Fujimori announced an end to amnesties for terrorists in prison.


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