Sunday, December 2, 2007

This Week in the History of Terrorism, December 2 to 8

Here's my summary of significant past events for this week. One event particularly stands out: the 1984 hijacking of a Kuwaiti airliner by Iraqi Shia militants, followed by a six-day hostage standoff at the airport in Tehran, Iran, and the murder of two employees of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Iranian authorities eventually stormed the plane and seized the hijackers, but released them soon afterwards. The incident was horrific enough in its own right [see the details here], however, it was only one in a series of closely related Middle Eastern terrorist events that occurred in the 1980s, and which have a strange after-life that is still playing itself out in contemporary Iraqi politics.

The hijackers of Kuwait Air Flight 221 were from an Iraqi Shia militant group connected to Iraq's Islamic Dawa Party, which at that time was fighting the Saddam Hussein / Ba'ath Party regime from exile in Iran. In 1983, militants connected to the Dawa Party had carried out the suicide bombings of the U.S. and French embassies and other targets in Kuwait, and Kuwait had imprisoned 17 persons - 12 of them from the Dawa Party - for involvement in those bombings. Flight 221 was hijacked in an attempt to force Kuwait to release those prisoners. Kuwait refused, however, the "Kuwait 17" were inadvertently freed in 1990, along with about 1,300 other prisoners from Kuwait's Saidia prison, amid the chaos of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

The official position of the Islamic Dawa Party is to deny involvement in the Kuwait attacks. See the FAQ "Does the party agree with using force for political ends? What is its position on and involvement in terrorism? Did it have any role in the Kuwait and Lebanon bombings of the 1980s?" on the Party's website for details. But that denial is carefully parsed, and amounts to saying that the Party never condoned terrorism (translation: violence against Saddam's regime was not terrorism but "armed resistance"), and that it had no direct role in the Kuwait attacks (translation: the Kuwait attacks were not carried out by Dawa per se but by an umbrella group of Iraqi Shia which included Dawa members).

That denial noted, the Islamic Dawa Party was nonetheless tied to the Kuwait bombings by forensic evidence when the remains of a human thumb were found at one of the bombing scenes and its thumbprint identified as that of Raad Murtin Ajeel, a 25-year old Iraqi Shia and member of Dawa. What's more, a Dawa politician, Jamal Jafaar Mohammed, who was elected to the Iraqi parliament in 2005 and is today part of Prime Minister al-Maliki's ruling coalition, was sentenced to death in absentia by Kuwait in 1983 for his role in the bombings. According to press reports [such as this one], Jamal Jafaar Mohammed is the real name of the "Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis" who was a leader of the bombing plot.

You've got to wonder what the Kuwaitis think of this strange turn of events. From 1983 onwards, the U.S. government pursued those who plotted the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kuwait City. Today, we collectively avert our eyes from one of the ringleaders in that attack on ourselves and our Kuwaiti ally because it would be politically awkward to notice him.

December 2

1983 (Spain)
– Basque Iraultza (meaning Revolution in the Basque language), a small militant group of Trotskyist ideology, placed bombs at eight U.S.-interest targets in Spanish Basque territory to protest U.S. involvement in Central America. Before it dissolved in the 1990s, the Iraultza movement was notable for being perhaps the only one of its kind not to have killed anyone in its attacks (except two of its own members, who died preparing an explosive device in the early 1990s), but to have restricted itself to damaging property.

December 3

1984 (Iran)
– Four Iraqi Shia militants hijacked a Kuwait Airlines flight shortly after it departed Dubai en route to Karachi, and forced it to land at Mehrabad airport in Iran. They demanded the release from Kuwaiti jails of members of Dawa, an Iraqi Shiite extremist group, who were serving sentences for attacks on U.S. and French targets. A standoff ensued for the next six days, with the hijackers keeping selected U.S. and Kuwaiti passengers on board and tied to seats, before an Iranian assault team posing as cleaners stormed the plane.

Three USAID officers were among the passengers and two of them, Charles Henga and William Stanford, were killed by the hijackers to press their demands. Iranian authorities promised to try the hijackers, but instead released them. In January, 2002, a U.S. federal judge ordered Iran to pay $42 million to the family of Charles Hegna.

December 4

2000 (Israel) – A senior leader of the armed wing of HAMAS, Awad Selmi, was killed when a bomb he was planting exploded prematurely during an operation inside Israel. Palestinian police found the body parts of Selmi near the Karni crossing in Gaza, a major flashpoint for Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. A crowd of about 30,000 marched in Selmi's funeral procession. HAMAS reported that Selmi had carried out 17 attacks, including the killing of an Israeli colonel in 1993. Israel was to blame for his death, a HAMAS spokesman said at the funeral, because Israel was responsible for all violence in the region.

December 5

2000 (Jordan)
– The State Security Court of Jordan sentenced Jordanian-American Raed Hijazi to death for the third time on charges of “plotting subversive acts in the Kingdom and manufacturing explosives.” The same court sentenced Hijazi to death in February 2002 for the first time after finding him guilty of the same charges. Re-sentenced to death in January 2003 on the same charges, Hijazi appealed again and a third trial was ordered, citing lack of evidence.

Hijazi was also sentenced to death in a separate high-profile trial held in September 2000, in which he was tried in absentia along with 28 suspects accused of planning to bomb Christian, Jewish and US targets in Jordan. Hijazi had previously lived in the United States, where he was employed as a taxi driver in Boston, Massachucetts.

December 6

2000 (Sri Lanka) – A Tamil Tiger (LTTE) land mine attack killed four bus passengers and wounded 21.

December 7

[This was one of those rare days in which nothing significant occurred.]

Friday, December 8

2000 (Yeman) – U.S. authorities named Muhamed al-Harazi as a prime suspect in the bombing of the USS Cole. Allegedly the head of al-Qaeda operations in the Persian Gulf, al-Harazi was one of the "Afghan Arabs" who fought against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. He is also believed to have played a role in a foiled plot in 2002 to bomb U.S. and British warships in the Strait of Gibraltar, the attack on the French oil tanker Limburg in 2002, and the August 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

In November, 2002, U.S. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge confirmed long-standing news media reports of al-Harazi’s capture by the U.S., and stated that “the prisoner was providing useful information.” U.S. officials later confirmed that al-Harazi (also known as al-Nashiri) was held briefly in Afghanistan before being transferred to an undisclosed secure location. The 9/11 Commission stated that evidence of Osama bin Laden’s involvement in the Cole bombing came from the interrogation of al-Harazi, among other prisoners. Muhamed al-Harazi is now in U.S. custody at Guantanamo.

December 9

1999 (United States)
– The United Nations adopted the International Convention for the Suppression of Financing Terrorism.

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