Terrorism: December 27, 1999



The arrest of Algerian Ahmed Ressam on 14 Dec as he tried to smuggle bomb-making materials into the US from Canada touched off a wave of alarm among US security officials. They had been fully prepared for terrorist attacks against American citizens and assets abroad, but had no specific information about possible attacks on US soil. Ressam has been linked to Osama bin Laden. His rented car carried two jars of nitroglycerine, 118 pounds of urea (a material that can be used in making bombs or fertilizer), and containers of explosive-flammable liquids. Also found in his car were four timers built from Casio watches; these are identical to timers used in attacks in Moscow and the Philippines that have been linked to bin Laden. Ressam had reserved a hotel room near the Seattle Center, were millennium celebrations under the Space Needle were expected to draw a crowd of 60,000.--Stephen V Cole

December 27;  Security forces around the world have gone on high alert due to the possibility of terrorist attacks during the holiday period. Spanish police foiled an attempt by Basque ETA terrorists to kill hundreds of people in Madrid just before Christmas. Police in Calatayud arrested the driver of a van found packed with explosives, then discovered another such van. The vans had timers designed to detonate them amid shopping crowds on Christmas Eve. US airport security continued to tighten. In the days before Christmas, wrapped presents were not accepted unless opened for inspection. Baggage was screened. Passengers were "profiled" and those with a high risk factor were taken aside for questioning. This practice is, according to some, a violation of civil rights in that matching a profile is fairly weak as probable cause. New York assigned 7,000 police to protect the Times Square celebrations, and bomb-sniffing dogs prowled sewers and basements. The FBI issued a warning not to open unknown parcels mailed in Frankfurt, Germany, as there were reports of a series of terrorist parcel-bombs sent from that location. FBI agents arrested Renato DeSousa Flor after he sent Email messages threatening to blow up the Hudson River tunnels in New York. Israel deployed an extra 3,000 police into Jerusalem to guard against attacks by Islamic radicals and "End Time" extremists. Britain canceled police leaves and put military units on alert to move on 10 minutes notice. Patrol boats were sent to cruise the Thames River in London looking for suspicious activity. The US State Department issued a warning on 23 Dec calling for Americans to avoid travel to (or remaining in) Pakistan. The US Senate issued a resolution stating that a military attack would be an appropriate response to a terrorist incident. Canadian police defused two explosive devices planted in two different areas of Montreal. The police said that the bombs were related to a labor dispute and were not linked to the Algerians arrested by US customs police.--Stephen V Cole

December 27; FBI veteran Dale Watson has been selected to head the new counter-terrorism division. He has extensive experience in counter-terrorism, and once served as deputy chief of the CIA's counter-terrorism center under an exchange program between the two agencies. The new counter- terrorism division was formed from units previously under the national security division and the criminal investigation division. He is currently the deputy assistant director for national security, heading that division's counter-terrorism unit; he will now rank as an Assistant Director. He joined the FBI in 1978 after spending five years in the US Army as an infantry officer. --Stephen V Cole

December 27; As more details become available on the 13 followers of Osama bin Laden arrested in Jordan, a chilling picture emerges. The men were planning to target tourist areas, particularly targeting Israelis and Americans. The first of their attacks was to take place at the end of the year. Parts of the group were involved in building an overall infrastructure that could have supported a series of attacks. Jordanian police said that the group was unusually well financed. Three members of the group escaped arrest and remain at large. --Stephen V Cole

December 27; DEC 16: Pakistan accused India of carrying out a campaign of terrorism against the people of Kashmir, and said that this had prevented the resumption of a dialogue between the two countries. Outraged, India responded that in fact it was Pakistan that was using terrorism as a tactic, sending militants trained at camps in Pakistan into Kashmir to launch attacks and disrupt the government. India blames Pakistani junta leader General Pervez Musharraf for personally instigating the mini-war last May. --Stephen V Cole


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