US reports decline in terrorism

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WASHINGTON, Reuter - The United States said on Friday that what it terms international terrorism fell in 1992 to its lowest level since 1975, signalling what appears to be a steady and significant trend.

The State Department's annual report on what it defines as patterns of global terrorism recorded 361 incidents in 1992 versus 567 the previous year but the 1991 figure was viewed as aberrantly high because of the Gulf War.

'It may be a significant trend. There does appear to have been a steady decline in the numbers,' a senior State Department official told reporters at a briefing.

He attributed the decline to increasing cooperation among governments in prosecuting and refusing to make deals with perpetrators as well as the decline in sanctuaries in Eastern Europe because of the end of communism.

US casualties from acts of terrorism were the lowest ever, the report said. Two Americans were killed and one was wounded in 1992 compared to seven dead and 14 wounded the previous year.

The report does not cover the bombing of New York's World Trade Centre, which occurred on February 26, or the killing of two CIA employees outside the US spy agency headquarters earlier this year.

So while optimistic about progress, the report stresses a need for continued vigilance.

The senior official said one area of potential concern is terrorism spurred by ethnic and religious tensions in the former Yugoslavia and former Soviet Union.

As expected, the report restated US concerns about Sudan's contacts with Iran and Pakistan's support of Kashmiri militants. It cited for the first time the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas for involvement in what it called terrorist acts against Israel.

Hanan Ashrawi, spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation to Mideast peace talks, told reporters at a separate briefing, 'We do not think of Hamas as a terrorist group. We think that Hamas is part of the Palestinian political spectrum.' Senior US officials previously have said they are keeping Sudan and Pakistan under close watch and may add them to the list of countries they regard as sponsors of terrorism. The roster now includes Iran, Iraq, Cuba, Libya, North Korea and Syria.

The report said Latin America continued a three-year record as the region most plagued by extremist incidents and Iran earned the designation as 'most dangerous sponsor of state terrorism' with Iraq the second worst.

'Hizballah, Iran's most important client, was responsible for the deadliest act of terorrism in 1992, the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in March which killed 29 people and wounded 242,' the report said.

'Indications are that Iran at least had foreknowledge of this act and was probably involved,' it added.

It called Iran the principal sponsor of extremist Palestinian and Islamic groups and the main supporter and ally of the fundamentalist regime in Sudan.

Iraq's international guerrilla infrastructure was largely destroyed by actions of the US-led coalition in the Gulf War but still President Saddam Hussein conducted 39 attacks against internal targets in 1992 and sent agents abroad to stalk his opponents, the report said.

Although the report is aimed at identifying trends and threats, some of the more unexpected conclusions involved countries where sponsorship of so-called terrrorism declined.

It said that while North Korea remains on the US list Pyongyang 'appears disinclined to pursue a terrorist agenda.' As for Syria, a key player in Mideast peace talks that is also on the list, the report says 'there has been no evidence of direct Syrian government involvement in terrorist acts since 1986.' It added, however, that Damascus provides 'support and safe haven to a number of groups that engage in international terrorism,' although it has at times restrained these groups.