Militant groups keeping a low profile

Saturday, October 14th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) _ In September 1970, Palestinian guerrillas seized three planes in one day, flew them to Jordan and delayed blowing them up to allow a media blitz they had launched to inform the world who was behind the most spectacular skyjack ever.

Surrounded by cameras at the abandoned World War II Jordanian airstrip known as Dawson's Field, a spokesman for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine told viewers why the group had done it: If no one wanted to acknowledge the PFLP's struggle against Israel, the group would force the whole globe to pay attention to it.

The days when the responsibility claim was as much part of an operation as the deed itself may be over. Two days have passed since 17 U.S. sailors were killed when a water-level explosion blew a hole in their destroyer in Aden Harbor, Yemen's deep-water seaport at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, and there has yet to be a believable claim of responsibility for the blast.

The U.S. administration believes the blast was the work of suicide bombers in a small, explosives-packed boat.

Omar Bakri Mohammed, a leader of Al-Muhajiroun, a London-based Arab militant group, said Friday he had received an international telephone call claiming responsibility for the attack on the American ship. It was in the name of ``Muhammad's Army,'' but Bakri expressed some skepticism about the validity of the claim, noting that this group has been limiting its activities to Chechnya and Dagestan provinces in Russia.

Bakri is known to have ties to Osama bin Laden, the Saudi terrorist mastermind blamed by the United States for the 1998 twin bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa.

U.S. officials and experts say the silence on the Aden Harbor attack reflects a trend among today's militant groups. For instance, no one has claimed the bombing of a U.S. Air Force barracks in Saudi Arabia in 1996 that killed 19 military personnel or the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people.

Fear of retaliation and an attempt to make it difficult for intelligence agencies to gather information on them are two reasons why today's militant groups are keeping a low profile.

``In this case, no group wants to leave an address,'' said Vincent Cannistraro, a former chief of counterterrorism at the CIA, referring to the Yemen explosion.

``That's why there have been no authentic claims of responsibility. They understand that there could be retaliation,'' he added.

The U.S. response to the 1998 embassy bombings was swift. American fighter jets bombed bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan suspected of producing chemical weapons agents and of having links to bin Laden. The Sudanese government and the factory owner denied the accusations.

In another terror act, the 1985 hijack of the Achille Lauro cruise liner, intelligence-gathering led to the capture of Youssef al-Magied al-Molqi, one of the hijackers. Al-Molqi, a member of the hard-line Palestine Liberation Front, was seized aboard an Egyptian jet that was intercepted by U.S. warplanes and forced to land in Sicily.

Al-Molqi was sentenced to 30 years in prison in Italy for shooting Leon Klinghoffer, a 69-year-old American tourist in a wheelchair, and dumping his body off the ship. Al-Molqi disappeared in 1996 during a furlough from an Italian prison.

Hassan Abu Taleb, an analyst at Egypt's Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said another reason for anonymity is that the group carrying out the attack may still be small and fragmented and does not want to reveal much about itself before it gets stronger.

As an example, he cited Hezbollah, the Lebanese pro-Iranian group that led the fight against Israel's 18-year occupation of south Lebanon which ended in May. In its formative months, Hezbollah's statements were vaguely worded and didn't give much indication of who exactly was behind the attacks.

After it became established, the group became bolder, voicing responsibility for anti-Israeli and anti-U.S. attacks in leaflets accompanied by video footage or still pictures. When its guerrillas captured three Israeli soldiers along the Lebanese border Oct. 7, the group released photographs purporting to show the vehicle in which the captives were taken into hiding.

Hezbollah-affiliated groups holding U.S. and Western hostages in the 1980s and 1990s issued regular statements outlining their demands for the captives' release with Polaroid pictures or grainy videos of the captives to authenticate their claims.

Abu Taleb said that if terrorism is proved in the Yemen attack, the reason for the silence could be that the perpetrators are part of a tiny group that decided to express outrage at Palestinian causalities in confrontations with the Israelis ``in a one-of-a-kind operation that won't necessarily be followed by similar attacks.''