As Radicalism Declines, Terrorism Surges Waning of Mass Movements Has Caused Hard-Line Extremists to Grow More Violent

By Jonathan S. Landay, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 20, 1998 | Go to article overview

As Radicalism Declines, Terrorism Surges Waning of Mass Movements Has Caused Hard-Line Extremists to Grow More Violent


Jonathan S. Landay, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Hundreds of marines rush to Albania to protect a hurriedly downsized United States embassy. US diplomatic facilities in Pakistan close, and hundreds of American diplomats and citizens evacuate. A global travel advisory is issued to Americans.

In the two weeks since the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, a flurry of new anti-American threats - set against the backdrop of Northern Ireland's bloodiest bomb blast - are keeping apprehensions about terrorism on the boil.

"All our missions overseas are operating on a heightened state of alert," says a US official. "We've received numerous threats since the {East Africa} bombings."

As authorities pursue those responsible for the deaths of 257 people in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam, a major question officials are now wrestling with is whether the US is facing a new upsurge in terrorism.

Some contend it is too soon to say. Others say there are credible reasons to worry about increasing foreign and domestic terrorism. Beneath the concerns over possible escalations in terrorism lies a common thread. Experts say extremist movements - from Islamic radicalism abroad to the "patriot" movement in the US - are losing steam. As a result, the most extreme adherents may feel driven to reassert themselves by greater acts of violence.

This has been a trend throughout the history of political violence. It began in the late 19th century when what are considered the first modern terrorist groups emerged in czarist Russia following the failure of a mass movement for the betterment of the penurious peasantry.

"The decline of mass movements seems to be related to the emergence of terrorist groups," says Leonard Weinberg, an expert on political violence at the University of Nevada at Reno.

Terrorism's toll

To be sure, international terrorist actions have become more deadly in terms of the numbers of victims, but the number of them have dropped precipitously during the past decade. Some experts attribute the decline to improved security efforts, greater cooperation between states, and a post-cold war drop in government support for radical groups.

Still, the threats by Muslim radicals - the latest of which was received on Tuesday by an Arabic-language newspaper in London - has others more concerned.

The note was sent in the name of the Islamic International Front for Fighting Jews and Crusaders. It is a group wedded to ending the US military presence in Saudi Arabia - the site of Islam's two holiest shrines - and dealing a mortal blow to Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, which have been on the brink of collapse for months.

The front's leaders include Osama bin Laden, the scion of a wealthy Saudi family who is a prime suspect in the Kenya and Tanzania bombings. Two other suspects were arrested earlier this week as they tried to enter Afghanistan from Pakistan.

For his part, Mr. bin Laden has helped fund and train Muslims who fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and has been linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and two attacks on US troops in Saudi Arabia. …

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