12 September 2001

WTC Attacks: The U.S. will now look for revenge, but against whom?

12 September 2001
The Times of India

NEWS ANALYSIS/World Trade Center attacks

U.S. will now look for revenge, but against whom?

By Siddharth Varadarajan
Times News Network

NEW DELHI: Though the identity of the group which masterminded Tuesday's terrorist outrages is still not known, the Bush administration is most likely to work on two inter-related suppositions: That those involved are linked to the phantom organisation of Afghanistan-based Saudi millionaire Osama Bin Laden, or the shadowy sub-network to which the convicted terrorist and would-be hijacker, Ramzi Yousef, presumably belonged.

However, given the fact that the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City - for which an American right-wing fanatic was eventually convicted - was wrongly thought to be the handiwork of 'Arab' or 'Islamic' terrorists, US law enforcement agencies will now want to actively pursue all possible theories.

The US has linked Osama to the 1998 bombing of its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and considers the Saudi militant its most dangerous and dedicated international opponent. Osama - who was trained and supported by the CIA during the Afghan civil war - is reported to have made threats to bomb a US airliner two years ago and at least one Arabic language newspaper now claims that they had heard his supporters warn of a spectacular action against the US as recently as three weeks back.

Ramzi Yousef was convicted with two others in New York in 1996 of plotting to hijack 12 US airliners and then plunge them into the sea with high-powered explosives. This plan was apparently hatched in Manila but Ramzi fled to Pakistan when an accidental fire led to its premature discovery. The Pakistani authorities arrested him and he was immediately handed over to US agents and flown across to New York.

Though US law enforcement officials see a link between Ramzi and Osama, the fact that he carried a fake Iraqi passport has led some Saddam-baiting US analysts to conclude that he is working for the Saddam Hussein regime, a charge Baghdad has strenuously denied.

Given the scale of death and destruction caused by Tuesday's incidents, President George W. Bush is bound to be under pressure to retaliate in some way. Afghanistan (the Taliban) and Iraq are the two countries most likely to face US action.

In the past, the US has hit out wildly at those countries thought to be involved in anti-American acts of terrorism - often with disastrous effect and in violation of international law.

Following the 1998 embassy bombings, the Clinton administration attacked a medicine factory in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum claiming that it was a "chemical weapons factory" owned by Osama. And in 1986, president Reagan attacked Libya following the terrorist bombing of a Berlin disco. In neither case had any link between the bombed country's government and the terrorist outrage been firmly established.

Though Palestinian groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine are considered least likely to be involved with Tuesday's outrages - the DFLP has in fact issued a public denial - the destruction of the World Trade Centre and part of the Pentagon will have a huge impact on the West Asian peace process. At street level on the Gaza Strip and West Bank, the hijackings-bombings are being seen as a body blow to the US for backing Israel. But far from easing the situation for the Palestinians, the mind-numbing terrorism witnessed in New York and Washington can only skew US policy even further towards the Israeli regime.

Perhaps most of all, it is the Taliban of Afghanistan who will come under the closest scrutiny in the days and weeks to come. The Taliban may not directly be suspects - and they have also formally denied any involvement. But they are already under limited UN sanctions for not helping to extradite Osama Bin Laden and a further toughening of these measures cannot be ruled out.

This in turn will put greater pressure on Pakistan - the Taliban's principal backer -- which has so far ignored the embargo on arms sales and military support to Afghanistan.

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