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Last Updated:4/24/02
Testimony of Mark Wong, Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism, U.S. Department of State, April 24, 2002
MARK F. WONG

ACTING COORDINATOR FOR COUNTERTERRORISM

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

BEFORE THE

COMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

"THE IRA IN COLOMBIA – THE GLOBAL LINKS OF INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM"

APRIL 24, 2002

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee,

I am pleased to be here today to speak to you about the global reach of terrorist organizations. I’ll also address the international activities of several organizations previously believed to operate on a strictly local or regional basis, such as the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC.)

Terrorist groups, just like businesses, are "going global" -- although for nefarious reasons. Globalization allows terror groups to increase their reach and effectiveness, while decreasing the risk of a catastrophic counter-attack. It enables them to build ties with other terrorist groups.

AL QA’IDA

The most prominent example of the globalization of terror is al Qa’ida. One of the most iron ic aspects of al-Qa’ida is the manner in which Usama bin Laden and his operatives – who are known to espouse a quasi-medieval worldview -- have exploited the very international communications and financial mechanisms that they profess to wish to destroy. Bruce Hoffman of the RAND Corporation has compared bin Laden to a modern Chief Executive Officer of a large multinational business. He describes al Qa’ida as an umbrella organization that allows disparate and far-flung cells - sub-organizations with similar worldview and objectives -- to operate in a concerted manner using al Qa’ida funds, but having only limited direct contact with headquarters. Al-Qa’ida’s verified presence in more than half of the countries of the world speaks volumes about its level of sophistication, and further underscores their current posture as "enemy number one" of the United States and most of the free world.

Al-Qa’ida is the most visible of the terrorist organizations with global reach, but, unfortunately, it is not the only one. In the post 9/11 world, the intense focus of our intelligence and law enforcement organizations on terrorism has helped us uncover valuable data on terrorism’s evolving international aspect. Their analysis points to terrorist groups that have a mature operating structure, with the sophistication to support international cells with dedicated objectives. Lebanese Hizballah is a notable example.

HIZBALLAH

Hizballah is a multi-faceted, multinational organization with broader penetration in the Western Hemisphere than any other terrorist organization. Hizballah has a presence in virtually every country in North and South America, including the United States and Canada. Hizballah relies upon legal and illegal business activities to help fund their operations in the Middle East. Those operations include legitimate humanitarian and religious enterprises, but they also include terrorism.

Hizballah’s Islamic Jihad Organization, or IJO, headed by Imad Mugniyah, is blamed for killing more Americans overseas than any other terrorist organization, including al Qa’ida. Hizballah’s IJO is believed responsible for the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, and a Hizballah explosives expert is believed to have constructed the bomb with which Saudi Hizballah attacked Khobar towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996. In Latin America, Hizballah is the prime suspect in the 1992 bombing of Israeli Embassy in Argentina and of the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israel Mutual Association (AMIA) Cultural Center. In short, Hizballah has global reach and a bloody track record in this hemisphere.

I would like to turn to international terrorist threats to Americans and American interests in our own hemisphere. In doing so, I will also examine the disturbing prospect of collaboration among terrorist groups, including the FARC-IRA connection that I understand to be of particular interest to this Committee. To illustrate these connections, and to prepare the ground for our distinguished international visitor, General Tapias, I will use Colombia as an example.

COLOMBIA’S WORSENING TERRORIST SITUATION

Colombia, statistically, is the world’s most terrorism-afflicted nation. In 2001, for example, 55 percent of all terrorist attacks on U.S. interests abroad occurred in Colombia. Colombia suffered more terrorist abductions than were recorded in the rest of the world’s countries combined. These abductions include five American citizens in 2001 and more than 70 Americans in the past decade. Of those abductees, 13 were murdered, and three more remain unaccounted for.

The 16,000 member FARC is the world’s largest terrorist organization and perhaps its richest, while the 9,000 member United Defense Group of Colombia (AUC) is Latin America’s largest right-wing paramilitary organization. And the Government of Colombia – Latin America’s oldest democracy – has yet to come to terms with yet a third terrorist organization, the 4,000 member National Liberation Army, or ELN. 1 All three groups are formally designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the Department of State.

With such a formidable array of terrorists struggling to destabilize the democratically-elected Colombian government, it is especially frustrating to see indications of the arrival of an extraterritorial player such as members of the Irish Republican Army.

FARC-IRA Linkage

On the alleged connection between the FARC and the Provisional IRA2, I would like to start by commending this Committee for undertaking an exhaustive investigation that necessitated thousands of travel miles and many hours of interviews. I would also like to note that the criminal proceedings against the three presumed IRA operatives in Colombia are ongoing, and that our government believes Colombia’s judicial processes should be allowed to reach their conclusions unhindered by anything we say here today. The Colombians have made it clear that this case is important to them, and we believe that justice will be done there.

With that said, we cannot ignore the fact that, since January 1, the FARC has dramatically increased the tempo and nature of their attacks on civilians and infrastructure in Colombia. We have also seen a jump in sophistication in the use of explosives and other urban terror tactics that are similar to those employed by the IRA. Again, we are counting on the Colombian legal system to uncover the truth in this situation. If the three men in question are proved to have aided and abetted the FARC, thereby increasing FARC ability to kill, maim and terrorize civilians, we hope the Colombian judge will sentence these men in a manner commensurate with such a crime.

The Administration has made it abundantly clear to all parties involved that we have no tolerance for any support for the FARC from the IRA. If we were to discover evidence of any such on-going support, it would raise fundamental questions for U.S. foreign policy. We also remain concerned about the potential of any past relationship between the FARC and the IRA to affect stability in Colombia as well as U.S. interests there. Our primary focus remains on ensuring that there is no current or future cooperation between these organizations.

CONCLUSION

Before concluding, I would like to mention a few positive developments related to the international nature of terrorism. First, in terms of globalization, the terrorists have nothing on the U.S.-led anti-terrorism coalition. Our response to international terrorists is to attack them internationally. We are fighting terror at home and abroad through military action, diplomacy, intelligence, financial coordination, law enforcement, humanitarian programs, and public relations. What makes the current campaign so effective is the breadth and depth of our coordinated approach, and our commitment not only to keeping the political will of our partners focused on the task at hand, but in building their own internal capacities to fight terrorism.

With that concept in mind, I wish to conclude these remarks with a reiteration of the Administration’s request, outlined in the recent emergency counterterrorism supplemental request, that we be given the tools we need to fight the war on terrorism effectively. These tools include expanding our legal authorities in Colombia to address the reality of terrorism. I would be happy to take your questions. Thank you.

As of April 24, 2002, this document was also available online at http://www.house.gov/international_relations/wong0424.htm
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