Untangling latest Mideast violence. Attacks in Turkey and Pakistan said to be deliberately misleading
Amid a welter of conflicting claims for responsibility and other confusing signals, the latest upsurge of Middle East violence has left a trail of questions in its wake: Who was behind the Karachi hijacking and the Istanbul synagogue massacre, and were the events linked?Skip to next paragraph
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Do the attacks, coming at a time of overt threats from the United States against the sponsors of terrorism, mean that terrorists have found ways of striking without implicating any state sponsors?
Rarely after such attacks has there been so much uncertainty over the affiliation, motives, and objectives of the assailants. (US reaction to attacks, Page 3.)
Observers speculate that the confusion may be deliberate. In the current climate, anyone leaving an address tag on such outrages might expect swift retribution. None of the claims of responsibility for either attack was particularly convincing, and given their conflicting nature, some were clearly seen as red herrings.
In the case of the Pan Am hijacking in Karachi, two organizations said they were responsible.
An Arabic-speaking man claiming to represent the hitherto unheard-of ``Libyan Revolutionary Cells'' phoned a statement to a news agency in Nicosia. Libya's name, however, has never been openly tagged to any terrorist operation in the past. For it to be so now, with the US already straining at the leash, would be downright suicidal, analysts say. Reacting swiftly, Libyan state radio broadcast a lengthy denial, and accused the US and Israel of trying to frame Libya as pretext for aggression.
A statement issued in Beirut claimed responsibility in the name of ``Jundallah'' (Army of God), a known organization of mainly Sunni Muslim fundamentalists. The statement, laced with anti-American jargon and references to Pakistani politics, did not shed any light on the demands or immediate motives of the hijackers.
The main demand apparently made by the hijackers -- to fly to Cyprus and free jailed ``friends'' there -- added confusion. The only likely candidates for such a bid are two Palestinians and an Englishman who received life terms last December for the September killing of three Israelis in Cyprus. The three men are known to belong to the Palestine Liberation Organization's ``Force 17,'' a commando unit loyal to PLO chief Yasser Arafat.
However, the PLO has condemned such actions, and is maneuvering to gain admission to Middle East peace moves. To carry out a hijacking now, would defeat that end, observers here say. However, they do not exclude the possibility that wayward elements of Force 17 might have acted independently to free their comrades.
The demand also raises questions about the real aims of the hijacking, which seemed carefully planned and organized. If the gunmen had succeeded in freeing the prisoners, where would they have then sought refuge?
In the current climate, no Arab state would dare touch them, analysts agree. The Beirut airport has often been a haven in the past for Shiite Muslim hijackers, but not for Palestinians. It is now under the control Syrian security forces who, along with the local Shiite Amal movement, are fiercely hostile to the PLO.