Dormant terror groups awaken
Attacks in Peru and Italy indicate post-9/11 boldness.
PARIS — Two terror attacks on two continents this week, attributed to groups the authorities thought they had beaten long ago, suggest just how hard it is to win a war against terrorism.
On Wednesday in Lima, Peru, in the worst example of anti-American violence since the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington, a package under a car exploded outside the US Embassy, killing nine people. Local terrorism experts said the attack bore the hallmarks of Shining Path, a Maoist revolutionary organization that was almost wiped out 10 years ago.
On Tuesday night, a labor adviser to the Italian government was gunned down as he cycled home after work in Bologna. The Red Brigades for the Building of a Fighting Communist Party apparently an offshoot from the extreme leftist group active in the 1970s claimed responsibility for Marco Biagi's murder on Thursday.
The resurgence of the two small, locally based groups highlights the difficulty of battling Al-Qaeda, an international, widespread organization, say analysts. While the Lima attack raises questions about whether Al Qaeda's successful Sept. 11 attack is emboldening other groups, most experts don't see a link. But they agree this week's attacks are cause for concern.
"We really cannot win the war against al-Qaeda," says Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert at St. Andrews University in Scotland. "We can degrade and contain it, and we have to do so offensively."
"The most likely way to defeat a terrorist group is to bring it into the political arena, rather than in the terrorist or insurgent arena," argues Chris Aaron, editor of Janes Intelligence Review. But in the case of Al-Qaeda, "there is no political solution", says Mr. Aaron, since participants in a global jihad see nothing to gain from compromising with the enemy.
The Red Brigades' last attack occurred in 1999, when gunmen killed another labor adviser to the government, Massimo D'Antona. Like Biagi, he had been drafting legislation that would make it easier for firms to fire their workers.
In an e-mail sent Thursday to a regional news agency website in Italy, the Red Brigades said Biagi's killing was part of a wider fight against "imperialism." The statement praised the September 11th attacks for showing "how it is possible to carry out highly destructive attacks in enemy territory, with destabilizing effects, without the use of technologically advanced weapons."
Italian officials said they did not fear a return to the so-called "years of lead," in the 1970's and 1980's, when Red Brigades' cells killed 420 people, including their most famous victim, former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro. "We are dealing with small, isolated groups, the ideological heirs of the earlier Red Brigades" said Giovanni Pellegrino, head of parliament's terrorism committee, in a radio interview. "I do not believe in a return to the violent epidemic of before."
Neither did the bomb attack outside the US Embassy in Lima three days before President George Bush is due to visit Peru - appear to herald a return to the all-out war that Shining Path waged against the government during the 1980s.
Shining Path was all but demolished in 1992, when its charismatic leader, Abimael Guzmán, was captured, along with almost all the group's military and political leadership. Six hundred Shining Path members are currently in jail around the country. In recent months, however, there have been signs that survivors are seeking to reorganize and rejuvenate their movement, using funds raised from cocaine production in remote rural areas.
"Obviously, the visit of President Bush has encouraged terrorists to up their actions. We have not discounted anything," says a high-ranking official in Peru's Interior Ministry. "Could this be related to a newfound courage because of the attacks against the United States? Certainly. These groups are always looking for a pretext to justify their actions."
In a confidential report last December, the Interior Ministry warned that Shining Path was seeking to establish a presence in Lima, blaming members of the group for anti-American graffiti such as "Yanquis out of Afghanistan." The report also detailed the arrest of two Shining Path militants in possession of maps and drawings of the US embassy. Peruvian officials say Shining Path now has no more than 400 members, most of them hiding deep in the jungle. But the US State Department said in its annual human rights report that the group carried out 103 acts of violence last year, killing 31 people. That continued activityshows how elusive complete military victory is, say experts.
And the Red Brigades' latest attack shows that even if the killers have no organizational links with their forebears (nobody has been arrested for D'Antona's 1999 murder), they can seize their antecedents' icons to symbolize their cause. The old Red Brigades' five-pointed star was found scratched on the wall of Mr. Biagi's house after his death.
"It is very hard to say" who exactly killed Biagi, notes French intelligence expert Guillaume Dasquié. "Anyone can take the old symbols, but it doesn't mean they have any real links with the old groups."
At the same time, adds Dr. Ranstorp, "the availability of expertise in explosives and terrorists' ability to communicate undetected" over the Internet means that "terrorism is unstoppable. All you need is a couple of guys wanting to cause mayhem."
The British government dealt with the Irish Republican Army both militarily and politically, entering into negotiations, and that's how the Colombian authorities were, until recently, seeking to handle armed left-wing revolutionaries in the FARC. But even when that approach succeeds, splinter groups who do not want to enter the political process may break away.
"You can't destroy these networks, but you can keep them on the move," says Prof. Michael Clarke, head of the Centre for Defence Studies at King's College in London. "Fighting terrorism is like fighting crime," he says. "You cannot beat it, but you can stop it getting worse."
Courtney Walsh in Rome and Lucien O. Chauvin in Lima contributed to this report.