Small World

Jewish World Review /June 28, 1999 /15 Tamuz, 5759

Why are we soft on
terrorists who strike
Americans abroad?

By Senator John Ashcroft

DEFENDING AMERICAN CITIZENS is our governmentís highest duty. This sacred duty is fulfilled by protecting Americans at home, and also by safeguarding U.S. citizens abroad. One of the primary threats to our citizens is terrorism, particularly in the battle-scarred Middle East.

Terrorism is a principal weapon of those seeking to threaten the United States and all for which our country stands. Terrorism will continue to be a weapon unless we make clear to the world that we will not tolerate it. We have remained silent far too long, especially in the Middle East.

The Middle East is afflicted by more terrorist activity than any region in the world. Our close ally Israel is often the target of terrorist groups in this region, and the deaths of Americans due to terrorist attacks in Israel are particularly disturbing. Since the Oslo Accords of 1993, at least 12 American citizens have been killed in terrorist attacks in Israel or territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad, two terrorist groups supported by Iran and Syria and dedicated to Israelís destruction, have claimed responsibility for most of these murders. The Israeli people also have suffered intolerably from terrorism. Since the beginning of the Oslo process in 1993, more than 1,000 terrorist attacks have left over 280 Israeli citizens dead (a portion of the Israeli population comparable to 15,000 Americans).

Econophone Outrageously, many terrorists suspected of killing Americans find shelter, and even official positions, in the Palestinian Authority. According to Jean-Claude Niddam of the Israeli Ministry of Justice, for the last four years, Israel has submitted almost 40 official requests to the Palestinian Authority to transfer suspects implicated in terrorism against Israelis and Americans, but has yet to receive a reply. Of 38 requests to arrest and transfer terrorist suspects, only twelve suspects are currently under arrest and seven are serving or served until recently in the Palestinian police force.

According to Mr. Niddam, of eight terrorist suspects involved in terrorist attacks against Americans, three have been detained by the Palestinian Authority. Imjad Hinawi, whose confession to murdering American David Boim was witnessed by a U.S. embassy official present at the Palestinian court trial, remains free of American charges.

Another suspect, Ibrahim Ghanimat, linked to the shooting deaths of Efrat and Yaron Unger, spends his nights in prison but is free during the day. Adnan al-Ghul, Yusuf Samiri, and Mohammad Dief, all suspects involved in the killings of Americans, remain at large. Nafez Sabiˇh, implicated in a bombing that killed three Americans, is believed to have been serving in the Palestinian police force until several months ago.

In recent years, other suspects implicated in the murder of American citizens have served in the Palestinian police force. In July 1998, the Israeli Government released a report stating that four terrorist suspects involved in the February 1996 Jerusalem bus bombing, in which three American citizens were killed, were serving in Palestinian security forces.

In my view, a climate conducive to terrorism is the most serious threat to a lasting peace settlement in the Middle East. When Abu Abbas, the hijacker of the Achille Lauro, lives freely in Gaza and is a close associate of Yasser Arafat; when the Palestinian Authorityís official media arm, the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, airs programming teaching Palestinian children to hate Israelis; when terrorist suspects are given positions in the Palestinian security forces Ė genuine peace is undermined and U.S. interests endangered in the Middle East.

I fear this Administration has not been aggressively pursuing terrorist suspects implicated in the murder of Americans in Israel. Sadly, recent testimony by top Administration officials suggests that our resolve to prosecute these cases is minimal. The written testimony of Martin Indyk, Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East, testifying last March on terrorism against U.S. citizens, failed even to mention these cases. It is time for the United States to get serious about defending its citizens.

While we cannot prevent violence against every American abroad, we must relentlessly pursue terrorists who attack U.S. citizens. On June 22, I successfully added an amendment to the State Department Authorization bill requiring the State Department to compile a report on U.S. citizens killed in terrorist attacks in Israel or in territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority. The report will include a list of terrorist attacks in which U.S. citizens were killed and information on the groups or individuals responsible for the attack.

This report will give Congress the ability to review the Administrationís efforts more effectively. Congress, however, cannot act alone. If we are truly going to make progress in the struggle against terrorism, the Administration must wage a more aggressive campaign against terrorists who have killed Americans. Congress is beginning to confront this critical problem. Now it is time for the Administration to join us in protecting American citizens from cowardly terrorist violence.

Sen. John Ashcroft of Missouri serves on three Senate committees: Judiciary; Commerce, Science, and Transportation; and Foreign Relations. He is the Chairman of Subcommittees on the Constitution (Judiciary), and Consumer Affairs (Commerce). Send your comments to him by clicking here. This column was written exclusively for


©1999, Jewish World Review