The September 11 attacks have been viewed as a continuation of a series of deadly terrorist activities that had taken place overseas. In the late twentieth century, terrorism became a tool of political groups in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. The growth of international terrorism led to KIDNAPPINGS, HIJACKING of airplanes, bombing of airplanes and buildings, and armed attacks on government and public facilities. In the 1980s, several countries, including Libya, Iran, and Iraq, were identified as supporting international terrorism by providing training, weapons, and safe havens.
Interests of the United States overseas were major targets of terrorism. In November 1979, a group of Islamic students overran the U.S. embassy in Iran and took many hostages. Although some of the hostages were later freed, the Iranians detained 52 American hostages for a period of 444 days until they were released in January 1981, just after the swearing-in of President RONALD REAGAN. In 1983, a 12,000-pound truck bomb exploded in a U.S. compound in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 241 American soldiers.
By the 1990s, the terrorist organization al Qaeda (Arabic for "the Base"), led by Saudi dissident Osama Bin Laden, developed as the primary culprit in terrorist attacks on U.S. interests at home and abroad. Al Qaeda is believed to be responsible for the 1993 attacks on the World Trade Center and, later, the September 11 attacks. On August 7, 1998, truck bombs exploded nearly simultaneously at the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. The blasts killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and injured another 4,600. Four members of al Qaeda were later convicted for their part in the bombings. In October 2000, an al Qaeda operative conducted a suicide attack on the U.S.S. Cole, resulting in the deaths of 17 sailors and injuries to over 30 others.
The activities of Bin Laden and al Qaeda were well known prior to the September 11 attacks. Bin Laden had issued a religious edict, known as a fatwah, calling for attacks on U.S. troops and civilians.
Although many members of al Qaeda are Middle-Eastern, U.S. officials, in 2001, captured John Philip Walker Lindh, a U.S. citizen who had trained with terrorist organizations in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Lindh fought for the Taliban government of Afghanistan even after the September 11 attacks. Lindh, who became known as the "American Taliban," was indicted on ten counts, including conspiracy to murder U.S. nationals. He reached a plea bargain with federal prosecutors and pleaded guilty to supplying services to the Taliban. In October 2000, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The United States has responded to international terrorist organizations and the nations that support them through a variety of military actions. In March 1986, President Reagan ordered the military to conduct a strike on Libya, which was believed to have been responsible for the bombing of a nightclub in Germany as well as other terrorist acts. After the embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, President Clinton ordered strikes on al Qaeda military camps in Afghanistan. However, these attacks appeared to have little effect upon the terrorist activities of the organizations that perpetrated the violent acts.
Following the September 11 attacks, the United States changed its strategy regarding terrorists significantly. President Bush announced that the United States would consider nations that harbor terrorists as equally responsible for terrorist activities. In the latter part of 2001, the United States led an international coalition that removed the Taliban regime from power in Afghanistan. In March 2003, the United States led another coalition in an attack on Iraq, which the Bush administrated asserted had supported terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda. Within weeks, Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein, was removed from power.
The attacks on Iraq did not receive support from a number of nations, including traditional U.S. allies Germany and France. Moreover, the removal of the regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq did not appear to end the threat of terrorism in the Middle East or elsewhere. In May 2003, shortly after the United States declared that the active phases of its armed military operations in Iraq had concluded, terrorists bombed residential compounds in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killing at least 34 people, including nine Americans. Four days after the Saudi Arabia attacks, bombs erupted in Casablanca, Morocco, killing 43 people. Authorities suspect that al Qaeda operatives were responsible.
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