September 12, 2001
Pearl Harbor II
Terror attacks leave America stunned
By ERIC MARGOLIS
Contributing Foreign Editor

"An act of war by madmen," is how a European Union spokesman described the almost unimaginable horror that struck the United States yesterday.

The question now is: Which madmen?

Call it Pearl Harbor II. The terror attacks, while certainly not unexpected (predicted in my Sept. 2 column, "Bush's Mideast vanishing act"), were stunning and unprecedented in scale and ferocity.

Four large U.S. airliners were hijacked and turned into kamikazes. Two destroyed New York's trademark World Trade Center. The third slammed into the Pentagon. The fourth, likely en route to the White House when something went wrong, crashed into rural Pennsylvania.

Washington declared "Threatcom Alpha," its highest state of emergency. President George Bush stayed hidden on Air Force One, shuttling between locations. He should have flown immediately to Washington and taken charge. The U.S. was thrown into national panic and paralysis: Major cities were shut down, all flights grounded, ports and borders closed, communications disrupted, Wall Street shut.

Welcome, America, to the western version of the Mideast.

Americans were quick to blame the usual suspects: First and foremost, Islamic militant, Osama bin Laden, who is hiding out in central Afghanistan; then Afghanistan's rulers, the Taliban; and various extreme Palestinian groups. Three weeks ago, bin Laden warned of "unprecedented attacks" on the U.S. because of its total support of Israel.

Other groups, however, cannot be discounted.

The Oklahoma City bombing showed there are Americans filled with hatred for Washington. New York City's large Jewish population and its influence on Wall Street are a staple hatred for American neo- Nazis. Serb extremists have repeatedly vowed to punish the U.S.

The fact is, none of the Mideast groups battling Israel have ever mounted an operation of the size, sophistication or co-ordination seen in yesterday's attacks. Even the bombings of the USS Cole in Yemen and two U.S. embassies in East Africa were small operations compared to yesterday's attacks.

The only insurgent groups who have shown themselves capable of mounting complex terror-sabotage operations are Colombia's Marxist FARC rebels and Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers, who recently blew up much of their nation's fleet of airliners in a suicide assault. FARC, which is battling the U.S.-armed and financed Colombian Army, is suspect, but has not used suicide squads. Nor have possible European terrorists, like the Red Brigades.

Back to the Mideast. The Arab and Muslim worlds are filled with enemies of America. The U.S. arms, finances and protects Israel, whose repression of Palestinians is broadcast nightly on TV to 1.2 billion Muslims.

Five hundred Palestinian children have been killed or wounded to date by Israeli soldiers, provoking threats of revenge from Morocco to Indonesia. Israel's campaign of assassinating Palestinian leaders has also produced vows of retaliation against Israel and the U.S., which is seen to have encouraged the killings.

ISRAELI ASSASSINATION

Most significant was Israel's assassination in late August of Abu Ali Mustafa, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. His supporters threatened "devastating" attacks on the U.S. I met PFLP's founder, George Habash, in Libya in 1988. He was the most determined of Israel's foes, but his group has been quiet for the past decade. Another highly suspect group is the little-known Egyptian Al-Jihad, whose leader, Sheik Omar, was jailed in the U.S. in connection with the first World Trade Center bombing, in 1993. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is not now considered a suspect.

Over the past 25 years, the U.S. has bombed or committed acts of war against Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan and Serbia, creating a large pool of potential enemies thirsting for revenge. Other pure terrorist groups, such as Abu Nidal and the Japanese Red Army, still lurk in the shadows.

The quadruple hijackings required four terrorists capable of piloting modern fly-by-wire commercial jets who were imbued with sufficient passion and hatred to kill themselves and hundreds -- or even thousands -- of innocent people. At least three to four hijackers must have smuggled weapons aboard each aircraft. All this was planned and executed without the slightest notice by U.S. security agencies.

America will likely vent its national fury by attacking Afghanistan and possibly Sudan, Syria, Iraq and southern Lebanon. Early reports claiming bin Laden authored the attacks must be treated cautiously. The actual terrorists may remain undiscovered for some time. They may be freelance terrorists or a cell with no direct links to bin Laden or Afghanistan.

Whatever the case, America's many enemies must be elated. The world's greatest power has been savagely punished and reduced to terror and panic by an invisible enemy. Who could have imagined seeing staffers running in terror from the White House or New York turned into a smouldering version of the West Bank?

Damage will run into tens of billions of dollars. Ironically, President Bush, who has devoted so much energy to anti-missile defence, has seen his nation terrorized by old-fashioned kamikaze bombers. Americans are experiencing the terror and agony Mideasterners - Arabs, Israelis, Iranians and Kurds - have known for the past 50 years.

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