Patterns of Global Terrorism 1997 - Colombia

Continued violence in Colombia accounted for the bulk of international terrorist incidents in Latin America during 1997. There were 107 such incidents last year, mostly oil pipeline bombings. Fueled by revenues from kidnapping, extortion, and ties to narcotraffickers, the country's two major terrorist groups, the FARC and the ELN, carried out numerous armed attacks and bombings targeting both civilians and security forces. The groups' activities often spilled over into neighboring Panama and Venezuela. In an effort to disrupt municipal elections in October, the terrorists further intensified their activities by threatening, kidnapping, and murdering candidates and local officeholders. ELN terrorists also kidnapped two election observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) in October and held them hostage for nine days. Rightwing paramilitary groups responded with their own campaign of violence and committed several assassinations and massacres targeting the terrorists and their alleged sympathizers.

Terrorists frequently directed attacks against foreign oil and mining companies operating in the Colombian countryside, both to disrupt the country's economy and to protest what they see as foreign exploitation of Colombia's resources. The violence hit the oil sector the hardest. Terrorists sabotaged oil pipelines owned jointly by the Colombian Government and Western companies some 90 times in 1997, causing extensive ecological damage and forcing Occidental Petroleum to suspend production temporarily in August.

Colombian terrorists continued to rely on ransoms from the kidnapping of foreigners and wealthy Colombians as a major source of funds for their insurgent activities, resulting in a heightened threat to US citizens. Since 1980 at least 85 US citizens have been kidnapped in Colombia, most by the country's terrorist groups. The terrorists were still holding four US citizens hostage at yearend: three missionaries abducted by the FARC in 1993 and a geologist kidnapped by the ELN in February 1997. Two other US citizens kidnapped earlier in the year obtained their release in November. Frank Pescatore, a US geologist and mining consultant, was kidnapped by the FARC in December 1996 and later killed by his captors; his body was discovered 23 February 1997.

Opponents of extradition legislation that was before the Colombian congress in 1997 repeatedly turned to terrorist tactics to generate pressure for their cause. Individuals identifying themselves as members of the "Extraditables," a narcotrafficker-sponsored group whose terrorist attacks in the late 1980s and early 1990s forced Bogota to ban the extradition of Colombians to the United States, sent written death threats to several Colombian newspapers and foreign journalists in April. In September police defused a 550-pound car bomb outside the offices of a newspaper in Medellin, an incident that was later claimed on behalf of the Extraditables. Police have been unable to verify the authenticity of the claims.


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