- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 21, 2002

ATHENS On an early September morning in 1974, a bomb tore apart a TWA Boeing 707 flying near the Greek island of Corfu. All 88 persons aboard perished.
Almost exactly 27 years later September 11, 2001 the world gaped in disbelief at a new and mind-boggling spectacle waged by a new and elusive breed of terrorists. The two events are separated by a generation, bookends of terrorism's ever more bloody evolution.
The mastermind of that first attack, Palestinian Sabri al-Banna, 65 who operated under the name Abu Nidal, meaning "Father of Struggle" was reported dead Monday after a terrorist career that claimed hundreds of lives. Palestinian officials in the West Bank said his body was found with several bullet wounds two days earlier in his Baghdad home.
For many, the reports of Abu Nidal's demise carried an added epitaph: the symbolic passing of the commando-style terrorism that emerged in the Middle East and was ruthlessly waged for decades by Abu Nidal's Fatah-Revolutionary Council.
In its place has come a menace with greater potential to cause mayhem and foil traditional countermeasures. The new threats led by the al Qaeda movement founded by Osama bin Laden are built around loosely linked cells that do not always rely on a single leader or state sponsor.
This important change obscures any clear target for retaliation and reduces the chance for the type of internal rivalries that shook Abu Nidal's faction.
"Abu Nidal's reported death marks the end for a form of violence that was built on a hierarchy with one clear leader," said Maria Bossi, an analyst of international terrorism based in Athens. "Now we face a network type of terrorism like al Qaeda. Because it is not controlled from one source, it is much more dangerous."
For years, Abu Nidal set a bloody standard in his war to destroy Israel. His weapons were small explosives and automatic weapons.
In 1985, Abu Nidal gunmen simultaneously attacked airports in Rome and Vienna, Austria. Eighteen persons were killed and 120 wounded.
In the following years, however, bomb attacks linked to other Islamic groups grew progressively larger and the targets more audacious: a World Trade Center attack in 1993, the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and the warship USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.
The September 11 attacks raised terrorism to a once-incomprehensible level.
The next possible step is even more frightening. Some evidence suggests al Qaeda was seeking or producing chemical or biological agents. There is also fear that terrorist engineers could eventually produce a crude nuclear device.
The White House has pointed to such concerns in trying to build support for a possible military strike against Iraq where Abu Nidal took refuge in recent years.
"We must be prepared for new types of attacks: chemical, biological, nuclear. Anything could happen," said Koichi Oizumi, an international relations professor at Nihon University in Tokyo, where a doomsday sect sprayed sarin nerve gas into the subways in 1995, killing 12 persons.
Meanwhile, the Internet and cell phones allow worldwide mobility and access to information that could prove useful in making weapons.
"This is really the first truly transnational terrorist group," said Paul Wilkinson, director of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at St. Andrews University in Scotland. "Borderless terrorism is something new and highly dangerous."
In the past, any group with a known power base would risk annihilation for waging a chemical attack or using a weapon capable of causing mass deaths.
"The price they would have to pay would be too high," said Umit Ozdag, head of the Eurasian Strategic Research Center in Ankara, Turkey.
"For example, if Hamas used this against Israel, Israel would retaliate without blinking an eye . Al Qaeda, on the other hand, is not based in any one particular location," he said. "It has left Afghanistan and today is all over the world."
Bruce Hoffman, head of terrorism research for Rand Corp., said al Qaeda apparently learned from some of the flaws in the rigid Abu Nidal group.
"They saw the need to be much more flexible and maintain a steady supply of money, which is crucial to lubricate the wheels of terrorism," he said.
"I don't mean to sound perverse," he added, "but there is maybe a certain nostalgia for the old style of terrorism where there wasn't the threat of loss of life on a massive scale It's a real commentary on how much the world has changed."
But some of the lethal power available to terrorist groups can be traced back to the countries now fearing them, said an Israeli terrorism expert, Mordechai Kedar, a professor at Bar-Ilan University.
The formulas for "killing devices" such as chemical and biological agents were developed by nations before they entered the underworld of terrorism, he noted.
"Terror loves the new killing machines," Mr. Kedar said. "As countries industrialized death, so did the terror progress."

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