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Pan Am's Kuwait Ticket Offices Bombed : Blast Points Up Emirate's Vulnerability to Internal Sabotage

October 25, 1987|CHARLES P. WALLACE | Times Staff Writer

KUWAIT — A bomb exploded at the ticket offices of Pan American World Airways here Saturday, notching up tensions in this tiny Persian Gulf emirate following three Iranian missile attacks against the country's oil-exporting facilities.

No injuries were reported in the explosion, which shattered windows in the seaside office building but caused only minor damage. The offices were closed for lunch at the time of the explosion.

Police later detonated another object nearby that had appeared suspicious.

(In Washington, a Pan Am spokesman said the offices are those of a travel agency that sells tickets for the airline in Kuwait. He said the airline does not have flights into Kuwait.)

The bomb blast served to underscore for Kuwait its vulnerability to internal sabotage following Thursday's Silkworm missile attack against the Al Ahmadi oil-exporting terminal.

On Friday, Hashemi Rafsanjani, the Speaker of Iran's Parliament, warned the gulf states to remain neutral in the Iran-Iraq War or face more "invisible shots," which was widely interpreted as a threat to use more Silkworms.

The United States announced after the missile attack Thursday that it would not retaliate against Iran, as it did a week earlier when an Iranian missile hit an American-flagged tanker at the terminal.

Three days after the tanker attack, U.S. forces in the gulf destroyed an Iranian oil platform from which, the Reagan Administration asserted, the Iranians had attacked neutral shipping.

The U.S. announcement caused some consternation among the largely defenseless gulf Arab states, appearing to many as notice to Iran that attacks against mainland targets would not be punished militarily as were raids on shipping.

In Moscow, the official Tass news agency said that the Soviet Union was watching "with much anxiety" the almost daily reports of attacks on Kuwait shipping, civilian and economic targets.

"The Soviet Union has more than once declared its negative view of such actions, regardless of who commits them," a Foreign Ministry statement said. "Armed actions against neutral Kuwait can, all the more so, only draw condemnation. They are unacceptable from the standpoint of either international law or humaneness and morality," the statement said.

"Attempting to draw third countries in the Persian Gulf into the conflict is inadmissible, no matter who makes such attempts," it added.

No Mention of Iran

The statement did not single out Iran.

In the gulf on Saturday, an Iranian gunboat attacked a Panamanian-registered tanker off Dubai.

News agency reports said a fire broke out aboard the 35,800-ton Prosper Venture-L, but the flames were quickly extinguished. There were no injuries.

The ship was carrying crude oil from the Saudi Arabian port of Ras Tannurah to Australia.

The missile attack on Thursday hit the central superstructure of the Al Ahmadi terminal.

Western diplomats said the explosion did "quite a lot of damage" to the terminal's hydraulic system and some damage to its electrical control systems.

Diplomats estimated that it would take between two and three weeks to put the Al Ahmadi facility back in service.

In the meantime, the diplomats said the Kuwaitis were resurrecting a loading system built around an offshore buoy that had been in disuse since the 1970s.

Supertankers were being partially loaded at piers south of the Al Ahmadi complex and then topped off when they were out to sea. The supertankers cannot be fully loaded at the piers because the water is too shallow.

The Kuwaitis are believed to be rushing to set up Hawk missile batteries on the island of Faylakah, about 10 miles northeast of Kuwait, as a defense against the Silkworms, which the Iranians appear to be firing at Kuwait from positions they captured in Iraq's southern Faw Peninsula in 1986.

While capable of hitting a Silkworm, a large part of the Hawk's effectiveness depends on the skill of the operators, diplomats noted.

"Somebody has to be watching the radar when the Silkworm is launched," said one diplomat.

Another option available to the Kuwaitis is the erection of radar decoys near the Al Ahmadi terminal to confuse the primitive radar guidance aboard the Silkworms.

The bomb blast at the Pan Am offices marked a return to internal sabotage, which appeared to have fallen off following the death in July of two Kuwaiti business executives who were apparently attempting to plant a car bomb near the downtown offices of Air France.

Kuwait has been the object of frequent bombs attacks since 1983, when explosives-laden cars were driven into the U.S. and French embassies here, as well as into Kuwaiti installations.

Earlier incidents were attributed to Lebanese or Iraqi terrorists, but in recent months, native Kuwaitis with ties to Iran have been accused of taking part in the violence. The two executives killed in July were from prominent Shia Muslim families in Kuwait.

In line with the increased tension, the emir of Kuwait on Saturday called for a greater U.N. role in solving world conflicts peacefully, according to Reuters news service.

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