WASHINGTON — International terrorism abated in much of the world in 1987, but a barrage of terrorist acts inside Pakistan already has raised the worldwide total of incidents above the 774 recorded in all of 1986, a panel of private and government experts reported Monday.
One expert, Yonah Alexander of the State University of New York, forecast a "very bleak" 1988, with overseas terrorist attacks again on the rise, especially against American targets abroad.
Internationally sponsored terrorist groups have not struck inside the United States this year, but growing U.S. military activity in the Persian Gulf boosts the potential for attacks inside American borders during 1988, Steven Pomerantz, the FBI's top counterterrorism expert said.
The officials, from the FBI, State and Justice departments, Pentagon and Congress, spoke at an annual review of terrorism prepared by the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai Brith. They concluded that growing international cooperation in the war against terrorists is being matched by the increasing shrewdness and audacity of the terrorists themselves.
"Terrorists are increasingly aware of what will play in Peoria and what will play on Capitol Hill," said Peter Probst, a special assistant on counterterrorism at the Defense Department. "We cannot let our guard down."
Probst said that the Pentagon has reported 777 acts of international terrorism so far this year, according to preliminary figures, close to the record of 782 attacks worldwide registered in 1985. The figures do not include acts involving domestic groups, such as the war of terror being waged by Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), an organization of Maoist guerrillas in Peru.
Attacks this year have claimed 2,000 casualties in 80 nations, Probst said. More than 25% of the incidents were directed against American citizens or facilities.
Roughly 90 of the 1987 incidents occurred in Pakistan, home to millions of refugees from the war in neighboring Afghanistan and a funnel for weapons and supplies flowing to Afghan resistance fighters battling Soviet troops.
Terrorist acts in Pakistan, apparently backed by the Communist Afghan regime, accounted for four of every five incidents of state-sponsored terrorism recorded this year, said Donald R. Hamilton, a State Department counterterrorism official.
Incidents elsewhere generally declined during the first half of 1987, in part because terrorist groups were temporarily forced further underground by the United States' retaliatory air raids on Libya in 1986 and by FBI efforts to apprehend terrorists this year.
The FBI actions, capped by the Sept. 18 capture of accused airline hijacker Fawaz Younis on a yacht in the Mediterranean Sea, sent a "very forceful message . . . that you can run, but you can't hide," the FBI's Pomerantz said.
Nevertheless, "it is clear that the threat against Americans abroad remains very, very high," he said. Other experts said intelligence reports suggest that plotting of terrorist attacks against Americans by Iran and others have increased rapidly since June.
Alexander, who heads the Institute for Studies in International Terrorism at the State University of New York, predicted that the continued spread of Islamic fundamentalism through Asia and Africa will lead to a "very bleak" year in the battle against terrorism in 1988.
"We are going to see some problems all the way from the Philippines to Italy to Egypt," Alexander said.