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TERROR IN OKLAHOMA CITY : Friend, Foe United in Vilifying Attack : Reaction: Compassion for victims' families, disgust at blast's callousness run as common threads through world leaders' responses.

April 21, 1995|From Times Wire Services

America's friends and foes alike on Thursday condemned the devastating car-bomb attack in Oklahoma City, with even Islamic fundamentalists who have spearheaded similar attacks against Israel expressing disapproval.

Common threads in the international reaction to the tragedy were compassion for the victims' families and disgust at the callousness of the attack, as world leaders wrote to President Clinton and released statements to convey their sympathy to the American people.

Islamic militant leaders in the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip said their organizations opposed the bombing.

"We as a movement reject this kind of action," said Saiyed abu Musameh, a leader of the militant Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas. "The Islamic movement's field of action is inside Palestine against the Israeli occupation forces. There is no hostility between us and the American people or any other people on Earth."

Sheik Nafez Azzam, a leader of the smaller Islamic Jihad, also denied that his group was involved.

But Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, whose country has suffered from suicide bombings by both groups, said he did not believe the Islamic militants were being sincere.

"I don't say Hamas did it, but a movement which is engaged in the killing of innocent people cannot be taken seriously when it makes a public declaration," he told Israel Television.

Iran, which Washington alleges is the top sponsor of international terrorism, on Thursday also condemned the bombing "for destroying the lives of innocent people," but said U.S. policies were to blame.

"Terrorism is the big plague of our century, victimizing many nations," said state-run Tehran Radio in a commentary monitored by the British Broadcasting Corp. "But unfortunately the evil policies of hegemonist powers and governments have laid the grounds for such incidents."

Throughout the Middle East, however, other leaders were quick to send their condolences.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin sent a telegram to Clinton expressing "sorrow and the pain at the explosion."

"The terror must be cut off before it hits again. The government of Israel and the people of Israel are ready to give all assistance if needed due to our large and sad experience in such cases," Rabin said.

Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said: "I have already sent many condolences to the President of the United States."

Ahmed Baqer, an Islamic fundamentalist member of Kuwait's Parliament, said: "This is a criminal act. No religion and no law permit such acts. A lot of civilians and children were killed. This is against human rights. This is against logic. We as a movement reject this kind of action."

Throughout the day Thursday, words of sympathy poured in from traditional U.S. allies and from nations that have more prickly relations with Washington.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II told Clinton in a message: "I was shocked and distressed to learn of the terrible bomb explosion in Oklahoma City which has resulted in so many deaths and injuries. The Duke of Edinburgh joins me in sending through you, Mr. President, our deepest sympathy to the families of all those affected."

Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao of India, whose nation has not always seen eye to eye with Washington, expressed horror and grief. "We were horrified to hear about the barbaric terrorist attack in Oklahoma that took so many innocent lives," he wrote to Clinton.

International terrorism is "a scourge of our times, unmindful of the value of human life, murderous in its objectives and outrageous in its means. . . . India stands by all those who are determined to rid our world of this dreadful menace," Rao said.

In Moscow, Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigory Karasin said Russians were shocked by news of the bombing and grieved along with Americans. France offered to send a special rescue unit that had helped search for survivors after the January earthquake in Kobe, Japan.

Other words of concern arrived from Canada, South Korea, the Philippines, Portugal, New Zealand, Australia, Turkey, the 15-nation European Union and elsewhere.

British terrorism experts and commentators, whose own country has long suffered as a target of terrorism, seasoned their sympathy with cautions that Americans may not be as prepared to face the high price of such violence as other nations.

"In Europe, we have become grimly inured to the horrible realities of terrorism, but in America a blast like the one which ripped through the middle of downtown Oklahoma City yesterday carries with it psychological reverberations for which the American public is almost wholly unprepared," columnist Ben Macintyre wrote in Thursday's Times of London.

"Since its founding, the country has rested on the comfortable belief that it is all but invulnerable to terrorist attacks on innocent civilians on its home territory."

Noted Conor Gearty, a terrorism expert at King's College at the University of London: "If it had happened in New York or Los Angeles, it would have been less incomprehensible, but Oklahoma City represents middle America, and that will add to people's fear."

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