Victories and losses in war on terror Two trials: Justice prevails in recent trials, but there are more surely challenges to come.

November 17, 1997

THE CONVICTION if Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, captured in Pakistan in 1995, for planning the 1993 bombing of the New York World Trade Center, was a triumph of justice and international cooperation against terrorism. So was the conviction, in the same trial in New York Monday, of Eyad Ismoil, captured in Jordan in 1995, of driving the truck bomb into the World Trade Center.

With four perpetrators of that atrocity convicted in 1994, and one fugitive still sought, that crime has largely been addressed. Similarly, on Monday in Fairfax, Va., Mir Aimal Kasi, a Pakistani captured in Afghanistan this year and brought here through Pakistan, was convicted of the 1993 shooting of five CIA employees, killing two, at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.

Yousef told a captor his motive was anger at Israel, with the U.S. an easier target. Kasi was angry at the U.S. attack on Iraq in defense of Kuwait in 1991. He was prosecuted as a lone gunman. But the murder of four Americans in Pakistan as apparent reprisal for his conviction suggests there was more to it.

While state sponsorship of terrorism when it can be conclusively identified merits proportionate response, it is alarmingly clear that small groups of varying degrees of technical sophistication are capable of major atrocities on their own. This is laid out in the current trial in Denver of Terry Nichols for helping Timothy McVeigh, convicted of the 1995 bombing of the federal office building in Oklahoma City.

Getting it right is more important than shooting from the hip at enemies who might not have done it. When TWA Flight 800 exploded off Long Island last year, resemblance to the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland in 1988 prompted public figures to demand reprisals against Libya, which stands accused of the earlier explosion. Now the FBI has concluded its investigation without finding evidence of a crime in the Flight 800 tragedy. It is good that no reprisal was taken.

No military force now threatens the security of the United States. Such circumstances tempt those with grudges and grievances to seek other ways to threaten the psychological security of American people.

Justice for criminals helps to deter others. But causes ranging from delusion to messianic certitude defy rational deterrence. The United States can expect to face more terrorism and must become more expert at detecting and preventing it, while never succumbing to the level of its practitioners.

Pub Date: 11/17/97

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