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Threat anxiety is kind of terrorism

BY SUSAN KIM | WASHINGTON, D.C. | December 31, 1999

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Dec. 31. 1999) -- Threats of public violence have people

taking extra precautions or canceling large events on or around New Year's

Eve. But even if no such violence occurs, many consider the reports of

threats themselves to be a kind of terrorism because they have caused

people alter their plans and to live with anxiety.

"Terrorism is either the threat or the act itself," said Terry Wesbrock, a

disaster response specialist for Church World Service. "The threat is

actually the whole agenda."

As people coordinate or plan to attend church and community gatherings

around the New Year holiday, most are taking extra precautions. A few are

canceling their events altogether.

"If you don't hold the meetings, the terrorists have won," said Wesbrock.

"But if it's a large group, then take all possible precautions."

Among disaster response issues discussed in December by CWS emergency

response leaders was a definition of terrorism.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) definition of terrorism was

proposed to be used by response organizations. It says terrorism is "the

unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate

or coerce a Government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in

furtherance of political or social objectives."

The FBI further describes terrorism as either domestic or international,

depending on the origin, base, and objectives of the terrorist organization.

But faith-based response leaders suggested that not just the act of

terrorism -- but the threat -- can cause human suffering.

Many organizations have specially trained teams or staff members to handle

response to terrorism. In addition, many faith-based groups and churches

are working to combat the prejudice may arise in times of increase

terrorist suspicions.

"Everybody immediately thinks of the Arabs," said Wesbrock. "But you can't

judge a person by skin color of the type of their clothing. You can't

stereotype or you'll miss the ball."

Even if no violent act occurs this New Year's, threats of terrorism have

curbed at least some celebrations. Up to the last minute, many are still

debating whether to hold their celebration or not, whether to go or to stay

home.

"It's a hard question," said Tina Wesbrock, also a CWS specialist.

"Ultimately, it's a personal choice each person has to make."

The threat is more pronounced for large gatherings, she added, because

terrorism has changed over past several years. "The whole idea behind

terrorism used to be to get a message across," she said. "Now the purpose

is to injure and frighten as many people as possible."

Should any terrorist act occur, at least some U.S.-based denominations have

specially trained teams to respond. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA)

has a specially trained subgroup that responds to such incidents.

"This team has responded to school shootings and to other critical

incidents, and remain ready to go on site to deal with pastoral issues,"

said Susan Ryan, PDA coordinator.

Workers from the relief organization CARE are following precautions and

guidelines from the U.S. State Department they have been trained to take in

the normal course of their job. With some 10,000 staff in more than 60

countries, "we work in war zones -- Kosovo, Sudan, Angola," said Allen

Clinton, press officer. "Our staff are always in danger. They wouldn't be

there if they didn't know what they were doing."

Throughout 1999, a number of U.S. cities offered terrorist response

training to local emergency management teams. St. Paul, Minn., for example,

scheduled five days of domestic preparedness training workshops in July.

The training, given by the U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical

Command, focused on actions to be taken to respond to an incident involving

nuclear, biological or chemical agents. Participants included from the fire

departments, emergency medical service personnel, law enforcement agencies,

local hospitals, and military installations.

But many groups plan to respond to any terrorist incident as they would to

any other disaster. The American Red Cross responds the same as it would to

another disaster, said Larry Rockwell, spokesperson. "Mental health

services would be called upon heavily, as they were during the Oklahoma

City bombing and the bombing of the World Trade Center."

Overseas, however, the International Red Cross (IRC) has a more specific

response to terrorist threats. Wesbrock, through CWS, has been

communicating with IRC and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs)

overseas to suggest ways to prepare for possible terrorist activities.

"The threat is not just against American officials but to non-official

Americans and their organizations," said Tina Wesbrock. "We thought we

needed to heighten awareness."

Terrorism is a demonstrated threat to IRC in at least eight countries --

Bosnia, Burundi, Serbia, Somaliland, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan,

Indonesia, Liberia, and DR Congo -- that employ more than half of IRC

staff, said Randolph Martin, director for operations.

The IRC has specific strategies to prepare for security threats, he said.

One strategy involves cultivating such widespread acceptance by the

community that a terrorist attack becomes unlikely.

"Terrorist attacks often arise in environments where news and information

regarding NGO activities is being distorted in order to discredit them,"

said Martin. "Community participation helps to counter this."

Posted Dec. 31, 1999


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