This week in terrorism history: Jan. 15-21

A bomb detonates outside an abortion clinic in Sandy Springs, GA.
A bomb detonates outside an abortion clinic in Sandy Springs, GA.

 

With today marking Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it’s a good opportunity to highlight episodes of far-right and white supremacist violence in our look back on the week in terrorism.

  • Jan. 15, 1997 — Belfast, Northern Ireland: Billy Wright, leader of the Loyalist Volunteer Force, goes on trial on charges of threatening a witness. Wright was killed in the Maze Prison in December 1997.
  • Jan. 16, 1997 — Sandy Springs, GA: Two anti-personnel bombs, the second designed to target police and other emergency workers, explode outside an abortion clinic in this Atlanta suburb. The Army of God claims responsibility.
  • Jan. 17, 2011 — Spokane, WA: Bomb technicians defuse a sophisticated improvised explosive device (IED) discovered in a backpack along the route of Spokane’s Martin Luther King Day parade. Forensic clues led to the arrest and conviction of Kevin William Harpham, a long-time neo-Nazi and regular contributor to the white supremacist Aryan Alternative newspaper.
  • Jan. 18, 1996 — Ohio: Peter Kevin Langan, “Commander Pedro,” leader of the underground Aryan Republican Army, is arrested after a shootout with the FBI.
  • Jan. 19, 2007 — Gunagado, Ethiopia: Twenty-five are killed in an attack carried out the Ogaden National Liberation Front.
  • Jan. 20, 2012 — Kano, Nigeria: More than 180 people are killed in a series of coordinated attacks. Boko Haram claims responsibility.
  • Jan. 21, 1975 — Belfast, Northern Ireland: Two members of the Irish Republican Army are killed when a bomb they are transporting explodes in their car on Victoria Street.

This week in terrorism history: Jan. 8-14

Irish Republican Army unit with homemade mortar. (The Sun)
Irish Republican Army unit with homemade mortar. (The Sun)

 

I am again teaching my course on terrorism and political violence, and so I’m bringing back to the blog my “This Week in Terrorism History” series that I first ran back in the fall of 2016.

As I noted in the post introducing that series, one of the points that I try to impress upon my students is that, as a form of political action, terrorism has been around for far longer than our current post-9/11 awareness would lead most Americans to acknowledge.

This weekly feature is intended to highlight some of that history. The information will mostly be taken from the National Counterterrorism Center’s 2016 counterterrorism calendar. Unfortunately, I still have to use the 2016 calendar since the Trump Administration’s NCTC has failed to produce calendars, which previous administrations had published annually since 2003, for either 2017 or 2018.

Somewhat interestingly, you can still find reference to the calendar buried deep inside the NCTC website. There’s just nothing there. Instead it’s been replaced by a “historical timeline” of incidents, nearly all of which were perpetrated by Middle Eastern or Islamist groups. There’s probably a metaphor hiding in that detail somewhere.

Because I also have a long-standing interest in political violence in Northern Ireland, I will occasionally add events or incidents taken from the chronology maintained by the CAIN project at the University of Ulster. I will also draw on other resources, like data collected and reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center, like this report, this one, and this one, to try to address some of the failings in the NCTC calendar. More on that below.

Before moving on, let me say a little about the limitations and built-in biases in the NCTC calendar.

First, there is an automatic tilt toward recounting incidents targeting either the United States, US citizens, or US allies. This is an especially egregious feature of the new timeline feature mentioned above, and one more reason why I won’t be drawing from it.

Second, there is a tendency to focus on incidents perpetrated by groups whose ideologies and motivations are seen as currently threatening to the United States, or by groups that have some kind of historical connection to present security challenges facing the US. Together, these first two biases mean that there is an over-representation of incidents attributed to groups espousing an Islamist ideology.

Third, there is a tendency to emphasize acts of transnational terrorism targeting the US or US interests over acts of domestic terrorism within the United States that lack some sort of transnational link, either ideological or material. This despite the reality that the vast majority of terrorist incidents the United States has suffered historically, and the primary threat of terrorism confronting the US today, comes from domestic groups, mainly but not exclusively, on the far right of the political spectrum. This is why I’ll be including the SPLC material.

Finally, when there are multiple incidents for any given date, I will try to choose examples that run counter to the biases discussed above to show some the wider geographical, ideological, or operational diversity that we see when we consider terrorism as a global phenomenon.

Despite all these caveats, there is value in keeping in mind the reality that as much as Americans might think that terrorism is a new phenomenon, or tend to see ourselves as uniquely at risk, terrorism has been with us for a very long time, is likely to be with us for a long time to come, and there are countries that have faced far worse, for far longer, than what we face today.

With all that in mind, here we go.

  • Jan. 8, 2003 — Chicago: Matt Hale, leader of the neo-Nazi World Church of the Creator, is arrested and charged with soliciting the murder of a federal judge whom he had publicly vilified as someone bent on the destruction of his group. Hale is subsequently convicted and sentenced to 40 years in federal prison.
  • Jan. 9, 2015 — Paris: Four are killed in an attack on a deli. ISIS claims responsibility one month later.
  • Jan. 10, 2013 — Pakistan: Bombings in the cities of Quetta and Mingaora kill 115. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the United Baluch Army claim responsibility.
  • Jan. 11, 1997 — Northern Ireland: The Irish Republican Army carries out a mortar attack on a Royal Ulster Constabulary station in Fermanagh.
  • Jan. 12, 2007 — Greece: A rocket-propelled grenade attack is carried out against the US embassy in Athens; Revolutionary Struggle claims responsibility.
  • Jan. 13, 1987 — West Germany: Mohammed Ali Hamadei, a member of Hezbollah, is arrested at the Frankfurt airport and charged with the 1985 hijacking of a TWA airliner and murder of a passenger. Sentenced to life in prison, he was released in 2005 and is believed to reside in Lebanon.
  • Jan. 14, 2011 — Arizona: Jeffery Harbin, a member of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, is arrested for building homemade grenades and pipe bombs which he had intended to supply to anti-immigrant militia groups patrolling the Arizona-Mexico border.

Mine’s bigger

missile envy

Somehow, you knew it was eventually going to come to this:

At one level you can, and probably should, dismiss this as more silly posturing and insecure boasting on the part of President Trump. That said, in absolute terms he’s right: the US nuclear arsenal is bigger and more powerful than not just North Korea’s, but pretty much everyone else’s as well. And as I said on the radio this morning, the logic of nuclear deterrence is still operable and neither side seems irrational enough, at least not yet, to purposely initiate a nuclear exchange.

But that doesn’t mean all is well either. As Axios reports this morning, there is fear within Trump’s own administration that the president could blunder into war accidentally:

What they’re saying: “Every war in history was an accident,” said one administration insider. “You just don’t know what’s going to send him over the edge.”

Last year ended with all kinds of dire warnings and predictions of the odds of war (including nuclear war) between the US and North Korea. But to close this post on an optimistic note, North Korea today reactivated the border hotline with South Korea, restoring a direct line of communication between the two governments and gesturing toward a possible thaw in relations.

Let’s hope that has more lasting impact than Trump’s juvenile missile envy tweet.

Peter King shouldn’t talk about terrorism

U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) argued today, in the wake of a botched terror attack in the New York City subways, that President Trump’s immigration policies could prevent future attacks.

Funny, he never argued for restricting immigration in the name of combating terrorism back in the 1980s when he was an ardent supporter of the Irish Republican Army. Of course then he believed terrorism was a legitimate weapon in a struggle against foreign occupation …

“We must pledge ourselves to support those brave men and women who this very moment are carrying forth the struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry,” Mr. King told a pro-I.R.A. rally on Long Island, where he was serving as Nassau County comptroller, in 1982. Three years later he declared, “If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the I.R.A. for it.”