This week in terrorism history: Sept. 19-26

The logo of the Puerto Rican nationalist terrorist group Fuerzas Armadas Liberacion Nacional (FALN). The slogan roughly translates to “Struggle Until Victory”

Before getting into this week’s look back, it is worth noting some terrorism news that came to light over the weekend here in Michigan.

In incidents reminiscent of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski’s decades-long bombing campaign against industrialization in general, and big tech in particular, two explosive devices were discovered outside cellphone stores Michigan’s Upper Peninsula late last week. According to the FBI, the devices were in USPS priority mail boxes and sealed with black duct tape. They were accompanied by threatening notes addressed to Verizon and AT&T.

The letters “CMT” were written on the outside of both boxes. The FBI and Michigan State Police believe the bombs are connected to a series of letters found last month at multiple telecommunications tower sites across the Upper Peninsula. According to the FBI the letters, signed by the “Coalition for Moral Telecommunications,” make specific demands to the telecommunications companies. No details, however, have been released.

The planting of bombs at cellphone stores is similar to two of the attacks carried out by Kaczynski. In December 1985 a Sacramento, Calif. computer store owner was killed by a nail-and-splinter bomb that Kaczynski had planted in the store’s parking lot. In February 1987, the owner of a Salt Lake City, Utah computer store was severely injured by another of Kaczynski’s bombs.

Kaczynski is currently serving eight life sentences in federal prison in Colorado. The University of Michigan Special Collections Library houses correspondence between Kaczynski and more than 400 others since his arrest.

And now on to this week’s look back to the week in American terrorism history.

  • Sept. 20, 1976 — San Francisco: The residence of the Consul General of South Africa is targeted in a bombing attack carried out by the New World Liberation Front, a small California-based militant revolutionary anti-capitalist terrorist group. No one was injured in the attack. The NWLF formed in 1970 and was responsible for nearly 90 separate attacks in the San Francisco Bay Area and other parts of the American West between 1974 and 1978.
  • Sept. 21, 1976 — New York City: A bomb explodes on the 24th floor of the Hilton Hotel. An hour later, a caller to the New York Post claims responsibility for the bombing in the name of Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional (FALN), a Puerto Rican nationalist group. In a note taped to a phone booth near the hotel, FALN stated that the blast was an attempt to protest the appearance of Rafael Hernandez Colon, the Governor of Puerto Rico, who was attending a political fund-raising dinner at the hotel. Between 1974 and 1982, the FALN carried out 120 separate attacks, mostly in New York City, Chicago and in Puerto Rico itself.

This week in terrorism history: Sept. 12-18

Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League (Credit: Southern Poverty Law Center)

Whenever I teach my course on terrorism and political violence, it has become my practice to post here a look back at the recent history of terrorism. The last time I launched this weekly series was January 2020. As I explained in an earlier take on this:

[O]ne of the points that I try to impress upon my studentsĀ 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.

In this year when we are marking the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks (a topic I’ll return to later in the week), I think it is especially important to give ourselves a little perspective about the extent to which terrorism has, or has not, been a part of our own country’s history. To that end, I am making a change in the source that I am going to use for each week’s installment.

In the past I have relied mainly on the counterterrorism calendar that had been produced annually from 2003-2016 and made available to the public by the National Counterterrorism Center. Unfortunately, this office, like many others, became a casualty of the flight of competent people out of government service during the Trump era and the calendar is no longer produced. Go online to look for it now, andĀ you wind up here, at a literal dead end.

One of the handicaps of that resource, however, was its fairly narrow focus on terrorist incidents targeting the United States and its friends, especially if the attacks were perpetrated by Islamist groups. In the first years after 9/11 I suppose that myopic look made some sense. But frankly, it was far too limited to give a real picture of the extent to which terrorism has been a global phenomenon fueled by a wide array of ideological motivations, not just jihadism.

The NCTC calendar also overemphasized terrorism perpetrated by transnational actors compared to our own homegrown domestic terrorists. This shortcoming misrepresents the reality of terrorism as it has historically been experienced in the United States. As I’ve written many times in this space, the story of terrorism in the United States is largely characterized by attacks on Americans, by Americans, in pursuit of goals deeply embedded in America’s social and political culture.

In short, Americans have literally been at war with America for as long as we care to remember.

So for this series of This Week in Terrorism History posts, I am relying solely on incidents compiled in the Global Terrorism Database, widely considered the gold-standard data source for academic and policy research on terrorism. Each week I will randomly select a year from 1970 to 2001 and then search for attacks for that specific week that occurred within the United States.

With that long introduction out of the way, here’s this week’s entry.

  • Sept. 14, 1972 — Los Angeles, CA: Members of the Jewish Defense League bomb the apartment of Palestinian activist Mohammed Shaath. After the bombing, the Los Angeles Times received a phone call taking responsibility for the attack. The caller signed off with the phrase “never again,” the slogan of the Jewish Defense League. The JDL claimed that Shaath was targeted because he was a member of the Palestinian terrorist group Black September. No one was injured in the attack, and at least one perpetrator, Robert Manning, was convicted in the incident. He received a suspended sentence after he disavowed the JDL in the courtroom during his trial.

Yes, the Taliban has terrorists in its government (but that’s not unusual)

The Taliban announced the makeup of an interim government the other day, and what should have been to no-one’s surprise, it is made up of figures notable for their close ties to the movement’s late founder, holdovers from the last time the Taliban held power, and a host of hardliners who made their reputations during the last 20 years of insurgency.

In that mix are terrorists.

For example, Sirajuddin Haqqani is the new interim interior minister. He is the head of the Haqqani network (a US-designated terrorist organization), which has been carrying out brutal terrorist attacks across Afghanistan for the last two decades, including a 2017 truck bomb in Kabul that killed and injured hundreds of Afghan civilians. The FBI has a $10 million bounty on his head for information leading to his arrest.

Khalil Haqqani, Sirajuddin’s uncle, is acting minister for refugees. Another leader of the Haqqani network, the FBI has a $5 million bounty on him because of his past ties to al Qaeda. Four former Guantanamo Bay detainees have landed senior government positions as well. These all had been mid- to high-level officials in the old Taliban regime who were captured early in the US war. They were released in a 2014 prisoner exchange.

Interim Prime Minister Mohammad Hasan Akhund is under United Nations and European Union sanctions for his close ties to the Taliban’s founders and his role as a military commander. Interim Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Ghani Baradar, in addition to serving as a key diplomat, was also a senior military leader coordinating attacks on US and coalition forces during the war.

So yes, the Taliban’s new acting government includes terrorists. But let’s not kid ourselves that this is somehow unprecedented. Let’s look at some examples.

Israel is perhaps the quintessential example of terrorists turned government leaders, at the highest levels. Menachem Begin, who became Israel’s sixth prime minister in 1977, assumed leadership of the Zionist terrorist organization Irgun in 1944 and was the architect of its violent campaign against British occupation of Palestine. Under Begin’s leadership, Irgun was responsible for an escalating series of attacks on government offices and police stations. The most infamous of those attacks was a direct strike against Britain’s administrative and military establishment which was based at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel. Begin ordered the bombing of the King David, which resulted in the destruction of a wing of the building and the killing of 91 people, mostly British, Arabs, and Jews.

In 1983 Begin was succeeded as prime minister by Yitzhak Shamir, who was himself a former terrorist, a leader of Lehi, also called the Stern Gang, a more militant offshoot of Irgun. Under Shamir’s leadership, Lehi carried out a series of assassinations including that of Lord Moyne, the British Minister for Middle East Affairs. Shamir also ordered the assassination of one of his fellow terrorist leaders, Eliyahu Giladi, the culmination of an internal dispute over strategy.

In January 1947, members of Lehi drove a truck loaded with explosives into a British police station in Haifa, killing four and wounding 140. It is thought to be the first truck bomb in the history of terrorism. A little more than a year later, in a combined operation, Irgun and Lehi terrorists staged an attack on the Palestinian Arab village of Deir Yassin. The resulting massacre left more than 100 Palestinian civilians dead, including women and children.

Northern Ireland provides yet another example of terrorists moving into the halls of government, and at the highest levels. Provisional Irish Republican Army terrorist Martin McGuinness, served from 2007 to 2017 as deputy first minister of Northern Ireland. But before he moved into politics, in the 1970s he led the PIRA in his home city of Derry, later rising to head the PIRA’s Northern Command in the 1980s and a seat on the organization’s seven-member Army Council. And in another piece of delicious irony, former PIRA member Alex Maskey, having moved into electoral politics in the early 1980s, found himself some 20 years later with a seat on Northern Ireland’s Policing Board. A former terrorist overseeing the police.

And let’s not exclude ourselves from this discussion. By today’s definitions, the violent revolutionary movement that we remember as the Sons of Liberty was an anti-British terrorist organization that in the 1760s and 1770s carried out attacks against representatives of the Crown, destroyed Crown property, and assaulted and assassinated prominent loyalists in the American colonies. Many of its most notable members went on to play prominent roles in the American War of Independence and the subsequent government of the new United States.

Our patriots of the founding era, familiar names such as Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Samuel Chase, Christopher Gadsden, and Patrick Henry, got their start as members of or leaders in a terrorist group.

So yes, the new government of Afghanistan is loaded with terrorists. But the Taliban are far from the first to make the leap from terrorist to politician to government. As history shows, they’re just a recent example of a pattern in which we ourselves are a part.

What’s a life worth?

(Credit: US Marine Corps/Reuters via BBC)

According to billionaire mercenary kingpin Erik Prince, it’s $6,500, plus expenses. That’s what he’s charging for a seat on one of his chartered flights out of the chaos that is Kabul Airport.

(The situation may be becoming even more dire for those trying to flee Kabul following an apparent suicide bombing attack this morning at one of the entry gates to the airport. The ISIS -affiliated Islamic State of Greater Khorasan claimed responsibility. More than a dozen were reported killed with many more wounded. UPDATE — Apparently there are a number of US service personnel among the dead and injured.)

Of course this is far from the first time Prince has tried to profit from America’s failing military adventure in Afghanistan. Four years ago this Michigan native son, and brother of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVoss, proposed a scheme to the Trump Administration in which the Blackwater founder would hire a mercenary army to conquer and pacify Afghanistan on behalf of the United States.

Prince, naturally, would set himself up as Viceroy of Afghanistan, ruling the country in the manner of Britain’s storied East India Company. In fact, this was precisely the model Prince had in mind, a private corporation whose private army would conquer and exploit a country on behalf of the crown. Of course he’d line his own pockets in the process.

As I wrote about in December 2017, one of the ways that Prince sought to profit from his gracious offer to liberate Afghanistan from the burdensome yoke of American bureaucracy was by stealing the mineral wealth of the territories his mercenary army would pacify. According to the pitch he made to the Trump Administration, Prince estimated the value of strategically important minerals at $1 trillion in Helmand Province alone.

It’s a long way from a possible $1 trillion in stolen loot to a measly $6,500 each extorted from people desperate to flee a nightmare, but to Prince’s credit, the vulturine grift goes on. Never say the man stops hustling.

Given this sorry record, it looks like White House press secretary Jen Psaki has captured Prince perfectly:

I don’t think any human being who has a heart and soul would support efforts to profit off of people’s agony and pain if they’re trying to depart a country and fearing for their lives.

As pointed out in The Independent, Prince’s companies made billions of dollars off of America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is it any surprise he’s found a way to profit from America’s most recent defeat?