This week in terrorism history: Feb. 5-11

A van burns after it was used by the IRA to launch the 1991 mortar attack on 10 Downing Street, London, the official residence of the British prime minister.
A van burns after it was used by the IRA to launch the 1991 mortar attack on 10 Downing Street, London, the official residence of the British prime minister.


Salah Abdeslam, the sole survivor of a 10-man ISIS cell that carried out the November 2015 coordinated terrorist attacks across Paris, went on trial today in his hometown of Brussels. He was arrested in March 2016 in the Belgian neighborhood where he and many of those in his ISIS cell had grown up.

As the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports, the successful 2015 attacks in Paris, and a few days later in Belgium, were made possible by ISIS’ success in wedding the skill set of criminals with religious radicalization and ultimately terrorism:

Abdeslam, who along with his brother was suspected of dealing drugs from the bar they ran, is the starkest example of that convergence. But in Paris, the trial of three men accused of giving safe haven to the attackers also provides a revealing look at the intersection that made possible the deadliest terror attacks in Europe since World War II.

The operational commander of the cell was Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a petty criminal who used his home neighborhood of Molenbeek in Brussels as a fertile recruiting ground for Islamic State. Abaaoud even recruited his younger brother, then 14. But many of the young men who followed him into Islamic State were small-time criminals themselves, part of the extremist organization’s deliberate attempt to make use of “skills” that include accessing black market weapons, forging documents and handling covert logistics. …

But the lines between terrorists and criminals are less clear now than ever, said Peter Neumann, director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.

“ISIS is perhaps the first jihadist group that has explicitly targeted this demographic, and thy’ve done it very consciously and especially in Europe,” he said. “What we saw in Brussels and Paris — this is not an isolated case. This is actually reflecting the situation across Europe. If you go to Sweden, Norway, Holland, Germany, they will all tell you that 50 percent plus of the people who have turned up traveling to Syria or involved in domestic plots have previous criminal convictions, often for petty crime.”

Now on to this week’s look back:

  • Feb. 6, 2004 — Moscow: An unknown group detonates explosives on the metro, killing 40 and wounding 122.
  • Feb. 7, 1991 — London: The Irish Republican Army launches a mortar attack on the 10 Downing Street, the official residence and offices of the prime minister, during a meeting of the British cabinet. There were no injuries. The homemade weapons were fired from the back of a van parked nearby, with at least one projectile detonating in the rear garden of Number 10, damaging the building with shrapnel.
  • Feb. 8, 2002 — Montana: The leader of a militia group, calling itself Project 7, and his girlfriend are arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate judges and law enforcement officers in order to trigger a revolution. Authorities recover pipe bombs, 25,000 rounds of ammunition, and “intel sheets” with personal information on law enforcement officers, their spouses, and children.
  • Feb. 9, 2009 — Sri Lanka: An LTTE female suicide bomber kills 28 and wounds 90 in an attack in Vishvamadu.
  • Feb. 10, 2011 — Marden, Pakistan: A suicide bomber kills 27 soldiers in an attack on a military training center. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan claims responsibility.
  • Feb. 11, 1974 — Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland: Two Catholic civilians are shot as they arrive for work and are killed by the Ulster Freedom Fighters, which was a cover name used by the Ulster Defense Association.


Red-blooded American terrorists

Atomwaffen members and flag (Huffington Post)
Atomwaffen members and flag (Huffington Post)


For an eye-opening look at the sort of significant terrorism threat President Trump couldn’t be troubled to mention in his State of the Union speech last night, give a read to this profile of the neo-Nazi group called the Atomwaffen Division. It’s sobering reading:

An 18-year-old in Florida allegedly shoots and kills two of his roommates. A 21-year-old, also in Florida, plots to bomb synagogues and a nuclear power plant. A 17-year-old in Virginia allegedly shoots and kills his girlfriend’s parents. And a 20-year-old in California allegedly stabs a gay Jewish college student 20 times, burying him in a shallow grave.

All of these young white men had connections to the Atomwaffen Division, a well-armed neo-Nazi group enamored with Charles Manson and Adolf Hitler whose members harbor grand and demented delusions of fighting a “race war” and overthrowing the U.S. government.

Their alleged crimes all occurred in just the last eight months, most recently in January, adding to fears that an emboldened American white supremacist movement is growing more violent by the day. White supremacists, after all, murdered twice as many people in 2017 as they did the year before, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Here’s more on that chilling bomb plot:

During a search of the house after the murders, authorities discovered bomb-making equipment and radioactive material they determined belonged to Russell. In Russell’s bedroom, police found a framed photo of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. In his car were rifles, ammunition, binoculars and a skull mask. Prosecutors later alleged that Russell had planned to bomb civilian targets, including synagogues and a nuclear power plant in Miami. He was recently sentenced to five years in prison.

As the profile of the group makes clear, Atomwaffen openly flaunts its Nazi affinities, from its use of swastikas and SS runes in its propaganda and recruiting materials to its German name, which translated means “Atomic Weapons Division.” They advocate both race war and national socialist revolution against the United States. As some of their propaganda material puts it:

The key to success in the struggle ahead is self-discipline. While it is the time to be “legal” we must stolidly endure whatever the State sees fit to inflict upon us. When it is time to revolt, we must be prepared to unleash the furies of hell on the state until it yields.

So while the president uses the State of the Union to once again conjure up the phantom threat of immigrant terrorists to justify wholesale changes in American immigration policy, this crew of true native sons is recruiting and organizing on college campuses and at rallies across the United States.

But that’s a terrorist threat the president seemingly has little concern for despite everything we know about how serious it really is.

This week in terrorism history: Jan. 29-Feb. 4

Aftermath of Saturday's bombing in Kabul. (Chicago Tribune)
Aftermath of Saturday’s bombing in Kabul. (Chicago Tribune)


Some years back, noted terrorism scholar Mia Bloom argued in her book, Dying to Kill, that terrorist organizations may adopt suicide tactics in part as an effort to “outbid” each other for popular support. In short, when faced with political competition from a rival group, a terrorist organization may turn to increasingly brutal methods as a way to demonstrate to potential supporters both superior capability and greater commitment to their shared cause.

This may, as Bloom suggested on Twitter over the weekend, account for the significant increase in terrorist attacks in Afghanistan in recent days, as ISIS makes inroads into the Taliban’s territory:

On Saturday, a Taliban attacker driving a stolen ambulance packed with explosives, killed more than 100 in central Kabul and injured more than 150. This came only a few days after Taliban militants launched an assault on Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel which led to the killing of 22, including 14 foreigners.

Today, ISIS launched an attack of its own in Kabul, hitting a military base in the center of the Afghan capital and leaving nearly a dozen dead. Channeling Bloom’s thesis, the headline at CNN this morning put it this way: “Kabul military base attack shows ISIS and Taliban are in a brutal race.”

If the Taliban and ISIS are in fact locked in a competition for popular support, then we can expect the carnage to escalate even as the United States prepares to send up to another 1,000 troops to Afghanistan to join the more than 14,000 already deployed there.

Now on to this week’s look back:

  • Jan. 29, 1998 —  Birmingham, Ala.: An off-duty police officer is killed and a nurse badly wounded when a nail-packed bomb explodes outside an abortion clinic. The radical anti-abortion group, Army of God, claims responsibility.
  • Jan. 29, 2017 — Quebec City, Canada: Six are killed an 19 others are wounded in a mass shooting following evening prayers at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec, a mosque in Quebec City. Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old French Canadian who was described as a supporter of both French far-right politician Marine Le Pen and US President Donald Trump, was charged in the attack.
  • Jan. 30, 2010 — Khar, Afghanistan: A female suicide bomber kills 14 civilians and three soldiers. No claim of responsibility is made.
  • Jan. 31, 1984 — County Armagh, Northern Ireland: Two Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers are killed in an Irish Republican Army land mine attack on their armored patrol car.
  • Feb. 1, 2009 — Baghdad: A female suicide bomber kills 46 Shia pilgrims.
  • Feb. 2, 2009 — Tarin Kot, Afghanistan: A suicide bomber kills 25 police officers and wounds many more. Taliban claims responsibility.
  • Feb. 3, 1977 — Belfast, Northern Ireland: A Catholic civilian is found stabbed and with his throat cut. Members of a Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) gang known as the “Shankill Butchers” are responsible.
  • Feb, 4, 2009 — Barbacoas, Colombia: Seventeen civilians are stabbed to death. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) claims responsibility.


This week in terrorism history: Jan. 22-28

Police outside Eagle Ridge Mall, Lake Wales, FLA. (Photo: fox35)
Police outside Eagle Ridge Mall, Lake Wales, FLA. (Photo: fox35)


Two homemade pipe-bombs went off  at a mall in central Florida on Sunday evening, causing little or no damage but prompting the evacuation of about 100 shoppers and staff. Police are seeking a “person of interest” described as a middle-aged white man with a heavy build, wearing a gray shirt and hat.

Police have so far declined to label the incident an act of terrorism, which has produced an inevitable reaction from some social media quarters:

Now I fully understand the sentiment at work here, the perception that authorities are quick to cry terrorism when a person of color, typically a Muslim or someone thought to be Muslim, is the perpetrator of some act of violence, but call it anything but when it’s white guy who’s responsible. As I’ve written about before, there’s research that backs up the perception.

But in this case, I’m with the cops. So far they’ve made the right call:

“There is nothing at this time to indicate this act was terrorism,” he said. “At this time, we are checking video surveillance cameras.”

When asked why this incident wasn’t being characterized as terror, (Lake Wales Police Deputy Chief Troy) Schulze said, “We don’t know what the person was trying to achieve.”

And that’s the rub. Unless and until we get some evidence that gives us insight into the motivation behind any act of violence, we can’t call it terrorism, regardless of the identity of the perpetrator. This is one of the key lessons that I try to convey to my students when I teach on terrorism.

I’ve written about this before, most recently following last fall’s horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas. Even now, after four months of intense investigation, police there are no closer to understanding why Stephen Paddock meticulously planned and executed his attack on concert goers from the window of his high-rise hotel room.

So, did a middle-aged white guy carry out an act of domestic terrorism in Florida last night? Maybe. But maybe not.

Now on to this week’s look back at terrorism history:

  • Jan. 22, 1997 — Martinton, Ill.: Authorities raid the home of accused Ku Klux Klan member Ricky Salyers, a former Marine, discovering 35,000 rounds of heavy ammunition, armor piercing shells, live ammunition for grenade launchers, and other military gear. He was also believed to be a member of Black Dawn, an underground group of far-right anti-government extremists inside the US military.
  • Jan. 23, 2001 — Yemen: A Yemeni airliner is hijacked with 91 passengers aboard, including the US ambassador.
  • Jan. 24, 2011 — Moscow: A suicide bombing at Domodedovo airport kills 36 and wounds 180. Imarat Kavkaz, a Chechen group, claims responsibility.
  • Jan. 25, 1976 — Lisburn, Northern Ireland: A bomb planted by Loyalist paramilitaries at the Hibernian Social Club kills two Catholic civilians.
  • Jan. 26, 2009 — Democratic Republic of the Congo: Attacks are carried out on several villages leaving 36 civilians dead. Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda are believed responsible.
  • Jan. 27, 1975 — London: The Irish Republican Army plants seven bombs at locations across the city, resulting in minimal damage or injuries. An IRA bomb goes off in Manchester, injuring 26 people.
  • Jan. 28, 1982 — Italy: Police rescue US Army Brigadier Gen. James Dozier who was kidnapped by the Red Brigades six weeks earlier.