This week in terrorism history: Oct. 2-8

Propaganda photo released by 17 November.
Propaganda photo released by 17 November.


Before we get to this week’s chronology, a few links to either update ongoing cases that I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, or that are related to other relevant issues I’ve written about in the past.

First, I led off last week’s entry with news of the peace agreement reached between the Colombian government and the FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, ending a 52-year-old civil war. The only remaining hurdle to clear was a public referendum to ratify the agreement. Well, the people voted, and to the surprise of virtually every observer, they voted to reject the treaty. For now both sides say they are committed to maintaining the existing cease fire, but what happens down the road is anyone’s guess at this point.

Second, there’s an interesting piece at the RAND blog by terrorism expert Brian Michael Jenkins reminding us just how remote the threat of terrorism is for Americans:

Pure terrorism is truly random. It targets families strolling on a promenade in Nice, shoppers at a mall, a busy street in lower Manhattan. The message is not that the victims represent a certain group or are seen as “guilty” because of despised policies or actions. This is sheer spectacle. The message: No one is safe.

Such terror attacks are truly arbitrary and extremely difficult to protect against. Protective perimeters have proliferated, but every restaurant, shopping center, busy street corner cannot be protected. Competitive 24/7 television news coverage amplifies the terror. Politicians pound podiums and pundits warn of further attacks. The end result is a perception that no one is safe, that little can be done, that worse is yet to come.

Yet such attacks are statistically rare, representing a relatively tiny addition to the total volume of violent crime in the United States. Americans are safer now than they were in the immediate shadow of 9/11 when intelligence had failed and more 9/11-scale attacks were expected.

Finally, and relevant to the discussion I am having with my students this evening and in the coming weeks about the ideological motivations that underpin terrorist actions, this piece on the mix-and-match approach to ideas that some lone wolf terrorists adopt:

This sampling of examples highlights a trend of violent lone actors whose ideologies are broadly jihadist, but not tied to any one group. Even so, in the case of Mateen,security officials and policymakers rushed to identify Mateen’s alignment with a specific group. The temptation to classify Mateen within one organization’s particular ideological prism outweighed an objective assessment of the problem: Mateen fused multiple group affiliation and ideologies to motivate his actions. As far as categorization goes, Mateen’s case suggests that group affiliation matters less than his broader commitment his idea of jihad. In this capacity, Mateen’s statements and sentiments are not outliers or rarities in lone actor extremist violence, nor are they as confusing as they seem; individuals tend to blend group affiliation and ideological motivations, which is a significant, recurring, and surprisingly understudied phenomenon. Indeed, if anything, Rahami’s case confirms that this phenomenon is not rare.

And now on to our history lesson.

  • Oct. 2, 2000 — Sri Lanka: LTTE suicide bombing kills 23 and wounds 54 in attack contesting democratic elections.
  • Oct. 3, 1996 — Greece: Bomb explodes under car of Greek NATO officer in Athens. 17 November, a leftist revolutionary organization, is blamed.
  • Oct. 4, 2000 — Peru: Shining Path leader Carlos Fernandez is captured.
  • Oct. 5, 2000 — Sri Lanka: LTTE suicide bomber kills 10 and wounds more than 35 at an election rally.
  • Oct. 6, 1990 — Northern Ireland: A Catholic man is shot to death by the Protestant Action Force at Oxford Island, Lough Neagh. The killing is believed to be in retaliation for the earlier killing of an Ulster Defense Regiment soldier at the same location.
  • Oct. 7, 2001 — Afghanistan: US-led forces begin military action in response to the 9/11 attacks.
  • Oct. 8, 2002 — Kuwait: Al Qaeda affiliates attack US Marines on exercise, killing one.

This week in terrorism history: Sept. 25-Oct. 1


Today, four years of negotiations will culminate today in the signing of a peace agreement between the government of Colombia and the FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, ending 52 years of brutal conflict which left more than a quarter million people dead.

Assuming the agreement is ratified in a public referendum in early October, and most signs indicate that it will pass easily, the FARC will hand over its weapons to UN inspectors and transform itself into a political party. This agreement effectively ends Latin America’s longest running insurgency, one that featured kidnappings and urban terrorism (like the bombing noted below) alongside guerrilla warfare.

  • Sept. 25, 2002 — Pakistan: Seven killed in attack on a Christian charity in Karachi.
  • Sept. 26, 2004 — Syria: Car bomb kills HAMAS leder Izz al-Din Shaykh Khalil.
  • Sept. 27, 1987 — Greece: Revolutionary Popular Struggle (ELA) bombs a US commissary, killing one.
  • Sept. 28, 2000 — Philippines: Abu Sayyaf Group leader killed, two others wounded in Philippine military operation to rescue hostages.
  • Sept. 29, 2003 — Colombia: FARC motorcycle bomb kills 10, wounds 54, including three police officers.
  • Sept. 30, 2011 — Yemen: Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen who joined al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and became a leading promoter of jihad against the West and an attack planner for AQAP, is killed by an American drone strike.
  • Oct. 1, 2005 — Indonesia: Jemmah Islamiya blamed for Bali resort bombings that kill 26 and wound more than 100.


This week in terrorism history: Sept. 18-24

Investigators at the scene of this weekend's explosion in New York City.
Investigators at the scene of this weekend’s explosion in New York City.


A homemade bomb went off over the weekend in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, injuring 29 people, and a second was found nearby. Meanwhile five pipe bombs were found near a train station in Elizabeth, N.J. The FBI has identified a suspect and a search is under way.

If this seems particularly troubling, it might be useful to put the weekend’s effects in some historical context. I will try to write a longer post about this later today, but here’s a tiny little slice.

In 1970 alone there were 54 terrorist bombings in New York City. Three of those occurred on successive days from Sept. 24-26. March saw 10 separate terrorist attacks in New York City. (Data comes from the Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland).

In short, and as with most things terrorism-related, we’ve been there before.

And now on to this week’s history:

  • Sept. 18, 1997 — Egypt: Bomb attack on Cairo tourist bus kills nine Germans. Muslim militants are blamed.
  • Sept. 20, 1984 — Lebanon: Islamic Jihad Organization detonates a truck bomb at the US Embassy annex in Beirut, killing 23.
  • Sept. 21, 2013 — Kenya: Al-Shabaab gunmen kill more than 70 and wound 200 in an attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi.
  • Sept. 23, 2010 — Colombia: FARC military commander Victor Julio Suarez Rojas is killed in a Colombian military operation in Meta Department.
  • Sept. 24, 2002 — India: Attack on a Hindu temple kills 31. Lashkar-e-Taiba is suspected of responsibility.

This week in terrorism history: Sept. 11-17


For Americans, and frankly a lot of others, this week is “the big one” in terms of our consciousness of terrorism and the awareness of our own vulnerability.

As noted at The Atlantic’s website yesterday, prior to Sept. 11, 2001, few Americans thought much about terrorism, let alone considered it a significant threat either to themselves personally or to the United States generally. With that in mind, here’s this week’s look back:

  • Sept. 11, 2001 — United States: Three hijacked passenger jets are crashed into targets in New York City and Washington, D.C., with a fourth hijacked airline crashing in rural Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 are killed. Al Qaeda responsible.
  • Sept. 14, 2003 — Colombia: Four Israelis, two Britons, a German, and a Spaniard are all kidnapped by the National Liberation Army (ELN) of Colombia.
  • Sept. 15, 1981 — West Germany: US Army Gen. Frederick Kroesen is injured in a rocket propelled grenade attack in Heidelberg. Red Army Faction member Gudrun Ensslin claims responsibility.
  • Sept. 16, 2009 — Afghanistan: Suicide bomber kills two civilians, wounds five others, along with three soldiers. Taliban claims responsibility.
  • Sept. 17, 1992 — Germany: Four Iranian Kurds are killed in a Berlin restaurant. No claim of responsibility.

To briefly get back to the piece at The Atlantic noted above: In it three eminent scholars of terrorism, Brian Jenkins, Martha Crenshaw, and Bruce Hoffman, engage in a discussion of what we know, and still don’t know, about terrorism. Equally unanswered is the question of what to do about it. Jenkins starts the conversation this way:

The fundamental philosophical questions remain: How much security can a government be expected to provide its citizens? What is the obligation of a nation to its citizens if they are held hostage abroad? Do targeted killings differ from assassinations? And are such killings a preferable, even more moral alternative, to less discriminate military operations? How do liberal democracies effectively deal with violent adversaries capable of great violence and remain democracies? Or will perpetual war incrementally push us toward tyranny?

Hoffman, in part, notes how little we know about why individuals become terrorists:

For decades, scholars and analysts have searched for this holy grail of terrorism studies that would unlock all the mysteries about why individuals embrace violence in this manner. I am reminded here of the massive study undertaken by the West German government in the early 1980s in hopes of divining such an answer. The result was a multi-volume, meticulously detailed compendium of years of research that, as I recall, identified no single reason or universal explanation of why someone becomes a terrorist (or, in the contemporary vernacular, how one is radicalized).

And Crenshaw reminds us that for all our fears and worries about terrorism, it remains what social scientists call a “rare event” except in a very small handful of places under very specific circumstances:

Terrorism is actually rare except in certain concentrated spaces like Northern Ireland in the past, and perhaps Iraq now. Also, there aren’t many terrorists (or jihadists in contemporary idiom). There are many people who fit whatever profile can be drawn up, and a tiny number resort to violence. And within that small subset there can still be immense variation in motivation.

The whole lengthy discussion is well worth taking the time to read. Here’s the link again in case you don’t want to scroll back up to the top.