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.

Americans at war with America

Murrah Federal Building, Oklahoma City, April 19, 1995.
Murrah Federal Building, Oklahoma City, April 19, 1995.

 

In thinking about the threat of terrorism facing the United States, it’s important to remember where most of the real danger comes from. Hint: It’s not immigrants, refugees, or jihadi infiltrators.

Nope, most of the danger comes from red-blooded Americans like the 24-year-old man from Pontiac, MI, who has been charged with threatening to kill the judge presiding over his child custody case. His plan involved blowing up the Oakland County Sixth Circuit Court building with a bomb modeled after the one Timothy McVeigh used to level the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people and wounding nearly 700.

According to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department, the suspect indicated that he was ready and willing to “go to war” and told an acquaintance that he shared McVeigh’s anti-government ideology. Would he have followed through on his threats? It’s impossible to know, and thankfully we won’t have to find out.

But whether he was serious or just blowing smoke, the threat of right-wing terrorism is no joke. In June 2015 the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security reported that “Law enforcement agencies in the United States consider anti-government violent extremists, not radicalized Muslims, to be the most severe threat of political violence that they face.”

right-wing-1In March last year, to mark the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, the Anti Defamation League released a chronology of conspiracies, plots, and attacks by right-wing extremists since 1995. A total of 120 separate incidents are chronicled in the report. The graphic at right breaks down the number of attacks, plots, and attempted attacks by ideological movement.

You can download the report here. It makes for chilling reading. Here are some excerpts:

Battle Creek/Kalamazoo, Michigan, March 1998: In 1999, members of the North American Militia of southwestern Michigan were convicted on various conspiracy and weapon charges related to a terrorist plot. Prosecutors accused Bradford Metcalf, Kenneth Carter, and Randy Graham of plotting to kill federal officials, and to destroy a federal building, an IRS office, utility transmitters, and a television station. Carter pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government; he received a five‐year sentence. Metcalf received a 40‐year sentence; Graham a 55‐year sentence.

Washington County, Pennsylvania, February 2003: Ku Klux Klan leader David Wayne Hull was arrested at his home on weapons and explosives charges in connection with a plot to blow up an abortion clinic. Federal prosecutors charged Hull, the Imperial Wizard of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a small Pennsylvania‐based group, with receiving, manufacturing, possessing and transferring a destructive device in violation of the National Firearms Act. He was found guilty and sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2005.

Crockett, Tennessee, October 2008: Crockett County sheriff’s deputies arrested white supremacists Daniel Cowart and Paul Schlesselman, who were casing houses to rob in order to get funds to launch a murderous rampage primarily targeting African‐American children, which would culminate in an assassination attempt on presidential candidate Barack Obama. Both men pleaded guilty to federal weapons and conspiracy charges. Cowart was sentenced to 14 years in prison, while Schlesselman received 10 years.

Concord, North Carolina, September 2010: Anti‐abortion extremist Justin Carl Moose of Concord, North Carolina, was arrested for providing information related to the making, use, or manufacture of an explosive, destructive device, or weapon of mass destruction. According to the criminal complaint, Moose used social networking sites to advocate violence against women’s healthcare clinics and where abortions are performed, as well as their employees. Additionally, Moose allegedly met with an individual he believed was planning to bomb a North Carolina clinic and provided detailed information and instruction about various explosives and incendiary methods that could be used to destroy the clinic. Moose, a self‐ proclaimed member of “Army of God”, an extreme anti‐abortion group, pleaded guilty to distributing information on making and using explosives. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

Las Vegas, Nevada, June 2014: Husband and wife anti‐government extremists Jerad and Amanda Miller assassinated two Las Vegas police officers in June 2014, killing them while they were eating lunch at a restaurant. The couple then crossed the street to a Wal‐Mart, where they killed a civilian who attempted to intervene. Jerad died in a subsequent shootout with police. Amanda also died, killing herself at the scene after being shot by police.

I touched on this before in this space, when black churches were being burned across the South in the wake of the slaughter of black churchgoers in Charleston, SC. I bring it up (again) because it is important to remember that the main terrorist threat to America comes from within. Specifically, it comes from Americans plotting against and targeting other Americans to advance political and religious causes that are deeply rooted in American history, society, and culture.

We are our own worst enemy.

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

farc-peoples-army

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.