This week in terrorism history: Jan.6-12

Female fighters at a Tamil Tiger training camp, some time in the early 2000s.

Once again I am teaching my class on terrorism and political violence, and so returning to the blog is “This Week in Terrorism History,” a series of posts that I started back in 2016 and returned to in 2018, the last time I taught this course.

As I wrote in the earlier incarnations of this feature:

[O]ne 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.

In the past I have relied mainly on the counterterrorism calendar that had in the long-ago-time-before-Trump been produced annually starting in 2003 and made available to the public by the National Counterterrorism Center. Go online to look for it now, and you wind up here, at a literal dead end. So, where necessary, I will rely on the calendar produced in 2016, before the last group of competent people exited the NCTC’s building.

There are positives and negatives to losing that resource. The key negative is simply convenience. I have to scramble around more to find good examples to bring to your, and my students’, attention. That brings us to the positive. A key flaw of the NCTC calendar was its near-exclusive focus on incidents that targeted Americans, or American allies and interests. Likewise, it tended to highlight groups espousing ideologies seen as threatening to the United States and of significant contemporary security concern. Put these two flaws together and you get a rather myopic emphasis on Islamist groups to the exclusion of a lot of other relevant incidents and cases. One last point which I noted the last time I was working on this feature:

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.

To deal with these shortcomings and the biases they represent, this time I am going to draw incidents from what is generally considered the gold-standard for datasets for those studying or researching terrorism: the Global Terrorism Database housed at the University of Maryland. I’ll supplement these with additional information from the 2016 NCTC calendar, and data on domestic terrorism, mostly on the far right-wing, compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

So, with that, let’s get to the history.

  • Jan. 6, 1963 — Colombia: Founding of the National Liberation Army (ELN).
  • Jan. 6, 1974 — London: The Provisional Irish Republican Army attempts to assassinate British Maj. Gen. Phillip Ward, using an improvised explosive device.
  • Jan. 8, 2008 — Ja-Ela, Sri Lanka: A roadside bomb attributed to the Tamil Tigers kills a government minister; one more killed and a further 10 are injured.
  • Jan. 8, 2000 — Rome: The Revolutionary Leninist Brigades carry out an arson attack against the offices of the extreme right National Front movement.
  • Jan. 10, 1990 — Arequipa, Peru: A bomb is detonated at the Belaunde Gold Mine. Attack is attributed to the Shining Path.
  • Jan. 11, 2017 — Arish, Egypt: Gunmen open fire on a security forces vehicle parked in front of a hospital, killing three and wounding two more. The attack is attributed to the Sinai Province of the Islamic State.
  • Jan. 12, 1988 — Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico: Members of the Pedro Albizu Campos Revolutionary Forces placed incendiary devices at a Citibank branch and a Mexican travel agency housed in the same building. No one was injured though both businesses sustained damage. 


  1. Joe Schaffer says

    My questions: What is the definition of terrorism? Or what is the scope being used here. All of the examples given are of outer groups striking out against larger establishment groups. Is the opposite, that is the establishment groups striking out against the outer groups, considered terrorism? For example, the massacre of striking miners in Ludlow Colorado in 1914, or the assassination of Oscar Romero in San Salvador, El Salvador in 1980.

    • Pete Trumbore says

      Good question Joe. The definition used here is consistent with how the term is defined by most scholars and policy analysts. Here is a quick version: “Terrorism is premeditated, politically, religiously, or socially motivated violence, or the threat of violence, against civilian (noncombatant) targets by non-state actors, usually intended to influence an audience through the creation and exploitation of fear. In short, terrorism is a form of political theater designed to reach beyond the immediate victims of any given attack.”

      In these examples, these are all groups trying to overthrow an existing status quo. There are groups that seek to uphold the existing order through the use of terrorism (for example pro-government paramilitaries and death squads in places like Latin America and Northern Ireland), and some of them will show up in future posts.

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