This week in terrorism history: Nov. 14-20

The Falls Church Islamic Center was the target of a terrorist attack, this week in 2015.

In my experience, many Americans have the unfortunate tendency to think that the story of terrorism in America begins with 9/11 and continues in the years since with one episode of jihadist-inspired terror after another. Of course, as I’ve long argued in this space, this narrative is about as far from reality as you can get.

What it ignores is the extent to which Muslims, and especially Muslim places of worship, have themselves been the target of domestic terrorism.

A few years ago, after a series of high-profile attacks on churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, I wrote a post looking at the record of attacks on places of worship here in the United States over the 20-year period from 1998 to 2017. What I found was not surprising. Overall, the pattern fits with the larger trends in domestic terrorism here.

There were 80 such attacks during that 20-year period, most targeting places where minority communities worship. Mosques were the most frequently attacked, followed by synagogues, and then Black churches. In all, two-thirds of attacks on places of worship were directed against religious and racial minorities.

Mosques continued to be in the crosshairs in the years after 9/11. The Global Terrorism Database identifies 37 such incidents between September 2001 and the end of 2019. This is in marked contrast to the period prior to 9/11. My quick look through the data allowed me to identify only a single obvious case of a mosque being the target of attack.

One June 22, 1985, two bombs detonated in the prayer room of the Daar Us Salaam mosque in Houston, Texas, about an hour after worshippers left the mosque. There were no injuries, but the building suffered extensive damage. Three men, all Houston residents, were convicted of building and detonating the bombs. They claimed the attack was carried out in retaliation and anger over the holding of American hostages in Beirut, Lebanon by Shiite Muslim militias. The bombing came in the midst of a series of threatening phone calls to several area mosques and Islamic society offices after the hostage situation in Beirut.

This week’s look back at terrorism in the United States highlights two more such attacks, falling on the same day, but occurring hundreds of miles apart.

  • Nov. 15, 2015 — Falls Church, Va.: An attacker, identified as Chester H. Gore, was arrested after throwing firebombs at the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center. He was also accused of planting a fake bomb at the mosque. No one was injured in the attack, though the building suffered structural damage.
  • Nov. 15, 2015 — Meriden, Conn.: Ex-Marine sharpshooter Ted Hakey, Jr. fired several shots into the Baitul Aman Mosque on Main Street in Meriden. No one was injured in the attack. According to news reports, Hakey’s attack was in apparent retaliation for attacks by ISIS-affiliated terrorists in Paris, which killed 130 the day before. He posted on social media the day of that attack: “What is gonna be the breaking point to go ‘weapons free’ against Islam.” Investigators found other anti-Muslim diatribes on his computer, including a message to a friend in which he wrote, “”If we all kill just 1 Muslim each tonight it will make a dent!” Hakey was sentenced to six months in federal prison in the incident.