Violent ethnonational liberation and separatist movements are common across the terrorism landscape and have been for decades. The examples are well known, from the FLN in Algeria to the Provisional IRA and its successors in Northern Ireland, ETA in the Basque regions of Spain, to the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.
What we might not realize, however, is the experience of domestic terrorism in America includes attacks against the United States in the name of national liberation. Puerto Rican separatist groups, fighting for the independence of the territory from the U.S., have been among the most active. In a 1986 report produced for the Department of Justice, noted terrorism expert Bruce Hofmann wrote:
For more than three decades, Puerto Rican separatists have waged a sporadic, but persistent campaign against U.S. possession of their island. Their goal is to establish an independent and sovereign Puerto Rico. Their first operation, the attempted assassination of President Harry Truman, occurred more than a quarter of a century ago, in 1950. Four years later, separatists attacked the House of Representatives Chamber in Washington, D.C., injuring five Congressmen.
According to a 2014 report produced by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, 31 percent of the groups carrying out domestic terrorist attacks in the United States between 1970 and 2013 were motivated by an ethnonationalist/separatist agenda. Many of these were the work of Puerto Rican nationalists, the bulk of whose attacks were occurred in the 1970s and 1980s. The most active of these groups was Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional (FALN), responsible for 120 attacks between 1974 and 1982.
This week’s look back at the history of terrorism in the United States features two attacks carried out by one of the precursor organizations to the FALN. The Armed Commandos of Liberation (Comandos Armados de Liberacion) organized in 1969, launching its first attacks against U.S. businesses in Puerto Rico. By 1974, police on the island had dismantled the organization. But remnants of that group and a second, the Armed Independence Revolutionary Movement (Movimiento de Independencia Revolucionario en Armas) regrouped and united to form FALN later that same year.
The Armed Commandos of Liberation were responsible for 13 attacks, all on the island of Puerto Rico, over their five-year lifespan. Their deadliest attack came in April of 1971, when two bombs detonated at a shopping center killing three and causing extensive damage to the complex. The group was also implicated in the March 1970 assassination of two U.S. Navy personnel. That attack was believed to be in retaliation for the killing of a student protester by police the day earlier at the University of Puerto Rico.
Now on to this week’s look back.
- Nov. 21, 1970 — Portland, Oregon: Suspected left-wing militants bomb a replica of the Liberty Bell located behind City Hall. The bell was destroyed and the building damaged. A janitor was injured by flying glass.
- Nov. 21, 1970 — Chattanooga, TN: A bomb was thrown through the window of the chief of security of a TNT manufacturer. At the time, the company was embroiled in a bitter labor dispute. Striking workers were suspected. No one was injured in the attack, but the home suffered extensive damage.
- Nov. 22, 1970 — St. Petersburg, FL: John Allen Brown, described as a left-wing militant, planted a high explosive bomb in the waterfront Shore Acre/Snell Isle neighborhood of St. Petersburg. The bomb failed to detonate due to a faulty timing mechanism. Police believe Brown was also responsible for the bombing of a St. Petersburg police car several days earlier.
- Nov. 23, 1970 — San Juan, Puerto Rico: The Armed Commandos of Liberation carry out a bombing attack against the Dominican Consulate, the diplomatic offices of the Dominican Republic in Puerto Rico. No one was injured in the attack.
- Nov. 25, 1970 — New York City: The Jewish Defense League is blamed for a bombing attack at the offices of Aeroflot, the Soviet Union’s national airline. No one was injured.
- Nov. 25, 1970 — New York City: The Jewish Defense League is blamed for a second bombing attack, this one directed against the offices of Intourist, which organized tours to the Soviet Union. It was the primary travel agency for foreign tourists to the USSR.
- Nov. 25, 1970 — Berkeley, CA: A bomb is discovered in the men’s restroom of a gymnasium at the University of California, Berkeley. The bomb was disarmed by a US military bomb squad. Student radicals were suspected.
- Nov. 25, 1970 — San Juan, Puerto Rico: A bomb was planted in the R.O.T.C. building of the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan. The fragmentation device was discovered and removed thirty minutes before it was set to detonate. The Armed Commandos of National Liberation were suspected as the attempt came two days after the group’s bombing of the consulate of the Dominican Republic.