Sunday, August 26, 2007

This Week in the History of Terrorism, August 26 - September 1

Here's my summary of significant past events for this week.

August 27

1979 (Ireland) – Lord Louis Mountbatten was assassinated by the Provisional IRA (PIRA). The attack was carried out by planting a bomb in his boat while Mountbatten was holidaying at his summer home in Mullaghmore, County Sligo, in the Republic of Ireland. Also killed were two guests and a 15-year old local boy working as a crew member. Mountbatten’s boat, the 30-foot Shadow V, had just set off from Mullaghmore when the bomb was detonated by remote control.

The attack called into question the security arrangements surrounding the Mountbatten party. Lord Mountbatten never had a bodyguard, only a local police watch on his residence for the one month a year he spent there. His boat was left unguarded in the public dock in Mullaghmore.

A PIRA member, Thomas McMahon, who had been arrested for driving a stolen car near Mullaghmore two hours before the bombing, was convicted of the four murders on the basis of evidence that he had traces of explosive, sand, and paint from the boat on his clothes. He was released from prison in 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement between the UK and the PIRA.

August 28

1979 (Belgium) – A PIRA bomb exploded in the Great Market in Brussels, just missing a British Army band that was performing there. This attack, like the assassination of Mountbatten and the Warrenpoint ambush, was one of many on British interests outside the UK that was conducted by the PIRA in the late 1970s.

August 29

1997 (Algeria) – One of bloodiest atrocities of the Algerian conflict took place at the village of Rais, south of Algiers, when the villagers were massacred by the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), evidently in retaliation for the villagers refusal to continue supplying the FIS with food and money. News media accounts that quoted hospital workers and witnesses gave death tolls of 200 to 800. The official figure given by the Algerian government to the UN was 238. Algeria was then at the peak of a brutal civil conflict that had begun after the military's cancellation of the 1992 elections that would have brought an Islamic government to power.

2003 (Iraq) – The leader of the Iraqi Shia Moslem community, the Ayatollah Sayed Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, was assassinated when a massive carbomb exploded as he left the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf. The blast killed at least 84, and possibly over 200. Al-Hakim was the son of the Grand Ayatollah who was the worldwide leader of Shia Muslims from 1955 to 1970, and he had long opposed the Hussein regime from exile.

It was unclear who was behind the attack. Suspicion focused on Hussein regime or Ba’ath Party remnants, on Sunni Moslems opposed to the increasing Shia influence in Iraq, and even on rival Shia groups either as part of an internal power struggle or as a hard-line reaction to Al-Hakim’s friendliness towards the United States. On August 30, Iraqi authorities arrested four people in connection with the bombing: two former members of the Ba’ath Party, and two non-Iraqi Arabs from the Salafi (Sunni) sect. However, some U.S. and Iraqi officials believe that Al-Qaeda was responsible, stating that bomb maker Abu Omar al-Kurdi, who was captured in January 2005, confessed to carrying out the bombing.

August 30

1982 (Lebanon)
– The leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Yasser Aarfat, evacuated Beirut with the remnants of his organization after using the city as his headquarters for more than a decade. Arafat was forced out after three months of sustained Israeli attacks that were originally intended merely to destroy PLO bases near Israel's northern border, but escalated into a campaign that completely defeated the PLO in Lebanon. The attacks began as retaliation for a PLO assassination attempt on the Israeli ambassador in London. Arafat declared Beirut the "second Stalingrad" during the siege; much of the city was ruined by artillery and aerial bombardment, and roughly 17,000 civilians killed.

August 31

1994 (Ireland)
– The Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) declared a ceasefire in its armed struggle with the United Kingdom. The statement said there would be a "complete cessation of military operations" as of midnight, and that the organization was willing to enter into inclusive talks on the political future of Northern Ireland.

September 1

1970 (Jordan)
– King Hussein of Jordan was the target of an assassination attempt by Palestinian militants, who attacked his motorcade. It was one of several attempts that day to kill the King, all arising from the conflict between the Kingdom and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which was demanding virtual autonomy for its enclaves inside Jordan. This conflict led the King to declare martial law on September 16 and expel the PLO in a military campaign that continued until July 1971.

2004 (Russia) – Chechen terrorists seized School Number One in the town of Beslan in the North Ossetia region of the Russian Republic, holding more than 1200 children and adults for almost three days. After 56 hours, shooting broke out between the hostage-takers and Russian security forces. According to the final Russian official reports, 344 persons were killed, 186 of them children, and hundreds more were wounded. Chechen leader Shamil Basayev took responsibility for the attack, which was reportedly led by his principal deputy, Magomet Yevloyev.

The attack was staged on September 1st for maximum impact, because that is the start of the school year in Russia and children are accompanied by parents and other relatives who attend ceremonies hosted by their school. There were even more children in attendance than usual that day, since the town's kindergarten had been closed due to a gas supply problem and many mothers brought their youngest children to School No. 1.

(Below, photo and sketch) The gymnasium where the 1200 hostages spent 56 hours measured 10 meters wide by 25 meters long. Explosives were hung inside the basketball nets and around the floor.

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