Friday, October 5, 2007

This Week in the History of Terrorism, Sept. 30 to October 6

Here's my summary of significant past events for this week. It was a week exceptionally full of key turning points, including the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat by the Muslim Brotherhood, the radicalization of Irish national politics by the Maze Prison hunger strike and the martyrdom of 11 IRA prisoners, and the first successful attack by Al Qaeda on a petroleum infrastructure target.

September 30

2001 (Colombia)
– The dead body of Consuelo Araújonoguera, a popular former minister of Culture, was found. She had been kidnapped by the FARC September 24 on the outskirts of Valledupar, and was killed in a crossfire when the Colombian Army attempted a rescue. Araújonoguera was a politician, writer and journalist who had created of one of the most important cultural and musical events in Colombia, the Vallenato Legend Festival.

October 1

2005 (Indonesia) – Three suicide bomb attacks in two tourist areas on the Indonesian resort island of Bali killed at least 19 people as well as the three bombers and wounded more than 50. Local news media reported that police had found a number of other unexploded devices. Indonesia’s counter-terrorism chief, Major General Ansyaad Mbai, named two leaders of the Islamic extremist group Jemaah Islamiah (JI) as suspects. JI had conducted similar bomb attacks in 2002. The targets of the attack were restaurants, two in the Jimbaran beach resort, and the third in Kuta. Medical x-rays showed pellets and ball bearings in many victims' bodies.

1985 (Tunis) – As retaliation for an attack on Israeli civilians by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) unit “Force 17,” the Israeli Defense Force launched an air raid on PLO headquarters in Tunis. Ten IDF fighter/bombers dropped precision-guided bombs on the seaside headquarters compound, with no opposition from the Tunisian Air Force or any air defenses. Israel claimed that some 60 PLO members had been killed, including leaders of Force 17. The UN Security Council denounced the attack 14-0, with the U.S. abstaining.

PLO Chairman Yassir Arafat (1929 – 2004) was not at his HQ at the time. Arafat, undoubtedly the premier survivor of modern times, had narrowly escaped from a number of earlier attacks, and he went on to survive a 1992 air crash in the Libyan dessert that killed his pilot and other passengers. He eventually died of natural causes, something I regard as a monumental injustice; even when he was lying unconscious on his deathbed in a Paris hospital, someone should have busted a cap in his ass simply on general principles.

October 2

1968 (Mexico)
– The ‘Tlatelolco Massacre’ took place on the afternoon and night of October 2, in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas of Mexico City, ten days before the opening of the 1968 Summer Olympics, targeting political dissidents who sought to exploit the attention focused on Mexico City for the Olympics. Estimates of the death toll vary from a low of 200 to 300, to high estimates running in the thousands. (Official sources reported only 4 dead.) The number arrested is also uncertain. The incident qualifies as ‘state-terrorism’ in that extra-judicial violence was used by a regime to suppress a class of political opponents.

The International Olympics Committee chose not to cancel the games. Lord Exeter, British vice-president of the IOC told the press: "the riots have nothing to do with the Olympic Games. The students are not protesting against the games but against the Mexican government." That's right sports fans, let’s put first things first.

October 3

1981 (Ireland) – IRA hunger strikes at Belfast’s Maze Prison came to an end. The strike was begun by prisoner Bobbie Sands in March, who threatened to fast to death unless terrorist inmates won concessions to wear their own clothes, to refrain from prison work, to associate freely with other Republican prisoners, to receive weekly visits and parcels, and to have lost remission on sentences restored. [Regarding that last point, if 50% of remission on sentences lost by the republican prisoners for protesting had been restored, up to 140 Maze protesters could have been freed immediately.] These concessions would have restored the political-prisoner status which the British Government withdrew in 1976 under a new policy of ‘Ulsterization and criminalization’ of the Irish conflict; the previous policy had given special status to paramilitary prisoners under which they had been treated much like prisoners of war.

Sands died on 5 May, and ten other IRA prisoners in the H-Block of Maze Prison subsequently starved themselves to death during the next seven months. The hunger strike was a seminal event that radicalized Irish nationalist politics and prompted Sinn Fein to transition to a political campaign, and thereby it indirectly paved the way for the Good Friday Agreement that ended the conflict many years later.

The political point of the hunger strike was summarized nicely by the chorus of a song written by a Sinn Fein member and played at Sands’s funeral: "So I'll wear no convict's uniform, nor meekly serve my time, that Britain might brand Ireland's fight eight hundred years of crime." The British authorities badly mishandled the hunger strike when it insisted on treating politically-motivated violence (terrorism) and nationalist politics as simple crime. As stated by Prime Minister Thatcher: “crime is crime is crime. It is not political.” She was wrong, and, ultimately, that policy was not sustainable.

October 4

2003 (Israel) – A Palestinian suicide bomber killed 21 people and wounded 60 in a restaurant in Haifa. Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack. The bomber, Hanadi Jaradat, a 29-year-old woman and lawyer from Jenin, managed to get past a security guard before blowing herself up inside the restaurant. In response to the attack, which Israel claimed was planned in the Damascus headquarters of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad organization, a terrorist training camp in Ein-Saheb, Syria, was bombed by Israeli aircraft.

Hanadi Jaradat (1974 – 2003) said, in part, in her video-taped martyrdom statement: ”I decided, after reliance on God, to make the death that they surround us with surround them also, and to make their mothers cry tears and blood.”

October 5

1974 (United Kingdom) – Two IRA bombs exploded in pubs in Guildford, southern England, killing five persons and wounding 65. The pubs were packed with Saturday night customers, many of whom were British Army troops back from duty in Northern Ireland. It is believed that the bombs were placed by an IRA active service unit in London known as “the Balcombe Street Boys,” however, three innocent Irish men and one woman (“the Guildford Four”) were wrongly convicted and spent 14 years in prison before their convictions were overturned and declared a gross miscarriage of justice by the Court of Appeals.

The pubs were targeted because they were frequented by 6,000 soldiers garrisoned in Guildford. The movie In the Name of the Father is based on the Guildford Four case.

2001 (United States) – The first victim of the anthrax attacks that began on September 18, 2001, died. Robert Stevens worked at a tabloid newspaper owned by American Media, Inc., in Boca Raton, Florida, which received one of the first anthrax letters. Letters containing anthrax bacteria were mailed to several news media offices and two U.S. Senators, eventually causing five deaths and sickening seventeen other persons. No one took responsibility for the anthrax attacks, and no one was ever arrested in the case.

The letters sent to Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy contained about one gram of highly refined dried anthrax spoors that were more potent than those in other letters. The Leahy letter had been misdirected to the State Department mail annex due to a misread Zip Code, and a postal worker there contracted inhalation anthrax.

October 6

1976 (Barbados) – Cubana Airlines Flight 455 was sabotaged by anti-Castro Cuban exiles who placed two time-bombs in the DC-8, killing all 73 people aboard. Among the victims were four officials of the Cuban government, and all 24 members of the 1975 Cuban national Fencing team, many of them teenagers, who had just won all the gold medals in the Central American and Caribbean Championship. It was the most deadly commercial airliner attack in the Western hemisphere until the June 23, 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182 in 1985.

1981 (Egypt) – Egypt's President Sadat assassinated as he reviewed a military parade on the occasion of the eight anniversary of the Yom Kippur war with Israel. A number of other dignitaries including foreign diplomats were killed or seriously wounded with Sadat. The attack was carried out by Army officers in collaboration with Egyptian Islamic Jihad who opposed Sadat's peace negotiations with Israel, among other grievances. A Fatwa approving the assassination had been obtained from Omar Abdel-Rahman, a radical cleric later convicted in the U.S. for his role in the 1993 World trade Center bombing. Reportedly, the army officers in charge of ammunition seizure during the parade – a security precaution - were on Haj in Mecca at the time, creating the opportunity exploited by the plotters.

The leader of the attacks was Egyptian Army Lieutenant Khalid Islambouli, who by chance replaced another officer who had been excused from the October parade. When his section of the parade approached the President's reviewing stand, Islambouli and three other soldiers leapt from their truck and ran towards the stand throwing grenades, and Islambouli emptied his assault rifle into Sadat's body. Islambouli and twenty-three co-conspirators were tried, and he and five others were executed in April 1982. One of his co-defendants was the future Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was released from prison in 1984, then traveled to Afghanistan and became a close associate of Osama Bin Laden.

2002 (Yeman) – A French oil tanker, the Limburg, while loading crude oil from Yeman in the Gulf of Aden, was attacked off-shore with an explosives-laden dingy that rammed the starboard side of the tanker and detonated. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack on the website (since shut down), and it is possible that Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who had planned the USS Cole bombing, was responsible for this attack as well. Another Al-Qaeda member, Fawaz Yahya al-Rabe’ie, was sentenced to death for his part in the operation, but on February 3, 2006, he escaped from prison along with 22 others suspected or convicted Al-Qaeda members, 13 of who had been convicted for the Cole or Limburg bombings. Al-Rabe’ie and another escapee were killed by Yemeni security forces in October, 2006.

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