Tuesday, October 9, 2007

This Week in the History of Terrorism, October 7 to 13

Here's my summary of significant past events for this week. It includes a mostly forgotten episode in Canadian history - the "October Crisis" of 1970 - when the leftist Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, astounded many by cracking down big-time on a separatist movement that had taken to terrorism (he even suspended habeas corpus). Trudeau then went on national TV and radio and delivered the most exemplary statement I have ever heard on the obligation democratic societies have to defend themselves against political violence.

If that was the high point of the week, the low point was equally striking and memorable. The photo above is of a Palestinian woman, the sole survivor of a terrorist crew that had skyjacked an airliner, flashing the "V for Victory" sign as she was carried away on a stretcher drenched in blood, her own and that of others. Something about that photo sums up for me the nature of terrorism as the terrorist sees it: 'Because I've made a horrifying bloody spectacle, I have won.' She believes she has won a victory not in spite of the slaughter she committed, but because of it.

October 7

1985 (Mediterranean Sea) – Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) members hijacked an Italian cruise liner, the Achille Lauro, shortly after the Naples-based ship left the port of Alexandria in Egypt on its way to Port Said. The hijackers demanded the release of 50 Palestinian prisoners held in Israel. When refused permission to dock at Tartus, the hijackers killed a 69-year old wheelchair-bound U.S. tourist. They eventually surrendered to Egyptian authorities.

Egyptian authorities gave the hijackers free passage out of the country, putting them on a chartered Egypt Air 737. The aircraft was intercepted over the Mediterranean by U.S. Navy warplanes that forced it to land at U.S. Naval Air Station Sigonella, a NATO airbase in Sicily, where the hijackers were arrested by Italian authorities after a runway stand-off with a U.S. Army Delta Force detachment that had intended to take the hijackers to the U.S. Four hijackers were kept in custody, but their leader, Abu Abbas, who was holding a diplomatic passport, was allowed to leave, despite protests by the United States. Those kept in custody were eventually released on parole and disappeared.

Abu Abbas, whose real name was Muhammad Zaidan (1948 – 2004), was the founder of a PLO faction called the Palestinian Liberation Front. After he was released by Italian authorities in 1985 Abbas found refuge in Iraq, and he was captured there when U.S. forces seized Baghdad in 2003. He died of heart failure before he could be brought to trial.

October 8

1967 (Bolivia) – The Bolivian Army captured Che Guevara during an encounter with guerrillas in Higuera near the city of Vallegrande. After verifying his identity, they executed him. Guevara had left Cuba in 1965 and attempted to foment revolutions first in the Congo and then in Bolivia. After his death, Guevara became an icon for socialist revolutionary movements worldwide. The famous photo of Che by Alberto Korda was one of the 20th century’s most recognizable images and also, ironically, one of its most commercialized, having appeared on countless posters and t-shirts.

October 9

1934 (France)
– King Alexander I of Yugoslavia was assassinated while on a state visit to Marseille, France. The action was carried out by the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO), a revolutionary movement that operated in the Macedonian and Trace regions of the former Ottoman Empire, in Bulgaria, and in the Macedonian regions of Greece and Yugoslavia. Ideologically and tactically, IMRO was a forerunner of modern nationalist-revolutionary terrorist groups such as the IRA, the Red Brigades, and the ETA.

King Alexander went to Marseille on a diplomatic visit aimed at strengthening his defensive alliance with the French Third Republic against Nazi Germany. While being driven through the streets along with French Foreign Minister Louis Bartou, the assassin, a Bulgarian named Vlado Georgieff who was an aide to IMRO leader Ivan Mihailov, stepped from the street and shot the King, the Minister and their chauffeur. It was the first political assassination to be captured on film, with the shooting and its aftermath occurring directly in front of a newsreel cameraman at a distance of less than ten feet. A French mounted policeman cut the assassin down with a saber, and he was then beaten to death by the crowd.

1983 (Burma / Myanmar) – The president of South Korea, Chun Doo Hwan, narrowly avoided being killed in an ambush while on a state visit to Burma (now known as Myanmar) and preparing to lay a wreath at the Martyrs Mausoleum, the monument that commemorates Aung San, founder of independent Burma. As some of the President’s staff began assembling at the Mausoleum, one of three bombs concealed in the roof exploded, killing 21 people and wounding 46 in the crowd below. Among the dead were the Korean foreign minister, the economic planning minister, the deputy prime minister, the minister for commerce and industry, and various South Korean presidential advisers, journalists, and security officials. President Chun was saved because his car had been delayed in traffic. The North Korean regime was suspected of sponsoring the attack, but no direct evidence has emerged to implicate it.

The person who detonated the bomb most likely saw the South Korean ambassador’s limo pull up and heard presidential-sounding music playing, and triggered the bomb early.

October 10

1993 (Peru) – The Sendero Luminoso (SL), or Shining Path, a Maoist revolutionary group, fired mortars at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence, causing no casualties and only slight damage. It was one of 13 SL attacks on foreign interests in Peru that year, part of a wide-spread urban campaign against the government of President Fujimori.

1970 (Canada) – The “October Crisis” began in Canada when both the Minister and the Vice Minister of Labor in Quebec, Chenier Cell and Pierre Laporte, respectively, were kidnapped by members of the Front de Liberation du Quebec (FLQ). Laporte was later killed. Five days earlier, the FLQ had kidnapped the British Trade Commissioner, James Richard Cross. The FLQ was a French-Canadian separatist group that carried out a campaign of terrorism between 1963 and 1970, climaxing in these kidnappings which resulted in the invocation of Canada’s War Powers Act to restore order.

On October 13, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau justified his strong repressive measures during an interview with the CBC, saying in part: “I think the society must take every means at its disposal to defend itself against the emergence of a parallel power which defies the elected power in this country … so long as there is a power in here which is challenging the elected representative of the people I think that power must be stopped."

Prime Minister Trudeau further remarked about criticism of the heavy military presence in city streets: “There are a lot of bleeding hearts around who just don't like to see people with helmets and guns. All I can say is, go on and bleed, but it is more important to keep law and order in the society than to be worried about weak-kneed people.”

From 1963 to 1970, the FLQ committed over 200 violent political actions, including bombings, bank hold-ups and at least three killings. Targets included English-owned businesses, banks, McGill University, Loyola College, the Montreal Stock Exchange, and the homes of prominent English speakers. Although it was broken in 1970 by the use of the War Powers Act – which allowed the suspension of habeas corpusFLQ remnants continued to be active on a lesser scale, and to carry out attacks centering on language-based French nationalism. In 2001, an FLQ member was convicted of the attempted firebombing of three Second Cup coffee shops in Montreal, because of the company's use of its incorporated English name, "Second Cup." The bombings frightened away customers, and the company changed their signs in Quebec to Les Cafés Second Cup.

October 11

1998 (Democratic Republic of Congo)
– A Congo Airlines 727 was shot down over Kindu by Tutsi rebels using an SA-7 missile, killing all 40 persons aboard.

October 12

2000 (Yeman) – Suicide bombers in an inflatable dinghy attacked the USS Cole while it was moored in the Yemeni port of Eden, killing 17 sailors. The explosion left a gash up to 40 feet long in the left side of the destroyer, which came close to being lost before the crew brought the damage under control. Al-Qaeda was responsible. The attack on the USS Cole was the worst on a U.S. interest target since the bombings of embassies in Kenya and Tanzania two years earlier.

October 13

1977 (West Germany) – A Lufthansa flight en route to Frankfurt from Majorca, Spain, was hijacked by four members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian (PFLP) who were acting on behalf of the German Red Army Faction (RAF). After being denied landing rights in Oman and Eden, the aircraft ended up on the ground in Mogadishu, Somalia, where the 89 passengers were held hostage to press RAF demands on the German government. The German Border Police unit GSG-9 stormed the plane there, freeing all remaining hostages (the hijackers had killed the pilot earlier) and killing three of the four hijackers.

After the crisis was resolved, the German government stated that it would never again negotiate with terrorists.

The surviving hijacker, Souhaila Sami Andrawes Sayeh, born in Palestine in 1953, served a short prison sentence in Somalia and was released. In 1991, she moved to Oslo, Norway, with her husband and a daughter until she was discovered there by German police and extradited to Germany in 1995. She was sentenced to ten years in prison but was released after only five due to ill health.

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