Friday, October 26, 2007
This Week in the History of Terrorism, October 28 to November 3
Here's my summary of significant past events for this week. They include the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and the very nearly successful attempt to assassinate U.S. President Harry Truman.
But the event that I find most intriguing was the 1972 hostage-taking operation by Black September - meaning, in reality, by Al-Fatah and Yassir Arafat - that coerced the West German government into releasing the three surviving Black September terrorists who had committed the Munich Olympic Massacre just eight weeks earlier. Germany released the prisoners to Libya, where they were welcomed as heroes and held a press conference (photo above, from the documentary film One Day in September).
That rank capitulation by the Federal Republic of Germany seemed to prove that nation-states, at least the democratic ones, could not stand up to terrorism. If that was true, it would challenge the foundation of nation-state sovereignty that is the basis of world order.
Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, who up to that point had been reluctant to take unilateral action, now agreed to launch Operation Wrath of God, a covert effort to kill those responsible for the Munich Massacre and to conduct other retaliatory and pre-emptive attacks on terrorist groups.
In 1977, West Germany finally cowboyed-up and created it's own hardline 'no concessions' antiterrorism policy after the German Autumn.
2002 (Jordan) - Lawrence Foley, age 62, the Executive Director of the U.S. Agency for International Development in Jordan, was assassinated as he left his home in Amman en route to his office at the U.S. Embassy. In December 2002, the Jordanian authorities arrested several suspects with ties to al-Qaeda who confessed to the attack. According to a December 15th story in the Jordan Times that quoted the Jordanian Information Minster, the suspects monitored several potential targets before singling out Foley after they noted he had regular home-to-office departure times and would be an easy target. One of the suspects hid behind Foley's car, armed with a silenced pistol and wearing a bulletproof vest, and shot him several times as he was unlocking the driver’s door. Foley's wife discovered his body.
In October, 2003, five men accused in the plot to kill Foley repudiated their confessions, and claimed that security officials had tortured them. In April, 2003, all of the accused were convicted, some in absentia.
1972 (West Germany) – Three Black September Organization terrorists hijacked a Lufthansa airliner and demanded the release of three other BSO members imprisoned in Germany for the Munich Olympics massacre, which had occurred two months earlier. The German government complied and released the prisoners to Libya. That capitulation to terrorism convinced Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir to launch a unilateral campaign of retaliatory and pre-emptive attacks on Palestinian terrorist groups. The three freed terrorists (Adnan Al Gashey, Jamal Al Gashey and Mohammed Safedy) went into hiding.
2005 (India) – Three simultaneous bombings in New Delhi killed 55 persons and wounded almost 200, in the second deadliest terrorist attack in Indian history. The bombings came two days before the festival of Diwali, which is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains. The bombs were placed inside vehicles in high-traffic venues – two markets in central and south Delhi – and inside a bus. The Islamic Inquilab Mahaz, also known as the Islamic Revolutionary Front, claimed responsibility on an Islamic website. The bombs consisted of RDX plastic explosive and were detonated by timers. Many of the victims were Hindus and Sikhs shopping before the Diwali festival.
2000 (Spain) – A judge and two aides were killed and more than 30 person wounded in an ETA carbomb attack in Madrid.
1971 (United Kingdom) – A bomb exploded in the Post Office Tower in London, causing extensive damage but no injuries. The blast occurred in the public viewing galleries on the 33rd floor, shortly after police received a warning call that claimed that the "Kilburn Battalion" of the IRA was behind the attack. The Post Office Tower is a historic site that was used for restaurants and retail shops. It was closed to the public after the bombing. The attack was one of the Provisional IRA's earliest on UK targets.
1984 (India) – The Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated by Sikh militants. Gandhi had offended the Sikhs when she authorized the army to storm their holiest temple, the Golden Temple, in an attempt to suppress a Punjab religious leader and his separatist political movement. In retaliation for the desecration of their shrine, two of Gandhi's Sikh guards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, shot her to death in the garden of the Prime Minister's Residence as she walked through the gate they were guarding. When her death was announced anti-Sikh violence spread across the country, killing thousands.
1950 (United States) – Two members of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party attempted to assassinate President Harry Truman, invading his temporary residence at Blair House and shooting two Secret Service agents and one White House Policeman before they were stopped. The attack was intended to draw attention to the Nationalist armed uprising that was then occurring in Puerto Rico, which included an attempt on the life of the island’s governor.
In the brief gunfight at Blair House, Oscar Collazo fired the first shot but was quickly wounded by two nearby Secret Service agents and collapsed. Griselio Torresola took advantage of the distraction Collazo caused, and came close to entering the residence, firing eight rounds that hit White House Policeman Leslie Coffelt and two Secret Service agents. He was reloading his pistol outside the residence entrance when President Truman stuck his head out of a window, presenting Torresola a clear target at a range of 31 feet. Before Torresola finished reloading, Coffelt, although mortally wounded, stood up, carefully aimed his revolver, and fired one round that hit Torresola two inches above the ear, killing him instantly and ending the gunfight. Cofflet died four hours later.
Oscar Collazo was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to death, later commuted by President Truman to life imprisonment. Pardoned by President Carter in 1979, he returned to Puerto Rico where he died in 1994.
1986 (Lebanon) – A U.S. citizen held hostage in Beirut by the Islamic Jihad Organization for 17 months was released. David Jacobsen's release was the third such success publically credited to the efforts of the British Archbishop of Canterbury's special envoy, Terry Waite. However, it later became known that all of these hostage releases were really the product of secret bartering between White House National Security Council staffers, including Oliver North, and the Iranian regime that sponsored Islamic Jihad in Lebanon. Terry Waite served as the public front for four U.S. hostage releases before Islamic Jihad lost confidence in him and held him hostage from 1987 to 1991.