Monday, November 5, 2007

This Week in the History of Terrorism, November 4 to 10

Here's my summary of significant past events for this week. Although it was far from the most important, one event that really struck me was the conviction on November 7, 1990, of three radical left-wing American women, members of the Weather Underground Organization, for a variety of bombings directed at the U.S. government.

Note the date of the conviction: 1990. Those feisty ladies were still going strong two decades after the rest of the '60s generation had put away their bongs and gotten jobs. Also note that one of the trio, Linda Evans (photo above), had her sentence commuted in 2001 by President Clinton, one of her fellow '60s radicals who later went, more or less, straight. The following year, Linda received a grant from the George Soros-funded Open Society Institute in recognition of her inspiring work in the field of political organizing.

Today, Linda carries on the fight against American imperialism from her post at the Center for Third World Organizing, in Oakland, California, where she is "focusing on leadership skills development for ex-offender activists and working to improve re-entry services for people coming out of prison." Who says there are no second acts in American lives?

November 4

1979 (Iran)
-The Iran hostage crisis began when student proxies of the new Iranian regime of Ayatollah Rubollah Khomeini overran the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held 63 diplomats and 3 other U.S. citizens hostage for 14 months. The United States launched a rescue operation which failed and caused the death of eight U.S. troops. The hostages were held for the next 444 days. The crisis was eventually resolved by the Algiers Accords, under which the U.S. released Iranian assets frozen after the fall of the Shah and made other concessions.

1995 (Israel) -Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a 25-year old Israeli student, Yigal Amir, who opposed Rabin's signing of the Oslo Accords. The attack took place as Rabin was leaving a rally promoting the Oslo peace process at Tel Aviv's Kings of Israel Square (now renamed Yitzhak Rabin Square). Yigal Amir is currently serving a life sentence for murder plus 14 years for conspiracy.

November 5

1605 (Britain)
– The great- great- great- grandfather of all modern terrorist acts was foiled when a plot to blow up Parliament during its opening session was discovered. Had the plot succeeded it would been perhaps the most spectacular act of terrorism of all time, decapitating the entire British ruling class – King James I, his ministers and court, legislators of all factions, and religious authorities – at one stroke. The tactic employed was to hide barrels of gunpowder – an advanced explosive in 1605 – in the cellars beneath the Palace of Westminster and detonate them when the opening ceremony commenced.

The plot was launched by a small circle of dissident Catholics in response to the state’s suppression of Catholicism, and the plotters expected the act to initiate a country-wide uprising which they hoped would be supported by Spain (then Britain’s primary great power rival) and end with the installation of King James’s daughter (whose mother, Queen Anne, was Catholic) as head of state.

The Gunpowder Plot is remembered in British folklore through nursery rhymes and songs, Guy Fawkes Night bonfires, and such. Shakespeare’s Macbeth (first performed in 1606) is full of references to the Plot. Interest has increased sharply in recent years; Antonia Frasers’s history of the Plot and its aftermath, Faith and Treason, was re-issued in 2005, and the Plot also inspired Alan Moore’s dystopian graphic novel “V for Vendetta” and the 2006 movie of the same name.

November 6

2001 (Spain)
- A roadside bomb detonated during rush hour traffic in Madrid wounded 100 persons. Basque ETA was suspected.

November 7

1985 (Colombia) – The Marxist revolutionary group M-19 assaulted the Supreme Court building in Bogota and seized hostages. Shortly afterwards, a recording was delivered to a radio station saying that the M-19 group had taken over the building in the name of peace and social justice, and the M-19 members demanded via telephone that President Belisario Betancur come to the Palace of Justice to stand trial before them. The incident ended 30 hours later when units of the Colombian military and security forces stormed the building and killed all the guerrillas. A total of over 100 persons were killed. During the first hours of the siege, a fire had broken out and burned numerous court records, including the files of every drug trafficker extradition case.

1983 (United States) – A small bomb exploded in the U.S. Capitol’s North wing at 10:58 PM, a time when the adjacent halls were virtually deserted. It had been hidden under a bench at the eastern end of a corridor. Minutes before the blast, a caller claiming to represent the "Armed Resistance Unit" had warned the Capitol switchboard that a bomb had been placed near the Chamber in retaliation for recent U.S. military involvement in Grenada and Lebanon. No one was injured, and damages were estimated at $250,000. After the incident the Capitol tightened security measures, closing some areas to the public and adding an ID badge system plus metal detectors to building entrances.

In 1990, a Federal court convicted three members of the “Resistance Conspiracy” of this bombing plus others at Fort McNair and the Washington Navy Yard. Of the three, Marilyn Buck is still in prison, Laura Whitehorn has been released, and Linda Evans had her sentence commuted by President Clinton on the day he left, January 20, 2001. In 2004, Evans was awarded a George Soros grant for her political activism.

November 8

1987 (United Kingdom) – A bomb planted by the PIRA killed thirteen persons attending Remembrance Day ceremonies in Enniskillen, a city whose close proximity to the border with the Irish Republic made it a frequent target for the PIRA. The device went off without warning at 10:45 AM outside the town's cenotaph, where people had gathered to pay their respects to the war dead. Enniskillen is a town with a long military tradition and it lost many residents killed in the First and Second World Wars. The bombing provoked a huge backlash by both the British and Irish publics, and it came to be seen as a major tactical error by the PIRA. In 1997, Sin Fein leader Gerry Adams apologized for the bombing.

November 9

2005 (Jordan) – Three near-simultaneous suicide bomb attacks against hotels in Amman killed more than 50 and injured 110. “Al-Qaeda in Iraq” claimed responsibility. One bomb exploded in a ballroom at the Radisson SAS where a wedding reception was taking place, killing 38 people. The bombs were worn in wrap-around belts and contained 10 pounds of RDX explosive covered with ball bearings. A second would-be bomber at the Radisson, the wife of the one who detonated in the ballroom, failed to trigger her bomb, and was captured.

2005 (Iraq) – A 38-year old Belgian woman, Miriel Degauque, a convert to Islam, conducted a suicide carbomb attack against a U.S. military convoy traveling south of Baghdad. She was the only person killed. Belgian authorities determined that Degauque had married a Muslim immigrant and subsequently became radical in her religious views. The couple went to Iraq to join the Iraqi insurgency. Degauque's husband failed to detonate his explosive belt in the convoy attack, but was killed in a separate incident. The death of Muriel Degauque (1967 – 2005) has focused European attention on the security issues raised by native citizens who adopt radical Islamic beliefs.

2003 (Saudi Arabia) – A residential compound in Riyadh near the Diplomatic Quarter was attacked with a large carbomb, killing 18 persons and injuring 122. Al Qaeda elements are suspected. Nearly all the victims were all Arabs, many of them workers from Egypt and Lebanon. This, plus the fact that the attack occurred during Ramadan, resulted in a popular backlash in Saudi Arabia against Al Qaeda.

November 10

2000 (Spain) – Five suspected ETA members of the Vizcaya Commando were arrested in Bilbao.

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