Sunday, November 18, 2007

This Week in the History of Terrorism, November 18 to 24

Here's my summary of significant past events for this week. Three of them were attacks on diplomatic office buildings: the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad (in 1995), the British consulate in Istanbul (2003), and the U.S. embassy in Islamabad (1979).

The attack on the U.S. embassy in Islamabad has the most complicated story. It was a mob attack involving several thousand Pakistanis, many of them students from a university located near the embassy, who were instigated to storm the embassy by statements from Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini blaming the United States for the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca (even though Saudi Arabian authorities had announced that no westerners were involved in the Mecca incident). The attack on the embassy occured two weeks after the U.S. embassy in Tehran had been seized by student revolutionaries inspired by the Ayatollah, and its diplomats held hostage, so tensions were already high.

All embassies must ultimately rely on their host governments for protection against mob attacks; the big question is whether the host government will be able and willing to respond in time. Pakistan's government was able to muster a response force after about one hour, but by then the attackers were already inside the embassy office building and starting fires. A Pakistani Army helicopter hovered over the burning chancery (photo above, left) to get a sense of the situation, and, as reported by Steve Coll in Ghost Wars ["We're Going to Die Here"], the commander aboard the helo believed no one in the chancery could have survived. President Zia was unwilling to intervene simply to recover dead bodies, and he decided instead to let the mob wear itself out, which it did after about five hours.

Fortunately, the 90-some embassy employees and visitors were not dead but had survived the siege inside the chancery’s safe haven [a protected area that serves as a final refuge during attacks]. During the siege the attackers were trying to get through the safe haven door, and firing down through air ducts on the roof, and the building was burning so hotly that the carpet in the safe haven caught fire. The safe haven held up so long only because it had been designed to withstand exactly that sort of attack, and was equipped with emergency power, ventilation, and escape hatches. One of the survivors in the safe haven was Time magazine's New Delhi Bureau Chief, whose first-person account was carried in Time's December 3rd, 1979, edition.

Lessons learned from mob attacks on the U.S. embassies in Tehran and Islamabad (and in Tripoli, Libya, which was stormed and burned on December 2nd, 1979, also due to false accusations of U.S. involvement in the Mecca seizure) led to a U.S. State Department review of overseas security measures, and during the 1980s protective items such as safe havens were incorporated into mandatory worldwide embassy security standards.

November 19

1995 (Pakistan) – The Egyptian embassy in Islamabad was destroyed and sixteen persons killed in a suicide car bomb attack. The bomb was so large that it damaged buildings within a half-mile radius, including the Japanese and Indonesian Embassies, the Canadian High Commission, the UK housing compound and Grindlays Bank. Al-Gama'at al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group or IG), Egyptian Jihad Group, and the International Justice Group all claimed responsibility for the bombing. The attackers breached the embassy’s perimeter gate with a small explosive charge and attacked the gate guards before driving the vehicle-borne bomb toward the chancery.

November 20

2003 (Turkey)
– The British consulate and a British-owned bank in Istanbul were destroyed with simultaneous car bomb attacks, killing 32 persons and wounding 450. British Consul-General Roger Short was among at least 14 people killed at the consulate. The bank headquarters overlooked a crowded shopping center that was filled with customers at the time the bomb went off. Turkish authorities said the attackers were linked to al-Qaeda.

In February, 2004, a total of 69 people were charged in connection with both bombings, as well as two earlier synagogue bombings. The alleged head of the al-Qaeda faction in Turkey, Habib Akdas, was among nine key indicted suspects who were at large outside Turkey. In September, 2004, Akdas was reported killed in Iraq by U.S. troops.

2000 (Israel/Gaza) – An Israeli school bus was targeted with a roadside bomb, killing two children and wounding ten.

November 21

2000 (Spain)
– The Basque ETA assassinated a former Spanish Minister of Health, Ernest Lluch. Lluch, 63, had served from 1982 to 1986 under former Socialist Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez. He was ambushed him at the basement car park in the building where he lived.

1994 (India) – A powerful bomb exploded outside a restaurant in the Connaught Place shopping area in New Delhi injuring 22 persons including two Dutch citizens, one South African and one Norwegian. Both the Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Front, a Kashmiri Muslim separatist group, and the Khalistan Liberation Tiger Force, a Sikh separatist group, claimed responsibility for the bombing.

1920 (Ireland) – More than 30 persons were killed in Dublin in a cycle of terrorist attacks and official retaliations during the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921). The day began with the assassination of 14 British agents or their informants by the IRA. Later that afternoon, British forces opened fire on the crowd at a Gaelic football match in Croke Park in north Dublin, causing the deaths of 14 civilians. That evening there were scattered shootings in the city, and three IRA prisoners in Dublin Castle were killed by their British captors under suspicious circumstances.

The excesses of the British local auxiliaries, the Black and Tans, much of it implicitly sanctioned, helped turn Irish public opinion against the British. The killings of spectators and players at Croke Park made international headlines and damaged British credibility over the long run. [The Croke Park massacre was depicted somewhat inaccurately in the 1996 movie Michael Collins. A British armored car did open fire as shown in the movie, but it did not, as depicted, enter the playing field.]

November 22

1979 (Pakistan)
– False reports of U.S. involvement in the takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, led to a mob attack on the U.S. embassy in Islamabad and smaller attacks on the American School in Islamabad and the U.S. consulate in Karachi. At the embassy, several thousand Pakistanis overran local police and swarmed into and over the chancery, eventually setting the building on fire. Six persons were killed during the incident: one was an embassy Marine Security Guard who was shot when he went to the chancery roof to monitor the crowd, a second embassy staffer - an Army Warrant Officer - was killed inside his residence on the compound, two local Pakistani embassy employees were also killed, as were two of the attackers.

The Marine Security Guard who died on the roof was Cpl. Steven Crowley, age 19, who had been assigned to Islamabad three months earlier.

1989 (Lebanon) – The President of Lebanon, Rene Moawad, was assassinated in West Beirut. Moawad, a Maronite Christian noted for his moderate political views, had served as President for only 17 days before he was killed. He was elected by the National Assembly after the Taif Agreement that ended the Lebanese civil war. Seventeen days later, as he was returning from Lebanon's Independence Day celebrations, a 500-pound bomb that had been placed in a parked car at the side of the road detonated next to Moawad's motorcade, killing him and 23 others. No investigation into the murder has ever been carried out.

November 23

1985 (Malta)
– An Egyptian airliner was hijacked by the Abu Nidal Group (ANG) and forced to land in Malta. Sixty passengers were killed there when authorities attempted a hostage rescue. One hijacker survived the assault, a Palestinian member of the ANG named Omar Rezaq. He was tried in Malta, sentenced to 25 years, and released after only seven. He subsequently traveled to Nigeria where he was handed over to U.S. authorities. In 1996, a U.S. court sentenced Rezaq to life imprisonment for air piracy.

November 24

2000 (India) – Muslim militants of Lashkar-i-Tayyiba attacked a bus, killing ten persons – six Hindus and four Sikhs.

2006 (Iraq) – A series of car bombings and mortar attacks took place in Sadr City, a Shite area in Iraq, during a thirty-minute period in the afternoon, killing at least 215 people and injured 257 others. This was the single deadliest sectarian attack since the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003. The attacks occurred while residents were commemorating the life of Mohammad Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr, the Shite leader who was killed by the regime of Saddam Hussein in February 1999.

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