Today in Terrorism

August 19, 1978: Sandinista gunmen kill 4 officials in Managua

On this day in 1978, two officials associated with the Somoza regime were killed and two police officers wounded by likely Sandinista terrorists in Nicaragua.

The phrase ‘one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter’ never seems to go away.

MANAGUA, NICARAGUA — Do you have any idea how many definitions of terrorism there are out there? Take a guess. 20? 50? 75? Try more than 260. 260!

This number comes from European academic Alex Schmid, who wrote in the 2011 Routledge Handbook of Terrorism Research that there is simply no consensus on what terrorism is and what it is not. He was able to condense all these into what he called a ‘consensus’ definition but I am fairly sure that agreement on this emotional term will always escape us.

One way in which the difficulty in coming up with a phrase that can garner majority support can be seen has been the distinction – very unhelpful to me at least – between ‘terrorist’ and ‘freedom fighter’. Lots of people use this dichotomy to illustrate not only the complete lack of consistency of usage but also the influence of where one stands on any given conflict when it comes to use of violence for political ends.

On this day in 1978, two officials associated with the Somoza regime were killed and two police officers wounded by likely Sandinista terrorists in Nicaragua.

A famous case of this was in Nicaragua in the 1980s. After the Sandinistas took over from the US-sponsored dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza in 1979, the US decided to sponsor yet another group, called the Contras (Spanish for ‘oppositionists’). These actors engaged the government in attacks for years and were part of the later infamous Iran-Contra scandal (remember Oliver North and all that?).

I was in Nicaragua in the mid-1980s and saw some of the damage (physical and human) which the Contra ‘freedom fighters’ did. Full disclosure: I was neither a Sandinista nor a Contra ‘fan’, preferring to call it as I saw it and, as an intelligence analyst, knew that the Sandinistas were not as lily white and heroic as their fans made them out to be.

Oliver North: I swear I never did nothing I was accused of doing

On this day in 1978

This day in 1978 demonstrated well in my view that the Sandinistas too were terrorists. Two advisors to the Somoza regime were gunned down in Managua and two police officers were killed. The likely gunmen were indeed Sandinistas, as that movement had been engaged in a guerrilla-type war with the Nicaraguan government for years.

Fast forward forty years and the Sandinistas are still in power, now acting a lot like the Somozas did. Funny how that often happens, isn’t it?

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Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. and Director of the National Security programme at the University of Ottawa’s Professional Development Institute (PDI). Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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