Most terrorists are hapless amateurs but some pull off truly spectacular attacks.
WARRENPOINT, NORTHER IRELAND — If you want to draw attention to your cause, in a violent way or not, there are several ways to do this. Here are a few (not an exhaustive list by any means):
- Get a high profile person to shill for you (think Brigitte Bardot – remember her?? – and the anti-fur lobby);
- Pull off a high profile publicity stunt (Greenpeace was good at this);
- Carry out a spectacular attack.
Unfortunately, there are far too many of this last one category: 9/11 ring a bell?
This is not to say that terrorists are capable of actually executing something that makes us sit up and say ‘Wow’ very often. Quite the opposite, actually. Most attacks are low profile, amateurish and have very little long term impact. This was my experience while working in counter terrorism at CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service). That is a good thing, since the opposite would be catastrophic.
On this day in 1979
Nevertheless, once in a blue moon a group does succeed in achieving ‘the big one’. Today’s featured attack is a great example. On this day in 1979 a bomb exploded on a wooden fishing boat off the western coast of the Republic of Ireland, killing three people and mortally injuring a fourth. One of the dead was Lord Louis Mountbatten, a 79-year-old war hero, diplomat and a cousin of Queen Elizabeth: his teenage grandson and a local teenager who worked on the boat were also killed.
The Provisional Irish Republican Army quickly claimed responsibility, issuing a statement that its operatives had placed a 23-kg bomb on board the vessel, which was triggered by a remote control. The same group claimed responsibility for another attack that day — one that killed 18 British soldiers, nearly 200 kilometres away, across the border in the port town of Warrenpoint in Northern Ireland.
It was the single most stunning, outrageous incident the IRA has ever staged in its history. In killing Lord Mountbatten, it struck at the inner circle of the Royal Family and assassinated one of the most respected figures in Britain.
This was indeed a spectacular attack by the IRA, one that reverberated for years. And yet, did it ‘advance’ the group’s goals to gain an independent Ireland? Not really.