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Today in Terrorism

Bomb attack in Angola (July 15, 1984)

On this day in 1984, former Angolan independence war partner UNITA bombed an oil pipeline killing 22 people as part of the Angolan civil war.

It’s funny how losers in civil wars sometimes turn to terrorism.

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CABINDA, ANGOLA — OK, how many of you remember the civil war in Angola? It was unfortunately like a lot of civil wars that beset Africa in the 1900s (Nigeria, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, South Africa, etc.). Lots of civilian deaths (I don’t think that is why they call them ‘civil’ wars).

This one came after Angola attained its independence from Portugal in 1975 (it had been a colony for four centuries!). The two main groups that fought for this status were the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the anti-communist National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). The former won.

It is not rare for groups that fight colonial overlords to be seen either as freedom fighters or as terrorist organisations. It is all about perspective. Not too surprisingly those in power view those trying to take over as terrorists.

Guess what we are fighting for

In the aftermath of the Angolan war for independence UNITA decided it was not yet ready to give up the fight. It began to battle MPLA which it had battled alongside against the Portuguese. It gets complicated.

The violence was set within the Cold War, meaning that the two superpowers backed different factions. UNITA received aid initially from China and then the US and South Africa while the MPLA was backed by the Soviet Union and Cuba. I told you it was complicated.

Some of what UNITA did can only be called terrorist in nature. On this day in 1984 UNITA blew up an oil pipeline in Cabinda province, killing 22 people, including ten from the same family. A further 55 were wounded.

By the time the civil war was over, after more than a quarter century, more than 500,000 people had died and over a million were internally displaced. Not all of them died in terrorist attacks, but some did. Yet another reason why war is a stupid idea.

By Phil Gurski

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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