Well before 9/11 a catastrophic act of terrorism was committed by an individual who had nothing to do with Islamist extremism.
OKLAHOMA CITY, USA — In all the years I worked in security intelligence there is one image that haunts me more than any other. When you work in a field that deals – usually – with bad people planning to do bad things you become inured to reading and writing about a lot of bad. So to say that one particular photo has stayed with me over the past 40 years is really saying something.
Here is that photo.
This is a photo of a firefighter in Oklahoma City cradling the body of a young child found in the wreckage of the Alfred P. Murrah building in the wake of a massive explosion on this day in 1995. Except that this was no gas leak or other ‘ordinary’ blast. This was a cataclysm brought about when a right-wing terrorist named Timothy McVeigh parked a rental truck in front of the US federal building in downtown Oklahoma City. Inside the vehicle was a powerful bomb made out of a deadly cocktail of agricultural fertilizer, diesel fuel, and other chemicals. McVeigh got out, locked the door, and headed towards his getaway car. He ignited one timed fuse, then another.
At precisely 9:02 a.m., the bomb exploded.
Within moments, the surrounding area looked like a war zone. A third of the building had been reduced to rubble, with many floors flattened like pancakes. Dozens of cars were incinerated and more than 300 nearby buildings were damaged or destroyed. The human toll was still more devastating: 168 people died, including 19 children, and several hundred more were injured. It was the worst act of homegrown terrorism in US history.
Interestingly, many if not most Americans assumed that the attack was the work of Islamist terrorists. After all, the first World Trade Center bombing had taken place a scant two years earlier. Except that McVeigh was not a jihadi. He had been brought up in a ‘typical US middle class upbringing’ in New York state and joined the US Army in 1988, apparently excelling at being a soldier.
Everything we did he excelled at. He was the best always.
Oddly enough, he expressed an early interest in The Turner Diaries, which tells the story of a gun enthusiast who reacts to the government’s tightening of restrictions on private firearms by bombing a federal building. McVeigh was also apparently influenced by the 1992 Ruby Ridge (Idaho) siege by the FBI where white separatist and gun runner Randy Weaver was killed, together with his wife and son.
McVeigh had traveled to Waco (Texas) to protest another US federal siege on a compound held by David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, which ended in an April 19, 1993 firestorm in which dozens, including children were killed. McVeigh’s response came two years later to the day.
It is impossible to imagine how anyone can justify killing children in the way McVeigh did. Yes, the FBI did take out young people at Ruby Ridge and Waco, but that was not deliberate: those responsible were the right-wing nut jobs who put their kids in that situation.
In any event, McVeigh was executed by lethal injection on June 11, 2001 at federal prison in Indiana. I am generally not a fan of the death penalty but in this instance I feel it was the right – and only choice.
And I will never get that image of the battered toddler’s body out of my mind.