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Today in Terrorism

Manchester PIRA Bombing (June 15, 1996)

On this day in 1996, the PIRA set off a three-tonne truck bomb in downtown Manchester UK, injuring more than 200 but killing no one.

We often measure terrorist attacks in terms of the number killed: the wounded matter too.

MANCHESTER, UK — Veteran US terrorism scholar Brian Jenkins – who, by the way I am hopeful will feature in an upcoming Intelligent Look at Terrorism podcast (stay tuned!) – is famous for a few sayings. One of them is ‘terrorism is theatre’. This makes sense as terrorist actions are seeking to get across a message tied to a cause (political, religious or ideological). This is what separates them from the ‘garden variety’ criminal.

Brian Michael Jenkins - Profile | RAND
Mr. Jenkins, from the RAND Corporation

Another of Mr. Jenkins’ quotes, and one that applies to today’s attack, is ‘terrorists do not want a lot of people dead: they want a lot of people watching’ . In a sense this is tied to the ‘terrorism is theatre’ notion. Personally I think they want both to kill a lot of people and to garner a lot of attention.

On this day in 1996, the PIRA set off a three-tonne truck bomb in downtown Manchester UK, injuring more than 200 but killing no one.

We focus on deaths for obvious reasons. As the old journalistic code says: ‘if it bleeds it leads’. It is probably true, nonetheless, that there are many more wounded than there are deceased. The explanation for this is probably at least twofold. The further from the epicentre of an attack the less lethal it becomes. And emergency response workers can save lives as well.

On rare occasions an attack is massive in scale but somehow fails to kill anyone. This may be due to sheer luck, bad planning and execution on the part of the terrorists, or a deliberate attempt NOT to kill. In any event, no loss of life has to be seen as a good thing.

Manchester PIRA Bombing (June 15, 1996)

On this day in 1996 the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) set off a massive van bomb in downtown Manchester and the explosion wounded 212 people but, miraculously, failed to kill a single person. It was reportedly the largest single bomb to go off in the UK since WWII.

PIRA had called the police to warn that a bomb had been placed in the city. Shortly afterwards, police began evacuating about 80,000 people from the city centre, while attempts were made to find the bomb. Bomb disposal officers, dispatched from their base in Liverpool, planned to defuse the explosive with a remote-controlled robot. However, the attempt failed and, at 11:17 BST, the 3,300lb device exploded. Smoke mushroomed high above the city while buildings shook and glass shattered, raining debris on people outside the cordoned area. The blast caused an estimated GBP700 million in damages.

The explosion ripped the heart out of the city centre but remarkably no-one was killed. In fact, the blast is now credited by some as kick-starting the city’s regeneration.

I am sure the bomb got someone’s attention. A 3 tonne bomb would do that.

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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