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Today in Terrorism

April 17, 1999 | Neo-Nazi bombings in London

Nail bombs planted by a neo-Nazi in London in 1999 killed 3 and wounded 139 people

No, the far right is not a ‘new’ phenomenon: it has unfortunately been around a long time.

LONDON, UK — Why do terrorists and terrorist groups do what they do? There are several reasons once one assumes that a particular act of violence is indeed terrorist in nature (recall that it has to do with underlying ideology, religious, political or otherwise).

The hoped-for effects of these terrible actions range from:

  • a desire to cause fear;
  • a desire to get states or authorities to do something the terrorists want;
  • a conviction that they are in fact carrying out the wishes of a higher power (a god, say);
  • an attempt to elicit a reaction that is widely out of proportion to the initial attack, resulting in a ramping up of actions on both sides with an occasional effect that the terrorists gain new sympathisers; and
  • a desire to rid society of ‘undesirables’ (as defined by the terrorists).

Over the past twenty years we have heard a lot about Islamist terrorism. This is what I call the ‘9/11 effect’. But there are other violent actors: what we loosely term the ‘far right’. This moniker is used to describe a wide variety of (violent) extremist actors including those who hate Jews, Muslims, gays, liberals…the list is a long one. They hope they can convince others that their warped worldview is the correct one and hence sign up.

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There is a lot of talk these days of the ‘rise’ of the far right: this is of course inaccurate as those who cling to racist and hateful views akin to the abovementioned ones have been around for a long time. After all, what else would you call the Ku Klux Klan, which was created out of the ashes of the US Civil War?

Meet the New Klan, Same as the Old Klan (Almost)
I was always taught that only criminals – and cowards – hide their faces

In my mind, those calling attention to the far right today are doing so out of a misguided notion that these violent extremists have been ignored by our security intelligence and law enforcement agencies, all of which have been chasing jihadis for decades (and especially since 9/11). I know this to be false. In my days at CSIS we were looking at these terrorists – it is just that they did not shine as brightly as the Islamist extremists and were not planning acts of terrorism to the same extent.

The terrorist act featured here is a good example of how this phenomenon has been around a while. Beginning on this day in 1999, UK neo-Nazi David Copeland started leaving nail bombs in Brixton, south London, Brick Lane in east London and Soho, central London. The final blast at a gay pub killed three people including a pregnant woman: in all 139 were injured.

At his trial Copeland said he intended his bombing campaign to ignite a race war across Britain: he held a particular hatred for black and Asian people and homosexuals. He was handed six life sentences in June 2000 for three counts of murder and three counts of causing explosions in London in order to endanger life.

One of the UK’s most dangerous hate-crime killers has been sentenced to three additional years in prison for attacking a fellow inmate.

The targets chosen by Copeland are all too familiar in the antediluvian world of the far right. Alexandre Bissonnette killed Muslims in his January 2017 attack on a mosque in Quebec City. Jews are also usually on the list as far too many murders have shown.

I have said it before and I repeat it here. The far right does indeed pose a public safety threat here in Canada and in other Western nations. The extent of that threat will vary from society to society. I am confident that our protectors are doing what they can, but they need more resources.

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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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