April 6, 1994: Killing of Rwandan and Burundian Presidents

On April 6, 1994 a missile brought down an aircraft carrying the presidents of both Rwanda and Burundi killing twelve in total.

KIGALI, RWANDA – Most terrorist attacks do not have catastrophic aftermaths: some have REALLY catastrophic implications.

What do terrorists really want? I mean, why do terrorists do what they do? Is it for the attention? Is it for the ‘glory’? Or is it just a desire to kill and maim?

Veteran US terrorism specialist Brian Jenkins – who has been a guest on my podcast on two occasions – once said thatterrorists don’t want a lot of people dead: they want a lot of people watching.” I think there is something to this at one level.

Pay attention to us dammit! (Photo: Faye Harris on Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0)

On the other hand, what if both are possible?

On this day in 1994

A surface-to-air missile brought down an aircraft carrying the presidents of both Rwanda and Burundi as it was preparing to land in Kigali, Rwanda. In all, twelve were killed. What transpired next was a level of violence thankfully rare these days: the Rwandan genocide in which perhaps one million were killed. The slaughter brought out the worst in ethnic violence (here Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda).

The assassination of (Hutu Rwandan President) Juvenal Habyarimana led to the elimination of the pro-democracy opposition in Rwanda. It then led to a genocide in which an estimated one million people were murdered in the space of 100 days.

British expert on the Rwandan genocide, Linda Melvern

Those responsible for the crime were never determined with any certainty. A French investigative judge, Jean Louis Bruguiere, accused the ethnic Tutsi rebel leader at the time, Paul Kagame, of having been responsible. But others suspected that Hutus, or mercenaries working for them, may have carried out the attack in order to stop the late president signing a compromise peace deal with the Tutsi rebels. Some even suggested that France had a role in the attack.

Whoever was behind the original act of violence it led to killings on a biblical scale. And if you know your Bible that ain’t good. In any event, it all began with an act of terrorism.

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By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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