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December Today in Terrorism

December 20, 2018: Anarchist arson attack in Athens

On this day in December 2018 a self-proclaimed anarchist cell firebombed vehicles belonging to a Greek businessman accused of human trafficking.

ATHENS, GREECE – Some acts of violent extremism defy categorisation, notwithstanding what the perpetrators say.

When it comes to terrorism there are many occasions on which we all agree without hesitation that event X was carried out by group Y for reason(s) Z.

In recent history this has been made easy for us through a number of concrete indications. Let’s use Islamist terrorism as an example:

  • the perpetrator yells ‘Allahu Akbar‘ while committing the act of violence;
  • a symbol, such as a flag that represents a group, is prominently displayed; and
  • the group in question loudly tells all that it was behind the attack.
Iraqi army soldiers holding an ISIS flag upside-down on Nov 23, on the outskirts of Mosul. Coalition forces have cut the militants' numbers to a level that has made the progress in Mosul and Raqqa possible.
We are ISIS! Or SISI! NB. the ISIS flag is upside down (Photo: AFP)

We can argue whether in some cases that group was actually involved in the operation but even doubt on that front does not usually lead to confusion as to motive (e.g. Islamic State (ISIS) will claim plots that are probably better seen as ‘inspired‘ rather than ‘directed’.

So what do we do when an attack is confusing?

On this day in 2018

Three vehicles belonging to Greek businessman Aggelos Giannakopoulos (he owns bakeries) were firebombed in Athens. An anarchist band called the Sophia Perovskaya Cell said it was behind the arson, labelling Mr. Giannakopoulos a human trafficker, imprisoning, blackmailing and prostituting women from Eastern Europe. For the record, Sophia Perovskaya was a 19th century Russian anarchist involved in the 1881 assassination of Emperor Alexander II.

There is evidence that Mr. Giannakopoulos has indeed been tied to such activities. Why an ‘anarchist’ cell would get involved and why they would set three cars afire (no one was injured) is less certain. What point were they trying to make (and no, I am not dismissing human trafficking, which is all too real)?

That’s the way it goes sometimes in terrorism: we end up with more questions than answers.

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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