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December Today in Terrorism

December 28, 1977: Letter bomb in Malta

On this day in 1977 a letter bomb intended for a Maltese doctor during a hospital strike killed his 15-year old daughter instead.

PIETA, MALTA – Labour strikes can be nasty events but what justifies killing a 15-year old girl with a letter bomb?

One of the seminal moments in Canadian history in the early 1900s was the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, not even a year after the end of WWI. Between 15 May and 25 June more than 30,000 workers left their jobs and factories, and shops, transit and city services shut down. 

The iconic image of that strike was the overturning of a Winnipeg streetcar by strikers, enraged that the public transit was running at all (they saw it as a personal affront). It was also set on fire by a female striker.

An early form of ‘rock and roll’, Winnipeg style! (Photo: Manitoba archives)

Fortunately, not many work actions turn violent. The days of strikebreakers and security companies paid by owners to ‘break some heads’ are thankfully behind us. The famous Pinkerton Agency in the US was started in large part by businessmen to keep control of their workers.

Still, there are times when strikes do result in deaths.

On this day in 1977

A letter bomb killed 15-year old Karin Grech in La Pieta, Malta. Her father, Edwin Grech, was the head of the gynaecology department at St Luke’s Hospital, which was embroiled in a labour dispute.

Karin opened what she thought was a Christmas gift that had been left at their house. Inside was a fountain pen which exploded, killing her. Her brother was also hit by bits of metal which flew off the package.

Maltese investigators tried to chase every possible lead, checking with all the stationeries in Malta in search for the paper which had been used to wrap the parcel. They also looked for the same kind of batteries used to trigger the explosive. They never were able to figure out who was behind the attack.

Doctor Paul Chetcuti Caruana, a Labour Party MP at the time, received a very similar package at his house in Mosta. Investigators later realised that the same persons who delivered the package to the Grech family had prepared another one for Chetcuti Caruana.

Historian Eddie Allard

Some may question if this is indeed an act of terrorism. While it certainly does not seem as serious as some it was definitely a serious act of violence carried out for a political end (i.e. to influence a strike situation). Even if the perpetrator was never apprehended and hence a motive never definitively determined, I think we can safely classify this as an act of violent extremism.

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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