December 3, 1996: GIA bombing in Paris

Four people were killed at 170 injured in a bombing at a Paris metro station in December 1996 which was blamed on the GIA

Four people were killed and 170 injured in a bombing at a Paris metro station in December 1996 which was blamed on the GIA.

PARIS, FRANCE – As nations continue to figure out how to combat terrorism, canceling elections should not be one of the tools deployed.

Elections have a funny way of turning out (just look at the recent schlemozzle in the US!). Predictions often go awry and the ‘experts’ often get it wrong. The fact remains that until you and I go into that booth and mark an X on the ballot no one really knows how they will turn out.

Sometimes the results are so unexpected – or unwanted – that the reigning powers that be seek to annul them. Sometimes this is the party which currently governs. At others it is the military that weighs in. We have seen far too many instances on which the choice of the people has been ignored.

Take 1991. In a general election in Algeria, the Front Islamique Du Salut (FIS – Islamic Salvation Front) came out on top. The Algerian military was displeased and was convinced that the FIS would rule under the notion ‘one man, one vote, one time’ – i.e. it would not hold any future elections. There was a fear that the FIS would bring in an intolerant Islamic government (it is worth noting that the FIS’ slogan was “No Constitution and no laws. The only rule is the Koran and the law of God.”).

So the election was cancelled and the consequence was that Algeria plunged into civil war for the next decade. As many as 200,000 Algerians died in the carnage. The decision to annul the vote also led to the rise of a terrorist group, the Groupe Islamique Arme (Armed Islamic Group or GIA). It was very active, and not just in Algeria.

On this day in 1996 a bomb went off at the Paris metro station of Port Royal des Champs Abbaye, killing four and wounding upwards of 170 commuters. The explosion was believed to have been a cooking canister filled with nails.

In the middle of the train, there were mutilated people on the floor. At the moment of the explosion, the train shook, it jumped a little. . . People were crying.

Passenger on the train

Although no group claimed the attack the GIA was seen as behind it. Why France? As the former colonial master in Algeria it is likely the terrorists saw France’s hand in the decision not to recognise the election results.

We are seeing a worrisome decline in the respect for democracy in many parts of the world today. While I am not advocating a terrorist response to this backsliding I also am open enough to see why some would choose this route to register their opposition.

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.

Leave a Reply