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February Today in Terrorism

February 27, 2004: SuperFerry bombed in the Philippines

On this day in 2004 the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Group in the Philippines claimed the bombing of the ‘SuperFerry 14’ killing 116.

MANILA BAY, PHILIPPINES – Most terrorist attacks are quite small in scope: this one was not.

Quiz time! Ready? Put your thinking caps on! Um, does ANYONE say that anymore or I am just pining for my grade school days (which were, full disclosure in the mid 1960s and early 1970s!)?

OK. Here it is. How many people does the ‘average’ terrorist attack kill? Yes, yes, I know no one agrees on what constitutes a terrorist attack, but what is your answer? Pick from the following list:

a) 15 b) 50 c) 100 d) more than 100 e) none of the above

(Jeopardy music playing here)

Jeopardy!': Alex Trebek's final new episodes airing January 2021
We miss you Alex! RIP (Photo: Carol Kaelson: AP)

The answer? e) none of the above.

Actually, while a precise number is devilishly hard to establish, there is some data to suggest that the average attack kills between two and three people. Let me repeat that: 2-3 people die in most terrorist attacks. Surprised?

There are, of course, huge exceptions to this. 9/11 is obviously the outlier but there have been others where the death tolls are in the hundreds. Like today’s featured event.

On this day in 2004

The Al Qaeda (AQ)-linked Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in the Philippines claimed the bombing of the ‘SuperFerry 14‘ as it traveled from Manila Bay to Cagayan de Oro City. Of the 899 crew and passengers aboard, 116 died (all but two of whom were passengers).

As the fire spread across the vessel, most of the survivors jumped into the sea or boarded rescue boats. The vessel eventually sank. The recovery of bodies lasted for months: eventually, 63 bodies were recovered while another 53 remained unaccounted for, presumed dead.

Some pieces are just a hand, a leg, or even a head.

Philippines Vice Admiral Arturo Gosingan

Then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo initially played down the possibility of a terror attack, but later announced the arrests of six ASG terrorists, including one who reportedly confessed to planting the bomb.

Thankfully attacks of this scale are very rare. Here’s hoping it stays that way.

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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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