February 5, 1994 | Shelling of market in Sarajevo

Terrorism and war are often seen as different but this does not mean that the former cannot occur during the latter.

War has been part of the human condition since…well, since forever I would think. Remember that iconic scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey where a bunch of half-ape/half-humans are sitting around minding their own business when a black monolith suddenly appears and leads to one ape picking up a bone and killing another with it? That was our first war (fictional, of course).

Terrorism on the other hand is usually seen as a much more recent phenomenon. The word itself only dates from the very late 18th century and was used to describe the ‘Reign of Terror’ in revolutionary France. It is probable that there were other acts of terrorism before that but they were not called by that name.

Most people separate war and terrorism. The latter ill is usually seen as directed against civilians or ‘non-combatants’, who are less able to defend themselves from perpetrators of violence. Nevertheless there are clearly acts of what we would call terrorism against military targets: the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon comes immediately to mind.

And then there is the Bosnian war of the early to mid-1990s

When the Cold War ‘ended’ and communism fell across Europe many longstanding but quiescent hatreds rose again to the fore. This was particuarly true in the Former Yugoslavia where both ethnic (Croat vs. Serb) and religious (Catholic vs. Orthodox vs. Muslim) animosities led to tremendous bloodshed.

The one part of this land that bore the brunt of much of the violence was Bosnia, which had significant Croat, Serb and Muslim populations. War had led to the ‘balkanisation’ of the area – note that the term itself, now more widely used, comes from a general description of the geography there – and a litany of atrocities: concentration camps, mass rape, civilian executions, etc.

And on this day in 1994 a shell believed to have been launched by Bosnian Serbs landed in the central market of Sarajevo, killing 68 people and injuring 144. The description of the scene, courtesy of the New York Times makes for difficult reading:

Blood, arms, legs and pieces of flesh were strewn about the market. People screamed hysterically, rushing about to try to give help or escape. A woman lay by an overturned table, her legs severed. Men threw the badly wounded onto makeshift stretchers fashioned out of scraps of corrugated tin that had shaded the stalls and raced to ambulances and private cars. Eight bodies were so mangled they could not be identified as men or women… A severed head lay among what had been a display of used shoes. Torn bodies were tossed about, making relief workers ill as they tried to help the wounded.

If you can stomach it, here is a link to a video of the aftermath.

Those who died or who were horribly disfigured by the attack could care less whether it was terrorism or an act of war. Maybe we should not get too tied up with linguistic distinctions either at times.

February 4, 2006 | Bombings of Nordic embassies in Damascus

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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