February 7, 1991: IRA mortar attack in London

On this day in 1991 the IRA launched mortars at the offices of UK Prime Minister John Major in 10 Downing Street

LONDON, UK – If you are a terrorist group aspiring for attention there is no better target than a head of state.

In my experience with terrorism, most groups or individuals aim at the lowest hanging fruit when they plan their attacks. This is why we see so many bombs (human or mechanical) which are detonated on busy streets, or in markets, schools and even funerals. The reason for this should be obvious: people in those places have neither the equipment nor the training to defend themselves.

Those better able to ward off attacks are heads of state or likewise important individuals: they have security teams keeping them safe. Still, some terrorists, like the 19th and early 20th century anarchists, did successfully take out some fairly senior individuals, such as Russian Tsar Alexander II at his winter palace in St. Petersburg in 1881.

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) was also known for aiming high on occasion.

On this day in 1991

The IRA launched mortars at the offices of UK Prime Minister John Major in 10 Downing Street: one exploded in the backyard as he presided over his war Cabinet, wounding four.

I think it is clear that it was a deliberate attempt this morning both to kill the Cabinet and to do damage to our democratic system of government.

UK PM John Major

Some officials said they were appalled that such an attack could be launched from a prime tourist site only 150 yards from the Prime Minister’s office. UK officials were convinced that the tactic used, mortars with delayed or remote-control mechanisms, pointed to the IRA even though it had not used mortars outside of Northern Ireland before.

This was not the first time a British PM had been targeted: it had tried to assassinate Margaret Thatcher in 1984 in Brighton in a bombing which left 5 dead and injured 34 others.

There is an adage that says you should try to achieve the highest goal even if you fall short. The IRA seems to have adopted that practice on several occasions.

Read more Today in Terrorism

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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