January 22, 2015: Mortar attack in Ukraine

On this day in 2015 a trolleybus in the rebel Ukrainian stronghold of Donetsk was hit by mortar fire, killing 13

DONETSK, UKRAINE – Under what circumstances can we label an armed force a ‘terrorist’ group?

I would imagine that most of us have a fairly rigid view of what terrorism is. We probably see either a man yelling ‘Allahu Akbar’, or a tattooed guy with a US flag and a MAGA hat, or perhaps a mob of orange-clad Hindu extremists in India. Standard stuff.

What we most probably don’t associate with terrorism is people in uniform. These are soldiers after all, not terrorists. The two are very different.

Or are they?

Even if we cannot come up with a neat definition for whether those in armed forces are terrorists, we probably can describe a given act as a terrorist one. Like this one.

On this day in 2015

A trolleybus in the rebel Ukrainian stronghold of Donetsk was hit by mortar fire, killing 13. Donetsk is the centre of a civil war between Ukrainian forces and separatist rebels supported by Russia.

I saw dead people on the floor, and injured women screaming for help. It was a scene of total chaos.

Ivan, a 74-year-old who lives in the building next to the blast

Assigning blame for the attack proved to be difficult. Some blamed Ukrainian elements; others Donetsk separatists. The truth may be impossible to find in the fog of war.

Some readers may push back on the inclusion of this incident in my series on terrorist attacks in history. How else, however, to classify a mortar attack on a bus shelter where civilians gather? An accident? An act of war? A terrorist attack?

I fear the debate on these kinds of events will never draw to a close.

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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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