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January Today in Terrorism

January 25, 1988: Suicide attack in Sri Lanka

On this day in 1988 three suicide bombers crashed a truck through the gates of Sri Lanka’s holiest Buddhist temple, killing 8 other people, wounding 23

KANDY SRI LANKA – Yes, terrorists are nasty characters but should a shrine not be off their list of targets?

If you are a terrorist your needs are simple. A cause. A way to carry out an attack. A venue, preferably with lots of people. A lot of coverage of the death and destruction you incur.

With respect to the venue there really are no rules. We have seen everything from military bases (2009 Fort Hood in Texas) to embassies (1998 US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya) to schools (2004 Beslan) to theatres (2015 Bataclan in Paris).

To this list we have to add religious centres.

Egypt Declares State of Emergency, as Attacks Undercut Promise of Security  - The New York Times
God! When are they going to stop? (Photo: Khaled Elfiqi/European Pressphoto Agency)

Islamist terrorists are particularly bad at attacking places of worship (synagogues, churches, Muslim shrines, etc.) despite a very clear injunction from the Prophet Muhammad not to do so (“Do not mutilate, disable or torture! Do not kill children, elderly people, women and those who are praying in their temples, and the monks!”

Alas, the jihadis are not the only ones behind these heinous acts.

On this day in 1988 three suicide bombers crashed a truck through the gates of Sri Lanka’s holiest Buddhist temple, killing 8 other people, wounding 23 and setting off ethnic riots. No one asserted responsibility for the bombing in Kandy, west of Colombo, but Sri Lanka’s Deputy Defense Minister attributed the attack to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the main group fighting to carve out an ethnic Tamil homeland.

You terrorists, kill us, eat us, but don’t attack our shrines where Buddha lives.

Buddhist monk

The shrine in question was the Temple of the Tooth, believed to belong to the Buddha. It was not damaged in the attack.

Terrorists, nevertheless, do have teeth and a bite to match.

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By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. and Programme Director for the Security, Economics and Technology (SET) hub at the University of Ottawa’s Professional Development Institute (PDI). Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of five books on terrorism.

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