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June Today in Terrorism

June 24, 1894: Assassination of French President Carnot

On June 24, 1894 French President Marie Francois Sadi Carnot was killed by an Italian anarchist just after he left a banquet in Lyon

LYONS, FRANCE – Those who think terrorism is a recent phenomenon might want to learn more history.

I have often said that we have ‘terrorism on the brain‘. What I mean by this is that the phenomenon of violent extremism dominates a lot of news coverage today in ways that it did not before.

The reasons behind this are many. The Internet and social media have created vehicles to spread news more quickly in ways unthinkable a generation ago: we now hear of events far away as they occur. Terrorist groups use these same technologies to spread their messages in audio and video format. And we seem to be beset by a wide variety of groups that all clamour for our attention: Islamist, far right, far left, etc.

Then of course there was 9/11. This single act was not only by far the largest terrorist event in history but it spawned a whole industry of analysis and commentary in a field that was very much a niche one beforehand.

No, terrorism did not start here (Photo: Cyril Attias flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

What many do not realise, however, is that terrorism has been with us for a very, very long time. If we use a basic definition – the use of violence for ideological, political or religious ends – we can make the case that it probably goes back to the dawn of human civilisation.

At a minimum it was a ‘thing’ in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in what UCLA professor David Rapoport called the ‘wave theory‘ of terrorism. The first such wave was what he called the age of anarchist terrorism. Today’s featured attack is a good example of that.

On this day in 1894

French President Marie Francois Sadi Carnot was killed just after he left a banquet at Lyon’s Palais du Commerce. A young, well-dressed man later identified as Italian anarchist Sante Geronimo Caserio, rushed from the crowd, drew a dagger out of a roll of newspaper and plunged it deeply into the president’s back. Despite efforts to save the dignitary, his liver had been pierced and he died at 1 AM the following day.

I killed the President of the Republic not because I am a lunatic but in compliance with my anarchist ideal. If you want my head, take it, but don’t believe that by taking my head you will succeed stopping the anarchist propaganda.

Caserio in his address to the jury

Not surprisingly the anarchist assassin was found guilty and executed by guillotine on August 16, but not before he had asked Carnot’ successor, Casimir Périer, to pardon him, arguing he had facilitated his access to the presidency.

Cheeky people, these terrorists!

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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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