March 9, 1977: Black Muslim group takes hostages in Washington DC

Beginning on March 9, 1977 149 people were held hostage in Washington by 12 members of the Hanafi Movement.

WASHINGTON DC – We rightfully condemn terrorism but have to admire the planning that sometimes goes into attacks.

I would wager that most terrorist attacks are anything but methodically thought out. After all, it does not take a rocket scientist to take a knife or a gun and start stabbing/shooting people at random in a crowded venue (shopping mall, street festival, school…). Anyone with a grievance can do that.

There are, however, some plots that do require careful planning in advance to succeed. 9/11 is a good example. When I worked in security intelligence we thwarted actions that were months if not years in the making.

It takes more than buying a train ticket online to pull this off (Photo: By Ramón Peco (desdetasmania) – This file has been extracted from another file, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Today’s featured incident is a good example I think.

On this day in 1977

Beginning on March 9th of that year, three buildings in Washington, DC were besieged by 12 members of the Hanafi Movement, a Black Muslim group in the US capital. 149 people were held hostage for three days in the then District Building, the HQ of the B’nai B’rith and the Islamic Center of Washington. Two people were killed before the affair came to an end with the surrender of the terrorists after a 39-hour standoff.

That the toll was not higher was in part a tribute to the primary tactic U.S. law enforcement officials are now using to thwart terrorists—patience.

Time magazine

The hostage takers had three primary demands: they wanted the government to hand over a group of men who had been convicted of killing seven relatives – mostly children – of takeover leader Hamaas Khaalis; they wanted those that were convicted of killing Malcolm X; and they demanded that the premiere of the film Mohammad, Messenger of God be canceled and the film destroyed because they considered it sacrilegious.

For this they took innocent people hostage. Huh?

PS fun fact: D.C. Council member – and later mayor – Marion Barry was wounded in the affair by a shotgun pellet which pierced his chest, right above his heart, nearly killing him.

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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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