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May Today in Terrorism

May 21, 1991: Assassination of former Indian PM Gandhi

On May 21, 1991 former Indian Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a member of the Sri Lankan terrorist group LTTE

SRIPERUMBUDUR, INDIA – The vast majority of terrorist attacks target ordinary people: on rare occasions violent extremists hit the ‘jackpot’.

We all know that human societies are unequal and have probably always have been, fanciful stories of long past ‘perfect’ communities notwithstanding. There have always been strong men (yes, they were almost always men) and leaders who ruled: these were the tiny minority. The vast majority were followers, those with little to no rights who were often cruelly treated.

It would be nice to get to a point where how we organise ourselves approached actual egalitarianism. We are probably closer now than we have ever been (then again, there are always the North Koreas of this world) and we need to keep trying. See Stephen Pinker‘s book The Better Angels of Our Nature in this regard (it is about violence, not equality, but he makes a lot of good points)

L’etat c’est moi – and if you don’t agree I’ll put you in jail! (Photo: Cordelia Persen on flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

As a consequence, those in positions of power and influence usually get more resources than the average citizen: that includes personal protection. Have you ever seen a prime minister or a king going into a crowd? Ever notice the men with ear pieces surrounding him/her? Now you see what I am talking about.

Now, if you are a terrorist there is no better target than a leader. The problem, of course, is getting close enough to get a shot at the individual. Still, if you succeed…

On this day in 1991

Former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a member of the Sri Lankan terrorist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The killing occurred after India had ended its involvement in Sri Lanka’s civil war.

Gandhi was campaigning for the upcoming elections and walking through a crowd when a woman bent down to touch his feet and detonated an explosive-laden belt hidden below her dress: 14 others were also killed in the attack.

Don’t worry. Relax.

Rajiv Gandhi’s last words as he told a policewoman to allow a greeter to come close to him

The assassination was an example of a suicide attack executed by a female, a particularly effective LTTE tactic and demonstrative of the fact that not all terrorists are male. That a former PM was killed was an extraordinary achievement. It was not the first and would not prove to be the last.

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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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