November 6, 1985: Palace of Justice attack in Colombia

Leftist terrorists took control of the Colombian Supreme Court and killed over a hundred civilians, including judges, in November 1985.

Leftist terrorists took control of the Colombian Supreme Court and killed over a hundred civilians, including judges, in November 1985.

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA – It is one thing to express displeasure with a government: it is quite another to besiege a court and kill to voice your opposition.

As I type the US election is taking place and many are afraid of what is going to happen. The country is seriously divided and there is a very really possibility that violence will ensue.

Another possibility is that the election may eventually be decided by the courts. President Trump has threatened, as have others, to go that route if they do not get the results they want. I must admit that I do find the US to be a particularly litigious society at the best of times.

Still, we have courts for a reason. They are there to impartially arbitrate matters in the fairest way possible. Just think back to the days where courts were not of that ilk: does anyone want to go back to those times? I thought not.

The justice system is thus a symbol of who we are. True, not all nations are shining examples of democracy and freedom and some dictators keep that system on a very short leash, getting it to do their bidding. But symbols are what they are.

Which is why they are at times an attractive target for terrorists.

On this day in 1985 members of the Colombian M-19 (aka the 19th of April movement, a leftist guerrilla organisation which formed in the memory of that date in 1970 when they felt an election had been stolen) took over the Supreme Court building in Bogota. By the end of the 27-hour siege close to 100 people were dead, including 11 of the country’s twenty-five Supreme Court judges.

Judge Humberto Murcia was in his office on the third floor of the Palace of Justice, his last day at the court, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 55, and he was waiting for his replacement to arrive. Suddenly, he heard the rattle of machine-gun fire and the crash of broken glass. As the shooting drew nearer, he and his secretary dove to the floor. Bloodied and aching everywhere, he crawled to freedom over piles of cadavers and charred remains, his wooden leg — the result of an old injury — splintered to bits. A soldier finally spotted him on the first floor of the shattered justice building, and a stretcher carried him to safety.

Bradley Graham, The Washington Post

In 2015 then President Juan Manuel Santos apologised for the army’s raid on the building to bring the siege to an end, an event still called ‘the holocaust’ by Colombians. There is still controversy over whether the military action caused more deaths than the terrorists themselves.

Let me get this straight: terrorists occupy a building and the GOVERNMENT apologises?? What sense does this make?

Terrorism is terrorism no matter what part of the political spectrum it comes from. We have to denounce it, not say sorry for it.

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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