The real impact of terrorism – shattered lives

This blog appeared in The Hill Times on November 13, 2017 (

In the aftermath of a terrorist attack we all go through a typical laundry list of questions.  Who is behind this act and did he act alone?  Are there others out there?  What will he be charged with? What can we do to prevent future attacks?  Why is this happening?

These are, of course, good questions and completely understandable ones. We want, after all, to know what is going on and what it really means. To help us figure out these mysteries the media rolls out the usual suspects – academics, ‘experts’ and even a few former practitioners (full disclosure: I belong to the third category) – and we hear what they have to say to us.  We usually get a few minutes worth of ‘analysis’ and move on.

The other part is that we obsess on the perpetrator(s).  Where are they from?  How did they get ‘radicalised’?  Why did they do this?  What else can we learn from investigating every aspect of their lives?  The attack and its effects often plays second fiddle to the one(s) who carried it out.

I’d like to bring the focus back, albeit, for a short time, to those whose stories we hear much less about: those of the  victims.  We rarely learn anything other than how many died and how many were wounded.  We sometimes get poignant stories on who they are and the families and loved ones and then our attention is seized by the next big attack (or mass shooting – they really are the same in many ways).  We forget about those who were there when the bomb went off and who suffered, and continue to suffer, horribly.  I’d like to make a small contribution to correcting this.  Here are some of those stories.

On September 30 and into October 1 of this year a man drove a car into a police officer, jumped out to stab him, fled and later ran over four people on Jasper Avenue in Edmonton.  I do not want to talk about him: in fact, some media outlets refuse to publish the names of violent extremists. I want to convey what has happened to Kim O’Hara, one of the victims.  She endured serious head injuries and a broken leg in the attack and is recovering slowly.  She is a single mom with joint custody of her nine-year old son whom she misses terribly.  Her road back to work and to normalcy could be a long one.  Just because she was in a terrorist attack does not mean that the bills and expenses have stopped and friends and family have set up a GoFundMe account.

A year ago Islamic State-inspired terrorists went on a killing spree in Paris in which they killed 130 people and wounded more than 400.  Some of the victims are still trying to piece back their lives and they have done so in part by getting tattoos.  Even some of those who lost family members and loved ones have undergone the procedure.

  • Laura Leveque was ‘buried under corpses’ and ‘was soaked in blood and flesh’: the dead ‘seeped’ into her.  She now carries a raven on her shoulder surrounded by smaller tattoos of an eclipse, a snake biting its own tail to symbolise the “cycle of life”, and “flowers growing on a battlefield”.
  • Sophie took two bullets to her leg and cannot move one foot: she covered her thigh with a huge Mexican Day of the Dead “Catrina” skeleton lady, adding a sunflower tattoo on her foot.  She does not want to ‘sublimate her wounds’ but rather ‘illuminate’ them.
  • For Manon Hautecoeur “this is my scar” –  her lion tattoo and the motto of Paris — “Fluctuat nec mergitur” (Battered but not sunk) — which became a defiant slogan after the attacks.

These are real people who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.  None of what happened to them was their ‘fault’.  The terrorists either die in their misguided attacks or are captured and spend the rest of their pathetic lives in prisons.  The victims and their families continue with their lives under severe circumstances. Let us remember them more often  and offer whatever support we can, shall we?


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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