Sometimes a bomb is just a bomb

OK, so what were YOU doing at 545 Friday morning?  Sleeping soundly I sincerely hope.  As for me, I was getting ready to go on a Toronto talk radio programme to weigh in on an incident at an Indian restaurant in Mississauga  Thursday evening when two men wearing disguises left a bomb that exploded, wounding 15 people, 12 seriously (no deaths so far thankfully).

I initially hesitated to agree to do the show for three reasons:

  1. I had just awakened when I read the email asking me to appear
  2. The first inkling I had of the bombing came at 545 Friday morning
  3. The sum of my understanding, as well as that of anyone else for that matter, was next to zero.

Appear on the programme I nevertheless did and I am happy it was a quick five-minute cut as I wasn’t sure how much more I could say about what had transpired at the Bombay Bhel restaurant at 2230 on Thursday.   At the time of writing not much more is known and police are still looking for the two suspects.  There has not been any progress so far on a motive.

I know why the radio station approached me to do the interview (or at least I think I do).  My reputation as a former CSIS guy willing to talk publicly about all things terrorism and national security is getting out there I suppose.  I do enjoy engaging with reporters and journalists and hope that my insider contributions are seen as worthwhile.

And yet I was hesitant to say anything beyond what we knew at the time which was, for all intents, next to nothing.  No statement.  No claim of responsibility.  No identity of the perpetrators.  No idea why this restaurant was targeted.  Nothing.

We are becoming all too familiar with bombs these days, whether they are IEDs (improvised explosive devices) or suicide vests.  Scarcely a day goes by in which there is a not an attack somewhere carried out by this terrorist group or that, all in the  name of some cause (divine or otherwise).   We are living in the era of the easy-to-make explosive.

So was what happened in a family restaurant (where two birthday parties were happening by the way) terrorism?   Sorry, no idea.  Perhaps, but we need a lot more information before we can make that call.  Remember that terrorism requires a specific motive (political, religious or ideological under Canadian law) and there is nothing to suggest any of that so far.

It is equally as likely that the attack was any of (or combination of): personal vendetta; a business rivalry; a criminal act; the settling of a score; an act of intimidation; a random act of violence.  Pick one as your working theory and gather your supporting evidence.

If we want to go down the terrorism path there are a few aspects that would back that hypothesis.

  1. Groups like Islamic State have been suggesting for years that wannabes hit soft targets like restaurants.
  2. Easy to strike venues are more prone to success than hardened ones.
  3. India is both home to several Islamist extremist organisations and in the grasp of a Hindu nationalist regime which has its own terrorists, some of whom are targeting India’s Muslims (making the Mississauga attack a possible retaliatory one).

I want to caution, however, that I have no information to back any of this up.

My point is that sometimes a bomb is just a bomb (no slight intended to the victims).  It is not always an act of terrorism.  We have ‘terrorism on the brain’ these days and I fear that we ram every event we witness through that filter.  If it walks like terrorism and talks like terrorism it must be terrorism, right?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

We should learn more in the coming days about what really happened two nights ago and why.  Police will probably make an arrest and then we can figure out motive if we are lucky (and the two men talk).  Until that time we should refrain from drawing conclusions.  Terrorism is all too real but it is still not an everyday event everywhere.  We would be best to remember that.

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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