Too many bomb plots… – December 11 1994, 2010 and 2017

Most terrorists are not very competent and often succeed in killing only themselves.

Most terrorists are not very competent and often succeed in killing only themselves

Hollywood and other mass media have given us an image of a terrorist, one that probably predominates among many people. Firstly, a terrorist is likely an Arab/Muslim, or at least that is what the stereotype tells us (this is of course incorrect). Secondly he (it is almost always a he) is a cold, calculating monster who seeks to wreak havoc, death and destruction. Thirdly, if not for the heroics of a good guy (Jack Ryan, Jason Bourne, etc.) we’d all be at their mercy.

But how accurate is this image?

Not much I’d submit, especially in light of today’s featured mostly failed attacks.

The truth is that probably most terrorist plots fail for a number of reasons. Sometimes the good guys get wind of the plan and foil it. Sometimes the bad guys just mess up. Failures include less than optimal target selection and/or inferior weapons (in this case) choice.

We in Canada are very familiar with an attack that fell short only because the explosive device built by the terrorist was lousy. I am referring here to the 2016 plot by Islamist extremist convert Aaron Driver in the small town of Strathroy, Ontario who made a martyrdom video, got into a cab with a backpack containing two bombs, detonated one when confronted by police and that did not even harm the driver sitting less than a metre in front of him. Later investigation showed that only the detonator went off.

On this day in three widely separated years terrorists tried to kill and wound as many civilians as possible using explosive devices but were largely unsuccessful:

1994 – Tokyo

In 1994, a bomb exploded on a Philippine Airlines Flight from Cebu to Tokyo but managed to kill only one passenger and did not bring down the aircraft. Interestingly, the earlier World Trade Center in New York mastermind, Ramzi Yousef, had planted the bomb on a previous leg of the flight and saw it as a test run for the later unsuccessful Bojinka multiple aircraft plot (a scenario repeated on 9/11);

2010 – Stockholm

In 2010, two explosions occurred in Stockholm, one triggered by a car bomb and another suicide bomb which likely killed the assailant. The bombings were believed to have been linked to e-mail threats over Swedish involvement in the war in Afghanistan and the ongoing Muhammed cartoon controversy; and

2017 – Manhattan

In 2017, a 27-year-old Islamic State (ISIS)-inspired Bangladeshi national set off a home-made pipe bomb at the port authority in Manhattan, later telling police his motive was recent Israeli actions in Gaza and that was inspired by the Islamic State. While panic ensued no one was injured: interestingly I was in Manhattan that day and noticed nothing out of the ordinary.

So what is the lesson here if there is one? Simply that not all terrorist attacks go through. I regularly read of Taliban or ISIS in Khorasan extremists who manage to kill only themselves when their devices detonate prematurely.

We can only hope that other terrorists are equally as incompetent. Some are very good at what they do unfortunately.

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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