Attack in Grozny, Russia – December 17, 2016

Counter terrorism takes all kinds of forms. Sometimes the only recourse is to use lethal force.

Counter terrorism takes all kinds of forms. Sometimes the only recourse is to use lethal force.

I can understand why not many people these days trust anything Russia says. Allegations of influence in the 2016 US presidential election that gave us Donald Trump, legions of fake news and disinformation purveyors, the killing of dissidents abroad and the most recent decision to ban Russia from the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar all illustrate that Russia lies a lot about a lot of things.

One of the things that is really hard to make out whether to include in the litany of Russia’s lies is the killing of terrorists. Some nations will make the claim that terrorists have been taken out when in fact the victims were either ‘insurgents’ or innocents. The difficulty in determining what exactly constitutes terrorism doesn’t help.

There are, of course, analogues in fiction

I have already made reference to Fahrenheit 451 by Rad Bradbury. In the 1966 film version the state announces that it has killed a ‘dangerous terrorist’ – who is supposed in fact to be Guy Montag, a ‘firefighter’ gone rogue – when it is actually an innocent man. In the film version of Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale the subjugated women bludgeon to death a man called a rapist when he is merely an ‘enemy of the state’.

Seven shot dead by Russian special forces

All this makes it hard to distinguish between armed action which results in the death of a real terrorist and those cases where the terrorist label is used as a cover. Today’s featured attack may be an example of this conundrum.

On December 17, 2016 Russian special forces shot dead seven alleged terrorists in Chechnya after an attack on police officers the previous night. According to Russian news, the terrorists had attacked a policeman, seized his car, and run over another policeman who tried to stop the vehicle. 

There is no question that there is terrorism emanating from Chechnya as this series has demonstrated. Many high casualty attacks have indeed been perpetrated by these terrorists. There is equally no question that, even if this brand of violent extremism is explained at least in part by Russian actions in the Caucasus, law enforcement agencies can use lethal force at times.

What is still unclear is whether the seven men killed were responsible for the attack the previous evening or whether they were even terrorists at all. This is the problem when authorities tell enough lies: it becomes a challenge to take them at their word when they tell the truth.

Terrorism is a challenge for many, state forces included. One would hope that killing is a last resort. One would also hope that the killing is both justified and that those killed are indeed terrorists.

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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