Today in Terrorism: December 3, 1975 and 2018

Two attacks forty years apart demonstrate that so-called ‘defunct’ movements can rise again.

You have heard me talk a lot about David Rapoport. He is a bit of a mentor/hero of mine. Professor Rapoport is the brains behind the ‘wave theory’ of terrorism, the notion that over time terrorist groups can be categorised into four large ‘waves’, beginning in the 19th century.

The second of such waves he called the ‘anti-colonial’ phase. During the years in which this form of terrorism dominated, groups in a variety of countries were created to push for independence and chase out their colonial masters. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) which dates back to the immediate post WWI period, is perhaps the best example of this kind of terrorist group.

Today’s blog looks at two more cases, both of which centre on Indonesia, a country we now normally associate with Islamist extremism, which involve anti-colonial terrorist movements.

The IRA also serves to demonstrate that despite Prof. Rapoport’s generally useful framework and claim that waves last two generations (about forty years), some groups don’t go softly into the night when their time is up. The IRA or its derivatives is still active in Ireland and the UK. Today’s blog looks at two more cases, both of which centre on Indonesia, a country we now normally associate with Islamist extremism, which involve anti-colonial terrorist movements.

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Photo of another Dutch train seized by Moluccan terrorists in the Netherlands in 1977
1975 Dutch train hostage crisis

On this day in 1975, six armed men boarded a train at the Dutch town of Assen and seized the passengers as hostages. As police and Dutch soldiers surrounded the train, another group of terrorists struck in Amsterdam, forcing their way into the Indonesian consulate and took 41 more hostages, including 16 children. By week’s end the terrorists had murdered three and wounded four people aboard the train.

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The ‘Free Maluku’ flag

The terrorists were Moluccan ‘freedom fighters’, seeking an independent South Maluku, currently part of Indonesia. Recall that the Netherlands was the colonial power in that part of the world for centuries. By attacking a Dutch train the terrorists hoped to get the Netherlands to exert influence on Indonesia.

More than forty years later, Papuan separatists, also in Indonesia, killed 31 construction workers and a police officer. These terrorists were also seeking independence for their region from Indonesia.

Indonesia's public works minister shows a map of the area where the killings took place. Photo: Reuters
Indonesia’s public works minister shows a map of the area where the killings took place. (Photo: Reuters)

I think what this demonstrates is that there are still organisations which are not happy with their political status and are willing to use violence to change it, seeing ‘colonial overlords’ as the problem. It is very interesting, to me at least. that in these two instances Indonesia, once itself a colony of the Dutch, is now in the seat of the coloniser for some.

I just read an article in The Economist which noted that there are 80 distinct ethnic and national entities in that nation. The Sidama people just voted for autonomy in a referendum and more may follow suit. Although the Ethiopian government is not a ‘coloniser’ per se expect some groups to arise to demand change, through violence if necessary.

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The San Bernardino terrorist couple (Photo: BBC)

Postscript

It was very hard to choose an attack to feature today as my researcher had come up with at least 18 for December 2. I chose to ignore action by Boko Haram in Nigeria (2012) and Cameroon (2015). Lashkar-e-Taiba in India (2002), southern Thailand terrorists (2004), and Islamic State in Libya (2016), among others.

One other attack bears note: on this day in 2015 Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik stormed a county health department’s holiday banquet in San Bernardino, California, fatally shooting 14 people and injuring 22 others before they were later shot and killed in a shootout with police forces.