Today in terrorism: September 17, 1986

When I used to work in counter terrorism at CSIS many analysts used to say that of all the terrorists and terrorist groups in the world, and there were far too many to monitor at any given time, the real ‘A-team’ was Hizballah. The Lebanon-based group which was created in the aftermath of the Israeli invasion of that country has been around for almost 40 years. It did, and still does, receive significant funding and support from Iran for two primary reasons. First, it is a Shia organisation and Iran is a Shia theocracy. Secondly it harasses Israel and Iran has long wished for that country’s elimination.

Hizballah has been behind some huge terrorist attacks, perhaps most importantly the bombing of the US Marine barracks in 1983 which led the then Reagan administration to withdraw US forces from the region. And there are far too many other incidents to list in this short blog. Including the one that occurred on this day in 1986.

Seven people were killed and over 60 injured when a bomb was thrown into a Paris shopping street at rue de Rennes from a passing car, blowing in several store fronts and cars. The attack was claimed by a Hizballah affiliate known as CSPPA, the Committee for Solidarity With Arab and Middle Eastern Political Prisoners, a shadowy group calling for the release of an incarcerated Lebanese terrorist.

The bombs were made of the plastic explosive Semtex, popular among terrorists because it was easy to use and difficult to detect. The attackers dropped the devices into trash bins or planted them in the Metro and other public places and simply walked away. This was both terrorism and terrifying, even to a city like Paris that has long been used to unrest and violence.

As it turned out the French government of Jacques Chirac did not bend and give in to the terrorists’ demands. Police arrested suspects in the bombings and the explosions stopped. As the Washington Post reported: “The 1980s bombing spree did not last long. Life did return to normal. People laughed and strolled and again rode the Metro without a care.”

France did not invade anyone or declare a ‘war on terrorism’. It did not clamp down on civil liberties. It did not call immigrants ‘criminals’ and deport them. Life went on.

Hmm, I think there is a lesson – or several – in that.

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