Since the attacks of September 11th, there has been a common perception that terrorism and Islamic militancy are one and the same. This is understandable to an extent. After all, there here have been a number of prominent terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah, claiming to be fighting for Islamic ends. Moreover, the War of Terror has put a spotlight on jihadi groups while largely ignoring non-Islamic terrorist organizations. However, terrorism was hardly invented by fundamentalist Muslims. Indeed, the word “terrorism” itself probably originates from the French Revolution, an event far removed from the Islamic world. Terrorism has never been, nor will it ever be, an exclusively Muslim phenomenon. It has been perpetrated by groups of all ideological stripes, in all places, over many generations. Two separate, yet telling, events bear this fact out.
On April 28, British authorities located and diffused a whopping 600-pound car bomb in Northern Ireland. While the investigation is ongoing, the bomb is believed to have been built by anti-British Irish militants. On May 1st, on the other side of the Atlantic, five men were arrested in connection with a plot to blow up a large bridge to the south of Cleveland, Ohio. Of the five men arrested, at least one is known to be an anarchist. Moreover, the men are believed to have been active in the Cleveland branch of the Occupy Wall Street Movement.
Both of these events have garnered attention in the press simply because they were NOT perpetrated by Muslim radicals. However, these types of attacks are nothing new, and non-jihadi terrorism has been an issue for a long time. In fact, groups on the far left, the far right, and everywhere in between have committed violent acts in order to further their political ends. Below is a quick list of notable attacks perpetrated by radical, yet non-Islamic organizations.
1. 16 September 1920: The Wall Street Bombing
A horse drawn cart filled with 100 pounds of dynamite exploded in front of the JP Morgan bank headquarters in Manhattan. The bomb killed almost 40 people; the perpetrators were never found.
2. 22 July 1946: The Bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem
A paramilitary Zionist group called the Irgun placed a bomb inside the King David hotel, the site of British military headquarters in Palestine. Ninety-One, mostly non-British, people were killed during the attack.
3. 1959 to 2011: Spain’s Fight Against ETA
ETA, an organization of Basque nationalists, conducted hundreds of attacks against members of the Spanish government as well as the nation’s police and military forces. This decades-long campaign resulted in the deaths of more than 800 people.
4. September 15th, 1963: The Birmingham Bombing
The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed by Robert Chambliss, a member of the Ku-Klux Klan, resulting in the deaths of four young African-American girls.
5. 1967 – Present: India’s Naxalite Rebellion
A network of Communist revolutionaries has been waging a war against the Indian government for over 40 years. This often unrecognized, conflict is believed to have claimed the lives of over 10,000 people.
6. 1969 – 1997: The Provisional Irish Republican Army
This organization of Irish militants was responsible for the deaths of 1,800 people in its decades long anti-British campaign. While the situation has improved dramatically since the 1997 cease-fire, there have been several incidents that have caused some to worry that the conflict could be rekindled.
7. November 29, 1987: Korean Air Flight 858
North Korean agents planted a bomb on a Korean Air flight en-route from Seoul to Baghdad. This action, committed at the behest of the North Korean government, killed 115 people.
8. 20 March 1995: Tokyo Gas Attacks
Aum Shinrikyo, a Japanese terrorist cult, released sarin gas on several parts of the Tokyo metro system killing 13 people.
9. 19 April 1995: The Oklahoma City Bombing
Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, both right-wing anti-government radicals, built and emplaced a massive truck bomb in front of the Alfred R. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City killing 168 people.
10. 16 October 2006: The Digampathana Bombing, Sri Lanka
The Tamil Tigers carried out a suicide truck bombing against a military convoy that killed approximately 100 people, most of whom were Sri Lankan Navy personnel.
As can be seen, there have been many instances of terrorism committed by non-Islamic groups and individuals. This is important because it is easy, especially with terrorism, to get tunnel vision and be blinded to threats posed by low-profile organizations. As such, security managers should consider the threats posed by all violent organizations, not just the ones who garner the most media attention.
The recent foiled bombings in Northern Ireland and Ohio demonstrate why security experts and government officials should remain cognizant of the capacity of non-Islamic groups to do harm. This is particularly important as there have been recent reports that right-wing American militia and white-supremacists groups are becoming increasingly more active and dangerous. Additionally, the recent case in Ohio demonstrates that there may be a threat from radical splinters breaking off of the Occupy Wall-Street movement. Moving forward, it is very possible that the threat posed by these groups may become as prominent as the threat posed by radical Islamic groups over the past 15 years. Security managers and government officials should be prepared.