By THOMAS HARGROVE
Scripps Howard News Service
July 08, 2005
The most deadly terror attack in Europe last year was al Qaeda's bombing of the commuter transit system of Madrid, Spain, that killed 191 and wounded 1,900 using tactics strikingly similar to Thursday's London bombings.
"There was nothing unique about the London attacks, but they certainly had all the hallmarks of al Qaeda," said James Ellis, research coordinator for the federally funded Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism. "This was a coordinated, multi-modal attack involving subway stations as well as a bus. But of course, attacks on subways are nothing new.
"What has changed is the targeting preferences of the terrorists. ... The technology of terrorism hasn't really changed. But now, terrorists tend to attack during rush hour or during the hours when businesses are open."
The Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, created in the aftermath of the 1995 bombing of Oklahoma City's Murrah Federal Building by domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh, has assembled a "terrorist knowledge base" from a variety of government and private sources. The system included 22,000 terrorist incidents that have killed at least 29,347 people over the last 37 years, giving unparalleled public access to information about terrorism.
Since 1968, terrorists have struck mass-transportation systems 1,699 times, killing 4,295 people and injuring 14,048. By far, terrorists' favorite tactic is to place bombs in public places. Explosives have killed 15,129 people, more than half of all victims.
Accounting for 5,523 deaths were armed attacks, such as last year's assault by armed Chechen separatists in the southern Russian town of Beslan, which left 331 dead and 727 wounded.
But terrorists are also learning unconventional methods, including al Qaeda's use of passenger jetliners in the 9/11 attacks that killed 2,982 people or the extreme Buddhist sect Aum Shinri Kyo's Sarin nerve-gas attack on five subway cars in Japan that killed 12 and injured 5,000.
Unconventional tactics are now the third-most-common method of terrorist attack, accounting for 3,004 deaths.
According to the institute, al Qaeda has accumulated the world's bloodiest tally for terrorism, with 3,521 deaths and 6,476 injured. Second is Lebanon-based Hezbollah, with 825 deaths and 1,501 injured.
Not far behind is Abu Musab Zarqawi's Iraqi group "Tanzim Qa'idat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn," which translates to "Organization of Jihad's Base in the Country of the Two Rivers." Authorities believe it has killed 581 and wounded 1,160.
"Generally speaking, the hot spots of the world have been getting hotter," Ellis said. "And there has been a general inflation factor for deaths."
Experts have speculated that terrorists feel obligated to seek ever-increasing numbers of victims to ensure that their causes gain attention. Terrorist acts once rarely exceeded 10 victims. But last year, there were 411 separate terrorist attacks worldwide that caused double-digit casualties.
Oklahoma City bomber McVeigh famously noted that these days it's necessary to obtain "a real body count" to be noticed amid the global violence.
"The old aphorism was that terrorists need lots of people watching, but not a lot of people dead. Today, terrorists need a lot of people dead in order to get a lot of people watching" Ellis said.
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