Acts of terror are no longer a phenomenon that can be conveniently ignored by the masses. In fact, with extremists continually seeking weapons of mass destruction, the threat of terrorism looms everywhere. With our attention so attuned, here is a list of 10 of the deadliest, and most notorious, acts of terror.
10. Bombing of USS Cole
Fatalities: 17; Injuries: 39
Terrorists usually pursue what are termed “soft targets”. These are areas or property (including people) that offer little in the way of security or threat to the terrorist themselves. It’s rare, therefore, that acts of terror are carried out on military targets. Such, was the case, however, on October 12, 2000, when suicide bombers attacked the American warship, USS Cole. The Cole was in port at Aden, Yemen to take on fuel. Incidentally, this was the same port in which Al Qaeda attempted a suicide attack on the USS The Sullivans earlier in the year. Without any warning to the contrary, security around the warship was light. A small motorboat, laden with explosives, sped up to the anchored ship and exploded on the port side. The small boat contained 400-700 pounds of explosives that caused a 40×40-foot rupture in the Cole’s hull. The explosion occurred near the galley of the ship, where sailors were gathering to eat.
Al Qaeda, in the ongoing efforts directed against America, claimed responsibility. US Naval forces, as a result, increased port security measures, but the damage was already done. Al Qaeda, according to intelligence reports, realized a significant rise in recruitment and financing as a result of this success against an American military target.
9. Anthrax Letter Attacks
Fatalities: 5; Injuries: 17
With the nation already on edge following the 9/11, attack the nation was again coping with the threat of terror just weeks later. On September 18 and October 9, 2001, letters were mailed to several media news outlets, and two U.S. Senators, that contained the deadly chemical agent Anthrax (in powder form). The notes that were included with the letters pointed to extremist religious groups. As several people were exposed, and subsequently killed, from Anthrax exposure, the level of anxiety around the nation was high.
Investigators, however, soon became convinced that the attack was not carried out by any foreign religious group, such as Al Qaeda. The investigation began to focus on Dr. Bruce E. Ivins, who was a scientist employed at a Federal bio-defense lab. Dr. Ivins soon became the FBI’s primary suspect. With federal charges being considered, Dr. Ivins committed suicide on July 27, 2008. Several weeks later, federal prosecutors announced that Dr. Ivins was the sole perpetrator of the Anthrax attack. This attack was the second of only two bio attacks to be carried out in the US. It resulted in government officials taking Cipro, a powerful antibiotic, and increased security and scrutiny of mail.
8. Salmonella Attack
The threat of a biological attack has garnered a good deal of attention and concern in recent years. The threat, and its potential for harm, is clearly evidenced by the salmonella attack in Oregon. From September 9-19, 1984, several hundred people were deliberately poisoned by salmonella spores.
The attack was perpetrated by a cult-like group called the Rajneeshee. The group was led by an Indian mystic named Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. The group maintained a compound in Wasco County, Oregon. The Rajneeshee were interested in gaining control of one of the open seats on the local circuit court. As such, a conspiracy was hatched to incapacitate the voters in The Dalles, Oregon, who made up the largest block of voters in the upcoming election. To this end, salad bars in 10 restaurants were contaminated with Salmonella spores, and two county commissioners had their drinking water contaminated.
This was the first ever bio attack on the US, and remains the largest. Rajneesh was never prosecuted for the attack, but was eventually deported to India on other grounds.
7. Mid-Air Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103
Fatalities: 270; Injuries 12
Planes are a prime target for terrorist. This fact was made shockingly clear on December 21, 1988, when Pan Am Flight 103 from Heathrow to JFK exploded in mid-air over the town of Lockerbie, Scotland. The destruction of the plane was complete; all passengers and crew were killed. Additionally, falling debris from the explosion struck homes in Lockerbee and caused injuries to a number of residents. A number of extremist groups claimed responsibility, and investigators quickly determined that a bomb did indeed cause the explosion. It was believed that the attack was in response to the shooting down of Iran flight 655 in July of that year.
As the investigation continued, officials came to believe that the attack was sanctioned by the Libyan government. A Libyan national, Abdul-Basit al Megrahi, was eventually apprehended, charged and found guilty in connection with the attack. In 2003, Libya admitted responsibility for the attack (but still displayed no guilt).
6. Bombing of Marine Barracks
Fatalities: 301; Injuries: 161
For decades, the Middle East has been a hot bed for political unrest. Such was the case in the early-1980’s, when the United Nations established a peacekeeping force in Lebanon, in an attempt to settle unrest in the area. It didn’t work. On October 23, 1983, two suicide truck bombs breached the security perimeter of the UN compound that was housing U.S. Marines and French Paratroopers. Combined, the truck bombs carried 12,000 pounds of TNT. The resulting explosion demolished the compound. 241 U.S. servicemen (220 of them Marines) were killed.
A group called The Islamic Jihad (suspected of being a front for the organization Hezbollah) claimed responsibility, citing America’s unwanted presence in the area. As a result of the bombing, the UN soon pulled its peacekeeping forces out of the area. The attack represented the largest, and deadliest, one-day death toll for the Marines since the battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.
5. Truck Bombing of U.S. Embassies
Fatalities: 303; Injuries: 4,954
Prior to 9/11, acts of terror against the U.S. centered largely on targets on foreign soil. Such was the case with the 1998 bombings of the U. S. Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Truck bombs, carrying up to 17 tons of high explosives, were detonated within minutes of each other at the site of each embassy. While the intended targets were American property and personnel, the vast majority of the casualties were indigenous civilians. Twelve Americans were killed, and both embassies were heavily damaged. So-called collateral damage was widespread in the neighborhoods adjacent to the embassies, and several thousands of civilians were injured or killed.
The attack was linked to an extremist group call The Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ). The group claimed it was retaliating for American involvement concerning the torture and extradition of four members of the EIJ. Both Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri came to American attention as a result of the attack.
4. Beslan Massacre
Fatalities: 366; Injuries: 747
Acts of terror are not confined to the United States. Terrorism is a worldwide problem, as our number four entry illustrates. On September 1, 2004, armed Ingush and Chechen insurgents seized control of School Number One in Beslan, Russia. The insurgents held 1,100 hostages (of which 777 were children) and demanded an end to ongoing Chechen military dispute between Chechnya and Russia.
By the 3rd day of the siege, Russian officials decided to act, and assaulted the school with tanks, heavy weapons and military troops. An intense gun battle ensued that resulted in 30 insurgents killed. Unfortunately, 334 hostages were also killed (of which 186 were children). The backlash of the disastrous assault by Russian forces led to a number of policy changes, as well as widespread international criticism.
3. Oklahoma City Federal Building Bombing
Fatalities: 169; Injuries: 675
While acts of terror seem to be carried out primarily by religious extremists, this wasn’t the case with the number three entry on our list. On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh exploded a truck bomb that he positioned in front of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The bomb itself was homemade, using chemical ingredients that were readily attainable. The resulting explosion tore into the Federal building, demolishing much of it and causing widespread damage to the surrounding area.
Damages, in fact, totaled more than $652 million. Timothy McVeigh, and co-conspirator Terry Nichols, were quickly linked, charged and convicted for the attack. The public soon became aware of the home-grown terrorism. McVeigh, a militia sympathizer, espoused a hatred of the US government as his motivation. McVeigh was sentenced to death by lethal injection and Nichols was given life without parole for their roles in the attack. Prior to 9/11, this attack was the deadliest act of terrorism on American soil.
2. 1st World Trade Center Bombing
Fatalities: 6; Injuries: 1,040
While the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center was devastating, it was not the first attempt to bring the two towers down. On February 26, 1993, a yellow Ryder moving van was driven into the World Trade Center’s public parking garage in the North Tower. Several minutes later, 1500 pounds of nitrate-hydrogen gas exploded, punching a hole 98 feet wide through four levels of concrete.
The plan was carried out by a group that called itself The Liberation Army, 5th Battalion. This is believed to be a front, however, as this attack was financed by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was the primary planner for the 9/11 attack. The attackers hoped to collapse the North Tower and have it crash into the South Tower, causing thousands of deaths. Six men were eventually charged with, and convicted of, the bombing.
1. 9/11 Attack
Fatalities: 2,993; Injuries: 8,900
Any discussion concerning acts of terror has to begin with the September 11, 2001 attack. By any measure, it was the most brazen and deadliest terrorist attack in recorded history. Initiated by an extremist organization named Al Qaeda, and its leader Osama bin Laden, the attack led to America’s current War On Terror.
The attack itself was a coordinated affair: nineteen members of Al Qaeda managed to hijack four airliners. Two of these planes were crashed into New York City’s World Trade Center. A third plane was crushed into the Pentagon in Washington DC. The fourth plane, which is believed to have been headed for targets in Washington DC as well, crashed into a field in Summerset County, Pennsylvania, after passengers attempted to regain control of the plane from the hijackers.
The damage was horrific. Both World Trade Center towers were demolished – literally crashing to the ground. The Pentagon was heavily damaged as well. 9/11 is the most lethal attack carried out against the US, and continues to have ramifications in the nation’s foreign and domestic policies.