Terrorist assassination is a special kind of homicide because there is a target figure and the victim is usually a political victim not an emotional one as in most cases of homicide. The victim is targeted to broadcast a message. This means that people are assassinated because of who they are and for no other reason. Usually the victim is part of a government or large corporation whom the terrorist is attempting to influence. It is a power play.
The terrorist wants to broadcast a message; this means he must strike in a manner that captures the attention of the audience he wants to reach. In the past the attacks have been so spectacular that the audiences of the world have become blase; it is difficult for the modern terrorist to top the acts of the past and he is having a difficult time reaching a broad audience. During the last decade attempts have been made on the lives of The Pope, President Reagan and President Ford. The Pope was the only victim of organized terrorism, but the attempts on Reagan and Ford fall within the definition of terrorism – they were accomplished to elicit a message. In the attempt on Reagan it was a narrow message; Hinkley, the assassin, wanted to get the attention of Jody Foster. These are difficult acts to follow.
If the tank of chemicals in Norfolk had been detonated, the message would have been destructively evident. And although no one claimed responsibility the threat is a pervading, volatile one: those tanks and others like them are waiting. They can be destroyed at any time and the destruction will reach out for miles. The threat could have been from Iraqi terrorists, sympathizers or one of the U.S. groups. The actual political message is not as important as the subtle one that is broadcast as rampant fear; it raises a destructive question: where will the next bomb be placed and what damage will it do.
For the terrorist these dialogues of destruction are becoming more difficult. With all the security present at Norfolk it must have been a massive exercise of caution to place the bomb. With the hardcore security surrounding VIPs it is getting difficult to get through the bodyguards and reach the target. And with the increased use of bodyguards and security, the terrorist is faced with the problem of how to escalate his act. He must prepare his act of terrorism in a more and more spectacular way to reach his audience, and this is difficult when the targets are professionally protected.
More and more executives, celebrities and well known personalities are surrounding themselves with bodyguards; this leaves the terrorist looking for an effective target and while he is looking personal security is growing by leaps and bounds. It becomes very difficult to create a dialogue situation – which the terrorist strives for – when the hunter is breathing down one’s neck. This is the situation that has built up during the last decade on an international scale. Worldwide it has been difficult to reach an agreement on what to do bout terrorists and terrorism, but a consensus of sentiment has been clearly growing among nations most clearly affected. The same sentiment is emerging among the large corporations of the world – they are saying enough is enough! The terrorists have over-reached themselves; when it was discovered that destructive acts would be committed even after an agreement was reached, it was clear there is no way to bargain with terrorists.
Now the awareness that security is necessary and that protection can save lives has changed the national mood: the willingness to attack, to fight back has become a predominant mind set. The brutal killings of Hanns-Martin Schleyer and Aldo Moro in the late 1970s was the birth of a new attitude: there would be no more dialogue.
The terrorist has come to know that he must count less and less on the cooperation of his victims to make his operation effective. The terrorist has been forced to use a different demonstration of his power: do first, and if there is to be talk, do it at an opportune, convenient, safe time. The episode in Norfolk is a good example: the bomb was placed without warning or threat. No demands were made and none have been made, but the message was clear.
The Norfolk bombing threat points out a comparatively faint-hearted retreat into a campaign designed more to do economic damage than to take lives, although if the bomb had detonated many lives may have been taken. A million gallon tank of the particular chemical involved would been equal to an atomic bomb if it had exploded. But there is another consideration; it’s possible that the bomb was meant to be discovered. We may have reached a time when only the more determined terrorist will turn to assassination; but there is no way to know or be sure. One thing is certain, the bomb at Norfolk will not be the last; the terrorist cannot afford to tread water, if he does, he is in peril of drowning in oceans of apathy. Public apathy is something the terrorist cannot endure.