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Attacks on Paul Pelosi, Imran Khan hint at violent new political era



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This week’s assassination attempt by former Pakistani leader Imran Khan comes just days after an intruder broke into the San Francisco home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in an unsuccessful attempt. succeed in harming or kidnapping her, according to federal prosecutors. Weeks earlier, a man approached former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Buenos Aires and attempted to shoot her in the face at close range.

That attack followed the assassination of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in July by a man wielding a homemade gun in the city of Nara. And Abe was killed almost exactly a year after gunmen killed Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in a raid on his home in Port-au-Prince.

Experts say that together, these famous acts of violence have the potential to herald a new, tumultuous era in global politics. After years in which terrorist bombings dominated the headlines, this new hit series is reminiscent of the 1960s and 1970s, when major American figures such as President John F. Kennedy and the leader Civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr was killed in pivotal moments.

“There will never be an end to individuals wanting to assassinate individuals publicly,” said Colin P. Clarke, director of research and policy at The Soufan Group, an intelligence and security advisory group. . But Clarke also said there are a number of factors that could have led to the rise in assassinations, including a “decline, at least in some parts of the world, of jihadist organizations” that support the assassinations. different tactics.

In their place, “you’ve got a proliferation of far-right extremists who are a lot more decentralized,” he said. different aspects of what motivates them to engage in these types of behaviors. “

Data from the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database (GTD), which includes figures through 2020, shows a sharp increase in assassinations against government figures around the world. starting in 2014. The number of assassinations has been consistently high since then – even as the number of terrorist attacks has decreased.

It’s a trend that may have been overlooked in recent years. Erin Miller, program director at GTD, noted that most of the attacks targeted low- to mid-level officials — not prominent political leaders like Khan or Pelosi. The most recent statistics, she said, have been dominated by insurgent-led attacks in Afghanistan before the Taliban takeover in 2021.

GTD data shows that the late 1980s were another period when assassinations spiked. Miller said that at the time, terrorist attacks such as suicide bombings that often kill people indiscriminately were much less commonly used.

“Targeting political leadership is a tactic used to gain attention for a goal that is less likely to alienate people,” says Miller. “In recent years, attackers have adopted both targeted assassination and mass casualty strategies.”

Part of the change could be structural. Clarke says that as groups like the Islamic State lose territory, violence increases by those who work alone, some of whom have been radicalized online to hate or target groups. specific individuals.

To some extent, there may also be a tactical logic to change. Assassination attempts against individuals can often lead to significant political changes. Some have changed the course of history, though not always in the way their perpetrators intended: the killing of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, for example, is seen as the spark that started. beginning of World War I.

Views of assassinations can also change over time. In India, the assassin who killed beloved independence leader Mahatma Gandhi has been labeled a “patriot” by some supporters of the country’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Some historians consider the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a far-right extremist in 1995 as a catastrophic moment for the Middle East peace process. But nearly three decades later, the far right has emerged as king in the country’s most recent election.

Even in Japan, the shocking assassination of former leader Abe in July set off a surprising twist: The country took the assassination’s motives seriously.

The alleged killer, Tetsuya Yamagami, later told the police that he wanted to carry out the assassination because his mother made a large donation to the Unification Church, a religious group with which Abe clearly has close ties. However, after the former prime minister was killed, Abe’s former party pledged to end its relationship with the church. it was then rechecked.

Japan, generally nonviolent, has an important history of political assassinations. But some countries have long avoided attacks on senior officials who have seen assassinations in recent years: Two British lawmakers have been killed in motivated killings. separate politics since 2016.

In Brazil, where there has long been political violence during elections, the number of incidents of violence involving political party representatives and supporters ahead of the 2022 elections has eclipsed the figure. recorded in the election four years ago, according to the data from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.

At least some of the apparent increase in assassinations can be attributed to changes in technology. Abe was shot dead with a “handmade” gun made from readily available materials. You can easily find designs for similar weapons, purchasable without leaving a trace and sometimes manufactured in a way that avoids metal detectors.

There have been reports of drone assassinations in recent years, such as the 2018 attack on Nicolás Maduro, the President of Venezuela, during an event in Caracas. Maduro survived the alleged attempt, a low-tech reversal of US drone strikes like the killing of Iranian military officer Qasem Soleimani in 2020.

“Raw processing technology lowers the barriers to entry for attackers, allowing even untrained or unprepared extremists to […] to carry out serious conspiracies,” said Bruce Hoffman and Jacob Ware, two counterterrorism experts with the Council on Foreign Relations, recently. written for War on the Rocks.

Experts have also recorded an increasing trend in state-backed assassinations, including the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the murder of Kim Jong Nam by North Korean agents, and numerous home-related deaths. Russia.

But the widening political polarization around the world, aided by online echo chambers that can radicalize potential perpetrators and kill potential victims, only increases the risk. assassinated – as in the attempted attack on Pelosi that caused her husband, Paul. , injured.

Clarke noted that in the United States, figures on both the left and the right have been targeted in politically motivated attacks. In a way, the series of political assassinations is worse than what has come before.

“We have been here before. We survived it,” Clarke talks about political violence in the United States. But there are people I talk to who say this feels fundamentally different.

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