When Major Nidal Malik Hasan opened indiscriminate fire on his colleagues on Nov. 5, 2009, at Fort Hood, Texas, killing 13 soldiers and civilians, he was quickly dubbed as a Muslim terrorist with suspected links with militants. His senseless and gory act led to spying of mosques and other Muslim congregational places. Now, a similar incident has taken place in a movie theater in the state of Colorado. The gunman, identified as James Holmes suspected of one of the worst shooting rampages in recent US history is a neuroscience graduate who left his doctoral course last month.
While Major Hasan was an army psychologist, Holmes was a student of neuroscience. Despite this gory incident, screening of the movies, The Dark Knight Rises, goes on. Holmes, like Hasan had no criminal record and was unknown to the authorities. He was originally from San Diego and had moved to Colorado in 2011 for a graduate course in neuroscience at the University Of Colorado School Of Medicine.
According to local officials, at least 12 people were dead and dozens were injured in the shooting by the gunman, who wore body armor and a gas mask when he entered the movie theater in suburban Aurora, Colo., after midnight Friday. He then set off at least one canister of gas and opened fire with a variety of weapons. The attack came about half an hour into the showing of “The Dark Knight Rises,” an eagerly awaited summer epic that had fans lining up for hours and scalpers reportedly selling tickets for as much as $300.
The rampage is of such a scale that it has shaken up campaign for presidential elections. According to reports, when Holmes’ apartment was searched, it was found to be booby-trapped with explosives, forcing authorities to evacuate five buildings along the street as a precaution. It was a clear case of terrorism but the authorities are trying to soften the impact and describing the incident as “ an act of extreme violence”. If this is not terrorism, then what is?
According to Terrorism Research, terrorism is a criminal act that influences an audience beyond the immediate victim. The strategy of terrorists is to commit acts of violence that draws the attention of the local populace, the government, and the world to their cause. The terrorists plan their attack to obtain the greatest publicity, choosing targets that symbolize what they oppose. The effectiveness of the terrorist act lies not in the act itself, but in the public’s or government’s reaction to the act. For example, in 1972 at the Munich Olympics, the Black September Organization killed 11 Israelis. The Israelis were the immediate victims. But the true target was the estimated 1 billion people watching the televised event.
US Department of Defense, FBI and State Department have different definitions of terrorism, obviously more specific to fit in the groups or persons the US wants to target. But Holmes does not fit in the official definitions of terrorism.
President Obama, who cut short a campaign swing through Florida, led the nation in mourning and prayer. “It reminds us of all the ways that we are united as one American family,” he said. He very carefully avoided to describe the incident as an act of terror. But the remorse was tinged with the need to once again try to explain a senseless act — the worst mass shooting since the Virginia Tech tragedy in 2007. Thirty-two people, plus the shooter, died in that massacre. Friday’s attack also brought back memories of Colorado’s other mass shooting, in 1999 at Columbine High School; that shooting left 12 students and one teacher dead, plus the two shooters.
According to police and witnesses, most of the audience didn’t take the gunman seriously when he entered the movie house through an exit door. He appeared to be in costume, wearing body armor and a gas mask, but others too had donned special attire for the movie about a superhero known as the Caped Crusader. Some witnesses told reporters that they thought he was part of a publicity stunt or prank.
Officials have said the shooter had four weapons including an assault rifle, a shotgun and two handguns. Federal law enforcement sources said they were trying to trace the weapons. The shooter was arrested shortly after the attack near a car in the parking lot outside the multiplex theater. Some of the injured at the theater were children, with the youngest a 4-month-old baby; the baby has now been released. Victims were being treated for chemical exposure apparently linked to canisters set off by the gunman.
- Police chief: 14 dead in Colorado theater shooting (myfox8.com)
- Report: FBI Ignored Ft. Hood Evidence (huffingtonpost.com)