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Friday, November 24, 2006

Was Litvinenko a victim of terrorism?

The media has been focusing great attention on this story about former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko. From the BBC:
Police probing the death of Russian ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko have found above normal levels of radiation at three locations in London.

Mr Litvinenko's death has been linked to the presence of a "major dose" of radioactive polonium-210 in his body.

Scotland Yard confirmed traces were also found at his home, a sushi bar and a hotel
From what I've seen on TV and in the American press, no one on this side of the Atlantic is discussing this as a suspected case of terrorism.

Yet British "anti-terror police" have been investigating the crime.

The following is from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, on a webpage called "Definitions of Terrorism." It addresses the well-known problem that "UN Member States still have no agreed-upon definition." Nonetheless look at this proposed definition:
4. Academic Consensus Definition:

"Terrorism is an anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi-) clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby - in contrast to assassination - the direct targets of violence are not the main targets. The immediate human victims of violence are generally chosen randomly (targets of opportunity) or selectively (representative or symbolic targets) from a target population, and serve as message generators. Threat- and violence-based communication processes between terrorist (organization), (imperilled) victims, and main targets are used to manipulate the main target (audience(s)), turning it into a target of terror, a target of demands, or a target of attention, depending on whether intimidation, coercion, or propaganda is primarily sought" (Schmid, 1988).
Alexander Litvinenko's family apparently thinks that Russian President Vladimir Putin had the former spy assassinated. They released this statement purportedly from the diseased:
You may succeed in silencing me but that silence comes at a price. You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed.

You have shown yourself to have no respect for life, liberty or any civilized value. You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilized men and women.

You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr. Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life.
If this crime fits within a pattern of violence designed to intimidate dissenters, then it would seem to qualify as an act of terror and not simply murder/assassination.

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