This is a helpful comparison:
Middle Eastern terrorists hijack a U.S. jetliner bound for Italy. A two-week drama ensues in which the plane’s occupants are split into groups and held hostage in secret locations in Lebanon and Syria.
While this drama is unfolding, another group of terrorists detonates a bomb in the luggage hold of a 747 over the North Atlantic, killing more than 300 people.
Not long afterward, terrorists kill 19 people and wound more than a hundred others in coordinated attacks at European airport ticket counters.
A few months later, a U.S. airliner is bombed over Greece, killing four passengers.
Five months after that, another U.S. airliner is stormed by heavily armed terrorists at the airport in Karachi, Pakistan, killing at least 20 people and wounding 150 more.
Things are quiet for a while, until two years later when a 747 bound for New York is blown up over Europe killing 270 passengers and crew.
Nine months from then, a French airliner en route to Paris is bombed over Africa, killing 170 people from 17 countries.
That’s a pretty macabre fantasy, no? A worst-case war-game scenario for the CIA? A script for the End Times? Except, of course, that everything above actually happened, in a four-year span between 1985 and 1989. The culprits were the al-Qaidas of their time: groups like the Abu Nidal Organization and the Arab Revolutionary Cells, and even the government of Libya.
First on that list was the spectacular saga of TWA Flight 847, a Boeing 727 commandeered by Shiite militiamen in June of ’85. Even before that crisis ended, Sikh extremists would blow up Air India Flight 182 off the coast of Ireland — the deadliest civil aviation bombing in history. The Abu Nidal group then murdered 20 people at the airports in Rome and Vienna, followed in short order by the bombing of TWA Flight 840 as it descended toward Athens. Abu Nidal struck again in Karachi, attacking a Pan Am 747 with machine guns and grenades. Then, in December 1988, Libyan operatives planted the luggage bomb that brought down Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in what would stand until 2001 as the worst-ever terror attack against a U.S. target. The Libyans later used another luggage bomb to take out UTA Flight 772 over Niger in September 1989.
Read the rest; instructive for thinking about the terms of “existential threat” that are so often bandied about in our national security discourse.