My Not-So-Close Scrapes With Death: When Tourism and Terrorism Collide

July 5, 2016 – The recent spate of shootings and bombings worldwide – whether ISIS-inspired (Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub, June 12, 2016) or ISIS-led (Atatürk Airport in Istanbul, Turkey, June 28th; Bangladesh, July 2nd; Baghdad, July 3rd; Medina, Saudi Arabia, July 4th) – got me thinking: Gosh, I’ve been to a lot of these places, but at the “right” (safe) time.

After every freak accident or act of violence, we hear the same meaningless comment from a witness or bystander: “He was at the wrong place at the wrong time.” As if the dead were somehow at fault, or the winner of the world’s unluckiest lottery.

So here is my morbid recount of all the terrorist-attacked places from which I have escaped Death – probably because of some disruption in the SpaceTime continuum which placed me at the right place, but at the wrong time (if you had a Death-wish):

Frankfurt International Airport, June 19, 1985: “A powerful bomb ripped through an international departure lounge of the Frankfurt Airport this afternoon, killing three people and wounding 42” (New York Times) Terror group: Arab Revolutionary Organization

Thank God, I missed this bombing by 12 days – after having visited my sister and flying out of Frankfurt on June 7, 1985.

New Tokyo International Airport (later renamed Narita International Airport, June 23, 1985: A bomb killed two baggage handlers and injured four. The bomb was intended for Air India Flight 301. Terror group: Sikh extremists.

Narita International Airport, Terminal 1 - the main site of the 1985 bombing. (Photo Credit: Terence Ong via Wikipedia)
Narita International Airport, Terminal 1 – the main site of the 1985 bombing. (Photo Credit: Terence Ong via Wikipedia)

Thank Buddha, this bombing preceded my arrival in Tokyo – by a full month.

London tube and double-decker bombings, July 7, 2005: Three bombs detonated in quick succession aboard three separate London Underground trains across the city and, later, a fourth on a double-decker bus in Tavistock Square. Fifty-two people were killed and over 700 were injured. Terror group: 4 Islamic extremists.

Locations of the three London Tube attacks, 7 July 2005
Locations of the three London Tube attacks, 7 July 2005

I missed the London bombings by two decades (1985). But still, I’m going back to London because, you know – tourism wins?

The Pentagon 9/11 attack, Sept. 1, 2001: I was a legal intern within the bowels of The Pentagon for a year, 1994-1995, while also attending law school. “125 Pentagon workers lost their lives when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the western side of the building. Of these, 70 were civilians and 55 were military personnel.” (Wikipedia) Terror group: Al-Qaeda.

The 9/11 Pentagon attack cuts a lot closer to home. While I had stopped working there a full six years before the attack, I lost a very good friend: David Charlebois (1962-2001) – or “Shalamar”, he would kid me, because I kept mispronouncing his name. He was the First Officer on AA Flight 77 that horrendous morning.

Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub, June 12, 2016: A lone gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53 others inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. The gunman was shot and killed by Orlando police after a three-hour standoff. Pulse Nightclub mural
When Pulse first opened in 2004, I used to go with friends. Small dance floor, OK drinks, nice outside patio. But I stopped going there years before the June 2016 attack.

Terror group: Likely none, despite the gunman’s 9-1-1 call when he claimed allegiance to ISIS/ISIL. The CIA and FBI have stated they found no credible links between the gunman and ISIS/ISIL.

Pulse was supposed to have been a safe place – a happy place to socialize, dance, relax and forget the worries of the world. But on June 12th, the world came crashing in.

Twitter-Pulse-PARIS 061216Paris attacks November 13, 2015: “A series of coordinated terrorist attacks occurred in Paris, France and the city’s northern suburb, Saint-Denis. Three suicide bombers struck near the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, followed by suicide bombings and mass shootings at cafés, restaurants and a music venue in central Paris. The attackers killed 130 people and another 368 were injured.” (Wikipedia)

Terrorist group: ISIL and EU citizens who had fought and trained in Syria, then returned to Belgium and France for the attack.

Israel’s Tel Aviv-to-Jerusalem Bus Attack, July 6, 1989: One of the cheapest ways to get from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem is by bus. It’s a one-hour air-conditioned ride into the ancient city. As I wrote in my June, 1985, Travel Journal: “The rocky, dry landscape dotted with hills and trees looks like pictures from the Bible.”

Tragically, four years later, the first Palestinian suicide attack occurred on this bus route. “The bus # 405 attack was a suicide attack carried out by Abed al-Hadi Ghaneim of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. On a crowded Egged commuter bus line No. 405 en route from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem (Israel), Ghanim seized the steering wheel of the bus, running it off a steep cliff into a ravine in the area of Qiryat Ye’arim. 16 civilians died in the attack, including two Canadians and one American, and 27 were wounded.” (Wikipedia)

Kuwait International Airport / Invasion of Kuwait, August 2, 1990: When Iraq’s Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and attempted to annex it as Iraq’s “19th province”, his troops shot up the airport and the U.S.-led coalition returned the favor when the alliance charged into Iraq.

OK, so this one is a stretch: My only exposure was a short 20-minute “tour” of the white, gleaming Kuwait International Airport (before the mortars, death and mayhem 5 years later). My TWA flight had departed Cairo and was en route to Bombay – but first, we had to stop in Kuwait City for some unknown reason. So I decided to get off the jumbo 747, stretch my legs, and walk around the airport terminal. But then I got bored and hopped back aboard.

So, in sh’Allah, I missed Saddam’s antics by five years.

Atatürk Airport in Istanbul, Turkey, June 28, 2016: “Gunmen armed with automatic weapons and explosive belts staged a simultaneous attack at the international terminal of Terminal 2. Forty-five people were killed, in addition to the three attackers, and 239 people were injured.” (Wikipedia)

Terror group: Turkish officials say the attackers, from Russia and Central Asia, were acting on behalf of ISIS/ISIL.

The Turks are famously known for their hospitality and generosity (which I can vouch for), so this latest attack in particular really bothers me. The media are reporting that tourists have all but disappeared from Istanbul.

Postscript:

So this post was perhaps a bit morbid. Or maybe this is a weird lesson in disruptions of the SpaceTime continuum (“wrong place, wrong time”).

But I am also a realist.

I live in Orlando, Florida. I realize I am FAR MORE LIKELY TO DIE from an automobile accident on I-4 (Interstate 4); or from a lightning strike (a 33-year-old died just a couple weeks ago in Daytona Beach); or from a shark attack (Florida = world leader); or melanoma (Thank you again, Florida); or random gun violence (More than 30,000 Americans are killed by firearms every year); or, God forbid, an alligator were to drag me into Bay Lake at Walt Disney World (2-year-old toddler dragged and drowned by gator, June 2016).

Nor will I count all the AIRLINES THAT HAVE FALLEN OUT OF THE SKY, which I have flown: Pan Am, a victim of the 1988 Lockerbie Scotland bombing; Aloha Airlines, whose metal-fatigued roof peeled off in mid-flight in 1988; United Airlines on a Honolulu-to-New-Zealand flight in 1989, when nine passengers were sucked out of the aircraft; or ValuJet which plummeted into the Florida Everglades in 1996.

Because, you know, sh*t happens.

Granted, none of the above incidents were even remotely “close calls” for me.

But still, it’s unnerving that these places where you once sat, or strolled, or had a cup of coffee, or flew into/out of, were ordinary transit points or everyday tourist destinations.

And then suddenly, the violence.

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