Parcel bombs: Reminiscent of the Unabomber

The parcel bomb war has invaded the US these days. This is a cruel type of violence that was prevalent in the 1980s. Anyone who watched ‘Manhunt: Unabomber’ series, produced by Discovery channel in 2017, would know about Fitzgerald, the personality analyst in the FBI, searching for the murderer who was distinguished for his rare brutality that was not driven by any kind of usual motives of political terrorism as he had personal and psychological problems, as one can tell from the series. The murderer’s name is Ted Kaczynski (also known as the Unabomber) as he sent parcel bombs to universities and airline companies.

The anarchist professor

Born on 22 May 1942, he was a mathematics professor, who lived as a recluse in a remote place and was opposed to technology. He has been described as the most violent serial bomber in history as he sent parcel bombs over a 17 year period. In November 1979, he nearly blew up an airliner (Flight no. 444 of the US Airways). His parcel bombings peaked in 1981-82, when he targeted several universities.

What is strange is that he issued messages against the world and broadcasted his mysterious messages through various means and even the US press, under threat, provided coverage to his ideas. His statements read: “They want you to be sheep like they are sheep. When your only tool’s a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The only way to be human, the only way to be free, is to rebel. Stand up, play your heart out so the whole world can hear you. (Human beings have been reduced to) engineered products and mere cogs in the social machine, etc.”

In order to find him, investigators established a specific unit that employed “criminal linguistics”; a method whose legal validity stirred much debate, but resulted in great success.

Suicide bombings

In his book ‘Leaders and Their Followers in a Dangerous World’, psychologist Jerrold M. Post narrates a story which he says changed his life: “A funny thing happened on the way to my career in my academic psychiatry. In my final year, as a clinical associate at the National Institute of Mental Health, planning to return to Boston where I had been offered an appointment in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, I received a cryptic phone call from a medical school acquaintance who wanted to discuss ‘a most unusual job opportunity.’ I was intrigued, and we met over lunch.”

“To my astonishment, I was offered an opportunity to start a pilot program for the United States government developing indirect assessments of the personality and political behavior of foreign leaders. The unit would be based at the Central Intelligence Agency but would serve as an analytic unit of common concern, providing in-depth personality studies of world leaders to assist the president, secretary of state, secretary of defense, and other senior government officials in conducting summit meetings and other high-level negotiations, as well as in dealing with crises. I thought that would be an interesting divertissement for several years, and then I would return to the groves of the academe. The planned two-year diversion ended up lasting twenty-one years, from 1965 to 1986, in what became a remarkable intellectual odyssey. It quickly became apparent that the field of psychodynamic psychiatry would be insufficient to the task at hand. Accurately locating the political actor in his historical, cultural, and political context would require substantial expertise to complement that of the psychiatrists in the unit. Accordingly, I proposed and received support to develop an interdisciplinary unit,” he added.

The author talks about one of the interviewed commandeered, Hassan Salameh — the man who led a terror squad that carried out a series of bombings in 1996 leading to the death of 46 Israelis resulting in the defeat of Shimon Peres and the election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Salameh, who was sentenced to 64 consecutive life sentences, said: “A suicide bombing is the highest level of jihad, and highlights the depth of our faith. The bombers are holy fighters who carry out one of the more important articles of faith.”Another commander, asserted: “It is suicide attacks which earn the most respect and elevate the bombers to the highest possible level of martyrdom.”

Counter-terror expertise

The author shares his experience when he talks about his experience as an “expert witness” in the trials of al-Qaeda terrorists, who were convicted in bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He had a copy of the Justice Department documents on al-Qaeda terror handbook “Jihad Declaration”; which is an exceptional document that goes very far in explaining how the terrorists of the September 11, 2001 attacks managed to maintain their cover in the US; in the so-called ‘enemy’s country’.

In the eighth lesson, part of what the precautions which the “undercover” member should do was that his appearance should not indicate an Islamic orientation and that he should avoid visiting famous Islamic places.

The book shows how intelligence and security agencies can renew investigation units depending on the type of crime. There is the criminal linguistics unit as we saw in Ted’s story and the personality analysis unit through observing the behavioral and psychological pattern, like Post did. This clarifies the crisis of terrorism and the necessity to confront it with security methods that merge with scientific expertise, be it linguistic or psychological skills.

This article is also available in Arabic.


Fahad Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat,, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran.


Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:53 - GMT 06:53
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