The Vancouver Sun
By Sarah Phillips
Sarah Phillips is a member of C-CAT, the Canadian Coalition Against Terror – an organization of Canadian terror victims. She was shot and injured in the LA Airport terrorist attack in 2002
Los Angeles in 2002, Mumbai in 2008: The lesson here is that one way victims can combat terrorism is by going after its lifeblood — money
Last month’s events in Mumbai have so many layers of horror. Those murdered — those held hostage — those lying still in a dark room praying that the murderers who have entered their hotel room will not notice they are there. The stories are now being told — but so many will be forever lost.
One of the enduring symbols of this episode will be the two-year-old boy whose parents were murdered in front of him, after being taken hostage at the Habad Jewish outreach centre in Mumbai. His nanny, Sandra Samuel, had hidden downstairs and heard the little boy’s mother calling her for help — and then there was silence. When the child then began to cry out for Sandra, she left her hiding place, ran up the stairs, snatched the child and ran. They shot at her, but she escaped. It is impossible to fathom the terror of the child’s mother in her last moments as she realized that both she and her child were facing those who had come to murder them.
The face of this type of evil is one that I have seen before.
Six years ago, on July 4, 2002, I was standing in line at the El Al counter in Los Angeles airport when a terrorist opened fire, killing the young woman behind the counter who had been helping me, and the man standing behind me. After the second burst of gunfire I felt an explosion of pain in my leg. I had been shot, and I fell into a kneeling position like a condemned prisoner. I sat there immobilized staring down the barrel of a gun and into the eyes of a merciless face, waiting for the next bullet to end my life and praying that it would be quick. The gunfire continued around me until a security guard shot and killed the terrorist.
That incident lasted only minutes — two people died and I, along with others, was wounded. But Mumbai lasted three days — and it is hard for me to imagine those few moments of terror that I experienced, multiplied exponentially for so many people, over a prolonged period of time, and with such a horrific end.
Although these two incidents happened years apart in two cities on opposite sides of the world, they teach a common lesson. While the security of hotels, hospitals and other public places will have to be given more thought by those responsible for such things, it will not be possible to secure every potential target — and it will not be possible to identify every budding terrorist. But it is possible to do much more to deprive the terrorist infrastructure as a whole of its lifeblood — which is money. Somebody or some country is paying to make these things happen — to train men like these in the art of mass murder; to hire ships, rent rooms and move arms. Somebody is paying for these atrocities and not enough is being done in Canada and other countries to stop the flow of money. In Canada alone, authorities have identified hundreds of millions of terror related dollars flowing through this country, but almost none of those funds have been seized and only one person has been convicted of terror financing in our courts.
It has clearly proven difficult for the criminal justice system to successfully prosecute terrorists and their sponsors. That is why I have banded together with other terror victims to work on passing legislation that would allow terror victims to pursue the enablers of terror in civil courts, where it will be much easier to hold them accountable and expose them for what they are. One familiar example of the effectiveness of civil suits is the O. J. Simpson case. The high standard of proof required for a murder conviction led to Simpson’s acquittal despite incriminating evidence. But the family of Nicole Simpson successfully sued him in a civil court. He was publicly branded as a murderer and became financially impaired as a result of the damages award issued against him. Civil suits can be used just as effectively against state and local sponsors of terror.
The bill has broad bipartisan support and will soon be reintroduced in the Senate. I hope that whatever happens in Ottawa in the coming weeks, that MPs from all parties will stand by their commitment and see this bill to passage as quickly as possible.
If this effort can stop even one attack like the one in L. A., or impair the abilities of even one terrorist organization like the one responsible in Mumbai, it will have been worth the effort.