For Taiwanese, suitcase bombs have long been the stuff of movies or international news reports, but now they have been found in Taiwan, after suitcases containing explosive devices were discovered on Friday on a high-speed rail train and outside the constituency office of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lu Chia-chen (盧嘉辰). At first thought to be a tasteless prank, police have confirmed that the suitcases held bona fide explosive devices. If not for the prompt reactions of police and train staff we might have witnessed the same large number of casualties as in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.
On Sunday, police detained two men — brothers surnamed Lai (賴) — in Greater Taichung’s Dali District (大里) and took them in for questioning. The Lais were subsequently absolved of involvement and released, and the police have now turned their attention to tracking down another man seen in a surveillance video outside Lu’s office. Given the seriousness of the incidents, it is of paramount importance that the police find the perpetrators as soon as possble and that they make sure a prosecution case is watertight.
Police have not ruled out the possibility that the incidents were politically motivated: The suitcases left outside Lu’s office had the text “Long Live Guan Gong, Ma Ying-jeou” (關聖帝君千秋 馬英九, Long live the Holy Emperor Kuang Ma Ying-jeou) written on them. Whether or not the incidents were politically motivated, the police must determine the suspects’ motives. There is no justification for such terrorist behavior and it should be dealt with to the full extent of the law.
Taiwan is a democratic nation which enjoys almost unlimited freedom of expression, which means that any demand or protest can put heavy pressure on the government. As long as Taiwanese manage to communicate, argue and attempt to persuade each other, there is a possibility that we will be able to change major policies; we must never resort to extremism or terrorist acts that hurt innocent people.
If extremism or dissatisfaction develops among those on the fringes of society and causes people to resort to terrorist acts to avenge themselves on society, then the situation must be promptly clarified and handled according to the law.
The planting of the suitcase bombs may impact on mutual trust throughout society and lead to costly security measures and controls. In future, anyone with a suitcase may become a suspect and the target of strict controls and searches.
The rules implemented in the US following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks have resulted in extended travel times, the hiring of additional security personnel, impacted the country’s ability to attract talented people and affected national defense and economic and social development. With small means, terrorists can force whole societies and the international community to spend huge amounts of money in dealing with their threat, creating a deeply asymmetric situation.
Taiwan has always been an orderly society in which terror attacks are almost unimaginable. However, Taiwanese can no longer afford to be careless. If a bomb is so easily hidden in a suitcase, then police and the judiciary must quickly find and punish the guilty and move swiftly to prevent copycat events.
Just as we have been doing prior to every election since the assassination attempt on then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) on March 19, 2004, Taiwanese must now hold their breath and pray that Friday’s incidents are isolated events that are not attempted again.