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Why Parliaments and Congress are favored targets for terror and violence

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Why Parliaments and Congress are favored targets for terror and violence

WATCH: The UK will be on high alert for days as British police and intelligence officers continue the investigation into the terror attack that left dozens injured and four dead, to include the attacker. 

From New Delhi to Washington, Ottawa to now possibly London, the buildings that house legislative bodies have long been the aspired targets of terrorists and disgruntled citizens. And the reason is simple: Congress and Parliaments are the most visible symbols of Western democracy.

British police were investigating an attack Wednesday at the U.K. Parliament building as a terrorist act. Here are some of the most infamous incidents of terrorism and violence aimed at democratic legislative bodies over the last two decades.


Sept. 11, 2001 attacks

On Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. officials believe the hijackers of United Airlines Flight 93 were most likely intending to fly the jetliner into the U.S. Capitol building, joining their al-Qaida backed comrades who already had flown jetliners into the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon near Washington D.C. 

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Federal Bureau of Investigation investigators comb the crater left by the crash Tuesday of United Airlines flight 93, a Boeing 757 in Shanksville, Pa., on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2001. The plane crashed about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh after first flying near Cleveland and then turning around. The plane was said to be flying erratically and losing altitude. Analysts said recovery of Flight 93's cockpit voice recorder could be key in determining what happened. FBI assistant agent in charge Roland Corvington said that more than 200 investigators were on the scene and that the search might continue for three to five weeks.(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The hijackers were thwarted by valiant passengers who fought for control of the plane and crashed it into a field in Pennsylvania.

2001 anthrax attacks

Just a few days later, anthrax-laced letters appeared at congressional buildings, targeting two Democratic senators. On their path to Congress and some media outlets, the poisoned letters infected 17 and killed five. The FBI ultimately concluded a federal bioweapons expert who committed suicide in 2008 was the most likely suspect for the attacks. The letters contained anti-government language referencing “Death to America” and “Allah” but the exact motive for the attacks has never been made public.

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FILE -- In this undated image attached to an email sent Nov. 14, 2001, by Bruce Ivins, Ivins works with "cultures of the 'Ames' strain of Bacillus anthracis" at his lab according to the text of the message. Ivins, an Army scientist, died on July 29, 2008 from suicide as federal authorities prepared to charge him with killing five people by sending anthrax spores in the mail. (AP Photo/File) ** NO SALES **

And not every security expert agrees with the FBI’s identification of the deceased scientist Bruce Ivins as the sole culprit.

1998 U.S. Capitol shooting


In July 1998, two U.S. Capitol officers were shot dead by suspect Russell Eugene Weston Jr., before the assailant was stopped. The suspect was believed to have anti-government sentiments and also suffered from mental illness. He has been detained ever since in a federal mental institution and has never been tried.

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Capitol police officer Heidi Milhan, left, is comforted by an unidentified Capitol Hill visitor near flowers placed on the steps of the Capitol Monday, July 27,1998, in honor of two Capitol police officers who were shot and killed. (AP Photo/Khue Bui)

2016 U.S. Capitol shooting

In March 2016, a pastor from Tennessee was wounded in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center after arriving with a gun. Authorities said the man had appeared previously in protests at Capitol Hill. The pastor, Larry Russell Dawson, pled guilty last December to charges related to the shooting. No other injuries were reported. Ironically, the Visitor Center was built as a security buffer for the U.S. Capitol after the 1998 shooting.

2001 attack on India’s Parliament

In 2001, about three months after the 9-11 attacks, five terrorists linked to the Islamist militant groups JeM in Pakistan stormed India’s Parliament building in New Delhi, leading to 14 deaths. All five terrorists were killed and a year later four members of JeM were convicted on charges related to the attacks. The episode led to international tensions between the two nuclear armed nations of India and Pakistan that simmered for months.

2014 shootings at Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada

In October 2014, a gunman fatally shot a Canadian soldier near the Ottawa Parliament building before entering one of the legislative buildings and being shot dead by police in a spectacular shootout.

The dead shooter was identified as a radicalized convert to Islam and Canadian authorities concluded the incident was a terrorist act driven by the gunman’s ideological, religious and political motives. A video released long after the shootings shoed the suspect suggesting his attacks were in retaliation for Canada’s participation in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

2015 attack on Afghan Parliament

In 2015, Taliban-inspired terrorists detonated a car bomb outside the National Assembly building in Kabul and then followed with attacks with assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades before being killed. Two civilians and seven attackers were killed and the Taliban acknowledged the attack was designed to embarrass the U-S backed government in Afghanistan shortly after the last of US troops withdrew from a decade-long war inside the country.

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