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A Brief History of Terrorism
« on: January 03, 2018, 08:11:27 AM »

Terrorism, the deliberate creation and exploitation of fear for bringing about political change. All terrorist acts involve violence or—equally important—the threat of violence. These violent acts are committed by nongovernmental groups or individuals—that is, by those who are neither part of nor officially serving in the military forces, law enforcement agencies, intelligence services, or other governmental agencies of an established nation-state.

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Terrorists attempt not only to sow panic but also to undermine confidence in the government and political leadership of their target country. Terrorism is therefore designed to have psychological effects that reach far beyond its impact on the immediate victims or object of an attack. Terrorists mean to frighten and thereby intimidate a wider audience, such as a rival ethnic or religious group, an entire country and its political leadership, or the international community as a whole.

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Terrorist groups generally have few members, limited firepower, and comparatively few organizational resources. For this reason they rely on dramatic, often spectacular, bloody and destructive acts of hit-and-run violence to attract attention to themselves and their cause. Through the publicity generated by their violence, terrorists seek to obtain the leverage, influence, and power they otherwise lack.


The word terrorism was first used in France to describe a new system of government adopted during the French Revolution (1789-1799). The regime de la terreur (Reign of Terror) was intended to promote democracy and popular rule by ridding the revolution of its enemies and thereby purifying it. However, the oppression and violent excesses of the terreur transformed it into a feared instrument of the state. From that time on, terrorism has had a decidedly negative connotation. The word, however, did not gain wider popularity until the late 19th century when it was adopted by a group of Russian revolutionaries to describe their violent struggle against tsarist rule. Terrorism then assumed the more familiar antigovernment associations it has today.

A  Terrorism as a Political Act

Terrorism is by nature political because it involves the acquisition and use of power for the purpose of forcing others to submit, or agree, to terrorist demands. A terrorist attack, by generating publicity and focusing attention on the organization behind the attack, is designed to create this power. It also fosters an environment of fear and intimidation that the terrorists can manipulate. As a result terrorism’s success is best measured by its ability to attract attention to the terrorists and their cause and by the psychological impact it exerts over a nation and its citizenry. It differs in this respect from conventional warfare, where success is measured by the amount of military assets destroyed, the amount of territory seized, and the number of enemy dead.

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Terrorists typically attempt to justify their use of violence by arguing that they have been excluded from, or frustrated by, the accepted processes of bringing about political change. They maintain that terrorism is the only option available to them, although their choice is a reluctant—even a regrettable—one. Whether someone agrees with this argument or not often depends on whether the person sympathizes with the terrorists’ cause or with the victims of the terrorist attack. The aphorism “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” underscores how use of the label terrorism can be highly subjective depending upon one’s sympathies.

At the same time terrorist acts—including murder, kidnapping, bombing, and arson—have long been defined in both national and international law as crimes. Even in time of war, violence deliberately directed against innocent civilians is considered a crime. Similarly, violence that spreads beyond an acknowledged geographical theater of war to violate the territory of neutral or noncombatant states is also deemed a war crime.

B  Government Definitions of Terrorism

Legal statutes in most countries around the world regard terrorism as a crime. Yet there is considerable variation in how these laws define terrorism, even in countries whose laws derive from a common origin.

In the United Kingdom, for example, legislation titled Terrorist Act 2000 states that terrorism is “the use or threat of action . . . designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public . . . for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause.” The legal system and code of law of the United Kingdom has influenced those of the United States, Canada, and Israel.

United States federal statute defines terrorism as “violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that . . . appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by assassination or kidnapping.” This definition appears in United States Code, Title 18, Section 2331 (18 USC 2331).

Canada’s Anti-terrorism Act (Bill C-36) designates “terrorist activity” as “an act or omission . . . that is committed in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause and in whole or in part with the intention of intimidating the public, or a segment of the public, with regard to its security, including its economic security, or compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act, whether the person, government or organization is inside or outside Canada . . . .”

Israeli law does not address terrorism specifically. But in the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance No. 33, it defines a terrorist organization as “a body of persons resorting in its activities to acts of violence calculated to cause death or injury to a person or to threats of such acts of violence.”


Terrorism has occurred throughout history for a variety of reasons. Its causes can be historical, cultural, political, social, psychological, economic, or religious—or any combination of these. Some countries have proven to be particularly susceptible to terrorism at certain times, as Italy and West Germany were during the 1970s. Terrorist violence escalated precipitously in those two countries for a decade before declining equally dramatically. Other countries, such as Canada and The Netherlands, have proven to be more resistant, and have experienced only a few isolated terrorist incidents.

In general, democratic countries have provided more fertile ground for terrorism because of the open nature of their societies. In such societies citizens have fundamental rights, civil liberties are legally protected, and government control and constant surveillance of its citizens and their activities is absent. By the same token, repressive societies, in which the government closely monitors citizens and restricts their speech and movement, have often provided more difficult environments for terrorists. But even police states have not been immune to terrorism, despite limiting civil liberties and forbidding free speech and rights of assembly. Examples include Russia under tsarist rule and the Communist-ruled Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, as well as the People's Republic of China, Myanmar, and Laos.

In broad terms the causes that have commonly compelled people to engage in terrorism are grievances borne of political oppression, cultural domination, economic exploitation, ethnic discrimination, and religious persecution. Perceived inequities in the distribution of wealth and political power have led some terrorists to attempt to overthrow democratically elected governments. To achieve a fairer society, they would replace these governments with socialist or communist regimes. Left-wing terrorist groups of the 1960s and 1970s with such aims included Germany’s Baader-Meinhof Gang, Italy’s Red Brigades, and the Weather Underground (see Weathermen) in the United States. Other terrorists have sought to fulfill some mission that they believe to be divinely inspired or millennialist (related to the end of the world). (See Millennium). The Japanese religious cult Aum Shinrikyo, responsible for a nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995 that killed 12 people, falls into this category. Still other terrorists have embraced comparatively more defined and comprehensible goals such as the re-establishment of a national homeland (for example, Basque separatists in Spain) or the unification of a divided nation (Irish nationalists in Northern Ireland).

Finally, some terrorists are motivated by very specific issues, such as opposition to legalized abortion or nuclear energy, or the championing of environmental concerns (see Environment) and animal rights. They hope to pressure both the public and its representatives in government to enact legislation directly reflecting their particular concern. Militant animal rights activists, for example, have used violence against scientists and laboratory technicians in their campaign to halt medical experimentation involving animals. Radical environmentalists have sabotaged logging operations and the construction of power grids to protest the spoiling of natural wilderness areas. Extremists who oppose legalized abortion in the United States have attacked clinics and murdered doctors and other employees in hopes of denying women the right to abortion.

National governments have at times aided terrorists to further their own foreign policy goals. So-called state-sponsored terrorism, however, falls into a different category altogether. State-sponsored terrorism is a form of covert (secret) warfare, a means to wage war secretly through the use of terrorist surrogates (stand-ins) as hired guns. The U.S. Department of State designates countries as state sponsors of terrorism if they actively assist or aid terrorists, and also if they harbor past terrorists or refuse to renounce terrorism as an instrument of policy.

State sponsorship has proven invaluable to some terrorist organizations—by supplying arms, money, and a safe haven, among other things. In doing so, it has transformed ordinary groups, with otherwise limited capabilities, into more powerful and menacing opponents. State sponsorship can also place at terrorists’ disposal the resources of an established country’s diplomatic, military, and intelligence services. These services improve the training of terrorists and facilitate planning and operations. Finally, governments have paid terrorists handsomely for their services. They thereby turn weak and financially impoverished groups into formidable, well-endowed terrorist organizations with an ability to attract recruits and sustain their struggle.

The U.S. Department of State has designated seven countries as state sponsors of terrorism: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Cuba, North Korea, and Sudan. In the year 2000, it named Iran as the most active supporter of terrorism for aid to groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestine Islamic Jihad. Although the former Taliban government in Afghanistan sponsored al-Qaeda, the radical group led by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, the United States did not recognize the Taliban as a legitimate government and thus did not list it as a state sponsor of terrorism.


Although the total number of terrorist incidents worldwide declined during the 1990s, the number of people killed in terrorist incidents increased. Thus, while terrorists may have become less active, they also became alarmingly more lethal. One key factor behind this trend is the amount of terrorism motivated by religious views, as were the attacks on New York City’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, on September 11, 2001 (see September 11 Attacks). Terrorism motivated by religion has frequently led to acts of violence with higher levels of fatalities than the relatively more targeted incidents of violence perpetrated by many secular (nonreligious) terrorist organizations.

Another key factor that has contributed to terrorism’s rising deadliness is the ease of access to a range of low-tech and high-tech weapons. At the low-end of the weapons spectrum, terrorists rely on guns and bombs, as they have for more than a century. At the high end of the spectrum, there is evidence that groups such as al-Qaeda seek to acquire chemical, biological, and even nuclear weapons (see Chemical and Biological Warfare; Nuclear Weapons). Other terrorist groups, such as Aum Shinrikyo, already have carried out terrorist attacks using biological and chemical weapons. It is feared that the nuclear weapons stockpiles of the former Soviet Union could produce an international black market in fissionable materials that terrorists might potentially obtain. Finally, in the middle range of the weapons spectrum the world is awash in sophisticated items available to terrorists everywhere, including plastic explosives and hand-held, precision-guided surface-to-air missiles (SAMs).

An increase of suicide attacks has also contributed to terrorism’s rising death count. Suicide attacks differ from other terrorist operations, because the perpetrator’s own death is a requirement for the attack’s success. Suicide bombers, therefore, are typically highly motivated, passionately dedicated individuals who decide voluntarily or upon persuasion to surrender their lives in fulfillment of their mission.

A wave of suicide attacks began in 1981 in Beirut, Lebanon, when a group called al-Dawa used a car bomb to blow up the Iraqi Embassy. Al-Dawa, (“the call” in Arabic, as in “the call for Holy War”) was a terrorist organization composed of Shia Muslims from Iraq who were backed by Iran. (Muslims belonging to the Shia branch of Islam form a minority in Iraq but the majority in Iran.) The Beirut attack killed 61 people and wounded more than 100 others. In 1983 a truck filled with explosives drove into the U.S. embassy in Beirut, killing 49 and wounding 120 others. It was followed later that year by a suicide bombing of U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, which killed 241 persons. A group called Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for both attacks. Another suicide bombing destroyed a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1994, killing 96 persons. More recently, al-Qaeda staged suicide attacks on the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, causing nearly 300 deaths; on a U.S. Navy warship the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, causing 19 deaths; and on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001, causing about 3,000 deaths. Many of the attacks carried out by Palestinian organizations, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, in Israel and the Occupied Territories have involved suicide bombings. Other terrorist groups also have adopted this tactic, including Tamil separatists fighting in Sri Lanka and India, and Kurdish separatists in Turkey. These separatists belong to ethnic minorities that seek to set up separate homelands.

Terrorists today claim credit less frequently for their attacks than they once did, a fact that also reflects terrorism’s increasing deadliness. Unlike today’s reticent terrorists, the more traditional terrorist groups of the 1970s and 1980s not only issued communiqués explaining why they perpetrated an attack but also boasted proudly after a particularly destructive or deadly operation. The current trend toward less communication implies that violence may be less a means to an end than an end in itself for some terrorist groups. In other words, terrorists today may use violence simply as vengeance or punishment rather than as a means to achieve political change. Therefore, their actions require no explanation or justification outside the terrorist group itself or its supporters.

A  Planning and Organization

All terrorists share one characteristic: They never commit actions randomly or senselessly. Every terrorist wants an attack to generate maximum publicity because media attention helps achieve the intimidation needed for terrorism’s success. Accordingly, terrorist acts are carefully planned. Testimony by a terrorist convicted in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kenya revealed that al-Qaeda spent nearly five years planning the attack.

Several essential elements go into planning a major terrorist attack. Planning begins with gathering detailed reconnaissance and intelligence about a target: its defenses, vulnerabilities, and patterns of daily activity. Meanwhile, logistics specialists ensure that all the supporting tasks are accomplished. These tasks include assembling the weapons and other supplies and communications equipment needed for the operation, arranging for safe houses and transportation for the terrorist attack team, and mapping escape routes. A bombmaker or other weapons expert often joins the final planning phases. Finally, after all the preparations have been completed, the operation is handed off to the team that carries out the attack. For security reasons separate teams that do not know one another execute each step, from planning to logistics, attack, and escape.

All terrorist groups share another basic characteristic: secrecy about their operations. Terrorism operates underground, concealed from the eyes of the authorities and from potential informants among the populace. To maintain secrecy, terrorist groups are often organized into cells, with each cell separate from other cells in the organization but working in harmony with them. A terrorist cell can be as small as two or three people, with only one person knowing someone in another cell. Should the authorities apprehend a member of one cell, they can obtain information only about the activities of that cell—or at most about an adjacent cell—and not about the entire organization. For this reason terrorists prefer this organizational structure of interconnected cells. The structure narrows, in pyramid fashion, as it rises toward the group’s senior command structure and leadership at the top, to whom very few have access.

B  Targets of Terrorism

Terrorism often targets innocent civilians in order to create an atmosphere of fear, intimidation, and insecurity. Some terrorists deliberately direct attacks against large numbers of ordinary citizens who simply happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

More selective terrorist attacks target diplomats and diplomatic facilities such as embassies and consulates; military personnel and military bases; business executives and corporate offices; and transportation vehicles and facilities, such as airlines and airports, trains and train stations, buses and bus terminals, and subways. Terrorist attacks on buildings or other inanimate targets often serve a symbolic purpose: They are intended more to draw attention to the terrorists and their cause than to destroy property or kill and injure persons, although death and destruction nonetheless often result.

Despite variations in the number of attacks from year to year, one feature of international terrorism has remained constant: The United States has been its most popular target. Since 1968 the United States has annually led the list of countries whose citizens and property were most frequently attacked by terrorists. Several factors can account for this phenomenon, in addition to America’s position as the sole remaining superpower and leader of the free world. These include the geographical scope and diversity of America’s overseas business interests, the number of Americans traveling or working abroad, and the many U.S. military bases around the world.

C  Weapons of Terrorism

Bombing historically has been the most common terrorist tactic. Terrorists have often relied on bombs because they provide a dramatic, yet fairly easy and often risk-free, means of drawing attention to themselves and their cause. Few skills are required to manufacture a crude bomb, surreptitiously plant it, and then be miles away when it explodes. Bombings generally do not require the same planning, organization, and knowledge required for more sophisticated operations, such as kidnapping, assassination, and assaults against well-defended targets.

Not surprisingly, the frequency of various types of terrorist attacks decreases in direct proportion to the complexity or sophistication required. Armed attacks historically rank as the second most-common terrorist tactic, followed by more complex operations such as assassination of heads of state or other well-protected people, kidnapping, hostage taking, and hijacking.

C1  Bombs

Bombs can consist of commercially produced explosives such as black powder, TNT, or dynamite; military supplies such as plastic explosives; or commercially available materials made into homemade explosives, such as fertilizer (ammonium nitrate) mixed with diesel fuel. Bombs can be either explosive or incendiary (designed to cause a fire upon impact). The most effective bombs typically employ a shaped charge (explosive) that channels the force of the blast in a specific direction. Bombs are detonated (made to explode) by a variety of means. Time-delay detonators use a clock, wristwatch, or other timing device. Remote-control detonators rely on radio or other electronic signals. In command-wire detonation a button is pressed or a plunger pushed to trigger the explosion.

C2  Firearms

Many terrorists have favored firearms, including automatic weapons such as assault rifles, submachine guns, and pistols; revolvers; sawed-off shotguns; hunting rifles with sniper sights, especially for assassination; and machine guns. During the 1990s, terrorists increasingly used rocket-propelled grenades and other armor-piercing projectiles in their attacks. These weapons, more powerful forms of the bazookas used in World War II (1939-1945), can penetrate successive layers of ceramic and reinforced-steel that protect vehicles used by the police and military forces. Another favorite terrorist weapon is the hand grenade or its homemade equivalent, the Molotov cocktail. This crude grenade is made by filling a glass bottle with gasoline, stuffing a rag down the bottle’s neck, and igniting the rag just before tossing the bottle at a target.

C3  Chemical and Biological Weapons

Concern over terrorist use of chemical and biological weapons increased after the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway and the discovery in 2001 of anthrax spores mailed in the United States. Chemical weapons consist of toxic chemical compounds, such as nerve gas or dioxin, whereas biological weapons are living organisms or their toxins, such as anthrax spores.

Chemical weapons can be divided into five main classes: incapacitating, choking, blistering, blood, and nerve agents. Incapacitating agents are the only deliberately nonlethal chemical weapon. They include the tear gases and pepper sprays typically used by police and other law enforcement agencies for crowd control or to subdue a person temporarily. Choking agents attack the victim’s respiratory system and hamper breathing, leading to death by suffocation. Blister agents produce large blisters on exposed skin that do not heal readily and therefore easily become infected. Blood agents, which victims absorb through breathing, enter the bloodstream and lead to convulsions, respiratory failure, and death as they shut down the body’s functioning. Nerve agents are especially effective. They can be either inhaled or absorbed through the skin and quickly attack the central nervous system, obstructing breathing.

Biological agents are disease-carrying organisms that infect people through inhalation, contaminated food or water, or contact with the skin. They include bacterial toxins, such as anthrax, Clostridium botulinum (botulism), and salmonella; plant toxins such as ricin; and viruses, such as tularemia, yellow fever, and smallpox.

D  Demands of Terrorism

The demands of terrorist groups have ranged from such grand schemes as the total remaking of society along ideological lines to far narrower goals such as the release of hostages for money or the publication of a tract stating the terrorists’ goals. During the 1970s and 1980s Marxist-Leninist groups such as the Baader-Meinhof Gang (later renamed the Red Army Faction) in West Germany and the Red Brigades in Italy waged campaigns to remake society along communist lines (see Communism). Radical Islamic groups have pursued the creation of devoutly religious theocracies (governments under divine guidance). These groups include Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization, the Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines, and the Armed Islamic Group in Algeria. Other groups seek narrower goals, such as the reestablishment of a national homeland within an existing country, as does the Basque separatist movement active in Spain, or the unification of a divided nation, as do Irish nationalists in Northern Ireland.

E  Impact of Terrorism

Although most terrorist groups have failed to achieve their long-term, strategic aims through terrorism, terrorism has on occasion brought about significant political changes that might otherwise have been impossible. Moreover, despite the claims of governments to the contrary, terrorism has sometimes also proven successful on a short-term, tactical level: winning the release of prisoners, wresting political concessions from otherwise resistant governments, or ensuring that causes and grievances that might otherwise have been ignored or neglected were addressed.

Terrorism was used by some nationalist movements in the anticolonial era just after World War II, when British and French empires in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East dissolved. Countries as diverse as Israel, Cyprus, Kenya, and Algeria owe their independence to these movements.

Evidence of terrorist success has come more recently in the examples of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in Northern Ireland and Yasir Arafat in the Middle East. Adams, president of the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Northern Ireland, and his deputy McGuinness both won election to the British Parliament in 1997. Arafat, as leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), won international recognition for the PLO. Through tactical victories and political achievements, each of their organizations demonstrated how a series of terrorist acts can propel to world attention long-standing causes and grievances.

At the same time, for every terrorist success, there are the countless failures. Most terrorist groups never achieve any of their aims—either short-term or long-term. The life span of most modern terrorist groups underscores this failure. According to one estimate, the life expectancy of at least 90 percent of terrorist organizations is less than a year, and nearly half of the organizations that make it that far cease to exist within a decade of their founding.

Terrorism is designed to threaten the personal safety of its target audience. It can tear apart the social fabric of a country by destroying business and cultural life and the mutual trust upon which society is based. Uncertainty about where and when the next terrorist attack will occur generates a fear that terrorism experts call “vicarious victimization.” A common response to this fear is the refusal to visit shopping malls; attend sporting events; go to the theater, movies, or concerts; or travel, either abroad or within one’s own country.

The public's perception of personal risk, however, often does not dovetail with the observable dimensions of the terrorist threat. Even though the United States was the country most frequently targeted by terrorists from 1968 to 2000, fewer than 1,000 Americans were killed by terrorists, either in the United States or abroad, during that 32-year period, according to figures tabulated by the U.S. State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Although more than three times that number were killed on September 11, 2001, the fact remains that the perception of the terrorist threat far outweighs the likelihood of being the victim of a terrorist attack. Nonetheless, terrorism’s ability to engender so acute a sense of fear and unease is a measure of its impact on our daily life.

According to official Canadian government sources, no reliable list of terrorist incidents in Canada exists. An unofficial estimate, however, puts the number of Canadians killed by terrorists both in Canada and overseas since 1968 at roughly 294 persons. This figure includes 279 Canadian citizens among a total of 329 persons killed in 1985 when a bomb exploded aboard an Air India flight en route from Montréal, Québec, to London, England.

A  Jurisdiction over Counterterrorism in the United States

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), created by the Homeland Security Act of 2002, is the primary agency responsible for directing the U.S. government’s efforts to prevent and respond to terrorism. Its creation stemmed from criticism of how the U.S. government was organized to address the threat of terrorist attack in the United States. The act consolidated in one department dozens of existing government agencies that all share some responsibility for preventing and responding to terrorism, including the Coast Guard, the Border Patrol, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the Transportation Security Administration. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), also transferred to DHS, retains responsibility for assisting in recovery from terrorist attacks.

Although the DHS unified many of the government’s counterterrorism functions, others remain outside the department. As the nation’s largest law enforcement agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) maintains responsibility for investigating acts of terrorism, and its counterterrorism division works to protect the country from terrorist activity. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) collects intelligence in foreign countries about terrorist activities. Other U.S. government agencies with counterterrorism responsibilities include the departments of State, Defense, Energy, Justice, Health and Human Services, Transportation, Agriculture, Commerce, Treasury, and Interior; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the Nuclear Regulatory Agency; and the Environmental Protection Agency.

B  Jurisdiction over Counterterrorism in Canada

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) is the Canadian government institution with primary responsibility for the country’s security and intelligence, and within this context, for counterterrorism. Because of concerns over the scope of surveillance powers accorded to CSIS, the Canadian government in 1984 created an oversight agency, the Security Intelligence Review Committee. Its primary responsibility is to act as an independent body to investigate complaints about the CSIS. The Solicitor General’s Office oversees measures to improve airport security, to improve applications of technology in counterterrorism, and to enhance and strengthen cooperation between Canada and the United States against terrorism. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is the national law enforcement agency of Canada with powers of arrest and search and seizure of evidence relating to terrorist crimes.

C  Methods of Counterterrorism

At times of extraordinarily serious terrorist threat, many governments have accorded law-enforcement authorities special powers of arrest and detention. These powers have generally been temporary and were meant specifically to aid the government in capturing and prosecuting terrorists and eliminating extremist threats to society, while avoiding the imposition of unjustly severe measures that might infringe on civil rights and civil liberties. These expanded powers, however, have generated public concern and criticism of government, especially when coupled with the suspension of long-standing and cherished democratic protections such as habeas corpus and due process of law.

The United Kingdom provides a good example of a democratic country that has made extensive use of such emergency powers. Since 1973 the United Kingdom has enacted no less than three separate laws sanctioning extrajudicial measures. They include successive Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Acts, first signed in 1973; the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1975; and the Terrorism Act 2000. These laws must be formally reconsidered and approved by Britain’s Parliament on a regular basis. In various forms, they have allowed arrests without warrants (written authorizations) and prolonged detentions of terrorist suspects without the bringing of charges; broader police powers of search and arrest; trial by judge alone rather than by jury; denial of access to the media for banned groups; and the outright banning of organizations designated as subversive (intending to overthrow the government).

D  International Counterterrorism

International cooperation against terrorism historically has had a somewhat uneven record. During the early 1970s international cooperative efforts produced various aircraft antihijacking agreements, including the 1970 Hague Convention for the Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft and the 1971 Montreal Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation. Attempts were later made to extend these treaties to embrace a broader array of international antiterrorist agreements. Almost without exception, however, those efforts foundered because of the international community’s failure to agree on a definition of terrorism.

Recent events suggest greater progress toward meaningful cooperation among governments in fighting terrorism. Even before September 11, 2001, the United Nations had taken important steps to punish Afghanistan’s Taliban regime for providing sanctuary to Osama bin Laden. U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1267 (passed in 1999), 1333 (2000), and 1363 (2001) imposed sanctions on the Taliban for harboring bin Laden and failing to close down al-Qaeda terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. These resolutions demonstrated a change in international attitudes toward terrorism along with a commitment to isolate states that refuse to adhere to international norms.

On the day after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks the UN Security Council approved Resolution 1368, which reaffirmed the UN’s commitment “to combat by all means threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts”; recognized the “inherent right of individual or collective self-defense in accordance with the [UN] Charter” against terrorism; and unequivocally condemned “in the strongest terms” the September 11 attacks. Two weeks later, Security Council Resolution 1373 was approved. It called for the prevention and suppression of terrorism financing and greater exchange of the operational information needed by UN member-states to fight terrorism.

A  Early Terrorism

More than 2,000 years ago the first known acts of what we now call terrorism were perpetrated by a radical offshoot of the Zealots, a Jewish sect active in Judea during the 1st century ad. The Zealots resisted the Roman Empire's rule of what is today Israel through a determined campaign primarily involving assassination. Zealot fighters used the sica, a primitive dagger, to attack their enemies in broad daylight, often in crowded market places or on feast days—essentially wherever there were people to witness the violence. Thus, like modern terrorists, the Zealots intended their actions to communicate a message to a wider target audience: in this instance, the Roman occupation forces and any Jews who sympathized or collaborated with the invaders.

Between 1090 and 1272 an Islamic movement known as the Assassins used similar tactics in their struggle against the Christian Crusaders who had invaded what is today part of Syria. The Assassins embraced the same notions of self-sacrifice and suicidal martyrdom evident in some Islamic terrorist groups today. They regarded violence as a sacramental or divine act that ensured its perpetrators would ascend to a glorious heaven should they perish during the task.

B  The French Revolution to World War I

Until the French Revolution (1789-1799), religion provided the main justification for the use of terrorism. This situation changed, however, as nationalism, anarchism, Marxism (see Marx, Karl), and other secular political movements emerged during the 1800s to challenge divine rule by monarchs. Modern terrorism was initially antimonarchical, embraced by rebels and constitutionalists during the late stages of the French Revolution and in Russia by the People’s Will (Narodnaya Volya) organization.

The People’s Will was active between 1878 and 1881. Its revolutionary, antigovernment orientation became the model for future terrorists. The group selected targets that represented the state’s oppressive instruments of power, and it embraced “propaganda by the deed,” using the terrorist act to instruct. It sought thereby to educate the public about the inequities imposed on them by the state and to rally support for revolution. Among the terrorists’ targets were the governor general of Saint Petersburg, the head of the tsarist secret police, and even the tsar himself. Tsar Alexander II was assassinated by a member of the People’s Will in March 1881.

The assassination of Alexander II, in particular, inspired a group of political radicals who met in London four months later, in July 1881, to discuss how to achieve revolution that was worldwide, not just national. Their idea was to create an Anarchist International, also called the Black International after the black flag they adopted, to coordinate and support a global terrorist campaign that would overthrow both monarchies and elected governments of democratic states, including the United States. Between 1881 and the first decade of the 20th century, anarchists assassinated an American president (William McKinley); the president of France and Spain’s prime minister; Empress Elisabeth of Austria and King Humbert I (Umberto I) of Italy.

Anarchist elements also became involved in, and were accused of fomenting, labor unrest in the United States. Sometimes these disputes turned bloody as a result of anarchist agitation. The most infamous incident was the 1886 Haymarket Square Riot in Chicago, where a bomb exploded in the midst of a demonstration by some 3,000 striking factory workers and their supporters. In the confusion that followed, both the police and armed demonstrators opened fire on one another. Seven policemen were killed and at least 60 others were wounded. At least four demonstrators also were killed, but no accurate tally of their death count exists.

An act of terrorism involving the assassination of a royal heir is credited with lighting the fuse that ignited World War I. On June 28, 1914, a young Bosnian Serb radical named Gavrilo Princip, seeking to free his country from Austrian rule, murdered Austrian archduke Francis Ferdinand, who was on an official visit to Sarajevo, Bosnia. The militant student group to which Princip belonged had close ties to the intelligence service and military forces of Serbia, Austria’s archenemy in the Balkans. Like many contemporary state sponsors of terrorism, Serbia also provided arms, training, intelligence, and other assistance to a variety of revolutionary movements in neighboring nations.

C  Government Terror: From the 1920s On

During the 1920s and 1930s, terrorism became associated more with the repressive practices employed by dictatorial states than with the violence of nonstate groups like the anarchists. The word terrorism was used to describe the wanton violence and intimidation inflicted by the Nazi, fascist, and totalitarian regimes that respectively came to power in Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union. The repressive means these governments employed against their citizens involved beatings, unlawful detentions, torture, so-called death squads (often consisting of off-duty or plain-clothes security or police officers), and other forms of intimidation. Such practices by governments against their own citizens continue today.

Recent history records the use of such measures by the military dictatorships that took power in Argentina, Chile, and Greece during the 1970s. But these state-sanctioned acts of violence are more generally termed terror to distinguish them from violence committed by nonstate entities. As noted previously, the word terrorism is generally reserved for acts committed by groups outside government.

D  Anticolonialist Terrorism 

After World War II, terrorism reverted to its previous revolutionary associations. During the 1940s and 1950s, “terrorism” was used to describe the violence perpetrated by indigenous nationalist, anticolonialist organizations that arose throughout Asia, Africa, and the Middle East in opposition to continued European rule. Countries such as Israel, Kenya, Cyprus, and Algeria, for example, owe their independence at least in part to nationalist movements that used terrorism.

The most spectacular terrorist incident of the anticolonial period was the 1946 bombing of Jerusalem's King David Hotel, by a Jewish underground group known as the Irgun Zvai Le’umi (National Military Organization). The hotel was attacked because it served at that time as the military headquarters and offices of the British administration in Palestine. Ninety-one people were killed and 45 others injured: men, women, Arabs, Jews, and Britons alike. The bombing ranks among the most deadly terrorist incidents of the 20th century. The Irgun’s commander at the time was Menachem Begin, a future prime minister of Israel and 1978 Nobel Peace Prize cowinner.

Begin is not alone among those once called terrorists who later ascended to the highest levels of power in their newly independent countries. Others include Kenya’s president Jomo Kenyatta, Cyprus’s Archbishop Makarios, and Algeria’s president Ahmed Ben Bella.

E  The Late 1960s and 1970s 

During the late 1960s and 1970s terrorism assumed more clearly ideological motivations. Various disenfranchised or exiled nationalist minorities—as exemplified by the PLO—also embraced terrorism as a means to draw attention to their plight and generate international support for their cause. The PLO sought to create a state in what was historically known as Palestine: the land that became Israel in 1948 and the West Bank and Gaza Strip—territories occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War of 1967. A Palestinian group, in fact, was responsible for the incident that is considered to mark the beginning of the current era of international terrorism. On July 22, 1968, three armed Palestinians belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked an Israeli El Al commercial flight en route from Rome, Italy, to Tel Aviv, Israel. Although commercial planes had often been hijacked before, this was the first clearly political hijacking. The act was designed to create an international crisis and thereby generate publicity.

Two years later, the PFLP staged an even more dramatic international incident, when it hijacked three commercial airliners—two American and one Swiss—although an attempt to seize a fourth plane, a British aircraft, was foiled. The planes were flown to a remote airstrip in Jordan and blown up after the passengers were evacuated, as television cameras recorded the incident for a worldwide audience.

The murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games provides one of the most notorious examples of terrorists’ ability to bring their cause to world attention. Members of a Palestinian group called Black September seized the athletes at the Summer Games held in Munich, Germany. A global audience that had tuned in to watch the Olympics found themselves witnessing a grisly hostage situation that ended in a botched rescue attempt by German authorities in which both the terrorists and their captives were killed.

The PLO effectively exploited the publicity generated by the Munich hostage taking. In 1974 PLO leader Yasir Arafat received an invitation to address the UN General Assembly and the UN subsequently granted special observer status to the PLO. Within a decade, the PLO, an entity not attached to any state, had formal diplomatic relations with more countries (86) than did Israel (72)—the actual, established nation-state. The PLO would likely never have attained such recognition without the attention that its international terrorist campaign focused on the plight of Palestinians in refugee camps.

At a time of growing ethnic and nationalist awareness worldwide, other nationalist groups began to emulate the Palestinian example to increase recognition of their grievances. In Canada, for instance, a group of French-Canadian separatists kidnapped James Cross, the British trade commissioner to Québec, and Pierre LaPorte, Québec’s Minister of Labor, in October 1970. The group called itself the Front de Libération de Québec (FLQ), or Quebec Liberation Front. Although Cross was released unharmed, LaPorte was brutally murdered. Fearing more widespread unrest, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invoked the country’s War Powers Act in Québec, which suspended civil liberties and accorded the army extraordinary powers to maintain order in the province and uproot the FLQ.

Also during the late 1960s and early 1970s, political extremists began to form terrorist groups that opposed American intervention in Vietnam (see Vietnam War) and what they claimed were the fundamental social and economic inequities of the modern capitalist liberal-democratic state. These extremists were drawn mostly from radical student organizations and left-wing movements then active in Latin America, Western Europe, and the United States. Terrorist groups such as the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany and the Red Brigades in Italy received training at Palestinian camps in the Middle East. Among Baader-Meinhof’s most famous acts was the 1977 kidnapping and murder of Hanns Martin Schleyer, a wealthy Germany industrialist. The Red Brigades achieved their greatest notoriety for the kidnapping and execution of former Italian Premier Aldo Moro in 1978.

F  The 1980s and 1990s

Right-wing, or neo-fascist and neo-Nazi, terrorism movements also arose in many Western European countries and the United States during the late 1970s in response to the violence perpetrated by left-wing organizations. However, the right-wing groups lacked both the numbers and popular support that their left-wing counterparts enjoyed. Thus the violence of these right-wing groups—while occasionally quite deadly—was mostly sporadic and short-lived. The three most serious incidents connected to right-wing terrorists occurred in Bologna, Italy; Munich, Germany; and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In Bologna a 1980 bombing of a crowded rail station killed 84 people and wounded 180 others. The date of the bombing coincided with the opening of a trial in Bologna of right-wingers accused of a 1976 train bombing. Also in 1980 a bomb planted by a member of a neo-fascist group exploded at Munich’s Oktoberfest celebration, killing 14 and injuring 215 others. In 1995 white supremacists carried out a truck-bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which claimed the lives of 168 people.

Two of the most important developments in international terrorism during the 1980s were the rise in state-sponsored terrorism and the resurgence of religious terrorism. An example of an attack believed to be state sponsored was the attempted assassination in 1981 of Pope John Paul II by a Turkish citizen who allegedly was working for the Soviet and Bulgarian secret services. Other examples include the Iranian-backed car- and truck-bombings of the American embassy and U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983 and Libya's role in the in-flight bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.

Religion was used to justify and legitimize, if not actually encourage, terrorist violence in the assassinations of Egypt's president Anwar al-Sadat in 1981 by Islamic extremists and of Israel's prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1994 by a Jewish militant. In both cases the assassins considered it a religious duty to halt the peace efforts of their victims. Muslim terrorists carried out the bombing of New York City's World Trade Center in 1993, and an obscure Japanese religious sect was behind the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway. Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization carried out simultaneous suicide bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998; a suicide attack in 2000 on a U.S. navy warship in the harbor of Aden, Yemen; and the suicide attacks of September 11, 2001.

G  September 11 Attacks 

The events of September 11, 2001, have no precedent in the history of terrorism. On that day 19 terrorists belonging to bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization hijacked four passenger aircraft shortly after they departed from airports in Boston, Massachusetts; Newark, New Jersey; and Washington, D.C. The first plane crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City shortly before 9:00 am. About 15 minutes later, a second aircraft struck the south tower. Shortly afterward, a third plane crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. A fourth aircraft crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania after its passengers, hearing by cell phone of the other hijackings, attempted to take control of the plane from the hijackers before they could strike another target. Before September 11, terrorists had killed no more than about 1,000 Americans, in the United States and abroad, during the modern era of international terrorism, which began in 1968. Approximately three times that number perished on September 11.

The attacks also showed a level of patience and detailed planning rarely seen among terrorist movements today. The hijackers stunned the world with their determination to kill themselves and take the lives of the hijacked passengers and crews as well as the lives of thousands of people working in or visiting the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The United States reacted by declaring a global war against terrorism. In the first phase of the war, U.S. forces launched a massive attack on al-Qaeda’s training and logistics bases in Afghanistan and toppled Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban movement. The Taliban had provided bin Laden and his followers with sanctuary and an opportunity to plan and orchestrate their worldwide terrorist campaign. See also September 11 Attacks.

The September 11 attacks prompted intense scrutiny of why the United States government had failed to detect or thwart the attacks—and what it should do to prevent future attacks. In 2003 a congressional inquiry detailed systemic problems in the U.S. government’s counterterrorism efforts prior to the attacks. It revealed how the terrorists had entered and remained in the United States without raising suspicions, and how key opportunities to disrupt the attack were missed because of poor communication between the FBI, CIA, and other government agencies.

In 2004 an independent, bipartisan commission released an exhaustive account of the circumstances surrounding the attacks. The 9/11 Commission, known in full as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, found “failures of imagination, policy, capability, and management” across the government. Government leaders, it said, had failed to fully appreciate the sophistication and lethality of al-Qaeda and the probability that the group would launch an attack on U.S. soil.

The commission recommended a three-pronged strategy for preventing future attacks: (1) continuing to root out and attack terrorists, (2) preventing the further growth of Islamist terrorism, and (3) developing better protections against terrorist attacks. As part of this strategy, the commission recommended several changes in government structure. It proposed the creation of a national intelligence director to coordinate all intelligence-gathering work. It also urged the establishment of a National Counterterrorism Center to analyze all terrorism-related intelligence and to plan counterterrorism operations.


Terrorism has existed for at least 2,000 years and is likely to remain a fixture on political agendas, both domestic and international, for years to come. Terrorism provides a means by which the weak can confront much stronger opponents. It therefore has an enduring appeal to the alienated and the disenfranchised, the aggrieved and vengeful, the powerless and the would-be powerful. In addition, it is relatively inexpensive to conduct while offering a vast potential payoff: the ability to evoke fear and alarm and inflict pain and suffering in the hope of compelling agreement to demands made.

Terrorism, moreover, is evolving constantly to overcome governmental countermeasures designed to defeat it. Terrorism thus involves an ongoing search for new targets and unidentified vulnerabilities in its opponents. This quest also raises the possibility that terrorists may pursue unconventional means of attack, such as chemical, biological, or radiological (radioactivity-spreading) weapons, or nuclear weapons. Future terrorist tactics could include cyberterrorism (sabotage using computers to destroy computer networks or systems) or electronic warfare that targets critical infrastructure, such as communications and power facilities, or societies in general.

Throughout the world, terrorism reinvents itself in new and more dangerous forms. As older groups are defeated or exhausted, more radical and more violent successors often take their place. Although terrorism likely can never be completely eradicated, countering its threat requires continuing vigilance. The highly individual nature of terrorism’s causes, the diversity of its perpetrators, and the complexity of its fundamental characteristics present enormous challenges to those who must effectively counter this menace.

Contributed By:
Bruce Hoffman
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Romans 10:9-10
"If you declare with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved."

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