Tactics of Terrorists

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Tactics of Terrorists

Editor's note: This chapter is an attempt to explain terrorist tactics, not to condone them in any way.

T he tactics and techniques of terrorism have changed overthe decades, but it has always been a poor man's form of warfare. Partly this is a result of technology. Chemical, biological, and electronic warfare were not available to terrorists in the mid-1800s, and few terrorists can afford the heavy weapons—tanks, warplanes, missiles—of a national army. But terrorists fight their campaigns with the same determination as governments fight wars. One major concern is that in the future terrorists may acquire much more powerful weapons, such as nuclear bombs, poison gases, or biological agents.


Murdering political leaders is one of the oldest forms of terrorism. It dates back at least to the Roman Empire, when a group of his political enemies murdered Roman Emperor Julius Caesar (c. 100 b.c.e.–44 b.c.e.). In the modern era the assassination of heads of state, government officials, and policemen has been a standard terrorist tactic.

Assassinations are a key tool in terrorists' attempts to gain attention for their cause. The murder of a leading government official or businessman always attracts the interest of the news media, and it thus serves the dual goals of earning publicity and spreading fear. In a way, the assassin takes on an importance equal to his victim. Thus, killing the head of a government, such as a president, makes the terrorist or terrorist group seem as big or important as the head of state. Despite this appearance, however, the death of a single individual rarely makes a major difference to society. Almost always another leader steps in to replace the assassinated official, and life goes on.

One notable exception to this rule was the assassination of the Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand (1863–1914). His murder by a Croatian nationalist in 1914 led directly to the beginning of World War I (1914–18). (See box "The Archduke Is Assassinated," on page 25.)

Words to Know

Biological warfare:
warfare involving the use of living organisms (as disease germs) or their toxic products as weapons; also known as germ warfare.
ordinary citizens, not members of the armed forces.
an economic system in which property is owned by the people but distributed by the state.
Economic warfare:
warfare directed at the financial and business sectors of a nation.
a set of ideas, especially political ideas and beliefs.
a disease or germ that is spread into the body by breathing or touching.
the desire to break away from one's current country and found a new, independent nation.
a widespread case of illness affecting people worldwide.
Radiation sickness:
a disease caused by exposure to large amounts of radiation; symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and hemorrhaging.
the act or fact of engaging in a war.

In the 1990s an Algerian organization, the Armed Islamic Group (or GIA, the initials of its name in French, Group Islamique Armé) caused tens of thousands of civilian deaths in Algeria, as well as in France. The goal of the GIA was to overthrow the secular (non-religious) military government of Algeria and replace it with a government that would observe Sharia, the Islamic system of law derived from the Koran (also spelled Qur'an; the Muslim holy book). The GIA also wanted to rid Algeria of foreign influences—the country had been a colony of France for more than a century—by murdering random foreigners. The terrorists killed workers, tourists, and diplomats from abroad almost daily to discourage other foreigners from remaining in Algeria or from coming there in the first place. Bombs were placed in cafes, foreign workers were kidnapped and then murdered at foreign-owned facilities, and individual tourists were shot while driving their cars. (The Armed Islamic Group is discussed in more detail in Chapter 9.)

Random murder of civilians

While many terrorist attacks are directed at specific targets, a military base, for example, some terrorist groups have targeted civilians, such as tourists. In general a random attack on civilians is a tactic used by terrorists who are motivated by a religious or nationalist cause. Terrorists working for a political cause know such attacks are unlikely to build support for their movement among citizens who think they might become the next victims.

Another Islamic organization, the Islamic Jihad in Egypt, adopted a similar tactic to that of the the Algerians. Gunmen or bombers attacked tourist buses carrying Europeans or Asians to the historic pyramids of Egypt and other sites. Although these attacks did not kill nearly as many people as the GIA did in Algeria, their intent was the same: to drive foreigners (again, non-Muslims) out of Egypt and prevent others from coming. A secondary purpose in both countries was to hurt the tourist industry and thus put additional pressure on the non-Islamic governments in Cairo and Algiers.

The Archduke Is Assassinated

On June 28, 1914, Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand (1863–1914) was visiting the city of Sarajevo to inspect military maneuvers in the mountains of Bosnia. Three years before the visit Slavic nationalists who wanted to break away from the Austro-Hungarian empire had organized a secret terrorist organization called Ujedinjenje ili Smrt (Union or Death), known as the Black Hand. The Black Hand was an outgrowth of an older nationalist group called Narodna Odbrana (National Defense).

Several members of the Black Hand were stationed along the archduke's route through Sarajevo. At a sharp bend in the road, one of the gunmen, Gavrilo Princip (1894–1918), fired, killing the archduke and his wife, Sophie.

The archduke was not the ruler of the empire; he was the heir to the throne. But the assassination touched off a series of diplomatic maneuvers and alliances over the next six weeks that resulted in most of Europe being drawn into World War I (1914–18). Millions died in muddy trenches as Britain and France fought Germany and Austria-Hungary for four years in a war begun by a terrorist's bullet.

The real impact of the shooting was not felt until four years and millions of deaths later. The peace treaty that ended the war broke up the defeated Austro-Hungarian empire and created an independent Slavic state, Yugoslavia, that included the province of Bosnia—which is what the terrorists had wanted.

In Israel and Palestine, people opposed to Israel's presence in the Middle East have strapped bombs onto their bodies and walked into crowded markets or nightclubs. These "suicide bombers" died in the resulting explosions, along with

Famous American Terrorist Assassinations and Attempted Assassinations

  • April 14, 1865: President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) was shot in the head by John Wilkes Booth (1838–1865), a sympathizer with the defeated South in the American Civil War (1861–65). Lincoln died the next day. Lincoln's secretary of state, William H. Seward (1801–1872), escaped an assassination attempt on the same day by a fellow conspirator of Wilkes', Lewis Powell (1844–1865).
  • Sept. 6, 1901: President William McKinley (1843–1901) was shot in Buffalo, New York, by Leon Czolgosz (1873–1901), an anarchist (someone who believes that large central governments should be replaced by smaller, voluntary associations). McKinley died on September 14, 1901.
  • Oct. 14, 1912: Former President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) was shot and wounded in an assassination attempt in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, while campaigning for reelection. His attacker, a German immigrant named John Schrank (1876–1943), was committed to a mental institution.
  • Feb. 15, 1933: President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) escaped an assassination attempt in which Chicago mayor Anton J. Cermak (1873–1933) was shot and killed by Giuseppe Zangara (1900–1933), an Italian immigrant who was angry over poor economic conditions in the United States. Roosevelt was not injured; Cermak died on March 6, 1933. Zangara was executed seventeen days later.
  • Nov. 1, 1950: President Harry S Truman (1884–1972) escaped an assassination attempt by two Puerto Rican nationalists who tried to shoot their way into Blair House, the president's temporary residence while the White House was being renovated.
  • Nov. 22, 1963: President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) was shot and killed while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. Texas Governor John Connally Jr. (1917–1993) was wounded. The accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald (1939–1963), was murdered the next day by a local nightclub owner, Jack Ruby (1911–1967).
  • June 5, 1968: Senator Robert F. Kennedy (1925–1968), younger brother of the slain president, was assassinated at a campaign rally in Los Angeles, California. Senator Kennedy was running for president when a Palestinian, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan (1944–), shot and killed him in a hotel kitchen.
  • May 15, 1972: Governor George C. Wallace (1919–1998) of Alabama, who was running for president, was shot and seriously wounded at a campaign rally in Laurel, Maryland, by a young man named Arthur Bremer (1950–), who dreamed of becoming famous by assassinating a national figure. Wallace was paralyzed from the waist down as a result of the shooting.

Other American presidents have been targeted by assassins whose motives were not political. These include President James Garfield (1831–1881), who was shot in the back after only four months in office and died of blood poisoning two and a half months later; President Gerald Ford (1913–), who was the target of two separate assassination attempts in September 1975; and President Ronald Reagan (1911–), who was shot in March 1981 by a man later confined to a mental hospital.

Israeli citizens shopping for food or spending a night on the town. The suicide bomber has proved a lethal weapon, and one that is hard to guard against. Since its founding, Israel has developed strong security measures—only one plane from Israel's El Al airline was ever hijacked successfully, for instance—but the use of suicide bombers means anyone on the street could be a walking weapon.


Bombing, as demonstrated above, has been a favorite technique of terrorists since the mid-1800s. Although bombs have become technically more sophisticated, their appeal to terrorists remains the same: they can kill many people at once, they are relatively easy to smuggle into a city, and they cause terror in an urban (of or relating to a city) population.

Terrorists generally cannot use large military-type bombs, which require a plane or rocket to deliver. Instead, they use smaller bombs that can be carried by hand or in a car or truck. However, this does not put them at a disadvantage, as spreading fear is as much the point as causing physical damage.


Grenades are metal containers filled with a powerful explosive. The metal has grooves carved into it, so that it shatters into several dozen small pieces when the explosive goes off. The fragments behave like bullets, flying in all directions. They do not cover a wide area when they explode, but unlike a firearm, grenades do not need to hit their target precisely. Anyone within a few yards of the spot where the grenade explodes is likely to be killed or severely wounded.

Most grenades are designed to be thrown by hand at a target. Hand grenades, which are a bit larger than a baseball, are easy to conceal in a pocket or a briefcase. They are easier to hide than a pistol or rifle, and in many cases they are more effective.

Car bombs

The car is a favorite way for terrorists operating in a city to deliver a bomb. Very powerful bombs weigh several thousand pounds and are too big to fit inside a car. But a terrorist can easily hide a smaller weapon in a car's trunk, strap it underneath the vehicle, or conceal it in the fuel tank. The terrorist can then drive the car to the target site and park it on the street. Target sites can be diplomatic offices, shopping districts, houses, or cars that carry government officials, diplomats, or other targets. Terrorists can use remote-control devices (similar to the remote controls for television sets) to set off an explosion at the right moment. Alternatively, the terrorist can set a timer to explode the bomb when the area will be crowded or the nearby office occupied. Car bombs are hard to guard against since most urban areas are jammed with automobiles, and inspecting all of them would effectively shut down the entire city. Cars also help terrorists sow fear among civilians, who may begin to worry that any car could contain a bomb.

Truck bombs

One of the deadliest terrorist attacks in U.S. history occurred in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on April 19, 1995. A young man named Timothy McVeigh (1968–2001) parked a large, yellow Ryder rental truck containing a bomb outside a building that housed federal government offices—as well as a day-care center (see Chapter 8). The front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was shattered in the explosion; 168 people, including 19 children, were killed and more than 500 were injured. McVeigh, who was executed in 2001 for the attack, had constructed the device by combining fertilizer and fuel oil,

which were easy to acquire. Fuel oil is commonly used to heat buildings, and the fertilizer was a type frequently used by farmers. The bomb in Oklahoma City was extraordinarily large; government prosecutors estimated that McVeigh used 3,000 to 6,000 pounds (1,362 to 5,546 kilograms) of explosives, which could only have been carried in a large truck.

In 1993 Islamic terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York City by parking a delivery van packed with explosives in the basement garage. The terrorists chose the van because it could carry significantly more weight than a passenger car but was low enough to fit inside a garage designed for cars. The explosion killed six people and injured more than a thousand.

Nuclear bombs?

Antiterrorism experts in the United States fear that terrorists have—or will have in the future—nuclear bombs. Six months after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon building outside of Washington, D.C., the headquarters of the U.S. military, the U.S. government began using devices designed to detect a nuclear weapon around Washington, D.C., and at key border crossings. Officials feared that a small nuclear device—small enough to be carried in a suitcase—could be smuggled into the United States and planted in Washington, D.C., or another large city. If such a bomb exploded, it could result in tens of thousands of people killed and hundreds of thousands more suffering radiation sickness. The Islamic terrorist organization Al Qaeda (pronounced al KAY-duh), which has been held responsible for the September 11 attacks, had long been trying to obtain a nuclear device or a so-called "radiological" weapon, radioactive material that could be distributed by exploding a conventional bomb, resulting in thousands of deaths or cases of radiation sickness.

Planes as bombs

On September 11, 2001, terrorists introduced a new weapon: the airplane itself. Terrorists had long hijacked planes (see "Airplane and ship hijacking," below), but September 11 was the first time the planes themselves had been used as bombs. The terrorists hijacked planes just after takeoff on flights that were headed across the United States and were fully loaded with jet fuel. The hijackers flew them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, destroying the World Trade Center buildings. (Another hijacked plane, which was supposedly heading for the White House, crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.) Investigators later discovered that the intense fires started by the planes' fuel in effect caused the towers to melt at the point of impact, sending the

top floors crashing onto lower floors and causing the two 110-story buildings to collapse.

Airplane and ship hijacking

Seizing control of an airplane in mid-flight and demanding something from the government in exchange for the passengers' lives was one of the most commonly used terrorist tactics between 1968 and 1980. Terrorists armed with pistols or knives simply had to display the weapons and threaten to kill a passenger or crewmember to force the pilot to land at an airport, where the plane and its passengers could be held hostage. The terrorists often demanded the release of their colleagues from prisons in Israel and elsewhere; sometimes they also held the passengers for ransom.

Hijackings have drawn different responses from governments. Some hijackings have ended peacefully, with the hijackers forcing a plane to take them to a friendly country, and the passengers flew safely home. In some cases hijackers have gotten governments to give in to their demands even though there are international treaties and conventions forbidding this. In September 1970, for example, Palestinian terrorists forced three planes—one British, one Swiss, and one American—to land in Jordan and Cairo. (The attempted hijacking of a fourth plane failed.) They demanded the release of jailed Palestinians, including the woman who had headed up the failed hijacking attempt, in exchange for the lives of more than three hundred hostages aboard the planes. After the terrorists took the hostages off the planes and blew up the aircraft, the involved governments agreed to release the prisoners. On many occasions trained commandos have stormed hijacked planes on the ground and freed the hostages, although usually a number of passengers died in the assault.

In addition to attacks on airplanes, there have been occasions when terrorists hijacked ships at sea. In 1985 four Palestinian terrorists took over an Italian cruise ship called the Achille Lauro. One American tourist was killed and his body thrown overboard. After two days, the hijackers surrendered in exchange for safe passage off the ship; however, U.S. fighter jets intercepted the plane carrying the hijackers, and Italian authorities took them into custody.

Poisonous gas

In March 1995 members of a Japanese religious sect launched a poison gas attack on the Tokyo subway, killing twelve people and injuring almost four thousand. Terrorists from the Aum Shinrikyo religious sect (see Chapter 9) placed plastic bags filled with a mixture of chemicals on five cars headed for central Tokyo on five different subway lines. They punctured the bags with the tips of umbrellas, causing the liquid inside to spill onto the floor of the subway car and evaporate. As the cars rolled toward the business district of the city, the evaporating liquid spread sarin gas, a particularly deadly nerve gas, through the subway car and into multiple subway stations. In all, fifteen stations were affected. The city was fortunate; had the sarin been of higher quality and the delivery system more efficient, tens of thousands of people might have died. The attack seems to have been triggered by a planned police raid on the Aum Shinrikyo facilities.

Police later discovered that the cult had constructed a laboratory capable of producing several tons of sarin gas each year. The cult had also tried unsuccessfully to recruit chemical weapons engineers from Russia to aid in its program.

Germ warfare

Major military powers, most notably the United States and the Soviet Union (now Russia and its neighboring countries), have long experimented with using deadly germs in what is called biological warfare. Some terrorist groups have already used these weapons (Aum Shinrikyo, for one), and experts believe others are interested in acquiring them. As a tool for terrorists, germs have many advantages. Biological weapons can be delivered into a large population of civilians by one person riding a subway train or driving a car into a city. Very large doses capable of sickening or killing thousands of people can fit in very small containers. And the idea of an odorless, invisible spray containing millions of deadly bacteria is certainly enough to inspire terror in a population.

Among the germ warfare weapons that have or could become available to terrorists are: anthrax, smallpox, botulinum toxin, plague, and the Ebola virus.


Anthrax is an infectious disease, one spread by breathing or touching, that can be fatal unless a person gets treatment soon after he or she has been exposed. The bacteria that causes anthrax is usually found in hoofed animals, such as cows or sheep, but it can be very dangerous to humans as well. There are three forms of anthrax found in humans: inhalation anthrax, caused by breathing in the bacteria; cutaneous (affecting the skin) anthrax, caused when the skin is exposed to the bacteria; and intestinal anthrax, caused when the bacteria gets into the intestinal tract. Each form has slightly different symptoms. Inhalation anthrax at first has the same symptoms as a cold, but in a few days victims start to have problems breathing and can go into shock. It is one of the deadliest forms of the disease. Cutaneous anthrax usually takes the form of sores on the area of skin that came into contact with the bacteria. Intestinal anthrax, caused by eating contaminated food, results in nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, as well as fever and stomach pain. Anthrax can be treated with antibiotics such as penicillin. There is a vaccine to prevent infection, but it is generally given only to people who are at high risk for the disease, such as veterinarians or manufacturing workers who come into contact with hides or other animal products. The U.S. military also has an anthrax vaccination program to protect its soldiers from biological attacks during war.


An aerosol is a device used to spread molecules of a substance through the air. Usually aerosols are small—perfume bottles, for example.

But there are also much larger versions of aerosols. Farmers sometimes hire "crop dusters," small airplanes that fly low over fields, spraying pesticides over a wide area.

Shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, U.S. officials ordered all crop dusters grounded. They were concerned that a terrorist could place a poisonous substance in the plane and spray an urban area, causing thousands of people to fall ill or die.

Anthrax was first considered as a biological weapon during the Cold War (a period of heightened political tensions between the two world superpowers—the United States and the Soviet Union—that lasted from 1945 to 1990), when both the United States and the Soviet Union worked on developing it. Its chief advantage as a weapon lies in how strong it is: a very small amount, spread in the air, could sicken or kill a large number of people. Experts at the World Health Organization (WHO) estimate that 100 pounds (45 kilograms) of anthrax released from an airplane could cause 250,000 casualties in a city of 5 million. Large numbers of people would be affected before any alarm could be sounded. Most probably the first indication of the attack would be people going to their doctors with symptoms of inhalation anthrax. The U.S. Congress estimated that if about 200 pounds (91 kilograms) were sprayed over Washington, D.C., from some form of aerosol container, as many as 3 million people could be fatally infected—making anthrax as deadly as a nuclear bomb.

Health experts also say that the anthrax spores could still infect people weeks after they were originally sprayed. In addition, inhalation anthrax develops very quickly—death can come two or three days after the first coldlike symptoms are noticed—unless treatment is started immediately. However, inhalation anthrax is not contagious; that is, you cannot catch it from a person who has been infected.

Anthrax attacks Shortly after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., envelopes containing anthrax (in the form of a white powder) were mailed to members of Congress and some media outlets. Officials discovered that the machinery in post offices used to sort mail had squeezed some of the powder out of the envelopes, infecting postal workers. The anthrax made twenty-three people sick, and five people died. An entire building that housed offices of U.S. senators had to be closed for weeks until it could be thoroughly cleaned of any traces of anthrax.

Police began a widespread search for the person who mailed the deadly envelopes. Although they focused at first on the Al Qaeda terrorist organization, officials later began investigating scientists who had worked with anthrax for U.S. biological warfare efforts.

At least one terrorist group, the Aum Shinrikyo sect in Japan, is known to have developed anthrax as a biological weapon. In 1993 the cult experimented with infecting people with anthrax by spraying it into the air from a rooftop in Tokyo, but the attempt failed.


Smallpox is a highly contagious virus that is fatal in about 30 percent of people who get the disease. People who survive are often left badly scarred. Symptoms of the disease—high fever, headache, and a severe rash—take about two weeks to develop after a person is exposed to the virus. The rash creates pimple-like sores that leave scars after they heal.

One of the miracles of modern medicine was the development of an effective vaccine against smallpox by English surgeon Edward Jenner (1749–1823), in 1798. By 1980 the vaccine had been so widely distributed worldwide that the World Health Organization declared the disease eliminated.

However, the Soviet Union was believed to have created large stores of smallpox bacteria for use in germ warfare. The United States also kept small samples of the smallpox virus on hand in case the disease reappeared and it needed to create new vaccines using the virus. The use of anthrax as a biological weapon by an unknown terrorist in 2001 increased fears that smallpox could be reintroduced into the world after routine vaccinations were discontinued.

Smallpox is especially feared as a terrorist weapon for several reasons:

  • It is easy to distribute as an aerosol spray.
  • It is extremely contagious.
  • It is fatal in 30 percent of cases.
  • There is no cure once a person has been infected.
  • Vaccinations have not been given in the United States since 1972, and people vaccinated earlier are probably no longer protected from the disease.
  • Public health officials believe that even a small number of cases—fifty or one hundred—could spark widespread panic.
  • There are enough doses of smallpox vaccine to protect only a small number of people, and the facilities that manufactured the vaccine have been shut down.

After the anthrax attacks in 2001 public health officials began looking into whether they should once again begin manufacturing smallpox vaccine and vaccinating people on a large scale.

Botulinum toxin

Botulinum toxin, often referred to as botulism, is the most poisonous substance known to man. At least seven different types of the toxin exist, and treatments for one are not effective against the other forms. The poison affects the nervous system and results in paralysis (the inability to move the muscles). Victims often need mechanical help to breathe until their nerve endings can recover. Effective treatment methods have lowered the fatality rate from 50 percent down to about 8 percent over the second half of the twentieth century, although it can take months or even years for a patient to recover.

Botulism is often transmitted by food. Although it is not easy to spread botulism, it is a powerful toxin. Victims can first notice symptoms anywhere from eight hours to two weeks after eating contaminated food; typically the symptoms appear in one to three days. Victims usually have problems speaking, seeing, or swallowing—caused by the toxin's paralyzing effect on the nervous system. Nausea or vomiting may also occur.

The United States has identified several "terrorist states" (countries that sponsor terrorist actions) that have developed stocks of botulism toxin, presumably for germ warfare.


In the mid-1300s the bacterial disease known as the plague killed an estimated fifty million people in Europe (where about one-third of the population died), the Middle East, and China. Such widespread cases of illness are called pandemics, and although modern medicine makes a plague pandemic unlikely today, the very idea of the plague is enough to cause widespread panic. In Surat, India, in 1994, an estimated half-million people fled the city for fear of a plague epidemic.

A study by the World Health Organization in 1970 estimated that 100 pounds (45 kilograms) of plague bacteria released by aerosol over a city of 5 million people could result in 150,000 cases of plague, of which perhaps 36,000 would prove fatal. As with other forms of airborne germ warfare, an attack with the plague virus would not be apparent until victims began going to their doctors for treatment.

During the Cold War scientists in both the United States and the Soviet Union developed means of distributing plague bacteria in the air, which results in a particularly contagious and deadly form of the disease. American authorities feared after September 11 that scientists from the former Soviet Union could be hired to develop plague for use in modern terror attacks.

Ebola virus

Ebola is one of the deadliest viruses known. First discovered in Africa in 1976, it is the cause of Ebola hemorrhagic fever, an often fatal disease that is highly infectious through blood or other body fluids. A few days after becoming infected, victims may have symptoms that include a high fever, headache, aching muscles, stomachache, diarrhea, sore throat, rash, and vomiting blood. Within a week patients can develop chest pain, go into shock, and die. The disease does not always result in death, although fatality rates range from 50 to 90 percent. There is no standard treatment.

There are no known cases of terrorists intentionally spreading the Ebola virus, but in 1993 leaders of the Japanese religious sect Aum Shinrikyo traveled to Zaire (now called Congo) to learn about the virus and perhaps bring samples back to Japan, where the sect was producing anthrax for use in germ warfare.

Terrorists' use of fear

The root word in terrorism, "terror," implies that terrorists play on people's emotions. Terrorists rely on the power of psychology to do what guns or bombs alone could not. Uncontrolled fear is sometimes called "hysteria," behavior that shows an excessive or uncontrollable emotion. Hysterical people become irrational and lose control of their actions.

One reaction to the feeling of terror is to run away—leaving a country or city where attacks are taking place, for example. Another reaction is to attack people of a particular ethnic group or nationality. In the first week after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, hundreds of acts of violence against Arab Americans were reported, including bombings, assaults, and murder.

During the 1990s the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (see chapter 9) murdered many foreigners who were living, working, or traveling in Algeria. The terrorists' goal was to rid the country of Western influences, that is, social aspects prominent in America and Western European democratic societies that were finding their way into the Muslim country. Islamic groups in Egypt used the same tactic. By bombing the tour buses that were bringing Europeans and Americans to see the pyramids and other sights of ancient Egypt, they hoped to frighten away tourists and decrease Western influence on Egyptian society.

The fear and hatred generated by terrorist attacks can have different political impacts in democratic countries. Citizens can unite behind their government, as Americans did after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and demand strong military action against the attackers. Or they can demand that the government give in to the demands of the terrorists in the hope that will stop the attacks. In either case citizens can eventually

turn on their government for its failure to stop terrorism, either by destroying the terrorists or by negotiating an end to the attacks.

Algerian terrorists achieved independence from France for their country during the late 1950s by bombing sites and assassinating officials in France. The unspoken message was: give Algeria its freedom, and we will stop attacking targets in France. Eventually the tactic worked: the French public became fed up with terrorism, and French President Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970) decided to negotiate Algeria's independence.

On the other hand, hysteria can cause citizens of democratic countries to demand that their government take extreme measures to retaliate against the terrorists. Israeli, for example, in early 2001 elected the conservative former general Ariel Sharon as prime minister on his promise of a crackdown on Palestinian terrorists, following the breakdown of peace talks and a resumption of terrorism.

The role of the media

The news media—newspapers, radio, television—play a key role in spreading terror. Gaining access to television or radio coverage is sometimes the main goal of the terrorist. In 1975 terrorists took hostage the oil ministers of the Organiza tion of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), who were meeting in Austria. They demanded a plane to fly themselves and their hostages to Algeria, where the terrorists eventually freed the ministers in exchange for a $50 million ransom. But during the days of the hostage drama, one of the hijackers' demands was that Austrian radio and television (and the media in Arab states as well) broadcast a statement explaining the reason for their action (they were acting on behalf of Pales tinians fighting Israel).

Soon after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, the terrorist blamed for organizing the operation, Osama bin Laden (1957–), delivered a videocassette to an Arabic-language television station in Qatar that stated the attacks were meant to stop U.S. support for Israel. In both of the above cases the terrorists drew attention to themselves by launching a dramatic attack and then used the mass media to communicate their views to millions of people.

Terrorism and the Internet

The Internet, including electronic mail and the World Wide Web, offers terrorists a powerful tool for promoting their organizations, recruiting new members, and communicating with existing members. The Internet has become so critical to business operations, however, that it is impossible to shut down this communications pipeline for terrorists.

The Internet also offers another potential tool for ter rorist action: economic warfare. Rapid electronic communi cations, while offering great advantages to international businesses, have also made them vulnerable. "Hacking," the act of breaking into computers through the Internet, can cause seri ous economic damage by interfering with a company's com merce or destroying records.

Information warfare

Traditionally terrorists have relied on direct physical attacks—especially assassinations and bombings—to achieve their purposes. The rapid spread of computers and computer networks in the last quarter of the twentieth century, however, introduced a powerful new set of weapons labeled "information warfare."

There is no universal agreement on what information warfare consists of. But many experts agree that it covers some or all of these elements: propaganda, command and control, economic warfare, and international alliances.


Information is a critical weapon for terrorists. Before 1990, when the Internet started coming into widespread use, the ability to spread propaganda (communicate ideas to large numbers of people) was mostly limited to newspapers or broadcast media, which in turn required expensive equipment (printing presses, radio and television transmitting sites) and could be controlled by governments. With the Internet, however, a single individual with a computer anywhere in the world can even publish a Web page or send email widely. Some hackers have broken into the Web sites of legitimate news media to communicate their views. The Internet is a powerful publishing tool that requires few resources, and is difficult or impossible for governments to control. Many people celebrate this aspect of the Internet as an advance in freedom of expression; some government officials, on the other hand, bemoan this aspect of the Internet and have tried to restrict freedom of access by their political opponents, including terrorists. Short of closing down the Internet—which would be almost impossible, given the decentralized design of the network—governments are largely helpless to control the flow of information to the public.

Command and control

Extensive and sophisticated computer networks lie at the heart of military and police agencies. Computers and computer networks provide a crucial communications link in an

emergency and control a variety of military systems. Hackers have broken into military computers and gained access to secret information. A West German group of hackers stole secrets from military computers in the late 1980s and offered to sell them to the Soviet Union toward the end of the Cold War. A group of teenagers in Croatia, formerly part of Yugoslavia, stole highly classified information from computers at the Pentagon outside of Washington, D.C., in 1997.

The military and other government agencies also rely on computer networks to monitor and control such critical systems as electricity, telephones, and water supplies. A terrorist attack on such systems could cause a disaster if, for example, electricity were cut off to major metropolitan areas.

The issue of command and control is not limited to the military. Terrorist groups also need to communicate quickly and anonymously and coordinate their activities. There is evidence that Al Qaeda in particular has made extensive use of the Internet to keep in touch with its network of independent terrorist cells. (A cell is a small group of people within a larger organization; generally, members of one cell do not know members of any other cells, so that if they are arrested they cannot reveal that information to the authorities.)

Economic warfare

Disrupting computer systems can have a major impact on the economy of a society. Orders are sent and bills are paid by computer. Manufacturing systems depend on computers to function, and companies store their files as well as trade secrets on computer systems.

As computers have become more essential to business operations, they have also become vulnerable. During the 1990s scores of government and private computers were the subject of successful attacks by hackers. Some incidents seem merely to be practical jokes—one hacker caused a computer to redirect telephone calls made to a Florida parole department to a pornographic service in New York City—but others were more serious. The Japanese religious sect Aum Shinrikyo, for example, stole classified materials from the Japanese company Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Banks, which increasingly transfer funds electronically, have been robbed repeatedly by computer hackers. In 1988, for example, the First National Bank of Chicago lost about $70 million after its computers were hacked.

Another form of electronic warfare includes launching computer viruses, "worms," or email attacks that bog down a targeted computer or even the entire Internet, making it virtually useless for hours or days. Often these attacks are traced to young hackers playing a form of game, but in the hands of a sophisticated terrorist these techniques could cause serious harm to a company or a government.

International alliances

During the 1970s and 1980s many European and Middle Eastern terrorist organizations cooperated to achieve their objectives. Palestinian terrorists, for example, hijacked planes and demanded that Israel set free jailed Palestinian terrorists

and that Germany set free members of the Baader-Meinhof Gang of terrorists. In 1972 members of the Japanese Red Army terrorist group carried out a raid on the Tel Aviv airport in Israel; the Japanese did not arouse the same level of suspicion that a group of Palestinians would have. More recently Islamic terrorist organizations from Saudi Arabia and Egypt have joined forces in Al Qaeda, the group blamed for the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

In these instances the terrorists had something in common: an ideology (pronounced eye-dee-ALL-uh-gee), a set of ideas, especially political ideas and beliefs. For the terrorists of the 1970s and 1980s the ideology was often communism (a political and economic system in which property is owned by the state). For the more recent Islamic groups, the ideology is their religion. These shared ideas and beliefs are more important to the various terrorist groups than their nationalities. Such ideological alliances offer terrorists a new set of options. For example, ideological terrorists can hide out with allied terrorists in foreign countries, where police are not as intent on finding them or where their allies are protected by a sympathetic government (see chapter 6). Foreign terror groups can be a source of money and weapons or explosives. And terrorists from abroad can supply people to carry out terrorist action at home.