International Terrorism

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Chapter 3
International Terrorism


In the late twentieth century international terrorism replaced the cold war as the United States greatest national security concern. Terrorism is not new. It has plagued the world for centuries. What is different is the scope and reach of terrorist acts. In the past the vast majority of terrorist acts were committed by people with domestic or regional grievances. The terrorists had narrow agendas and limited resources for achieving them. This is no longer true. The goals and means of some terrorist groups have broadened considerably. The technological advancements that have made international travel and communication possible have made it easier for terrorists to extend their reach to all parts of the world. Likewise, their weapons and methods are much more sophisticated and deadly. The combination of all these factors has made the U.S. homeland a viable and attractive target for international terrorism.


Terrorism is not easily or universally defined. Within U.S. law and government agencies there are differing definitions of terrorism. In the U.S. Code, Title 22 (January 3, 2007, focuses on foreign relations. Chapter 38, section 2656f(d) of that code provides the following definitions:

  • Terrorismpolitically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents
  • International terrorismterrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than 1 country.

One of the key components defining terrorism is its political nature. This excludes violence committed solely for financial gain, personal reasons, or other nonpolitical purposes. A second major component of terrorism is that noncombatants (civilians) are targeted. This distinguishes international terrorism from traditional war making in which official military forces are pitted against one another. Subnational means less than (or lower than) national. Clandestine means secret. By this definition, international terrorism is not perpetrated openly (as war would be) by the governments of nations. Instead, it is associated with lesser groups or with secret national agents.


The Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism in the U.S. Department of State (DOS) identifies groups for designation as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs). This is a legal process, and any group deemed an FTO can challenge the designation in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit up to thirty days after the designation is published in the Federal Register. To be designated as an FTO, an organization must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a foreign organization
  • Engage in terrorist activity or terrorism as defined by federal law or retain the capability and intent to engage in terrorist activity or terrorism
  • The terrorist activity of the organization threatens the security of Americans or the national defense, foreign relations, or economic interests of the United States

The most recent list of FTOs was compiled in April 2008 and listed forty-four organizations. (See Table 3.1.) It is illegal for any person who is in the United States or subject to U.S. jurisdiction to knowingly provide material support or resources to a designated FTO. U.S. financial institutions are required to take control over any funds in their possession that were deposited by an FTO or one of its agents and report the funds to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Finally, alien members or

TABLE 3.1 Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) designated by the U.S. government, 2007
NameAcronym or aliasPrimary locationNote
SOURCE: Adapted from Terrorist Organizations, in Country Reports on Terrorism, 2007, U.S. Department of State, April 2008, (accessed July 29, 2008)
Abu Nidal OrganizationANOIraq & LebanonLargely inactive
Abu Sayyaf Group PhilippinesSeeks Islamic state
Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade PalestineSeeks Palestinian state
Al-Qa'eda in IraqQJBRIraqSeeks Islamic state
Al-Qa'eda in the Islamic MaghrebAQIM Seeks Islamic state
Ansar al-Sunnah IraqSeeks Islamic state
Armed Islamic GroupGIAAlgeriaSeeks Islamic state
Asbat Al-Ansar LebanonSeeks Islamic state
Aum Shinrikyo JapanReligious cult
Basque Fatherland and LibertyETASpainSeeks Marxist state
Communist Party of the Philippines/New People's ArmyCPP/NPAPhilippinesSeeks Communist state
Continuity Irish Republican Army IrelandAnti-British rule
Gama'a al-IslamiyyaIslamic GroupEgyptSeeks Islamic state
HAMASIslamic Resistance MovementPalestineSeeks Islamic Palestinian state
Harakat ul-MujahidinHUMPakistan & KashmirAnti-Indian rule of Kashmir
HezbollahParty of GodLebanonShia Islamic organization
Islamic Jihad Group Central AsiaSeeks Islamic state
Islamic Movement of UzbekistanIMUSouth AsiaSeeks Islamic state
Jaish-e-MohammedJEM or Army of MohammedPakistan & KashmirSeeks to unite Kashmir & Pakistan
Jemaah Islamiya organizationJIIndonesiaSeeks Islamic caliphate
al-Jihad EgyptSeeks Islamic state
Kahane ChaiKachIsraelRadical Jewish group
Kongra-Gel Turkey & IraqSeeks Kurdish state
Lashkar-e TayyibaLT or Army of the RighteousPakistan & KashmirAnti-Indian rule of Kashmir
Lashkar i JhangviLJPakistanIslamic militants
Liberation Tigers of Tamil EelamLTTESri LankaSeeks Tamil state
Libyan Islamic Fighting GroupLIFGLibyaOpposes Qadhafi regime
Moroccan Islamic Combatant GroupGICMMoroccoSeeks Islamic state
Mujahedin-e Khalq OrganizationMEKIranOpposes Iranian regime
National Liberation ArmyELNColombiaSeeks Marxist state
Palestine Liberation FrontPLFLebanonSeeks Palestinian state
Palestinian Islamic JihadPIJPalestineSeeks Palestinian state
Popular Front for the Liberation of PalestinePFLPSyria & LebanonSeeks Palestinian state
PFLP-General CommandPFLP-GCSyriaSeeks Palestinian state
al-Qa'eda Middle EastSeeks worldwide Islamic caliphate
Real IRARIRAIrelandAnti-British rule
Revolutionary Armed Forces of ColombiaFARCColombiaAnti-Colombian government
Revolutionary NucleiRN, formerly ELAGreeceLargely inactive
Revolutionary Organization 17 November17NGreeceRadical leftist group
Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/FrontDHKP/CTurkeySeeks Marxist state
Shining PathSL or Sendero LuminosoPeruSeeks Communist state
United Self-Defense Forces of ColombiaAUCColombiaLargely inactive

representatives of an FTO are not allowed to enter the United States and, in some cases, can be deported.


There are five major components of a terrorist organization (see Figure 3.1):

  • Underlying conditionsthese are social, economic, religious, and political factors that provide the base for terrorist tendencies to take root and grow. Examples include poverty, government corruption and oppression, and ethnic and religious conflicts.
  • International environmentthe world has become a more accessible place. Widespread modes of transportation and communication allow terrorists to travel, plan, and coordinate attacks with greater sophistication. There has been a general trend toward more open national borders, particularly in Europe. Poorer countries lack the resources (and sometimes the political will) to completely guard their borders. All these factors facilitate the ease of movement for terrorists.
  • Statessome countries provide physical safe havens for terrorist organizations, allowing them to live and train within their territories. Terrorists also benefit from nations that facilitate or ignore organization activities, such as fund-raising or buying weapons. In State Sponsors of Terrorism (February 4, 2005,, the DOS lists five countries Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syriathat the United States considers to be terrorist sponsors. (See Table 3.2.) The United States claims these countries have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism, as defined under the Export Administration Act, the Arms Export Control Act, and the Foreign Assistance Act.
TABLE 3.2 Countries identified by U.S. government as state sponsors of terrorism, by date of designation
CountryDesignation date
SOURCE: State Sponsors of Terrorism, U.S. Department of State, February 4, 2005, (accessed August 9, 2008)
CubaMarch 1,1982
IranJanuary 19, 1984
North KoreaJanuary 20, 1988
SudanAugust 12, 1993
SyriaDecember 29, 1979
  • Organizationthe three previously mentioned structural elements provide a foundation that allows terrorist groups to recruit, plan, organize, train, raise money, hide from justice, arm themselves, and launch attacks.
  • Leadershipthe leaders of a terrorist organization develop strategies and provide directions that link all the supporting factors together. Some organizations are based on a strong military-style hierarchy, where the loss of leadership can seriously damage or even destroy the organizations capabilities. Other groups use a looser structure based on a network of cells that may have some individual power to make decisions and launch attacks. For these organizations, the loss of top leaders may not be as devastating to the overall structure.


Throughout U.S. history there have been incidents of politically motivated violence directed against civilians. During the late 1800s and early 1900s there were a number of such incidents. One of the most famous attacks occurred on September 16, 1920, when a bomb exploded in a horse-drawn wagon in the financial district of New York City, killing dozens of people. The crime was never solved. Like similar acts of the era, this one was blamed on radical political activists with left-wing ideologies, such as socialism, communism, or anarchism. (Anarchy is a belief that governments should not exist.)

Terrorism in the early twentieth century was much more common in Europe because of political conflicts within and between the countries there. World War I (19141918) was triggered when Franz Ferdinand (1863 1914), the Archduke of Austria, was assassinated by Serbian nationalists while visiting the city of Sarajevo, which was then a part of Serbia in the Balkans.


Nationalism has been a frequent inspiration for terrorism and is driven by people desiring to remove their government or drive out an occupying power. The Palestinian cause has become a rallying point for many militant radicals in the Middle East. Disillusioned Palestinians and their supporters have used terrorism against Israel and the world at large to push their agenda for statehood. As of 2007, there were six FTOs devoted specifically to the Palestinian cause. (See Table 3.1.)

As defined under U.S. law, terrorism is politically motivated violence. As such, religion is not considered a major motivator driving terrorist acts. However, most FTOs support causes or peoples associated with one faith: Islam. (See Table 3.1.) Examples include struggles for statehood and opposition to prevailing governments in Palestine and various countries in the Middle East and South Asia, particularly the Philippines, Iraq, Algeria, Lebanon, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Morocco.

Exceptions include FTOs pursuing nationalist causes in Spain, the Philippines, Ireland, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Greece, Turkey, and Peru. Many of these terrorist organizations have agendas grounded in socialism, Marxism, and communism. Some nationalist struggles have religious dimensions. For example, the Irish FTOs are linked to a struggle between political factions divided over Northern Irelands inclusion in the United Kingdom. These factions are also split along religious lines, with one side predominantly Catholic and the other predominantly Protestant. In addition, there are religion-based FTOs in Japan and Israel.

Islamic Connection

The notes in Table 3.1 indicate that many FTOs seek an Islamic state or caliphate. A caliphate is a geopolitical area spanning the territory of many countries, all under the rule of an Islamic leader called a caliph. The Muslim

Student Association explains in The Rightly-Guided Caliphs (2008, that there have been four rightly-guided caliphsAbu Bakr (c. 573634), Umar (c. 586 644), Uthman (c. 574656), and Ali (c. 600661)all of whom lived during the seventh century. Some Muslim leaders since that time have called themselves caliphs, most recently the sultans of the Ottoman Empire, which was broken up after World War I. At the height of its geopolitical power in the thirteenth century, the Islamic world encompassed a broad swath of land from Southeast Asia, across the Middle East and North Africa, and into westernmost Europe (modern-day Spain). However, this area was fractured politically and under the rule of various Muslim factions that were not unified under a single caliph.

There are two main branches within Islam: Shia and Sunni. In A Country Study: Iraq (November 8, 2005,, the U.S. Library of Congress indicates that the primary difference between the two divisions concerns the leadership of the caliph. Shiites believe that Ali and his descendants are the only rightful heirs to lead the caliphate. Sunnis support a broader interpretation of who can be the caliph. In addition, there are other theological differences between the two branches. All these differences have contributed to historical civil wars and to modern conflicts between the two factions

SALAFISM . Within the Sunni branch of Islam there is a belief system called Salafism that has been closely associated with some of the most violent FTOs. Salafism is variously described as a fundamentalist, traditionalist, or orthodox approach to Islam. The growth of this religious movement during the twentieth century is detailed in the Canadian Broadcasting Company documentary War without Borders (December 1, 2004, http://wwwcbcca/fifth/warwithoutborders/salafisthtml). It should be noted that the media often use the term wahhabi to refer to the Salafist branch of Islam. This word is derived from the name of an eighteenth-century Arab named Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab (17031792), who was a well-known Salafist scholar.

According to War without Borders, the Salafist movement seeks to practice Islam as it was practiced by its earliest followers during the eighth century. Salafists believe that Islam has been misinterpreted and misapplied since that time. There is a minority within this faction that champions a revolutionary style of Salafism in which violence is considered justifiable to re-create the Islamic caliphates of ages past.

Revolutionary Salafism has its roots in an organization called the Muslim Brotherhood that began in Egypt in 1928. Originally dedicated to education and social reform, it evolved into a political organization that embraced terrorism during the 1940s. Over the following decades the Muslim Brotherhood adopted as its spiritual leader the Egyptian intellectual Sayyid Qutb (19061966). Qutb became a major proponent of Islamism (a belief that governments should operate in strict accordance with Islamic law). He had briefly attended college in the United States during the 1940s and was highly critical of the debauchery in American society. Qutb advocated the use of violence, particularly against non-Muslims, in the quest for an Islamist society. This violence has been called a jihad (holy war) by the Western media; however, the Arabic term jihad translates more accurately as struggle and has a variety of meanings within Islamic tradition.

War without Borders notes that splinter groups broke away from the Muslim Brotherhood after Qutb was executed in 1966 by the Egyptian government. These groups have embraced the concepts of revolutionary Salafism and the use of violent jihad, even against fellow Muslims deemed to be less than true believers. The most well known of these groups are Takfir wal-Hijra, which was largely wiped out during the 1970s; the Egyptian Islamic Jihad; and al Qaeda. During the late 1980s the latter two groups merged under the leadership of Osama bin Laden (1957), a wealthy man from a prominent Saudi family. The ultimate goal of al Qaeda is to destroy the near enemy (governments of the region considered non-Islamist) and the far enemy (the West, particularly the United States) to re-create the caliphate. Figure 3.2 shows the area the U.S. government believes that bin Laden wishes to include in an Islamic caliphate.


Some of the FTOs listed in Table 3.1 have ceased to be major participants in terrorist attacks. In some cases this is because of cease-fires or other political agreements that have dampened violent opposition. For example, the FTOs operating in Ireland have been relatively inactive since the late 1990s because of peace agreements accepted by most parties involved in the conflict. Extremely hierarchal FTOs have diminished in power following the deaths of their leaders. This occurred within the Abu Nidal organization after the 2002 death of its leader in Iraq.

As of September 2008, the FTOs of most interest to the United States were those that had a major influence on political events in the Middle East and/or posed the greatest threat to U.S. interests. The three most prominent groups that are described in this chapter are based on information from the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorisms Country Reports on Terrorism 2007 (April 2008,http://wwwstategov/s/ct/rls/crt/2007/).


Hamas is an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya, meaning Islamic Resistance Movement. Its primary area of operation is in Palestine, where it seeks to install an Islamic state. Hamas evolved from the Muslim Brotherhood and has used both political and terrorist methods to pursue its goals. These two functions are carried out by different divisions within the organization. Terrorist activities are associated with the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades of paramilitary fighters.

According to the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, the Hamas brigades have conducted many terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings, against civilian and military targets in Israel but have not directly attacked U.S. interests. The overall policy for the FTO is determined by decision makers based in Damascus, Syria.

Hamas is believed to have tens of thousands of supporters and sympathizers. Its activities are chiefly funded through donations collected from Palestinians living around the world and from wealthy private individuals in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. The FTOs popularity in Palestine is attributed in large part to its social and charitable works, including schools, medical clinics, and youth camps. As mentioned in Chapter 1, Hamas members were elected in sufficient numbers during the January 2006 elections to take over majority control of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA)the existing governing body in Palestine. Hamas attacks against Israel dramatically decreased following the election, until June 2006, when Hamas forces attacked a group of Israeli soldiers, killing two and kidnapping another. In response, Israel imposed strict travel and economic sanctions against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. In 2007 a military-type coup by Hamas forces routed PNA from the Gaza Strip. Hamas unofficially seized control of the area and continued to wage bomb and rocket attacks against Israeli targets. In mid-2008 a cease-fire agreement was reached with Israel in exchange for lifting the economic and travel restrictions in the Gaza Strip.


In English Hezbollah means Party of God. Hezbollah is a powerful organization based in Lebanon and consists of Shiites (adherents to Shia Islam). It also calls itself Islamic Jihad or Islamic Jihad for the Liberation of Palestine. Hezbollah emerged in Lebanon following Israels invasion of that nation in 1982. The organization has strong ties to Iran because of the latters predominantly Shiite population. Lebanon also contains a majority Shiite population. Until early 2006 Hezbollah was also closely associated with Syria. That relationship cooled after Syrian agents were implicated in the assassination of the Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri (19442005) in 2005.

Hezbollah is blamed for a number of terrorist attacks against Israeli and U.S. interests, including some of the most notorious incidents of the 1980s and 1990s. Specifically, U.S. officials believe Hezbollah agents bombed U.S. embassy buildings and U.S. Marine facilities in Lebanon in 1983 and 1984, killing over 300 Americans; hijacked TWA Flight 847 in 1985 and killed a U.S. Navy diver aboard the plane; and participated in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers (a housing facility for U.S. military personnel) in Saudi Arabia, during which 19 Americans were killed and 515 injured.

Lebanon bounds Israel to the north. During the middle of the first decade of the 2000s the Lebanese government allowed Hezbollah militias to essentially take control of southern Lebanon, ostensibly to guard against an Israeli attack. There were many skirmishes between the militias and Israeli military forces. In July 2006 Hezbollah agents crossed the border and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers. In response, Israel conducted air strikes and fired missiles against a variety of targets in Lebanon, before launching a ground invasion. Likewise, Hezbollah fired hundreds of rockets into Israel. Following approximately a month of fighting, a cease-fire was brokered by the United Nations (UN). It called for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon and the disarming of Hezbollah fighters. According to the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Hezbollah did reduce its military presence in southern Lebanon in 2007. However, it is believed to maintain caches of weapons in the area.

Al Qaeda

The FTO called al Qaeda, meaning the foundation or the base, gained prominence during the 1990s as a sophisticated and well-funded organization capable of conducting terrorist attacks around the world, including

on U.S. soil. Its members are predominantly Sunni and include some devoted adherents of Salafism. The FTOs original name was the International Front for Fighting Jews and Crusaders.

Al Qaeda was founded in 1988 by bin Laden. He followed the precepts of the Muslim Brotherhood and believed that violence was a necessary tool for ridding Muslim lands of unbelievers. During the 1980s he had fought against Soviet forces occupying Afghanistan. Following the Soviet withdrawal, he united and trained his fighters to wage war against regional regimes he considered non-Islamist and against Israel and the United States. The rise to power of bin Laden and al Qaeda are described at length by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States in The 9/11 Commission Report Report (2004, http://www9-11commissiongov/report/911Reportpdf).

In 1991 bin Laden left Saudi Arabia and set up his organization in Sudan in northern Africa. From there he moved to Afghanistan in 1996. Throughout the 1990s bin Laden issued statements urging Muslims around the world to kill Americans and their allies. In 1998 he and his cohorts published a fatwa in an Arabic-language newspaper in London. (A fatwa is an interpretation of Islamic law usually written by a scholar or religious authority.) Al Qaedas fatwa declared war on the United States. According to Frontline (May 1998,,bin Laden said during an interview with an ABC reporter: We believe that the worst thieves in the world today and the worst terrorists are the Americans. We do not have to differentiate between military or civilian. As far as we are concerned, they are all targets.

By 1998 bin Laden had consolidated his power within al Qaeda and raised sufficient funds to launch carefully planned and directed attacks against U.S. interests. The organization was not strictly hierarchal in structure but featured a network of semi-independent cells of followers. Between 1998 and 2001 al Qaeda agents conducted a series of stunning terrorist attacks: in 1998 bombings at two U.S. embassies in Africa killed more than two hundred people and injured another five thousand; in 2000 the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen killed seventeen Americans and wounded thirty-nine others; and in 2001 more than twenty-nine hundred people were killed when hijackers crashed three airplanes into both towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a fourth airplane crashed in Pennsylvania.

Following the September 11, 2001 (9/11), terrorist attacks, the U.S. military invaded Afghanistan and killed, captured, or chased into hiding many of al Qaedas leaders. Bin Laden eluded detection, and as of September 2008 remained at large. Even though al Qaedas organization and capabilities were initially disrupted by the U.S. invasion, the FTO regained much of its strength with help from friendly tribal leaders across the border in western Pakistan. The U.S. Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism notes in Country Reports on Terrorism 2007 that al Qaeda has regained much of its operational capabilities, has replaced its captured or killed operatives, and has restored some centralized control over the organization. It is believed that al Qaedas planning and operational leadership has been taken over by Ayman al-Zawahiri (1951), a former physician from Egypt. Bin Laden is called the groups ideological figurehead.

Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, a terrorist group led by the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (1966 2006) renamed itself al Qaeda in Iraq and launched a massive campaign of violence against allied troops, foreign workers and journalists, and Iraqi civilians. The group conducted many kidnappings, beheadings, and suicide bombings as part of the insurgency (resistance) movement. The killing of al-Zarqawi in a U.S. bombing raid in 2006 helped dampen the power and capabilities of the FTO. It was further weakened throughout 2007 and early 2008 by U.S. military operations conducted in Iraq with help from that nations military forces, tribal leaders, and civilians.

In 2006 and 2007 two North African terrorist groups merged with al Qaeda: the Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, which renamed itself al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and the Libyan Islamic Fight Group. Maghreb is a geographical region that encompasses much of North Africa and generally includes Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. AQIM has been blamed for numerous suicide bombing attacks against Algerian government workers and civilians and a December 2007 attack against the UN headquarters in Algeria. Even though al Qaedas influence grows in northern Africa, FTO operations in the eastern African nation of Somalia have been crippled by the military forces of the African Union (AU). The AU is an organization of African nations dedicated to strengthening Africas economic and political role in the world.


The United States has become a target of international terrorism for a variety of reasons. Many FTOs blame U.S. foreign policy for the continuing Palestinian problem and resent long-standing U.S. support for Israel. In addition, there has been the United States historical support for governments in the Middle East considered corrupt and oppressive. Finally, the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq (both predominantly Muslim countries) have fueled terrorist responses. These are the factors most often named by FTOs that target U.S. interests around the world.

Israel-Palestine Conflict

The United States has always had a special bond with Israel. These ties were forged soon after Israel was founded in 1948. The cold war was just beginning, and the United States found itself with few allies outside of Western Europe. A democratic pro-U.S. government was seen as a huge asset amid the unfriendly regimes dominating the Middle East. Carol Migdalovitz of the Congressional Research Service describes in Israel: Background and Relations with the United States (June 6, 2008, the U.S.-Israeli relationship as a close friendship based on common democratic values, religious affinities, and security interests.

Migdalovitz notes that Israel was the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid for more than two decades, from the late 1970s to the late 1990s. U.S. administrations have worked for decades to push negotiations between Israel and its enemies to resolve the Palestinian problem and other issues. President Jimmy Carter (1924) mediated a 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. During the 1990s Israel and Palestine negotiated on many occasions at the urging of President Bill Clinton (1946). These meetings culminated in an offer in 2000 from Israel for an independent Palestinian state composed of most of the West Bank and all the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian leadership rejected the offer.

In February 2008 the Gallup Organization conducted a poll in which it asked participants if they believed that Israel and Palestine will one day be able to live in peace. A majority (59%) of those asked thought that such a scenario is not possible. (See Figure 3.3.) Another 39% of respondents indicated optimism for peace between the two factions that have been unofficially at war for more than fifty years.

Cold War Politics and Their Legacy

During the cold war, the U.S. governments premier foreign policy goal was to stop the spread of communism from the Soviet Union. The United States sometimes supported oppressive, nondemocratic governments in other countries when it believed the alternative was for them to become dominated by communists or otherwise ally themselves with the Soviet Union. Such support was often criticized as betraying American ideals and could lead to resentment of the United States among the oppressed population of these countries.

THE SHAH OF IRAN. U.S. support for the Iranian shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (19191980) until his ouster in 1979 was strongly resented by most of the Iranian population. James Risen reports in Secrets of History: The C.I.A. in Iran (New York Times, April 16, 2000) that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) helped initiate a military coup in Iran in 1953 that put a pro-U.S. government

into power. Even though widely suspected in Iran, U.S. involvement in Iran was kept secret from the American people for nearly half a century.

According to Risen, the CIA cooperated with British intelligence agents and the shah and his supporters to oust the elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq (1882 1967; who served under the shah, but wielded great power) and install a new prime minister with pro-British and pro-U.S. leanings. The plot was driven by economic and political factors. Mosaddeq tried to nationalize Irans oil supplies, which had been under the control of the British since World War II (19391945). U.S. involvement was based on fears of the powerful Communist Party within Iran and Mosaddeqs alleged socialist sympathies. The coup proceeded poorly, but was ultimately successful at installing a puppet prime minister and consolidating the shahs power.

Western interference in Irans government became a rallying cry for radicals who accused the shah of oppressing his people and stealing oil profits. Risen notes that U.S. involvement in the 1953 coup resulted in a generation of anti-American hatred in one of the Middle Easts most powerful countries. In 1979 the shah was overthrown during a revolution that put the conservative

Islamic cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1900 1989) into power. The United States was caught off guard by the revolution and did not evacuate the U.S. embassy in Iran. Shortly thereafter, dozens of Americans were captured by Iranian militants and held hostage for more than a yearan incident that further damaged U.S.-Iranian relations. Diplomatic relations between the two nations were severed, and both governments have vilified (spread negative information about) one another ever since. During the 1980s the United States provided support to another dictatorship, that of Saddam Hussein (19372006) in Iraq, in part because it saw Iraq as a useful ally against Iran.

U.S. Wars with Iraq

In 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait, its tiny neighbor to the south, over a border dispute. The UN condemned the action and implemented sanctions against Iraq. In 1991 a U.S.-led coalition of military forces liberated Kuwait from Iraqi forces in only six weeks of fighting.

Saudi Arabia was a member of the coalition that opposed Iraq and worked closely with the United States during the war. This relationship was to have many consequences. Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Muhammad(c. 570632) and contains many sites considered sacred by Muslims. The Saudi rulers allowed U.S. troops to set up bases within the kingdom during the war, greatly angering some Muslims. The U.S.-Saudi collaboration became an issue of contention for Islamic radicals and Islamists. In his 1998 fatwa against the United States, bin Laden pointed to the collaboration as proof that the Saudi regime was non-Islamic and illegitimate. The United States maintained military bases in Saudi Arabia for more than a decade after the war ended.

In 2003 the United States invaded Iraq again as part of its War on Terror. The U.S. intelligence community claimed that Iraq had collaborated with al Qaeda and was amassing weapons of mass destruction, but these claims would later prove false. The U.S. military operation in Iraq enjoyed initial successes, with Hussein ousted from power and a more democratic government installed. A strong insurgency manifested, however, driven by Hussein supporters and militant elements opposed to the occupation, and eventually the violence grew into a deadly civil struggle between Iraqi factions divided by religious and political differences. (See Chapter 4.) The United States involvement in Iraq deepened anti-American sentiments.


Palestinian resistance groups have been responsible for many acts of terrorism since the founding of Israel in 1948. Until the 1960s these acts were largely restricted to areas within Israel and the Palestinian territories. The emergence of the Palestine Liberation Organization and various splinter groups changed the dynamics of terrorism, giving it a more international reach. Airline hijackings became a vexing problem throughout the region. Palestinian militants also ventured frequently into Western Europe to carry out terrorist acts.

Except for diplomatic personnel, Americans were not usually the target of terrorist attacks before the 1980s. This changed dramatically after the 1982 invasion of Lebanon by Israel. Israeli forces withdrew in 1983 and were replaced by international forces that included U.S. troops. This precipitated a number of deadly attacks against Americans in Lebanon and other nations. Kidnappings of U.S. citizens in Lebanon also became common; however, most victims were eventually released unharmed. By the end of the decade airline hijackings around the world had largely been eliminated because of heightened airport security.

During the early 1990s international terrorists began striking on U.S. soil. In 1993 there were two such attacks: an ambush at CIA headquarters in Virginia by a lone gunman and a bombing at the World Trade Center in New York City. Within the next few years the al Qaeda terrorist network under bin Laden became a major force in international terrorism and began specifically targeting U.S. interests worldwide. On 9/11 members of this network hijacked and commandeered four American airliners. Three of the airplanes were purposely flown into buildings: the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and both towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. The fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania, after a struggle between the hijackers and the passengers. In total, nearly three thousand people were killed in the one-day attacks.

The United States responded by declaring a War on Terror. U.S. military forces subsequently invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. This precipitated many acts of terrorism against natives and U.S. civilians in these countries by militants. A hallmark of twenty-first-century terrorism has been suicide bombings, which were relatively uncommon before this time.

The Most Serious Terrorist Incidents

Various media sources, private organizations, and government agencies maintain lists of some of the thousands of terrorist acts that have occurred around the world over the past few decades. The DOS features a listing in Significant Terrorist Incidents, 19612003: A Brief Chronology (March 2004,http://wwwstategov/r/pa/ho/pubs/fs/5902htm). The following are only a few of the events mentioned by the DOS that have had major effects in terms of U.S. casualties or influence on U.S. foreign policy and public opinion:

  • Olympic Games, Munich, Germany (1972)Palestinian terrorists seized eleven Israeli athletes, nine of which were subsequently killed. West German authorities
  • launched a bungled rescue attempt as the terrorists attempted to leave the country with their hostages. The Black September group was blamed for this terrorist incident.
  • Air France Airliner, Entebbe, Uganda (1976)terrorists hijacked a plane containing 258 passengers and forced it to land in Entebbe. Israeli commandos infiltrated Uganda and rescued the hostages. The terrorists were members of the German right-wing organization Baader-Meinfhof and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
  • U.S. embassy, Tehran, Iran (197981)sixty-six American diplomatic personnel were held hostage in the embassy by militant Iranian students supported by the conservative Islamic government of Ayatollah Khomeini. All hostages were eventually released unharmed.
  • U.S. embassy, Beirut, Lebanon (1983)the Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for bombing the embassy. The attack killed 63 people and injured 120.
  • U.S. Marine Barracks, Beirut, Lebanon (1983) Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for a bombing that killed 242 Americans. Fifty-eight French troops were killed in a similar attack on a French military compound.
  • Restaurant, Torrejon, Spain (1984)Hezbollah claimed responsibility for a bomb that killed eighteen U.S. servicemen and injured eighty-three.
  • TWA Airliner (1985)Lebanese Hezbollah terrorists hijacked the flight and held it for seventeen days, forcing it to fly to and from various airports around the Middle East. The terrorists killed an American hostage, a sailor in the U.S. Navy.
  • Achille Lauro Cruise Liner (1985)terrorists with the Palestine Liberation Front seized the cruise liner on the Mediterranean Sea with more than seven hundred hostages aboard. An American passenger in a wheel-chair was thrown overboard.
  • Discotheque, Berlin, Germany (1986)Libyan terrorists bombed a nightclub popular with U.S. soldiers. Two solders were killed and seventy-nine were injured.
  • Pan Am Flight 103 (1988)Libyan terrorists placed a bomb on the plane that exploded in flight over Lock-erbie, Scotland. All 259 passengers and a number of people on the ground were killed.
  • World Trade Center (1993)a car bomb explosion in the underground garage killed six people and injured approximately one thousand. U.S. authorities blamed the followers of an Egyptian cleric living in the United States: Omar Abdel-Rahman (1938).
  • Khobar Towers, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia (1996)several terrorist groups claimed responsibility for bombing a housing facility for U.S. troops. Nineteen U.S. military personnel were killed and 515 were wounded.
  • U.S. embassies, Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (1998)bombs exploded nearly simultaneously at the embassies, killing 301 people and injuring thousands. The terrorist group al Qaeda, led by bin Laden, was blamed for the attacks.
  • USS Cole, Aden, Yemen (2000)a small explosives-laden boat rammed the U.S. destroyer and killed seventeen American personnel and wounded thirty-nine. Members of al Qaeda were blamed for the incident.
  • World Trade Center, New York City, and Pentagon, Washington, D.C. (2001)three hijacked planes piloted by terrorists were flown into these buildings, killing nearly three thousand people, primarily Americans. A fourth plane crashed before reaching its target, and all aboard were killed. Members of al Qaeda were blamed for the attacks.
  • Nightclubs in Bali, Indonesia (2002)an FTO linked to al Qaeda conducted bombings that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists.

Two more recent terrorist events are also notable:

  • Trains in Madrid, Spain (2004)the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, an FTO linked to al Qaeda, bombed several commuter trains during morning rush hour. Nearly two hundred people were killed and hundreds more injured.
  • Subway and bus in London, England (2005)suicide bombers struck the mass transit system in different locations during morning rush hour. More than fifty people were killed and hundreds injured. According to Report of the Official Account of the Bombings in London on 7th July 2005 (May 11, 2006, by the British government, the bombings were carried out by four young Muslim men with extremist views. The primary motivation was believed to be perceived injustices carried out by the West against Muslims.

THWARTED ATTEMPTS. Besides the completed terrorist acts described here, there have been several notable unsuccessful attempts since the 1990s in which the terrorists were thwarted by law enforcement or otherwise failed to complete their missions. In Convicted Bomb Conspirator Linked to Plots (September 20, 2001, index.html), Phil Hirschkorn reports that in 1994 a terrorist cell in the Philippines led by the Pakistani Ramsi Yousef (1968) was preparing to bomb nearly a dozen airliners bound from Asia to the United States and to assassinate the pope. The plan was discovered when the bomb makers accidentally set their apartment on fire and fled the building. Police recovered a laptop computer

containing important evidence at the scene and captured one of Yousefs companions. Yousef was the mastermind behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (1964)a top al Qaeda figure believed to have overseen the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Both men were eventually captured by law enforcement.

According to the article Ahmed Ressam: The Would-Be Millennium Bomber (CBC News, July 27, 2005), in December 1999 Ahmed Ressam (1967) was caught trying to enter Port Angeles, Washington, near a Canadian border crossing, with a car full of explosives. Authorities believe the man was acting under al Qaeda orders to bomb targets during New Years Eve celebrations.

In December 2001 a Briton named Richard Reid (1973) was on a commercial airliner flying from Paris to Miami when he tried to set off explosives hidden in his shoes. He was thwarted and overpowered by people aboard the plane and turned over to authorities. Reid was dubbed by the media as the shoe bomber.

In Sorting through the Terror Plot (Newsday, August 13, 2006), Les Payne reports that in August 2006 British police captured two dozen suspects in England accused of planning to blow up as many as ten planes bound from Europe to the United States. The plot centered on the use of liquid explosives hidden in carry-on items, such as sports drinks.

9/11 Terrorist Attacks

For many Americans and people around the globe, the events of 9/11 were the most stunning terrorist attacks. In one day nineteen individuals managed to kill more than twenty-nine hundred people and completely destroy the World Trade Centera center of international commerce and symbol of U.S. economic power. In 2002 Congress and President George W. Bush (1946) created the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States to investigate all the circumstances relating to the terrorist attacks. For nearly two years the commission reviewed relevant documents and interviewed more than one thousand people as part of its investigation. In 2004 its findings were published in the 9/11 Commission Report.

The report uses data and information collected from a variety of sources to re-create the events leading up to and occurring on and after 9/11. On the morning of the attacks the nineteen terrorists boarded four separate commercial airliners bound from the East Coast to the West Coast. Less than an hour after takeoff of each plane, the hijackers overpowered the cockpit crews and assumed piloting control. Figure 3.4, Figure 3.5, Figure 3.6, and Figure 3.7 show the flight paths of each commandeered plane. American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. American Airlines

Flight 77 was flown into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after passengers stormed the cockpit. The hijackers target for that plane is believed to have been the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

The 9/11 Commission Report traces the plotting, execution, and aftermath of the attacks. Extensive interviews were conducted with intelligence and law enforcement

agencies to determine background information on the hijackers and their operation. Much of that information came from captured top al Qaeda figures, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. All the hijackers were from the Middle East; sixteen of them were Saudi nationals. According to the report, six of the men were lead operatives who represented the most intelligent and best trained of the team. Four of these men piloted the hijacked planes after having studied for months at American flight schools. The lead operatives lived in the United States for up to a year before the day of the attacks. Thirteen of the men were so-called muscle hijackers, who were selected to assist in overpowering the flight crew and passengers. They arrived in the United States only months before the attacks after undergoing extensive training at al Qaeda terrorist camps in Afghanistan.

All the terrorists were selected for the operation because of their willingness to martyr themselves for the Islamist cause espoused by bin Laden. However, the commission found that only a handful of people within al Qaeda knew the details and scope of the hijack plan before it was carried out.

Country Reports on Terrorism 2007

In April 2008 the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism published Country Reports on Terrorism 2007. The report includes statistics gathered by U.S. agencies on the number, location, and type of terrorist incidents committed around the world each year and the number of people killed, injured, or kidnapped during these incidents. Additional information includes detailed data on Americans affected by terrorist incidents.

According to the report, 14,499 terrorist attacks were reported in 2007, resulting in 22,685 deaths and injury to 44,310 people. Table 3.3 shows the fatalities by country for the fourteen countries that experienced the most deaths due to terrorism. Nearly 43% of all terrorist attacks6,212 attacksoccurred in Iraq and caused 13,600 fatalities. More than 1,120 terrorist attacks were reported in Afghanistan, a 16% increase compared to 2006. Terrorist attacks in Africa were up 96% compared to 2006 and were associated with political and social turmoil in and around Somalia, Niger, and Kenya.

More than half of all terrorism victims in 2007 were Muslims. Over twenty-four hundred children were injured or killed by acts of terrorism. In nearly two-thirds

TABLE 3.3 Deaths due to terrorism, by country, 2007
SOURCE: Chart 6. Deaths by Country in 2007, in 2007 Report on Terrorism, National Counterterrorism Center, April 30, 2008, (accessed August 2, 2008)
Sri Lanka241
Democratic Republic of the Congo178

(63%) of all terrorist attacks, the perpetrator was not identified. The remaining 36% of attacks were blamed on up to 130 FTOs. Suicide attacks, in which the perpetrator blew up him- or herself during the attack, increased by 50% in 2007 compared to 2006.

According to the report, only nineteen American civilians were killed as a result of terrorist incidents during 2007: seventeen in Iraq and two in Afghanistan.


Since 9/11 the possibility of new terrorist attacks on U.S. soil has been a source of concern for many Americans. The Gallup Organization conducts polls on a variety of topics related to national security. During several polls performed since early 2002, Gallup pollsters have asked Americans how much they personally worry about the possibility of future terrorist attacks in the United States. When this question was first asked in March 2002, nearly half (48.9%) of the people asked expressed a great deal of worry, whereas 26.4% expressed a fair amount of worry. (See Table 3.4.) Thus, a total of 75.3% of respondents were worried a fair amount or a great deal about the possibility of a future terrorist attack in the United States. Following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, this total increased to 78.9% (48.6% worried a great deal and 30.3% worried a fair amount). By March 2008 the total had decreased slightly to 73.1%, including 39.8% that worried a great deal and 33.3% that worried a fair amount about future terrorist attacks within the country.

Gallup polls reveal that Americans hold an increasingly pessimistic view about which side is winning the War on Terror. Around two-thirds of respondents told Gallup in early 2002 that the United States and its allies were winning the War on Terror. (See Figure 3.8.) This optimistic viewpoint followed the successful U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan. Optimism faded over the next year as U.S. forces were unable to capture bin Laden and faced stiff resistance from terrorist elements within Afghanistan. In March 2003 the U.S. successfully invaded Iraq and overthrew its government. Americans became hopeful again about U.S. progress against terrorism, as indicated by the second peak in Figure 3.8. In April 2003 Gallup found that nearly 65% of respondents thought the United States and its allies were winning the war. Since that time optimism has faded dramatically. Iraq became embroiled in civil war in the years following the invasion, and Iraqi insurgents (resistance fighters) inflicted demoralizing damage to U.S. and allied forces. Polls conducted from mid-2004 through mid-2007 indicated that more Americans thought that neither side was winning. In June 2007 a majority (51%) of those asked said that neither side was winning. Another 29% thought the United States and its allies were winning, and 20% said the terrorists were winning the war. (See Figure 3.9.)

DateA great dealA fair amountOnly a littleNot at allDon't knowRefused
SOURCE: Next, I'm Going to Read a List of Problems Facing the Country. For Each One, Please Tell Me If You Personally Worry about This Problem a Great Deal, a Fair Amount, Only a Little, or Not at All? First, How Much Do You Personally Worry aboutthe Possibility of Future Terrorist Attacks in the U.S.? in Create a Trend, 2008, The Gallup Organization, ConType =1&SearchTypeAll=terrorist (accessed August 2, 2008). Copyright © 2008 by The Gallup Organization. Reproduced by permission of The Gallup Organization.

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