Introduction to Global Terrorist Movements

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Introduction to Global Terrorist Movements

Global terrorist groups are a relatively new terrorist phenomenon, at least in terms of their structure and organization. Until the last decades of the twentieth century, actions of terrorist groups were localized and mostly confined to the regions where the disputes between peoples and ideologies inflamed passions. Separatist groups in particular sometimes traveled vast distances to strike at the heart of a colonial empire, although terrorist acts could usually be traced to a group or dispute most commonly associated with a particular geographic area.

As the world has drawn closer in terms of communication and ease of travel, ideas and disputes increasingly transcend old political or geographic boundaries. Not surprisingly, this same closeness has fostered the rise of terrorist groups capable of operating on a global scale.

Terrorist organizations have embraced many of the concepts of asymmetric warfare, particularly when planning operations against Western power forces. Because of the superpower status of the United States, terrorist groups utilize asymmetric warfare techniques to bolster hopes of achieving limited victories. For example, terrorist organizations seek to exploit the vulnerabilities of free and open societies, such as those in the United States and Europe. By attacking infrastructure and civilian populations, terrorist groups aim to cause political turmoil, dissent, and ultimately bring change to United States and European foreign policy without exposing themselves directly to the might of Western military forces.

The escalation of the range of terrorist groups, and their ability to draw on multiple sources of personnel and materials, however, raises real concern in the international community that the next evolution in global terrorism could involve the acquisition and use of weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons).

The interdependence and integration of the world's economies also make financial markets attractive targets for international terrorism. The selection of the World Trade Center Towers, as targets of international terrorism, demonstrated that global terrorists often seek to damage both physical and economic infrastructure.

Global terrorist groups often do not rely on the same structure and lines of command communication as localized terrorist cells. Small groups or cells of terrorists may be effectively isolated from each other so that counterterrorism measures that root out one cell may leave others intact and operational. Support for individual cells by a command structure may be tangible in terms of personnel, training, and money, such as the support given by al-Qaeda to the September 11th hijackers, or cells may be "home grown" or otherwise act independently of a global command structure. Such "copycat" cells, inspired rather than directed, are argued to have been responsible for bombings in Madrid and London.

Facets of organized crime, certainly not new phenomena, may also now be characterized as terrorist groups or terrorist cells. In particular, narcoterrorists and weapons smugglers have adopted terrorist tactics that range the globe as part of their efforts to sway political opinion, strike out at enemies, or extend power.

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Introduction to Global Terrorist Movements

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Introduction to Global Terrorist Movements