views updated May 23 2018


Terrorism is the preplanned use of force or violence against innocent civilians to make a statement about a cause and influence an audience. Terrorist action is staged for maximum surprise, shock, and destruction. Its goal is to so terrorize or alarm individuals, groups, or governments that they give into the demands of the terrorists.

Terrorists are individuals or groups who plan and carry out violent acts to achieve their goals. While victims see them as murderous criminals, terrorists see themselves as heroes for their cause. The U.S. intelligence community further defines terrorist groups as subnational, not a recognized government or official agency of any country, and as operating in secret. The actions of a country's military or police are not considered terrorist acts.

Global terrorism continually impacted nations in the twentieth century and into the early 2000s. Europe, the United States, the Middle East, South America, Asia, and African countries all experienced violent unexpected terror acts. This chapter describes the different types of terrorism, the techniques used to spread fear by injury, murder, or the destruction of property, and measures taken by the U.S. government to combat terror and protect American citizens.

Terrorists and terrorist groups differ widely in their behavior and goals. Terrorism can generally be placed into six main categories: nationalistic; religious; state-sponsored; political-social; environmental; and individual.

Nationalistic terrorism

Nationalistic terrorism is an outgrowth of an unwavering devotion and loyalty to a specific group that believes they have been suppressed, treated unfairly, or persecuted by the ruling majority of the country in which they live. Groups are defined by ethnicity (racial or cultural background), language, religion, or customs. Nationalist terrorism calls attention to the plight of the group. The goal is to eventually secure a separate independent homeland or country for the group. The following are examples of groups who engage in terrorism for nationalistic reasons.

Arabs living in the land known as Palestine from which the Jewish nation, Israel, was created in 1948 began nationalistic terrorist activities around 1970. The most active Arab Palestinian terrorist organizations in the early 2000s were HAMAS (Islamic Resistance Movement) and Hezbollah (Party of God). HAMAS cells (small units serving as part of or the center of a larger political movement) are based in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Israel. Hezbollah (also spelled Hizbollah) cells are based in Lebanon and worldwide. Other active Arab Palestinian groups include Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), Palestine Liberation Front (PLF), and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

Hoping to convince the Spanish government to create an independent Basque homeland, Basque terrorists of northern Spain carry out activities within Spain. The largest Basque terror group is Basque Fatherland and Liberty, or Euzkadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA). Because their goal is to separate the Basque people from Spain, ETA is also commonly referred to as the Basque Separatists.

Kashmir, an area between India and Pakistan, is populated by people of the Islamic faith. Those who follow the religion of Islam are called Muslims. The predominant religion of India is Hinduism although many Muslims also live there. India has no official religion. Pakistan's population is Muslim, and Islam is its official religion. Both Pakistan and India have long clashed over the control of Kashmir. The people of Kashmir, however, want to be an independent Islamic state.

Major Islamic terrorist groups fighting to create that independent state are Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LT), meaning "Army of the Pure," Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM), and Harakat ul-Mujahideen (HUM). Although the terrorists of Kashmir are predominately thought of as nationalistic terrorists, their struggle is an example of a nationalistic cause interlocked with a religious struggle.

The Irish Catholic population of Northern Ireland, ruled by Britain, wants independence from Britain and to be part of the Republic of Ireland. The Protestant population of Northern Ireland resists the movement away from Britain. The major nationalistic terrorist group in 2004 working for separation from England is the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA). Again, the RIRA's nationalist struggle has religious overtones.

Religious Terrorism

Religious beliefs and the willingness of people to die for these beliefs rather than compromise have led to wars fought in the name of religion for centuries. Modern day devotion to religion follows the same pattern. Many believers are intensely committed to their specific religion. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Islamic religious terrorism is the most serious form of all terrorism worldwide.

Radical Muslims call for a pan-Islamic Caliphate, which is an ancient government system based entirely on Sharia, Islamic law, and led by one individual, a Prince of Believers. Pan simply means to be located everywhere, throughout the world. The enemy is any Islamic government that does not strictly adhere to the Sharia and all unbelievers—Christians, Jews, and other non-Muslims. The term Christian and non-Muslim describe the majority of the people of the Western world, including western Europeans and the United States. According to Islamic radicals, God wants them to kill the "unbelievers."

The most infamous Islamic terrorist group is Al Qaeda. Its leader, Osama bin Laden, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in February 1998 calling for a worldwide Islamic jihad (holy war) to kill Christians and Jews. Bin Laden's key targets appear to be U.S. citizens and U.S. property. He is infuriated by the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia and by the influence of Western culture on Islamic nations. The United States is also Israel's strongest supporter, an enemy of bin Laden and his followers who favor the Palestinians.

Al Qaeda, formerly based in Afghanistan until U.S. military forces disrupted their stronghold there in late 2001, has loosely affiliated but independent cells operating in Europe, East Africa, the Middle East, Southeast and Central Asia, and North America. They are financed by bin Laden's inheritance from his wealthy Saudi Arabian family (once estimated by U.S. officials to be between $250 and $300 million), by Islamic charities that funnel donations to Islamic terrorists groups, and by legal and illegal businesses.

Al Qaeda is responsible for the destruction of Khobar Towers residence in Saudi Arabia (1996), the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania (1998), the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen (2000), the Bali Indonesia nightclub bombing (2002), and the September 11, 2001, (9/11) attacks on New York City's World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

Since 9/11 the U.S.-led war on terrorism has resulted in over three thousand Al Qaeda terrorists arrested or killed. Bin Laden, however, had not been captured as of the summer of 2004. Al Qaeda cells remain active and are difficult to detect since they operate independently giving few clues of impending attacks.

Many Islamic groups adhere to the same beliefs as Al Qaeda but there are other modern non-Islamic religious terrorist groups. The Japan-based Aum Shinrikyo is a mixture of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity, and believes its leader to be the "enlightened one." They believe the world will soon come to an end and only their members will go to paradise. Aum Shinrikyo was responsible for the sarin poisonous gas attacks in a Tokyo subway in 1995.

In the United States a militia group known as the Christian Patriots is armed and carefully watched by the FBI. Some believe it was linked to the Oklahoma City bombing on a government building in 1995.

State-sponsored terrorism

Two forms of state-sponsored terrorism exist at the beginning of the twenty-first century: governments that carry out terrorism acts against their own citizens, and government support of groups who carry out terrorism against other governments. Amnesty International, a human rights overseer organization based in London, estimates that about one hundred countries use terrorist activities against their own citizens. These activities include jailing and torturing dissidents (persons with opposing political views to those in power or the government), and sponsoring death squads who seek out, kidnap, and murder dissidents. Countries known to terrorize their own citizens are Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Guatemala, Honduras, and the Sudan. Iraq, when under the leadership of Saddam Hussein, was notorious for such terror tactics.

Genocide, attempting to kill a whole minority population within a country, is the extreme form of state-sponsored terrorism. In addition to the extermination of Jews by Germany in World War II (1939–45; war in which Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, the United States, and their allied forces defeated Germany, Italy, and Japan), genocides have taken place in the Southeastern Asian nation of Cambodia, Rwanda in Africa, and Bosnia (part of the former Yugoslavia).

According to the U.S. State Department's official list, the second form of state-sponsored terrorism was practiced in 2003 by Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. For example, Iran has long supported HAMAS and Hezbollah, Arab Palestinian groups who have carried out terrorist attacks on Israel. The Sudan has allowed terrorist group members to hide within its country.

The most famous terrorist to spend time in the Sudan was Al Qaeda's Osama bin Laden following his expulsion from his native Saudi Arabia for activities against his own government. Terrorist leaders are also allowed to live within Cuba by its longtime leader Fidel Castro (1926–). Following the U.S.–Iraq war of 2003–04, Iraq will presumably be coming off the state-sponsored terrorism list.

Political-social terrorism

Terrorist acts have long been used to call attention to political and social causes. Political terrorists attempt to make their views known by violent actions in an effort to influence others. Terrorists with social causes seek to change a specific policy or behavior. Social terrorists attempt to force their beliefs on the general population.

One of the most violent American political terrorist organizations of the second half of the twentieth century was the Weather Underground, active between 1969 and 1975. The Weather Underground, whose members were called Weathermen, split off from a larger organization called Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).

The SDS, made up of mostly college students, first formed in 1960 to help with the nonviolent Civil Rights movement of black Americans in the United States. As more and more young people were sent off to fight in the unpopular Vietnam War (1954–75; a controversial war in which the United States aided South Vietnam in its fight against a takeover by Communist North Vietnam) in the 1960s, SDS became active in protests hoping to halt the war. SDS was considered part of the "New Left," or liberal, element of the American political scene that strongly supported civil rights and peaceful solutions to conflict.

Some SDS members believed their actions were making no difference as the United States continued to escalate the war. A small group formed the Weathermen and declared a "State of War" on the U.S. government. They were responsible for about twenty-four bombings, including those at the New York City police headquarters (1970), a U.S. army base and courthouse in San Francisco (1970), and a New York City Bank of America and courthouse (1970). They planted bombs in the U.S. Capitol (1971) and inside the Pentagon (1972). As the Vietnam War wound down in the mid-1970s, the Weathermen who had escaped arrest went into hiding and the Weather Underground dissolved.

On the other side of the political spectrum are groups on the far right, known as ultraconservatives. They too oppose the U.S. government but for different reasons. Called the "militia movement," they began to form in the early 1970s and remain active into the 2000s. Members generally hate the U.S. government believing it is too big and powerful. They oppose taxes and arm themselves against the perceived risk that the U.S. government will take away their possessions.

Another major element of their philosophy is white supremacy, which insists those of white or Caucasian background are superior to minorities such as Jews, black Americans, and more recently homosexuals. The Aryan Nation, Posse Comitatus, and Christian Patriots are examples of heavily armed groups capable of terrorist activities in the American homeland. These groups tend to be located in the Midwest and western states.

The worst terrorist action carried out in the United States prior to 9/11 was the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. McVeigh, although not a member of a militia group, strongly agreed with their beliefs and was considered a political terrorist. McVeigh was convicted on eleven counts of murder, conspiracy, and using a weapon of mass destruction. He was later sentenced to death and executed in June 2001. Nichols was convicted first in federal court, then again in state court but was spared the death penalty in 2004. He received life in prison for his role in the bombing.

An ongoing example of a social terrorist group in the United States is the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). First formed in 1866, the KKK remains active in the early 2000s. The KKK is a white supremacy group associated with brutal activities against black Americans for almost 150 years. The Klan also expresses hatred of Jews and Catholics. The KKK's most recent major period of activity occurred against black Americans during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

The most radical and violent social terrorism to occur in the United States from the 1970s into the 2000s involves antiabortion or "Pro-Life" activists. Abortion is the ending of a pregnancy by a medical procedure. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1973 case Roe v. Wade that any woman could choose to end a pregnancy by abortion performed by medical doctors at abortion clinics.

This ruling sparked intense debate over when a fetus (unborn child) becomes a child able to sustain life outside the mother's body, thus having the right to live. Abortion is considered the murder of an unborn child by many Americans. Pro-Life terrorist groups have used bombs, arson, and murder to target abortion clinics and their personnel. Starting in the early 1980s, abortion clinics and staff were the targets of about two thousand violent actions in a twenty-year period. In the 1990s at least eight people—doctors, receptionists, a guard, and a policeman—were killed in abortion terrorist actions.

Environmental terrorism

Environmental terrorism is commonly referred to as "ecoterrorism," a combination of the terms ecology and terrorism. An environmental protection movement began in the 1970s when Congress passed a number of environmental protection laws (see chapter 9, Environmental Crime). By 1980 some environmentalists believed little progress was being made to halt developers and industries destroying wilderness areas for profit.

Some environmentalists decided to take action and used ideas from two books, The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975) by Edward Abbey, a former forest ranger, and Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching (1985) by Dave Foreman. These books discussed environmental protection "techniques" such as driving large stakes into trees scheduled for logging (which can destroy logging equipment) or setting fire to construction equipment and property. These techniques became environmental terrorist tools.

Foreman founded the terrorist group Earth First! in 1979. Its members successfully used the tree stake method, which does not hurt the trees, in California and the Pacific Northwest to slow logging. Earth First! members also set fires and cut livestock fences in protest of overgrazed grassland. Another ecoterrorist group, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), formed in the late 1990s when Earth First! began backing away from violent activities. The FBI considers ELF one of the major terrorist groups within the United States.

ELF's terror act of choice is setting fires. Claiming a Vail, Colorado, ski resort negatively impacted the habitat of the lynx (a type of wild cat), ELF set fire to a portion of the resort on October 18, 1998, resulting in $12 million damage. In the 2000s ELF was responsible for burning sport utility vehicles (SUVs) on car lots as well as mansions under construction in Southern California.

The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) carries out terrorist activities directed at university research centers that use animals in experiments. They also target industries that they believe harm animals. Examples of businesses hit by ALF are mink breeders, trapping supply companies, and biological supply companies that provide dead animals for research and biology classes.

The FBI reported that environmental and animal rights terrorists groups committed fifty-nine criminal acts in the United States in 2003. It also reported that ELF openly claimed that it caused about $55 million in damages to industries in 2003.

Individual terrorism

Occasionally individuals acting on their own undertake terrorist activities. Their goal may be tied to causes of other terrorist groups even though they do not belong to the group. Although generally considered a political terrorist, some put Timothy McVeigh in this category. Another example of an individual terrorist in the United States is Theodore "Ted" Kaczynski (1942–), known as the "Unabomber."

Between 1978 and 1995 Kaczynski sent sixteen bombs through the mail. They went mostly to science professors and businessmen dealing in computers. Kaczynski believed modern technology, especially computers, were ruining the world. In all, three people were killed and twenty-nine injured. On a tip from his brother, the FBI arrested Kaczynski in April 1996 at the tiny cabin in Montana where he had lived since 1979. In January 1998, Kaczynski pled guilty to being the Unabomber and was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences in prison.

Terrorist tools

Always unexpected, terrorist attacks are meant to instill fear. Since such acts usually attract media attention, details of an attack can reach millions, which is exactly what the terrorists desire. Actions used by terrorists in the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century included kidnapping and assassination, bombings, and airline hijackings. The U.S. government treats all of the actions as criminal activities.

Kidnapping and assassination

Kidnappings and assassinations have always been tools for terrorist groups. Historically, the assassination of a country's leader has been a way to gain maximum notoriety and attention. Assassination of a country's leader, however, rarely brings about the kinds of change terrorists seek. Someone else takes over in the government, and problems carry on.

In the 1970s and 1980s terrorists turned to the kidnapping and assassination of diplomats or government officials. U.S. diplomats were kidnapped and assassinated in Guatemala (1968), Brazil (1969), Uruguay (1970), Sudan (1972), Cyprus (1974), Afghanistan (1979), and Lebanon (1984). By the end of the 1980s and into the 1990s U.S. victims abroad were more likely to be military personnel, agency workers, business executives, and missionaries than diplomats.

On January 23, 2002, protesting Pakistan's cooperation with the United States, terrorists kidnapped and later killed Daniel Pearl (1963–2002), a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. In February, Pakistani officials received a videotape of Pearl's murder. Four suspects in the murder, including Saeed Sheikh, were apprehended and tried. Sheikh had belonged to Jaish-e-Muhammad, a Kashmir separatist group. Sheikh was sentenced to death and the others received life imprisonment.

Another form of kidnapping and assassination involves taking hostages. One of the most infamous hostage dramas occurred in Iran on November 4, 1979. Iranian terrorists seized sixty-six American hostages from the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Thirteen were released quickly but fifty-three were held until January 20, 1981. The hostages were taken in protest of the United States admitting the former shah of Iran into the United States for medical treatment.

Another famous hostage incident occurred on October 7, 1985, aboard an Italian cruise ship, the Achille Lauro, in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Four Palestinian Liberation Front terrorists took more than seven hundred passengers hostage and killed one wheelchair-bound U.S. tourist before the Egyptian government negotiated the release of the passengers.


Many types of bombing incidents have been used by terrorist groups during the second half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. Every year bombing incidents account for the most lives lost and property destroyed at the hands of terrorists. Types of bombings include planting bombs in structures such as embassies, government office buildings, and hotels. Cars and trucks with bombs planted inside are frequently used to kill and destroy property. Beginning in the 1990s, suicide bombings—individuals with bombs strapped to their bodies—became common in the Middle East.

The following are examples of major structural bombings impacting the United States. On April 15, 1983, members of Islamic Jihad terrorist organization drove a truck holding a 440-pound bomb into the U.S. embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. The suicide truck bombing killed 63 people, including the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's director of Middle East operations, and injured 120. Another Islamic Jihad attack in Beirut came on October 23, 1983, when a suicide truck bomber armed with a 12,000-pound bomb blew up a marine barracks within a U.S. compound. The attack killed 242 Americans.

A car bomb planted by Islamic terrorists detonated in the underground parking garage of the World Trade Center in New York City on February 26, 1993. Six people were killed and one thousand injured. The deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil, up to that point, occurred in April 1995 when extremists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols blew up the U.S. federal building in Oklahoma City. The attack killed 166, many of them young children at a daycare center, and injured hundreds more.

On June 25, 1996, a bomb-rigged fuel truck exploded at the Khobar Towers housing facility in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 U.S. service personnel and injuring 515 others, including 240 U.S. citizens. Several Islamic terrorists groups claimed responsibility.

Two bombings of U.S. embassies took place at approximately the same time on August 7, 1998, in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. In Nairobi, 291 people including 12 U.S. citizens were killed and over 5,000 were injured. In Dar es Salaam, eighty-seven people including one U.S. citizen were killed. Both U.S. embassies were severely damaged. Osama bin Laden's Islamic terror organization, Al Qaeda, was responsible.

A new twist on bombing occurred on October 12, 2000, when a small boat full of explosives ran into the USS Cole docked in Aden, Yemen. Seventeen sailors were killed and thirty-nine injured. Al Qaeda was also responsible for the USS Cole bombing.

Suicide bombings. Reports of suicide bombings began about 1996 and were frequent in the early 2000s. At first they were a specialty terrorist action of the Arab-Palestinian terror group HAMAS. By 2002 in addition to HAMAS, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad all regularly claimed responsibility for suicide bombings in Israel. Killing themselves and those around them, suicide bombers strap bombs to their bodies and detonate them in crowded shopping areas, cafés, or on buses.

Chemical and Biological Terrorism

In 2004 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) listed chemical and biological agents that could potentially be used to harm whoever comes into contact with them. The CDC has an emergency preparedness and response plan in place so it can coordinate effective actions to counter a chemical or biological attack.

Chemical agents

Two chemicals associated with terrorist activity that were in the news worldwide in the late 1990s and early 2000s were sarin and ricin. Sarin is a manmade chemical warfare agent that acts rapidly against the nervous system, making breathing difficult or impossible. Sarin is a clear, colorless, tasteless liquid that does not smell and tiny amounts are deadly. It can be evaporated to a poisonous gas that will spread rapidly when released. Sarin nerve gas was used in a Tokyo, Japan, subway station on March 20, 1995, killing 12 people and injuring 5,700. Japanese terrorist group Aum Shinrikyo claimed responsibility.

Ricin is a natural poison found in castor beans. Ricin can be used in a variety of ways to harm people. It can be breathed as a mist or powder, be swallowed when placed in water or food, and can be injected in liquid form into a person's body. Tiny amounts of ricin can kill an adult. On October 15, 2003, an envelope with a sealed container and a note was found at a Greenville, South Carolina, mail processing and distribution facility.

The author of the note threatened to contaminate water supplies if his or her demands were not met. The CDC confirmed the container held ricin. No ricin-associated poisoning cases developed and no further environmental contamination was found. The FBI and local law enforcement officials were investigating to find the source of the ricin.

Biological agents

By the early twenty-first century governments feared that terrorist groups would find a way to obtain deadly biological agents. Three biological agents of concern are anthrax (a disease caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis), smallpox (a viral disease), and botulism (a deadly poison made by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum).

Very small amounts of anthrax can be spread in the air and produce upper respiratory problems and even death if inhaled. Inhaled anthrax is the deadliest form of the disease. For example, the U.S. Congress estimates that if two hundred pounds of anthrax was sprayed over Washington, D.C., up to three million people could die.

In October and November 2001 anthrax was used in terrorist activities. Following two deaths in October in Florida, anthrax was sent though the mail to a New York network news journalist and to the Washington, D.C., office of Senate majority leader Tom Daschle. The U.S. Senate building where Daschle's office was located was closed for weeks. Post office machinery used to sort mail was also contaminated. Post offices were closed for inspection and cleaning.

In all, twenty-three people fell ill and five died, including postal workers and individuals whose mail had been contaminated. As of the summer of 2004, the individual or group responsible for the anthrax deaths had not been apprehended.

Arab-Palestinian youngsters are taught from an early age that dying for the cause of eliminating Israelis from Palestine is an honorable action. Suicide bombers are generally young adults, either male or female. By carrying out a suicide bombing the terrorists believe they become martyrs, a person who suffers death for a cause and is rewarded in heaven or paradise.

By the middle of 2004, the United States had not experienced any suicide bombings by an individual terrorist. The 9/11 attacks, however, involved nineteen suicide bombers who boarded and hijacked four U.S. commercial airplanes and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the Pennsylvania countryside.

Terrorist activities involving airlines

Using various approaches, terrorists have commandeered commercial airplanes full of passengers. The earliest form of terrorist use was to merely hijack (to take control of by using force, especially in order to reach a different destination) an airline and have it fly to a country the hijacker wanted to go. Individuals desiring to go to Cuba from the United States were responsible for a number of these hijackings in the 1960s. At the time, there were no regular airline flights between the United States and Cuba. The first U.S. aircraft hijacked was on May 1, 1961, when Antuilo Ramirez Ortiz, a Puerto Rican, forced pilots at gunpoint to fly to Havana, Cuba. As with subsequent hijackings, hijackers would leave the plane once in Cuba and the airliner would return to the United States without injury to passengers.

By the middle and late 1980s, several dramatic terrorist attacks involved blowing up loaded airliners. Kashmiri were blamed for the 1985 destruction of an Air India Boeing 747 over the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 329 people on board. In December 1988 Pan American Airlines Flight 103 blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 on board and 11 people on the ground. In 1991 two intelligence agents from Libya were charged with the act (one was later found guilty and sentenced to life in prison while the other was found not guilty). Yet another bombing by Libyans in September 1989 killed all 170 on board UTA Flight 772 over the Sahara Desert.

The most deadly air hijacking involved the nineteen Al Qaeda terrorists who hijacked four U.S. airliners on September 11, 2001. They then used the fully-fueled airplanes as bombs when two were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and one into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The fourth crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers fought the hijackers. The fourth plane was on course for Washington, D.C. A total of 3,047 people died in the attacks—2,823 at the World Trade Center including law enforcement officers and firemen responding to the attack, 184 at the Pentagon, and 40 aboard the airliner that went down in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

The attack led President George W. Bush (1946–; served 2001–) to declare a "War on Terror." He first ordered attacks on Afghanistan where Al Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden were headquartered. They were supported and hidden by Afghanistan's Taliban government. The Taliban government fell within weeks but bin Laden was not captured. He was still at large in 2004. President Bush next sent American troops into Iraq in March 2003 to remove Saddam Hussein (1937–) from power and stop Iraq's support of terrorist groups.

Countering terrorism

The term "counterterrorism" as used by government law enforcement agencies means to fight and stop terrorism. Countering terrorism in the United States post-9/11 falls to many government agencies that must coordinate their efforts and intelligence information, much like putting together the pieces of a large jigsaw puzzle. To oversee homeland security coordination President Bush established the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in October 2001. The president directed DHS to produce the first National Strategy for Homeland Security, which was finished and presented in July 2002. It serves as an overall policy statement for the U.S. government's counterterrorism efforts.

The DHS has the tremendous responsibility of ensuring that the U.S. government's protection and response policies for future terrorist activities are coordinated and effective. In the early 2000s more than one hundred different government organizations had various responsibilities for homeland security and reported to the DHS. The names of only a few of those agencies are the FBI Counter-Intelligence Division, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the National Security Council, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and the intelligence departments of the Department of Energy, Department of Transportation, army, navy, air force, and marines. In addition, states and local law enforcement agencies have special counterterrorism units that work together with federal agents to identify and neutralize ongoing national security threats.

Terrorist Threat Integration Center

On May 1, 2003, the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC) began operation in northern Virginia. The entire national counterterrorism divisions of the FBI and CIA relocated to the single facility. FBI and CIA agents and analysts from every major agency in the U.S. intelligence community work side by side, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week analyzing intelligence data. These analysts receive a steady stream of intelligence data gathered in states and cities across the nation and from worldwide sources.

The FBI maintains fifty-six field offices and many smaller offices across the nation. In 2004 sixty-six of these offices had Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs). JTTFs are teams of FBI special agents and state and local law enforcement officers who work together to investigate potential terrorist activity. Local law agencies are considered the "eyes and ears" of intelligence gathering. All leads are funneled immediately to the TTIC for analysis.

The TTIC also receives and sends out continuous information to U.S. intelligence offices worldwide. For example, the FBI maintains forty-five Legal Attaché, or "Legat," offices and four sub-Legat offices around the world. FBI special agents, experts in the foreign country to which they are assigned, help prevent terrorism across international borders that might impact the U.S. homeland.

After one year of operation the TTIC reported in 2004 that another prime source of intelligence information came from questioning captured terrorists. The TTIC gives direction to those sessions and analyzes the information gained. Everyday the TTIC analyzes five to six thousand pieces of information and produces a daily report for the CIA and FBI directors, the president, and senior policymakers. TTIC also sends daily analysis reports to the 2,600 specialists in every major federal agency responsible for counterterrorism activities.

Terrorism lists

In fall of 2001 following the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government established four lists of terrorists and terrorist-related groups. The goal of the lists is to prevent terrorism and halt support of terrorists. The lists are: (1) State Sponsors of Terrorism; (2) Executive Order 13224—Terrorist Financing; (3) Terrorist Exclusion List (TEL) within the USA Patriot Act; and, (4) Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs).

The State Sponsors of Terrorism list includes any government that consistently supports groups who carry out international terrorism. Restrictions are placed on these countries for as long as they remain on the list. Restrictions can include a ban on sales of arms to the listed countries, no U.S. economic assistance, and trade restrictions. In 2003 seven countries were on the list: Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria.

Executive Order 13224 issued on September 23, 2001, enables the U.S. government to block any assets (money) held in any U.S. financial institution that supports designated terrorist groups. Tens of millions of dollars headed for terrorist support have been blocked by the United States and other countries worldwide. The complete Executive Order 13224 list can be found on the U.S. Treasury Web site.

The Terrorist Exclusion List was created within the USA Patriot Act. President Bush signed the Patriot Act, or Public Law 107-56, into law on October 26, 2001. The Patriot Act is the first comprehensive counterterrorism bill since the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. The TEL lists organizations known to provide material assistance (money or supplies) to or solicit funds for the Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) identified by the U.S. State Department.

The secretary of state compiles a FTO list each year. The FTO list has existed since 1997 but took on a new sense of urgency since the 9/11 attacks. The FTO list provides legal authority for the U.S. government to prosecute U.S. citizens or foreign persons within the United States who financially, materially, or physically aid any FTO. The U.S. government may freeze any FTO assets in U.S. financial institutions, and it may deny entry into the United States to any member of a FTO.

The May 2004 FTO list included thirty-six terrorist organizations and forty-one organizations under Other Terrorist Groups. Those under Other Terrorist Groups are assumed to be less active in terrorist activities than the thirty-six FTOs. The FTOs, including their base country of operation and type of terrorist group, were:

  • Abu Nidal Organization (ANO)—Iraq, religious
  • Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)—Philippines, nationalistic
  • Al Qaeda (The Base)—cells worldwide, formerly
  • Afghanistan until fall 2001, religious
  • Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade—West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Israel, nationalistic
  • Al-Jihad (Egyptian Islamic Jihad)—originally Egypt, religious
  • Ansar al-Islam—northern Iraq near Iran border, religious
  • Armed Islamic Group (GIA)—Algeria, religious
  • Asbat al-Ansar—Lebanon, religious
  • Aum Shinrikyo—Japan and Russia, religious
  • Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA), Northern Spain and southwest France, nationalistic
  • Communist Party of Philippines/New People's Army (CPP/NPA)—Philippines, political
  • Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group)—Egypt, religious
  • HAMAS (Islamic Resistance Movement)—West Bank, Gaza Strip, Israel, nationalistic
  • Harakat ul-Mujahidin (HUM)—Pakistan, nationalistic
  • Hezbollah (Party of God)—Lebanon and cells worldwide, religious
  • Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)—South Asia, Iran, Tajikistan, religious
  • Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM)—Pakistan, nationalistic Jemaah Islamiah (JI)—Southeast Asia, religious
  • Kahane Chai (Kach)—West Bank, Israel (Jewish group), religious
  • Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LT)—Pakistan-Kashmir, nationalistic
  • Lashkar I Jhangvi (LJ)—Pakistan, religious
  • Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE)—Sri Lanka, nationalistic
  • Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK or MKO)—Iraq near Iran, political
  • National Liberation Army (ELN-Columbia)—Columbia, Venezuela, political
  • Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—West Bank, Gaza Strip, Israel, nationalistic and religious
  • Palestine Liberation Front (PLF)—Iran, Lebanon, West Bank, nationalistic
  • Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)—Syria, West Bank, Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Israel, nationalistic
  • Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC)—Syria, nationalistic
  • Real IRA (RIRA)—Northern Ireland, United Kingdom, Irish Republic, nationalistic
  • Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC)—Colombia, political
  • Revolutionary Nuclei—Athens, Greece, political
  • Revolutionary Organization 17 November (17 November)—Athens, Greece, political
  • Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (RPLP/F)—Turkey, political
  • Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC)—Algeria, religious
  • Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path or SL)—Peru, political
  • United Self-Defense Forces/Group of Columbia (AUC)—Columbia, political and economic

(Note: many groups have elements of several types of terrorism such as religious, nationalistic, and political.)

For a complete up-to-date FTO list and more information about each terrorist group, go to the U.S. State Department Web site at http://www.state.gov or Center for Defense Information (CDI) Web site at http://www.cdi.org/terrorism/terrorist.cfm.

For More Information


McGeary, Johanna. "Who's the Enemy Now?" Time, March 29, 2004.

Web Sites

Center for Defense Information (CDI).http://www.cdi.org (accessed on August 19, 2004).

Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control.http://www.cdc.gov (accessed on August 19, 2004).

"Significant Terrorist Incidents, 1961–2003: A Brief Chronology." U.S. Department of State.http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ho/pubs/fs/5902.htm (accessed on August 19, 2004).

"Terrorism." Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).http://www.fbi.gov/terrorinfo/terrorism.htm (accessed on August 19, 2004).

U.S. Department of Homeland Security.http://www.dhs.gov (accessed on August 19, 2004).

U.S. Department of the Treasury.http://www.ustreas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/sanctions/terrorism.html (accessed on September 1, 2004).


views updated May 21 2018



Terrorism has a well established placed in modern European history. Although scholars argue over the precise definition of terrorism, most agree that it involves the use of violence to spread fear and so compel individuals, groups, or a government to behave in a certain way. Terrorism targets not only those whom it kills and maims but also those who observe the mayhem as well. While states have historically been the main and the most extensive employers of terror, primarily to keep their own people in line, the termterrorism has generally been reserved for nonstate actors. The very illegitimacy of the perpetrators shapes the popular perception of terrorism, as does the targeting of innocent civilians. Although terrorists do not care whom they kill, their choice of targets is far from random. Terrorists deliberately choose highly symbolic targets to achieve the maximum psychological effect when they strike.


On 11 March 2004 Spain suffered the worst terrorist attack in European history since the 1972 Munich Olympics. During morning rush hour 10 bombs exploded on 4 commuter trains killing 177, mortally wounding 13, and leaving nearly 1,500 injured. The perpetrators had not been suicide bombers. Instead they had placed back packs filled with explosives on the trains, disembarked, and detonated the bombs using cell phones.

No one doubted that the explosions had been carried out by terrorists, but two groups immediately emerged as suspects. Prime Minister JoséMaria Aznar quickly blamed Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque Homeland and Freedom), known to the rest of the world by its initials, ETA. Other than the explosives used in the bombs, however, nothing about the attacks bore the signature of the Basque separatist group that had plagued Spain for decades. ETA espoused Marxism and so would be unlikely to attack trains packed with working-class Spaniards. Like most insurgent groups, ETA avoided inflicting mass casualties. ETA had also declared a truce.

These factors and evidence that later emerged led experts to conclude that the attacks had been perpetrated by an Al Qaeda affiliate. Al Qaeda specia lized in multiple, near-simultaneous attacks designed to produce mass casualties. Because of its contribu tion to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, Spain became a legitimate target and its proximity to Morocco made it a tempting one. An attack launched on the eve of a Spanish election also fit Al Qaeda's preference for striking on symbolic dates.

Any doubt as to the affiliation of the terrorists disappeared on 3 April when Spanish security forces raided a Madrid apartment building. Faced with cer tain capture the five Moroccans, one Tunisian, and one Algerian in the apartment detonated their remaining explosives, killing themselves along with a Spanish policeman. In the rubble of the building, the authorities found a video in which three men issued an ultimatum to the Spanish government demanding its withdrawal from Iraq. Ironically, the newly elected socialist government, swept into power by anger over Aznar's handling of the Madrid bombings, announced its decision to with draw Spanish troops from the coalition. Al Qaeda then issued a statement proclaiming that Spain would no longer be attacked. The United States in turn criticized the Spanish government for "knuck ling under to terrorism."

Beneath this twisted and largely inaccurate interpre tation of events loomed a disturbing new reality. The terrorist group named in the captured video, the Al Mufti and Ansar Al Qaeda brigades, had been virtually unheard of before the attack. Created by Serhane ben Abdelmajid Fakhet, a convicted drug dealer who had been radica lized in prison, the group apparently existed solely to carry out the Spanish bombings. It funded itself and neither received nor needed much direction from Al Qaeda, although the umbrella organization certainly approved its actions. The ability of a terrorist organization that had morphed into an ideological movement capable of gen erating new cells and organizations with limited or no direction from the central organization represented a new threat that would manifest itself in London sixteen months after Madrid.

The attack had one positive effect. Madrid shook the European Union out of its lethargy. After 11 March, the European Union began to take the terrorist threat seriously. The attacks led to The Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism.

What the historian Eric Hobsbawm calls "the short twentieth century" (Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914–1991) actually began with one of the most infamous acts of terrorism in European history. On 28 June 1914, Gavrilo Princip (1894–1918), a member of the Serbian secret society the Black Hand, assassinated Archduke Francis Ferdinand (1863–1914), the heir


At 8:57 a.m. on 7 July 2005 terrorists detonated three bombs on rush-hour commuter trains in the central London Underground. Fifty minutes later a fourth bomb ripped apart a double-decker bus, erasing any remaining doubt that the explosions represented a well-coordinated attack. Fifty-six people died in the incident, including all four suicide bombers, and seven hundred were injured. Two weeks later another terrorist cell attacked the London Underground again. This time the bombs failed to detonate. Initially, the attacks seemed to provide further evidence of Al Qaeda's irrepressible commitment to violence and its unlimited resource fulness in carrying it out. Closer examination of the attacks, however, reveals a more complex picture and the British response seems far more impressive than terrorist success. Nonetheless, the terrorists did plan and execute a complex operation. Analysis of this attack reveals a great deal about the evolving nature of the Al Qaeda threat and the importance of effective response to mitigate the consequences of an incident.

In many respects the terrorist cell launched a carefully planned and well-executed attack. The cell kept its identity and intentions hidden from Britain's superb intelligence services during the months of planning that preceded the operation. Al Qaeda had evolved into a highly decentralized organization in which local cells form for a specific mission and disappear in carrying it out. They required little direction or support from the umbrella organization. Surveillance camera foot age examined after the incident revealed that the suicide bombers carefully rehearsed the strike well in advance. On the day of the attack three of the terrorists detonated their bombs at almost the same time. The fourth bomber may have improvised a plan because he found his target Underground station closed for repairs. In addition to causing ser ious loss of life, injury, and economic dislocation, the terrorists timed the attacks to coincide with the G-8 Summit that was being held in Scotland at the time and the attacks immediately followed the announce ment that London had been chosen as an Olympic venue for 2012.

The success of the operation does not, how ever, hide some very amateur mistakes made in planning and carrying it out. As deadly as the attacks proved to be, they might have been much worse. The terrorists detonated two of their bombs in "cut-and-cover" underground tunnels. In these older lines dug very near the surface, trains pass each other moving in opposite directions on parallel tracks. The adjacent empty track allowed the two blasts to dissi pate, thus reducing their effect. The one bomb deto nated in a deep, single-track tunnel accounted for twenty-six of the fifty-six fatalities. The terrorists, who lived in the English Midlands, probably lacked accu rate information on the construction of different Underground tunnels. They also left behind a great deal of physical evidence, including their car contain ing more bomb materials.

Terrorist mistakes notwithstanding, the London Metropolitan Police and emergency responders deserve a lot of credit for mitigating the conse quences of the attack. They quickly cordoned off the affected area, rapidly evacuated the central London Underground, effectively triaged the wounded and sent them to several hospitals (to avoid overloading any one of them), and promptly shut down the cell phone network to prevent the possible use of mobile phones to detonate a bomb. Without such an effective response, devel oped and constantly improved through years of practice during the Irish Republican Army's campaign of terrorism in the United Kingdom, many more people might have died.

The subsequent investigation by the security services (police, Scotland Yard, and British intelli gence) proved to be equally impressive. The authorities quickly developed an accurate picture of the terrorist cell and its connection to the Al Qaeda organization. Such detective work paid divi dends following the 21 July attacks, when the authorities rolled up the cell that tried to bomb the Underground on that day, and will probably aide future operations against Al Qaeda. In the final analysis though, the terrorists received their big gest setback from the citizens of London, who, refusing to be cowed by the violence, got up, dusted themselves off, and got on with their lives. In their banner headlines, the evening newspapers delivered the final blow to Al Qaeda, declaring what the terrorists had hoped to avoid: "London is open for business."

apparent to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. The terrorist organization believed that the province, which had been annexed by the Habsburg Monarchy, rightfully belonged to Serbia. The assassination unleashed a chain of events that sparked the First World War, but it would not have done so had not years of rising militarism, entangling alliances, and diplomatic crises made the Great Powers receptive to war as necessary and perhaps inevitable. Without these preconditions, the murder of the archduke would have been no different from the assassinations of Tsar Alexander II (r. 1855–1881) of Russia in 1881 or President William McKinley (1843–1901) of the United States twenty years later: shocking but wholly ineffective at producing lasting change. Viewed in this light, Gavrilo Princip should be considered the last of the nineteenth-century anarchists, not the first of the twentieth-century terrorists.


The ineffectiveness of individual terrorist acts, no matter how dramatic, led Vladimir Lenin (Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov; 1870–1924) to reject them explicitly. In his 1901 essay, "Where to Begin?" Lenin explained that while he did not reject terror per se, violence independent of revolutionary organization and propaganda would accomplish nothing. For the father of Soviet communism, timing was everything. Isolated acts of violence perpetrated before the proletariat had been prepared for true revolution were at best futile and at worst self-serving acts of petit-bourgeois gratification that could actually delay communism because of the repression that they inevitably provoked.

Terror in the service of revolution, however, was another matter. Lenin willingly used terror to obtain and maintain power, and his successor Joseph Stalin (1879–1953) took state terrorism to an unprecedented level. Stalin ruthlessly suppressed opposition and then turned repression on the general population, sending hundreds of thousands to certain death in the forced labor camps of the gulag system and summarily executing tens of thousands more. Terrorism became so pervasive that the secret police received quotas of "counterrevolutionaries" to apprehend, a grim reminder that states have historically been the worst perpetrators of terror.


Another use of terror Lenin would have approved had he lived to see it was in support of "wars of national liberation." Contrary to current notions, insurgency and terrorism are not synonyms. Insurgents will make use of terror as one weapon in an arsenal, but they do not engage in terror for terror's sake. Insurgency, as practiced during the first half of the twentieth century, was a revolutionary movement to gain control of a state from within. Through a combination of propaganda, guerrilla warfare, and terrorism, insurgents sought to attack the both the legitimacy of a government and its ability to function. Building on discontents within a population, insurgents used propaganda to persuade people that government could not meet their needs and that regime change was necessary. Insurgents also organized guerrillas, bands of irregular fighters operating out of uniform and in loose formations, to attack police and small military units in hit-and-run raids. After an attack, insurgent guerrillas melted back into the general population in which they hid. Such attacks often sought to provoke the government into conducting indiscriminate reprisals that encouraged more support for the insurgency. Insurgents used terror both to spread fear among those who supported the government and to keep their own supporters in line. Because insurgents begin from a position of relative weakness, insurgency is by definition protracted war.

Because guerrillas have traditionally lacked the legitimacy of regular forces, threatened states have often labeled them as "terrorists." The same label as has been applied to partisans or resistance fighters. Like insurgent guerrillas, partisans operate out of uniform and hide within the general population. Rather than support a revolutionary movement, however, they seek to repel an invader occupying their country and often coordinate efforts with their own regular forces and/or those of their allies. During World War II, resistance movements and partisan bands sprang up all over Nazi-occupied Europe. On the eastern front the retreating Soviet army left stay-behind bands to harass German forces, interdict supply lines, and attack the enemy wherever possible. These units often operated in forested areas of Ukraine and Byelorussia.

In more urbanized western Europe, resistance groups operated in towns and cities, maintaining regular jobs and devoting off hours to fighting the occupation. Although resistance fighters would carry out military missions and assassinate German officers, their real contribution lay in the intelligence they provided allied forces massing in England. This intelligence proved valuable to the planners of Operation Overlord, the June 1944 invasion of Normandy. In preparation for the landings, resistance groups conducted diversionary raids and interdicted supply lines along the French coast and into the Low Countries. For the remainder of the war they harassed the retreating Germans and helped liberate Europe.

Resistance to Nazi occupation, however, came at a steep price. The Germans practiced a policy of schrechlichkeit (terror) throughout occupied Europe. They tortured captured agents for information and summarily executed one hundred hostages for each German killed by the Resistance. In retaliation for the assassination of SS Lieutenant General Reinhardt Heidrich by Czech partisans in 1942, the Nazis destroyed the entire village of Lidice and murdered its inhabitants, men, women, and children. Such brutal repression limited the effectiveness of many resistance movements.

Those considered terrorists by the Nazi occupiers have gone down in the histories of their respective countries as freedom fighters. Without equating World War II resistance fighters with Al Qaeda, the experience of occupied Europe serves as a reminder that whether one is or is not labeled a terrorist depends at least to some degree on the perspective of the labeler.


The end of World War II saw many resistance groups morph into insurgent revolutions. In former Yugoslavia, partisans associated with Josip Broz Tito (1892–1980) seized power in the wake of retreating Axis armies. Throughout Europe's colonial empires but particularly in Asia, Marxist-Leninist ideology blended with anticolonial nationalism to produce highly effective insurgencies. Many insurgent leaders sought to emulate Mao Zedong (1893–1976), who seized control of China using his own brand of communist insurgency, the "People's War." In a decades-long struggle Mao gained support among China's impoverished peasants, gained control of ever expanding rural areas, and then used these areas as a base to "drown the cities" in a sea of mobilized peasants. Mao described his insurgents as fish swimming in this sea of peasant support. He proposed a strategy evolving through four phases from propaganda through conventional war. Variations of his approach would guide communist insurgents for decades to come.

One such practitioner was Ho Chi Minh (1890–1969) of Vietnam, then called "French Indochina." Having fought to expel the Japanese for four years, Ho was not about to hand his country back to the French. His Vietminh organization conducted a highly effective Maoist insurgency, assassinating pro-French village leaders, while the colonial forces lay cooped up in cities and fortified garrisons, out of touch with the Vietnamese people. Like Mao, Ho bided his time until his forces could challenge the French in open battle. His opportunity came in 1954 when the French established a remote fortified outpost at Dien Bien Phu. By interdicting an important Vietminh supply route, the French hoped to draw the insurgent general Vo Nguyen Giap's (b. 1912) forces into battle and destroy them with superior French firepower. Instead Giap besieged the outpost, overran its airstrip, and forced the garrison to surrender. This humiliating defeat led to French withdrawal from Indochina, which was divided into communist North and democratic South Vietnam. Determined to check the spread of communism in Southeast Asia, the United States backed the South, first with supplies and advisors and then with American forces. A long, costly, and demoralizing war ended with American withdrawal in 1973 and the unification of Vietnam under communist rule in 1975.

While insurgents drove the French from Indochina and the Dutch from the East Indies, the British in Malaya and Singapore fared better. Faced with a communist insurgency after retaking the colonies from the Japanese, they devised a comprehensive strategy to defeat the insurgents and establish a democratic, pro-Western government. Based on the concept of winning the hearts and minds of disaffected people, this strategy combined economic, political, and social reform with limited military force. The British improved living conditions for the Chinese peasants among whom the insurgents operated, offered them citizenship, and promised Malaya independence. These improvements encouraged many to support the government and even to provide intelligence on the insurgents operating in the jungle. This low-cost, long-haul approach took twelve years to succeed, but it produced decisive results. Building on their success in Malaya, the British defeated the Mau Mau insurgency in Kenya during the 1950s. In the period 1970–1975 they helped the government of Oman defeat a communist insurgency in Dhofar province.

Elsewhere in their empire, the British had less success. A three-year insurgency spearheaded by the Irgun Zvai Leumi but tacitly backed by the Jewish Agency led them to withdraw from Palestine in 1948. During the conflict the Irgun perpetrated one of the most dramatic terrorist acts of the postwar period, the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Despite a warning to evacuate the building, some ninety people died in the attack. In combating the insurgents, the British found that tactics that had worked well in the Malayan jungles proved less effective in the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Political pressure from the administration of U.S. president Harry Truman (1884–1972) on behalf of the Zionists restrained the British from being firmer than they might have been. At the end of the day, however, they saw little in Palestine worth the cost of a protracted struggle and handed the League of Nations mandate over to its successor, the United Nations.

As the Palestine campaign illustrated, urban insurgency is far more challenging than its rural counterpart, a lesson reinforced by the British campaign in Cyprus (1954–1959) and the French campaign in Algeria (1954–1962). In both cases the security forces had more success in the countryside than they did in the cities. The British achieved a limited victory, never actually defeating the insurgents but preventing them from gaining control of the island. The French responded to insurgent terror with state terror of their own, using torture to gain intelligence on the insurgent organization and its members. Public condemnation of such tactics made the campaign untenable, as did the realization that France had little to gain from continued hostility. The government of Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970) bowed to the inevitable and gave Algeria independence.


While most national liberation movements ended with the demise of European empires by 1970, two campaigns persist in the early twenty-first century. A separatist movement in the Basque region of Spain demands independence from Madrid and creation of a new state out of Basque provinces in Spain and France. In Northern Ireland, Catholic insurgents have revived the dream of reuniting the six counties of the North with the twenty-six counties of the Irish Republic, created in 1921. Both movements have made extensive use of terror to achieve their objectives.

"Basque Fatherland and Liberty," better known as "ETA" from the acronym formed by its Basque name, began its campaign of violence in the 1960s. ETA drew support from a Basque population deprived of its language, culture, and institutions by the dictatorship of Francisco Franco (1892–1974) and sympathy from a Spanish population unhappy with the regime. Initially, ETA violence followed the insurgent pattern of attacks on police and government institutions within the Basque region itself and in the Spanish capital. The insurgents achieved their greatest success with the assassination of Admiral Louis Carrero Blanco, Franco's hand-picked successor, in 1973. This crowning achievement also began the decline in ETA's fortunes. A return to democracy followed Franco's death in 1974. A new Spanish constitution granted the Basque provinces limited autonomy. Basque language and culture revived, and still the violence continued. A bombing that killed twenty-one in Barcelona in 1987 produced widespread outrage and national protests against what most Spaniards now considered mere terrorism devoid of any reasonable political objectives. An extradition treaty with France deprived ETA of its safe haven in Basque territory across the Pyrenees, and a government crackdown reduced the organization's effectiveness. ETA declared a ceasefire in 1998, and many considered the organization finished. However, the Madrid train bombings of 11 March 2004 raised the disturbing possibility that a new generation of ETA members had joined forces with Al Qaeda.

Conditions in Northern Ireland during the 1960s had much in common with those in Spain. A Catholic minority population suffering systematic discrimination in what had become a Protestant-dominated apartheid state rose up in the summer of 1969. What began as a civil rights movement quickly transitioned into a nationalist insurgency, as a revived "Provisional" Irish Republic Army (PIRA) gained control of Catholic neighborhoods. PIRA launched a systematic campaign of terror that would last thirty years. Beginning with attacks on police and British soldiers in the province, it expanded to the British mainland and even attacked the United Kingdom's NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) forces on the Continent. Protestant paramilitaries responded to the PIRA threat and launched their own terrorist campaign against the Catholic community. After a rocky start marked by horrific blunders such as the Bloody Sunday massacre (1972), the British security forces developed effective counterinsurgency methods and fought PIRA to a draw by the early 1990s. This stalemate created the opportunity for a political settlement. Sinn Féin, PIRA's political wing, and the British government agreed to a cease-fire in 1994, which led to the 1998 Good Friday Accords. With a few setbacks a fragile peace has been maintained ever since.


Not all postwar terrorism served national liberation or anticolonial movements. Some organizations committed acts of terror in the service of broad ideological agendas rather than specific, attainable political goals. A wave of such terror swept Europe during the 1960s, perpetrated by a generation of disillusioned middle-class youth. In Germany the Red Army Faction (RAF), better known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang for two colorful leaders (Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof), launched a campaign based on Marxism and aimed to rid Germany of perceived Nazi influences. The RAF assassinated industrial leaders, staged bombings, and perpetrated bank robberies. Sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, the group forged links with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) with whom it hijacked an Air France flight to Entebbe Airport in Uganda in 1976. With abstract ideology and broad, diffuse goals, the movement failed to attract enough new followers to stay in business. The movement also suffered a serious setback with the suicide of Baader in 1977 but continued sporadic attacks until 1991. With most of its leaders dead or in prison, the RAF officially dissolved itself in 1998.

Italy's Red Brigades followed the pattern of Baader-Meinhof, racking Italy with a campaign of bombings and assassinations in the 1970s. For both groups, terror became not a means to an end but an end in itself. With little real prospect of success, which they could hardly even define, attacks seemed to validate a heroic if hopeless struggle. Like their German counterpart, the Red Brigades perpetrated a series of bombings and assassinations to which the Italian government responded half-heartedly. The situation changed dramatically with abduction and murder of the former prime minister Aldo Moro in 1978. The heinous act outraged the Italian people and raised the Red Brigades from a nuisance to a serious threat. The assassination prodded the government into decisive action. A concerted counterterrorism campaign by the Carabinieri led to a series of arrests that left the organization shattered by 1982.

The Dutch faced a brief but intense episode of terrorism in 1977, when South Moluccan immigrants living in the Netherlands launched a campaign to prevent annexation of their homeland by Indonesia. They wished to publicize their cause and seemed to believe, rather oddly, that the Netherlands could still influence events in its former colony. The campaign reached a climax in June, when terrorists seized a Dutch commuter train and school. Dutch Royal Marines stormed the train, killing all six terrorists and freeing the hostages, while another unit liberated the school, freed the hostages, and captured the terrorists without loss of life.

Greece has faced more than its share of terrorist attacks, most from domestic groups entwined in the country's complex politics. Two organizations, the 17 November Group and the Revolutionary People's Struggle (ELA) have operated since the 1970s. The groups have since concentrated on attacks aimed at forcing Greece out of NATO and NATO forces out of Greece.

Greece's NATO ally and sometime adversary Turkey has also faced considerably more terrorism than other European nations. By far its greatest threat comes from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Marxist ethnic separatist movement seeking independence for the Kurdish region of southeastern Turkey and its eventual union with adjoining Kurdish regions in Syria, Iran, and Iraq. Formed in 1974, PKK has conducted an insurgent campaign in Kurdish areas and terrorist attacks throughout Turkey and against Turkish targets abroad. The Turks have long maintained that some European governments turn a blind eye to PKK activities on their soil and accuse Greece of actually abetting the organization. Islamist extremist groups, some linked to Al Qaeda, compound Turkey's security concerns. One or more of these organizations launched a horrific series of attacks against synagogues and banks in November 2003.

The Russian Federation has seen a local insurgency largely of its own making turn into a nasty terrorism campaign with international ramifications. A badly handled counterinsurgency campaign to prevent secession of Chechnya in the north Caucasus led the rebels to form links with Al Qaeda. The terrorists took the war into the Federation with attacks on Moscow apartment buildings (1999), a Moscow theater (2002), and a school in Beslan (2004). In both the theater and school incidents the terrorists took hostages, scores of whom were killed.


Terrorist groups often defy easy classification, but those in the Middle East are particularly difficult to pin down. A series of terrorist organizations have arisen directly or indirectly connected to the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. These organizations often combined elements of insurgent movements and purely terrorist organizations motivated by political, ideological, and/or religious agendas. Founded in 1959, the Al Fatah movement of Yasser Arafat (1929–2004) carried out attacks against Israel from the West Bank during the early 1960s. Following Israeli occupation of the territory during the Six-Day War in 1967, Arafat moved to Jordan and from there to Lebanon and finally Tunisia, each of which served as base for terrorist activities. In 1974 Arafat gained control of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), an umbrella under which terrorist groups like the PFLP and the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) could gather.

Other organizations developed out of the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians. In an effort to route the PLO out of Lebanon, the Israeli Defense Forces invaded the country in 1982. Operation Peace of Galilee forced Arafat to leave for Tunisia, but it also gave rise to another even more militant organization, the Shiite Hezbollah group supported by Iran. Hezbollah attacked Israeli forces in southern Lebanon and northern Israel, contributing to final Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. An even more troubling organization arose in the occupied territories themselves. Demonstrations marking the twentieth anniversary of the Israeli occupation in 1987 turned violent and gave birth to Hamas, an Arabic acronym for "Islamic Resistance Movement." While they do not endorse some of its methods, Palestinians and their supporters consider Hamas to be a legitimate resistance movement struggling to end an illegal occupation. Israelis consider it a mere terrorist organization.

Zionism has also spawned its share of terrorist organizations. The Jewish Defense League founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane (Martin David; 1932–1990) in 1968 conducted numerous terrorist attacks against alleged anti-Semites. In 1971 Kahane emigrated with his family to Israel, where he set up the ultraconservative Kach party. Kach has perpetrated or encouraged terrorist attacks and vigilante violence against Arabs in the occupied territories, including the 1983 attack on an Islamic school in Hebron and the 1994 massacre of twenty-nine Muslims praying at Hebron's Cave of the Patriarchs Mosque. Israeli security forces foiled an effort by Kahane's followers to blow up the Dome of the Rock (Mosque of Omar) atop Jerusalem's temple mount, the third holiest site in Islam.

Although rarely directly targeted by Middle East groups, Europeans have suffered from attacks carried out in Europe. The most notorious of these occurred during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany. Members of Black September, an Al Fatah strike group named for the Jordanian attack on Palestinians in that country, kidnapped Israeli athletes, eleven of whom died in an abortive rescue attempt. In 1985 another Palestinian terrorist organization, the Abu Nidal Group, launched simultaneous attacks on the ticket counters of Israel's El Al airline at the Rome and Vienna airports. The Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi (b. 1942) appears to have masterminded or at least supported the April 1986 bombing of a Berlin discotheque and the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988. In the attack, 270 people died, eleven of them British subjects killed on the ground.

Unlike Germany, which suffered when terrorists attacked foreigners on its soil, France has been the direct target of attacks by terrorists involved in the Algerian civil war. In December 1994 the Groupe Islamique Armée (Armed Islamic Group, or GIA) hijacked an Air France flight en route from Algiers to Paris, intending to crash it in to the Eiffel Tower. French commandos stormed the plane, freeing the hostages and preventing the attack. GIA perpetrated a series of bombings in France over the next few years until a crackdown on the organization in preparation for France's hosting the 1998 World Cup crippled the organization.


On 11 September 2001 the United States experienced a devastating attack in the worst terrorist incident to date. Suicide bombers hijacked four airplanes, crashing two into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and a third into the Pentagon. A fourth plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania when passengers tried to regain control of the aircraft. More than three thousand people died in the attacks.

The perpetrator was an organization almost unheard of until a few years before. Al Qaeda ("the base" in Arabic) had been formed from the mujahidin (holy warriors) who had flocked to Afghanistan to fight the Soviet invaders in 1979. Gathered around the Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden (b. 1957), the terrorists sought to replace the secular regimes governing most Muslim countries with Islamic republics governed by sharia law. Bin Laden's rage turned on the Saudi royal family and its American allies whom the monarchy allowed onto the sacred soil of the kingdom during the 1990–1991 Gulf War. Al Qaeda bombed the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998 and the destroyer U.S.S. Cole in Aden Harbor in 2000. Intelligence analysts later determined that Al Qaeda had probably perpetrated the bombing of the Khobar Towers housing U.S. troops in Dharan, Saudi Arabia, in 1996.

Although not initially targets themselves, the European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) agreed that the 9/11 attacks fell under Article 5 of the organization's founding document, the Washington Treaty. This collective defense clause deemed an attack on one as an attack on all. European nations supported the U.S. war against Afghanistan, where Bin Laden was known to be hiding, allowed the use of American bases on its soil to support the effort, and readily granted fly-over rights to American aircraft. They also provided troops to the follow-on mission after the Taliban regime had been toppled.

European support for America's "Global War on Terrorism" waned with the U.S. decision to invade Iraq. Neither the United Nations nor many of the NATO allies was persuaded that any significant link between Al Qaeda and the regime of Saddam Hussein (b. 1937) existed or that the dictator possessed weapons of mass destruction in a quantity representing any serious threat to his neighbors. The United States had the support of Britain and that of the new NATO members in central and Eastern Europe, many of whom were awaiting ratification by the U.S. Senate of the accession treaties bringing them into the alliance. The invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and growing resentment over the unilateralism of the administration of President George W. Bush (b. 1946) has led to a cooling of relations between the United States and Europe. Resentment deepened after Europe itself became a target of Al Qaeda.

On 11 March 2004 terrorists detonated a series of bombs on commuter trains and in the station in Madrid, Spain, killing 191 people. An unheard-of Al Qaeda affiliate claimed credit for the attack, although the explosives used were similar to those employed by ETA, fueling fear that Basque terrorists had perhaps formed an unholy alliance with the Islamic extremists. The attacks led to the ouster of the prime minister Jose Aznar's party from power in elections a few days later. Far from "knuckling under" to terrorism, Spanish voters were angered by Aznar's rush to blame ETA for the Madrid bombings and by his earlier willingness to send troops to Iraq contrary to the wishes of the vast majority of Spaniards. The new government's decision to withdraw its contingent from the American-led coalition followed by the terrorists' promise that there would be no further attacks against Spain was, however, widely seen as an Al Qaeda victory.

The Madrid bombings encouraged the European Union to take the terrorist threat more seriously. Brussels began to develop an EU-wide policy to supplement responses by member states. The EU Council issued a Declaration on Combating Terrorism and specifically tasked a unit within the EU Commission with the "Fight against terrorism, trafficking and exploitation of human beings and law enforcement co-operation." As might be expected, agreement on defensive measures such as protecting ports and infrastructure has been easier to achieve than consensus on how to attack terrorist organizations.


Any doubts that terrorism is a permanent part of the new European security landscape were swept away by the assassination of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam on 2 November 2004. The murderer, a Muslim extremist, was angered by van Gogh's recent film criticizing Islam's treatment of women. In combination with the Madrid bombings the van Gogh murder underscored an inescapable truth: the terrorism that plagued the Continent in the 1970s had returned in a new, potentially far more deadly form. The challenge will be to develop an effective counterterrorism policy that preserves both Europe's high regard for civil liberties and the freedom of movement that its citizens enjoy within the new European Union borders.

See alsoAl Qaeda; British Empire; Colonialism; Counterinsurgency; ETA; Guerrilla Warfare; Indochina; IRA; Ireland; Islam; Islamic Terrorism; Israel; Minority Rights; Northern Ireland; Palestine; Partisan Warfare; Purges; Red Army Faction; Red Brigades; Resistance; Sinn Féin; Warfare.


Esposito , John. Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam. Oxford, U.K., and New York, 2002.

Gunaratna, Rohan . Inside Al Qae'da: Global Network of Terror. New York, 2002.

Hoffman, Bruce. Inside Terrorism. London, 1998.

Kepel, Gilles. Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam. Cambridge, Mass., 2002.

Kurth Cronin, Audrey, and James M. Ludes, eds. Attacking Terrorism: Elements of a Grand Strategy. Washington, D.C., 2004.

Miller, Judith, Stephen Engelberg, and William Broad. Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War. New York, 2001.

Mockaitis, Thomas R., and Paul Rich, eds. Grand Strategy in the War against Terrorism. London, 2003.

Tom Mockaitis

Terrorism and Counterterrorism

views updated Jun 08 2018

Terrorism and Counterterrorism

Brian Michael Jenkins

Terrorism was a matter of growing international concern during the last three decades of the twentieth century, but following the 11 September 2001, attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., it became the paramount issue of U.S. foreign policy. On that day Middle Eastern terrorists hijacked four U.S. commercial airliners. They seized the controls and crashed two of the planes into the World Trade Center and one plane into the Pentagon. Passengers fought to regain control of the fourth plane, which then crashed in Pennsylvania, missing any symbolic targets but killing all those on board. These attacks, unprecedented in the annals of terrorism and unparalleled in American history in the magnitude and concentration of casualties, provoked an equally unprecedented declaration of war against terrorism.

Terrorist tactics themselves are nothing new. Political intrigues and wars throughout history have involved murder, hostage taking, and sabotage. Deliberately savage and cruel, even by eighth-century standards, Viking berserkers spread terror throughout the British Isles. Muslim assassins provoked terror among Christian crusaders and Arab leaders in the twelfth century. Julius Caesar, King Richard the Lionhearted, and Miguel de Cervantes were all held for ransom.

The word "terror" entered the political lexicon during the French Revolution's "reign of terror" and in the twentieth century was associated with oppression by totalitarian governments. The term "terrorism" emerged in the nineteenth century when bomb-throwing revolutionaries who wanted to obliterate property and terrorize the ruling classes acknowledged themselves to be terrorists. Revolutionary terrorism continued into the early twentieth century and reemerged following World War I. From the late 1940s to the early 1960s, terrorism often accompanied armed struggles for independence, especially in Algeria and Palestine.


Terrorists continued to use the tactics of their historical predecessors: setting off bombs in public places, assassinating officials, kidnapping individuals to demand political concessions or ransom payments. But a new phenomenon, international terrorism, began with a series of spectacular attacks in the late 1960s. In 1968, Palestinians hijacked an El Al jetliner and flew it to Algeria, where they demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners. This began a wave of hijackings to obtain political concessions. In 1969 urban guerrillas in Brazil kidnapped the U.S. ambassador, later releasing him in return for the release of fifteen comrades imprisoned in Brazil. The tactic quickly spread throughout the world. In the following twelve months, diplomats were kidnapped in Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, and Jordan.

In February 1970 members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) sabotaged a Swissair flight to Tel Aviv, killing all forty-seven persons on board. In September 1970 the same group hijacked three airliners bound for Europe and diverted them to Jordan. In May 1972 three members of the Japanese Red Army, a group allied with the PFLP, attacked passengers at Israel's Lod Airport, killing twenty-five and wounding seventy-six. And in September of that year, members of Black September, another Middle Eastern group, seized nine Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. Five of the terrorists and all nine of the hostages were killed in a disastrous rescue attempt by German police. The three surviving terrorists were traded for hostages aboard a Lufthansa flight hijacked the next month.

International terrorism emerged from a confluence of political circumstances and technological process. In the Middle East, Israel's defeat of the Arab armies in the Six-Day War of 1967 and the inability of Palestinians to mount an effective resistance movement in the territories newly occupied by Israel pushed them toward the use of terrorist tactics. Their mentors were the Algerian revolutionaries who in the fight for independence had carried their own terrorist campaign to France itself. For the Palestinians, anyone anywhere in the world who supported Israel's continued existence became a potential target, greatly broadening the theater of operations.

Inspired by the success of the Cuban revolution but unable to replicate its success, Latin America's guerrillas moved their struggle from the countryside into the cities. They replaced traditional guerrilla warfare with bombings, assassinations, and kidnappings, which guaranteed them national and international attention. Spectacular action took the place of patient political mobilization. At the same time, the Vietnam War sparked a new wave of revolutionary fervor that spread through the universities of Europe, Japan, and the United States. Mass protest movements spawned small groups on their extremist fringes that were determined to pursue a more violent struggle. These extremist groups emulated the tactics of their ideological counterparts in Latin America and the Middle East.

Changes in the technological environment during the 1970s also facilitated international terrorism. Jet air travel offered terrorists worldwide mobility and, with it, opportunities to strike targets anywhere. Television and the deployment of communications satellites offered terrorists almost instantaneous access to a global audience. By choreographing dramatic incidents of violence and hostage situations in which human life hung in the balance, terrorists could guarantee worldwide press coverage for their acts and their causes. The diffusion of small arms around the world and of increasingly powerful explosives and sophisticated detonating devices took terrorists far beyond the capacity of the early bomb throwers. Modern technology-dependent societies offered numerous vulnerabilities, from power grids to jumbo jets.

The relationship of all these incidents to one another was not self-evident at the time. Beyond the similarity in tactics, there was no obvious connection between a kidnapping in Uruguay, a bombing in Germany, and a hijacking in Africa. Why should actions carried out by persons who called themselves Tupamaros, Montoneros, the Red Brigades, or the Japanese Red Army be addressed within the same analytical and policy framework? International terrorism was an artificial construct useful for policy purposes. While recognizing the diversity of the terrorists and their causes, it identified their actions in the international domain as a mutual problem for all nations.


Concern about international terrorism on the part of the U.S. foreign policy community was driven by two overlapping issues: the use of tactics that fell outside the accepted norms of diplomacy and armed conflict and the spillover of terrorist violence into the international domain. The latter was particularly important, since the prominence of the United States in world affairs and its involvement in many contentious areas made Americans and American interests frequent targets. Hundreds of terrorist attacks have been directed against the United States, its diplomats, and its diplomatic facilities.

Major incidents have included the kidnappings of U.S. diplomats in Latin America in the late 1960s and early 1970s; the multiple hijacking to Jordan's Dawson Field in 1970; the attack on arriving American passengers at Israel's Lod Airport in 1972; the terrorist seizure of the Saudi Arabian embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, and the subsequent murder of two American diplomats in 1973; the terrorist takeover of the U.S. consulate in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1975; the 1979 takeover of the American embassy in Tehran; the suicide bombings of the American embassy and U.S. marine barracks in Beirut in 1983; the bombing in 1983 of the American embassy in Kuwait; the kidnappings of Americans and the protracted hostage crisis in Lebanon, which lasted from 1984 to 1991; the hijackings of TWA flight 847 and of the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985; the Libyan terrorist campaign in 1986; the sabotage and crash of PanAm flight 103 in 1988; the assassination plot against former President George H. W. Bush in 1993; the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993; the suicide bombing of the American military residential facility in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in 1996; the bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998; the suicide bombing of the destroyer USS Cole in 2000; and the attacks in 2001 on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The attacks in the 1980s increasingly involved truck bombs, huge amounts of explosives on wheels, often driven by suicide drivers. These attacks manifested a fundamental change in terrorism. Traditionally, terrorists wanted a lot of people watching, not a lot of people dead. Wanton violence was seen as counterproductive. But with the replacement of ideological causes by ethnic hatreds and religious fanaticism, large-scale, indiscriminate violence became the reality. Terrorists wanted a lot of people dead. But while truck bombs increased death tolls, they could not easily push the number of victims above several hundred. The terrorist solution was multiple attacks. In 1994 terrorists plotted to sabotage twelve U.S. airliners in the Pacific, and the 1998 attacks on the American embassies in Africa as well as the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon involved multiple targets. These large-scale operations have also led to fears that terrorists will incorporate chemical, biological, or possibly even nuclear weapons in future attacks.


It is clear that efforts to combat terrorism depend on international cooperation, but international politics has complicated attempts even to define international terrorism. Discussions in international forums have inevitably bogged down in futile debate. Some see terrorism as an alternative mode of warfare used by nations or groups that lack the conventional means of waging war, not as something to be outlawed. Some, believing that the ends justify the means, seek to exclude from the definition anything done by those engaged in wars of liberation. Others have wanted to broaden the definition to include acts of violence and other repressive acts by colonial, racist, and alien regimes against peoples struggling for liberation.

The United States has tried to define terrorism objectively on the basis of the quality of the act, not the identity of the perpetrators or the nature of their political cause. The rationale is that all terrorist acts are crimes, and many would also be war crimes or "grave breaches" of the rules of war even if one accepted the terrorists' assertion that they wage war. Terrorist acts involve violence or the threat of violence, sometimes coupled with explicit demands and always directed against noncombatants. The perpetrators are usually members of an organized group whose purposes are political. And the hallmark of terrorismactions that are carried out in a way that will achieve maximum publicity and cause major alarmintroduces a distinction between the victims of the violence and the target audience. Indeed, the identity of the victims may be secondary or even irrelevant to the terrorist cause. "Pure terrorism" is entirely indiscriminate violence.

The U.S. position never won universal endorsement, but ultimately, the international community has come to achieve a rough consensus on terrorism. Although the community of nations could not reach an agreement on a precise definition, it did denounce terrorism as a form of political expression or mode of armed conflict and managed to construct a corpus of conventions that identified and outlawed specific tactics: airline hijacking, the sabotage of commercial aircraft, attacks on airports, attacks on diplomats and diplomatic facilities, the taking of hostages, bomb attacks on civilian targets, and so on. This tactic-by-tactic approach gradually extended to cover virtually all the manifestations of international terrorism.


A continuing U.S. policy issue has been whether terrorism should be considered as a crime or a mode of war. The question is not merely one of a choice of words. The two are different concepts with entirely different operational implications. If terrorism is considered a criminal matter, the appropriate response is to gather evidence, correctly determine the culpability of the individual or individuals responsible for the incident, and then apprehend and bring the perpetrators to trial. This has been the primary approach taken by the United States, and it has received wide international acceptance. To enhance this approach, the United States extended the jurisdiction of American courts to cover all terrorist acts against U.S. citizens and facilities anywhere in the world, thereby giving the Federal Bureau of Investigation legislative authority to investigate terrorist crimes and apprehend terrorists anywhere. Although not all nations accept this assertion, a number of terrorists have been turned over to U.S. authorities for prosecution in the United States.

Public trials of terrorists keep terrorism firmly in the realm of crime, strip terrorists of their political pretensions, and allow the United States to make a public case against those terrorists still at large. Dealing with terrorism strictly as a criminal matter, however, presents a number of problems. Evidence is extremely difficult to gather in an international investigation where some countries might not cooperate, and apprehending individual terrorists is extremely difficult. Moreover, the criminal approach does not provide an entirely satisfactory answer to a continuing campaign of terrorism waged by a distant group, and it does not work against a state sponsor of terrorism.

If, on the other hand, terrorism is viewed as war, there is less concern with individual culpability; only proximate responsibilityfor example, the correct identification of the terrorist groupneed be established. Evidence does not have to be of courtroom quality; intelligence reporting will suffice. The focus is not on the accused individual but on the correct identification of the enemy.

The United States has at different times taken both approaches, and recently began to orchestrate the criminal and military approaches, combining conventional evidence gathering and intelligence reporting to indict and prosecute terrorists, then combining that with information gained at trial to support further indictments, which were then utilized to justify military action.


U.S. policy on terrorism has been largely driven by events. Indeed, policy is rarely created in the abstract. It responds to events that create a requirement to do something. Policy is reactive, an accumulation of statements and actions that then become precedents. And it is constantly evolving. Ask some official to explain the reasoning behind a certain policy and, if he knows his history well enough, he will cite the exact incident that prompted the reaction. This is especially true of a diverse, multifaceted phenomenon such as terrorism.

Much of the early U.S. counterterrorist policy focused on dealing with hostage incidentshijackings and kidnappings. In addition to increasing security at airports, the United States sought to improve international cooperation in returning passengers and aircraft and prosecuting or extraditing the hijackers. Gradually, use of this tactic became less frequent, but it never disappeared. In the cases of kidnappings of American diplomats by urban guerrilla organizations in Latin America, the United States initially took the position that the host country must do whatever is necessary, including yielding to the kidnappers' demands. As kidnappings continued, however, resistance grew and the policy moved toward one of no concessions. That policy was sealed in blood in March 1973 with the murder of two American diplomats by members of Black September who demanded, among other things, the release of the convicted assassin of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. The no-concessions policy has remained one of the pillars of the U.S. response to terrorism, although at times creative ways to bend it have been sought.

The same hard-line policy was applied to embassy takeovers. Improved security made such takeovers more difficult and governments were increasingly willing to use force. Faced with declining prospects of achieving their demands and growing risks of capture or death, terrorists gradually abandoned the tactic in the 1980s.

American presidents have learned that hostage situations can be politically perilous. Frustration over the inability of the United States to rescue or negotiate the release of American hostages held for more than a year in Iran probably contributed to President James Earl Carter's defeat in the 1980 presidential elections. Six years later, the revelation that the United States, in contradiction to its own no-concessions policy, had secretly sold weapons to Iran in return for the release of American hostages in Lebanon deeply embarrassed the Reagan administration.

Since the late 1970s, the question of how to deal with state sponsors of terrorism has been a major policy issue. Under pressure from Congress, the U.S. Department of State identified Iran, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Sudan, North Korea, and Cuba as state sponsors of terrorism, a list that has changed little in the past quarter century. In 2000, the National Commission on Terrorism recommended that Afghanistan be added to the list and that both Pakistan and Greece be identified as countries that were not fully cooperating with the United States, a suggestion that provoked howls of protest.

Middle East conflicts have motivated most of the major terrorist crises, and most of the states identified by the United States as state sponsors of terrorism are in that part of the world. The region's secular extremists and, increasingly, its religious fanatics have seen themselves as being at war with America. America's steadfast support for the State of Israel has angered many, but even U.S. attempts to broker agreements between Israel and the Palestinians have provoked reactions by hard-liners who oppose any accord. America's close relationship with the shah of Iran, overthrown by Islamic revolutionaries in 1979, was a further source of antagonism. Some Muslim fanatics have come to see the American commitment to the principles of freedom, democracy, and equality and what they regard as a subversive and libertine American popular culture as a dangerous influence to be eradicated. The fanatic terrorists' beliefs require them to strike violently at the American presence and influence, and no reconciliation is in sight. One continuing foreign policy challenge for the United States has been to keep efforts to combat terrorism from appearing to be a war on the Arab world or Islam. The United States opposes the violent tactics of terrorism, not any system of beliefs.

Countries identified as state sponsors of terrorism are subject to economic sanctions that deny U.S. assistance and prohibit trade with the United States, but sanctions are only effective if they are universally enforced. International compliance has been patchy at best, although Syria's blatant involvement in a 1986 plot to plant a bomb aboard an airliner departing London led to further European sanctions against that country. Largely to appease an angry United States, Europe went along with some sanctions against Libya in 1986, and suspected Libyan involvement in the sabotage of PanAm 103 in 1988 and a French airliner in Africa in 1989 resulted in more stringent sanctions being imposed until Libya agreed to turn over two Libyans suspected of involvement in the PanAm incident to a tribunal in The Hague. U.S. sanctions on Libya remained in effect for other reasons. To ensure more universal compliance, the United States has sought to have the United Nations impose sanctions. In 2000 Afghanistan became subject to UN sanctions for its refusal to turn over known terrorists.

Additional sanctions were imposed on Iraq as a consequence of that country's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the subsequent Gulf War. However, the issue transcends Iraqi sponsorship of terrorism and involves that country's suspected secret efforts to manufacture chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. Sudan entered into productive discussions with the United States in mid-2000 and became a possible candidate for removal of American sanctions.

Sanctions, however, have been criticized as blunt, ineffective instrumentsthe modern economic equivalent of medieval siege warfare. They inflict more suffering on ordinary people than on the governments in which the people have no say, and efforts have been initiated to develop more precisely targeted sanctions that hurt rulers, not the general populace. Nonetheless, economic sanctions have stunted economic development in these countries and probably have moderated, if not reversed, the behavior of their governments, although that would be hard to prove.


The United States has used military force in response to terrorism on a number of occasions. U.S. forces bombed Libya in 1986 in response to a Libyan-sponsored terrorist attack in Germany and indications of further attacks being planned; an Iraqi intelligence facility was bombed in 1993 in response to Iraqi involvement in the thwarted assassination attempt on former President Bush during a visit to Kuwait; and, in response to terrorist attacks on American embassies in Africa in 1998, U.S. forces bombed terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan suspected of manufacturing chemical weapons.

While terrorists themselves offer few lucrative targets for conventional attack, military action may still be useful. It can disrupt the terrorists' operations, forcing them to move their camps, tend to their own security, and worry about the possibility of further strikes. It can also be used to reinforce diplomacy. Military force serves as a warning to states that sponsoring terrorism is not without serious risks. It demonstrates resolve and it clearly signals that the country initiating it regards terrorism as a very serious issue. It also carries with it an invitation to states to cooperate.

Military force may also be viewed in some cases as necessary for domestic political purposes, not as a cynical ploy to garner political support or distract the public from other issues, but as a way to demonstrate to an alarmed public that something is being done. The British suffered terribly during the Battle of Britain, and their ability to take the punishment without a complete collapse of morale depended in part on the fact their British forces were fighting to destroy the enemy. The absence of military action could reinforce feelings of national impotence that could, in turn, lead to popular support for draconian measures to ensure security that might imperil civil liberties.

The opportunities for military action against terrorism, however, are limited. It is necessary to focus and carefully calibrate the response; otherwise, the use of force becomes capricious. A military response, moreover, must be delivered soon after the terrorist incident that provokes it. It has been difficult to sustain military operations beyond the first strike. The United States may have wanted the terrorists to fear that it might attack them again, but in fact it never did. That may change in light of the attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.


There were possible alternatives to the policies that have been chosen. The United States might have tried to pay less attention to the issue of terrorism, putting it lower on the foreign policy agenda, deliberately adopting a more phlegmatic posture and using less bellicose rhetoric. But given the spectacular nature of terrorist attacks and the public outrage they provoke, it would have been extremely difficult to sustain a deliberately phlegmatic policy.

The United States could have followed a more flexible policy in dealing with hostage situations, as did some European nations. However, the private sector's practice of routinely paying ransom for company executives kidnapped abroad suggests that compliance only encourages further kidnappings. And research suggests that it is the ability of the local government to apprehend, convict, and punish kidnappers and destroy their gangs, whether they are politically motivated or common criminals, that determines the frequency of kidnappings. Politically motivated kidnappings have declined. The United States could have adopted a policy of assassinating foreign terrorist leaders, as Israel did in 1972. While this policy may have led to the removal of some effective terrorist leaders, it has had little discernible effect on the level of terrorism aimed against Israel.

The United States did not have to officially designate state sponsors of terrorism and automatically impose sanctions, thus depriving itself of more flexible forms of diplomacy. As noted earlier, the record of sanctions is at best a mixed one. The United States could have rejected the use of military force altogether, relying instead exclusively on a criminal justice approach. However, few other nations extend the jurisdiction of their courts and send law enforcement officials abroad to investigate terrorist crimes against their citizens.

Persuading other nations to support sanctions, America's use of military force, and the rendition of foreign terrorists to the United States for trial have all required vigorous American diplomacy. The willingness to impose sanctions and use military force, as well as offer assistance in other areas, has in turn reinforced that diplomacy.


American policy has historically been pragmatic. Efforts to combat terrorism were just that. American diplomats paid little attention to root causes and conflict resolution, lest counterterrorism efforts become mixed up with judgments of causes. At the same time, the United States has devoted considerable effort to resolving the Middle East conflict, helping to bring about an end to the violence in Northern Ireland, and intervening to prevent ethnic cleansing and other atrocities in the Balkans that, if left to fester or produce vast new semi-permanent populations of refugees, could have become new sources of terrorist violence.

Progress has been made. Intelligence has improved through unilateral efforts and improved liaison with other intelligence services. An international legal framework has been created and international cooperation has increased. Countries would rather not be identified as state sponsors of terrorism. The volume of international terrorism, as it is defined by the United States, has declined, and certain tactics have declined significantly. All this could have been seen as a measure of success on 10 September 2001. However, the terrorist attacks on the following dayattacks on American soil that caused far more casualties than all of the previous terrorist incidents put togetherovershadowed any sense of achievement.


The 11 September 2001 attacks have provoked a more formal expression of belligerencya presidential declaration of war on those responsible for the attacks. The declaration clearly indicates the intention of the United States to use military force again and again at times and places and with means it deems appropriate. More terrorist attacks against Americans, abroad and in the United States, are possible. Exactly how the continuing campaign will be conducted, whether allies of the United States will participate, and what effect it will have are unknown at this time. Whether the counterattack will divide the nation politically remains to be seen.

Within the shadow of this tragedy, however, lie opportunities for even greater international determination and cooperation, if not to end terrorism once and for allan unrealistic objectiveat least to significantly reduce its practice. Whether such determination and cooperation materialize will depend on whether the rest of the world sees this event as an attack on the United States or as a threat to the international system as it exists.


Bass, Gail, et al. Options for U.S. Policy on Terrorism. Santa Monica, Calif., 1981.

Evans, Ernest. Calling a Truce to Terror: The American Response to International Terrorism. Westport, Conn., 1979.

Heymann, Philip B. Terrorism and America: A Commonsense Strategy for a Democratic Society. Cambridge, Mass., 1998.

Hoffman, Bruce. Inside Terrorism. New York, 1998.

Jenkins, Brian Michael. International Terrorism: A New Mode of Conflict. Los Angeles, 1975.

. International Terrorism: The Other World War. Santa Monica, Calif., 1985.

. Terrorism: Policy Issues for the Bush Administration. Santa Monica, Calif., 1989.

Lesser, Ian O., et al. Countering the New Terrorism. Santa Monica, Calif., 1999.

Long, David E. The Anatomy of Terrorism. New York, 1990.

Pillar, Paul R. Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy. Washington, D.C., 2001.

Simon, Jeffrey D. The Terrorist Trap: America's Experience with Terrorism. Bloomington, Ind., 1994.

U.S. Department of State. Patterns of Global Terrorism. Washington, D.C. Published annually.

See also Covert Operations; Embargoes and Sanctions; Intelligence and Counter Intelligence.


On 9 September 1969 a small team comprised of members of two leftist urban guerrilla organizationsthe October 8 Revolutionary Movement and Action for National Liberationkidnapped Charles Burke Elbrick, the recently arrived U.S. ambassador to Brazil, the first of many kidnappings of diplomats. They selected him as their target because, in their words, "If we had selected the Turkish ambassador, nobody would have paid any attention." The kidnappers' communiqué gave more details. "Mr. Elbrick represents in our country the interests of imperialism, which maintain the regime of oppression and exploitation." Elbrick's kidnappers never told him that in return for his safe release they had demanded the release of fifteen prisoners, mostly student and labor leaders, one old Communist Party leader, and several of those allegedly involved in the earlier assassination of American diplomat. It was a deliberately mixed group chosen to inspire unity among Brazil's revolutionaries.

The United States urged the government of Brazil to do everything necessary to ensure the ambassador's release. In fact, the triumvirate of military officers ruling Brazil during the president's illness had already decided to meet the kidnappers' demands, not because of U.S. pressure, but because they saw it as an opportunity to make a humanitarian gesture and give Brazil the chance to disprove accusations of widespread torture. This line of reasoning did not win unanimous approval through the Brazilian armed forces, and one local commander briefly ordered his forces to surround the airport where the prisoners had been assembled to be flown to political exile in Mexico, but higher-ranking officers intervened and the exchange plan proceeded.

Once the prisoners arrived in Mexico, Elbrick was released in good condition. His captors had washed and pressed his bloodstained shirt and tie (he had been hit on the head with a pistol during the abduction), and they gave him a copy of a book on revolution by Ho Chi Minh, in which they had inscribed, "To our first political prisoner, with the expression of our respect for his calm behavior in action."

In the following months the guerrillas kidnapped the Japanese consul general in Sao Paulo and the ambassadors of Germany and Switzerland. In each case the government freed prisoners in exchange for release of the diplomats but subsequently cracked down hard and brutally, ultimately destroying the urban guerrilla groups. But the tactic of kidnapping diplomats spread to other countries. Local governments and the governments of the diplomatic representatives became increasingly resistant to meeting the demands of those holding hostages. The term "terrorist" increasingly replaced the more neutral term "urban guerrilla."


views updated Jun 08 2018


Although the terrors of war and criminal violence have been known since the dawn of human existence, the concept of terrorism as a form of political violence originated in le terreur of the French Revolution. Initially a word for the brutal excesses of a revolutionary government (some forty thousand persons were guillotined), by the late nineteenth century "terrorism" referred almost exclusively to the antigovernment violence of groups such as the Russian Narodnaya Volya ("Will of the People"). Since then, the designation of particular groups and actions as terrorist has varied with political assumptions and aims.

To defenders of government, almost any violence by opponents may be defined as terrorism. To opponents, virtually any governmental effort to restrain or repress opposition may be defined as terrorism. Whether "oppositional" or "state" terrorism, the distinction itself is embedded in a snarl of issues raised by the intersection of ideological and analytical concerns.

Defining terrorism

After noting that more than one hundred definitions have been offered, Laqueur (1999) concludes that the only generally accepted characteristic of terrorism is that it involves violence or the threat of violence. Nonetheless, most observers also include political motivation and some notion of an organization that accepts and fosters violence as a political tactic.

Political motivation may vary from a scarcely articulate resentment of felt obstructions and sensed antagonists to a highly developed consciousness and analysis of political relationships. Mob violence against despised racial or ethnic groups typically has no specific political rationale and goals, despite the tendency of politicians and media commentators to impute responsibility for such violence to agitators and conspirators. At a somewhat higher level of political consciousness are planned attacks by individuals aroused by ideological messages warning them of some threat (e.g., extinction of the white race, loss of national sovereignty, environmental catastrophe, economic ruin) and blaming it on some population (e.g., Jews, Arabs, nonwhites, whites) or institution (e.g., the American "Zionist Occupation Government," the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund). Revolutionary strategists such as Che Guevara and Carlos Marighela, as well as counterrevolutionary strategists such as East Germany's Markus Wolff and Argentina's General Augusto Pinochet, exemplify the application of reason to planning and justifying the systematic use of terrorism and other forms of violence for political ends. Whether in the revolutionists' manuals of guerrilla warfare and bomb-making or the counterrevolutionists' manuals of "low intensity warfare" and antiterrorist operations, the rationales for violence are derived from quite explicit (though sometimes bizarre) understandings of the historical and social dimensions of the conflict situation.

Whether individuals acting on their own initiative may be terrorists depends on how one defines political organization. Wardlaw is one of the few analysts to allow for the possibility of a lone terrorist who uses or threatens violence to coerce a target group, beyond the immediate victims, into acceding to political demands. Theodore Kaczinski (the Unabomber) might be seen as an example. However, the Unabomber acted in awareness that a great many people agreed or sympathized with his views on the environmental threats posed by corporate greed aided and abetted by irresponsible scientific research and governmental corruption. Similarly, the fugitive Eric Robert Rudolph, wanted for abortion clinic bombings as well as for the Atlanta Olympics bombing, acted with at least the tacit (and probably some material) support of antiabortion and antigovernment extremists. That their views were drawn from or coincided with the ideologies of terrorist organizations (ranging from Earth First and the May 19th Communist Organization (M19CO) to Aryan Nations and The Order) indicates that they acted in an organizational context, from which they drew inspiration, orientation, and justification.

The notion of organizational context implies that terrorists may be more or less loosely organized, and that particular organizations may be indirectly as well as directly responsible for terrorist incidents. For instance, while the Saudi Arabian exile Osama bin Ladan cannot possibly be directly responsible for every attack by Islamic fundamentalists, his ideological and financial support for their cause encourages terrorism far beyond the operations of his own organization. Indeed, bin Ladan's organization appears to be more accurately described as a network of quasi-independent militant groups who benefit from his capacity to provide inspirational leadership and logistical support.

So far we have observed that terrorism is politically motivated violence for which organizations are directly or indirectly responsible. What remains to be settled is just how terrorism differs from other political violence. To begin, no definition of terrorism has included rioting, civil war, revolution, or international war, though analysts have agreed that terrorist incidents may occur in conjunction with or as a part of such violence. The consensus is that terrorist violence is more organized and deliberate than rioting, lesser in organization and scale than war. And though guerrillas are often pictured as terrorists by their government opponents (e.g., the Zapatista rebels in Mexico), guerrilla resistance to governmental forces does not necessarily involve terrorist acts.

Differentiating assassination and terrorism is more problematic. Ben-Yehuda argues strongly that terrorism must be distinguished from assassination, but has been unable to pin down the exact nature of the presumed differences. He suggests that terrorism is indiscriminate killing aimed at a general target while assassination targets specific individuals, but is admittedly unable to maintain the distinction in his own case analyses (pp. 38, 4647). As the number of victims rises, observers appear to be increasingly likely to describe the incident as terrorism rather than assassination. And insofar as "innocents" such as children, café patrons, and passing motorists are victims, the violence is more likely to be viewed as terrorism. But the difficulty is that deliberate attacks on specific individuals because of their political importance may harm people who just happen to be in the line of fire or nearby when the bomb explodes. Moreover, "innocents" may be victimized by assassins not only accidentally but sometimes deliberatelyfor example, to eliminate witnesses, distract pursuers, or intimidate bystanders.

Perhaps the best working solution is to accept Ben-Yehuda's general point: that assassination is targeted at specific persons even though others may be harmed, while terrorism is characterized by essentially random targeting. Both aim at maximum political impact, but differ in the rationale for target selection: the assassin believes that killing one or more specific persons will be effective in weakening the will of the opposition; the terrorist believes that the randomness of victimizationespecially if casualties are maximizedwill be effective, particularly by spreading the perceived risks of victimization.

To summarize, terrorism is defined as politically motivated violence, for which organizations are directly or indirectly responsible, that is intended to weaken the will of the opposition by using random targeting to spread the fear of victimization.

Terrorism and law

There is no established legal definition of terrorism. Internationally, efforts within and outside the United Nations have failed in the face of widely divergent perceptions of what constitutes terrorism and who are terrorists. In 1972 the General Assembly formed an Ad Hoc Committee on Terrorism that met for seven years. There were prolonged debates on whether it is necessary or possible to reach a definition (Higgins). Moreover, it became clear that terrorism cannot be defined in terms of specified acts, targets, purposes, or actors. For instance, the shooting of a high official by an individual may be motivated by personal jealousy or envy; a plane may be destroyed in a plot to collect insurance; a diplomat may be kidnapped to force payment of a ransom. Beyond the apparent technical impossibility of defining terrorism as a distinct criminal offense, international rivalries make it politically impossible.

Probably the most intractable political issues have been whether a legal definition should or can include (1) violent actions by a state, and (2) violent resistance to internal or foreign oppression. On the question of state terrorism, governments have adamantly rejected any legal definition that might apply to their own acts of violence against external or internal enemies. On the second issue, governments have sharply disagreed on whether the concept of terrorism might extend to violence on behalf of such causes as "national liberation" from colonial rule or imperial domination, "progressive" opposition to capitalism, resistance to "cultural genocide," or impeding "assaults on the environment." The outcome has been a consensus to abandon the quest for a legal definition of terrorism in favor of a piecemeal strategy: the ad hoc prohibition of carefully delimited acts against specified targets such as skyjacking commercial airliners.

Apart from the United Nations, there have been other multinational attempts to establish a legal basis for cooperation against oppositional (including state-sponsored) terrorism. Most such efforts involve operational agreements among states to help one another in such ways as sharing intelligence, apprehending and extraditing suspects, and joint training of special police and military units. The most ambitious such arrangement is the 1992 agreement (the Maastricht "third pillar") institutionalizing cooperation among the twelve members of the European Union in combating "terrorism, drug trafficking, and serious organized crime" (Chalk, p. 3). The treaty commits the members to eliminating internal border controls, while leaving the definition of terrorism to the discretion of the operational executive (the "K4 Committee"). Given the greater freedom of movement and the lack of oversight by either national parliaments or elected EU institutions, there is some concern that Western Europe is becoming more vulnerable to terrorism while at the same time weakening democratic legal controls over antiterrorism policy decisions (Chalk).

Within the United States, the legal status of terrorism is similarly unsettled. Although it is the subject of a growing stream of congressional committee hearings, presidential statements, and reports from the cabinet level down through the complex of intelligence and investigative agencies, terrorism is as much a term of convenience in American legal discourse as it is in international law. A statutory definition is found in the United States Code, Section 2656f(d): "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetuated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience." However, it is used by the State Department as a guideline for compiling incidence reports, but not by either the Defense Department or the F.B.I., which have their own definitions reflecting the differences in agency priorities and interests (Hoffman, pp. 3738). Though crimes of violence believed to be politically motivated are given the highest investigative priority, the F.B.I. emphasizes specific criminal conduct in developing evidence on which charges are based. Accused persons are indicted not for terrorism but for "a plethora of traditional and, occasionally, exotic criminal offenses" (Smith, p. 7). Two sets of guidelines have been issued by the Attorney General: domestic terrorism investigations are conducted under explicit public guidelines, "foreign-based" terrorism investigations under classified guidelines allowing greater leeway. Increased federal powers (including controversial restrictions on habeas corpus) to deal with both domestic and foreign terrorism were provided in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (Kappler). It is increasingly clear that although political motivation is typically avoided as an element in the prosecution of terrorists, conviction does result in significantly longer sentences (averaging 167 months) than for comparable conventional offenders (averaging 46 months)with identification as "terrorist" being the most powerful predictor of sentence severity (Smith and Damphousse).

Because of their openness and commitment to the rule of law, democracies are indeed more likely than dictatorships to suffer terrorist attacks, and tend under attack to increase police discretionary powers. (For the classic review of the issues, see Wilkinson.) It appears highly unlikely that democratic institutions can be protected from oppositional terrorism without sacrificing, at least temporarily, some freedoms. Whether and how far antiterrorism measures can proceed without themselves contributing to the permanent weakening of democracy is the subject of continuing debate.

Explaining terrorism

Research aimed at explaining terrorism has focused on the psychological characteristics of individual terrorists, the nature of terrorist organizations, and the social or cultural environments in which terrorist organizations emerge.

The psychology of terrorists. In a useful summation of the literature, Ross has identified seven psychological approaches that have been used in efforts to understand terrorists: psychoanalytical, learning, frustration-aggression, narcissism-aggression, trait, developmental, and motivational/rational choice. Finding some merit in each, though none is satisfactory in itself, he proposes an integration of their key features in a model consisting of five "etiological features of terrorism listed in increasing order of importance" (p. 182). First: the development of facilitating traits, with the most often reported being fear, hostility, depression, guilt, antiauthoritarianism, perceived lack of manliness, self-centeredness, extreme extroversion, need for high risks or stress, and alienation. Second: frustration or narcissistic rage resulting in aggressive behavior. Third: associational drives arising from social marginality and isolation. Fourth: learning opportunities to which members of terrorist organizations are exposed, through which orientations and behaviors are shaped. Fifth: cost-benefit calculations by which terrorist acts are justified as the only or most effective means to achieve political goals.

To his credit, Ross argues that these psychological factors constitute a process inclining, though not determining, an individual to become a terrorist. Further, he embeds the psychological model in a larger model of historical and structural factors that define the contexts, either facilitating or inhibiting, in which the processes operate. The full model incorporating both psychological and structural factors summarizes numerous hypotheses about causal paths. This is an ambitious and commendable effort to organize all that has been learned about terrorists and terrorism, as the basis for further research. However, the vast body of research on which it is based is extremely uneven in quality, in terms of both conceptual and methodological rigor. In particular, the psychological studies have generally ignored the political and ideological clashes in which terrorists and terrorism are defined. The assumption of psychopathology has dominated the field of terrorist research, and the measurement of psychological variables has been characterized by low reliability and dubious validity.

The potential value of psychological studies of individual terrorists appears to be quite limited at best. Perhaps the most promising line of inquiry is to follow Crenshaw's lead in recognizing that terrorist behavior is a matter of strategic choice. In Hoffman's words, the "terrorist is fundamentally a violent intellectual, prepared to use and indeed committed to using force in the attainment of his goals" (p. 43). Whatever one thinks of the content and implications of terrorist reasoning, it is clear that terrorists do base their decisions on what they know, or believe they know, about the realities of the political situations in which they operate. That their knowledge and the conclusions to which it leads may be mistaken or even bizarre in the eyes of outsiders is a function not of psychopathology but instead of the information and analyses to which they have access. Among the most important determinants of what terrorists can know and believe are the organizations to which they belong, or at least from which they receive inspiration and direction.

The nature of terrorist organizations. Terrorist organizations vary from the classic secret "cell" structure to loosely defined networks of persons with essentially the same political ideology who have adopted terrorist tactics. Examples of tightly organized (and extensively researched) groups are the Irish Republican Army, the Italian Red Brigade, the German Baader-Meinhof Group (Red Army Fraction), and the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN). There are fewer examples of terrorist networks, and less has been written about them, partly because they have proven to be more difficult to locate and study and partly because the shift toward less tightly knit and identifiable organizations is a relatively recent development. (Debates in the 1960s1980s era over the existence of a worldwide terrorist network dominated by the former USSR were driven by cold war politics rather than any real evidence.) Perhaps the prototypical network internationally is that associated with Osama bin Ladan, widely considered ultimately responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York, the 1996 destruction of an American military housing complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and the 2000 attack on the U. S. S. Cole while berthed for refueling at Aden, Yemen.

Within the United States, there is an emerging network of right-wing terrorists, many of whom are sometime members of an assortment of militias, secessionist communities, white supremacy organizations, and morality movements, most of them adherents to some variant of Christian Identity ideology. The main impetus for shifting to more loosely organized domestic terrorism is the success of the F.B.I. and other law enforcement agencies in obtaining criminal convictions of leaders and members of such organizations as the Ku Klux Klan and Richard Butler's Aryan Nations, which have also been bankrupted by civil suits. To date, the most deadly incident linked to the rightist network is the 1995 bombing of the Murrah federal office building in Oklahoma City (in which 168 people died) by Timothy McVeigh, with help from a few associates and at least tacit approval of many others.

Becoming a terrorist appears to be a "process of radicalization" (Turk) in which politically aware individuals move through blurred and overlapping stages of alienation, searching, recruitment, commitment, and action. Whether a particular individual will in fact become a terrorist cannot be predicted because of the myriad factors affecting the transitions at every point. One of the few safe generalizations is that the many who begin the process become a relative few by its end. And it should be kept in mind that what is known about the radicalization process is based almost entirely on studies of "cell" organizations.

The trajectory begins with a vaguely disturbing sense that "our" kind of people and values are threatened, combined with the assumption that one can "do something about it." This level of political consciousness tends to reflect the individual's perceptions of social divisions and conflicts, with the most common being those associated with class, ethnic, racial, nationalist, and ideological distinctions. Accordingly, it is very likely that a particular group will be seen as the threat which needs to be countered. Conventional political activities such as helping in elections and signing petitions may result in perceived failures to improve the situation. Repeated experiences of political failure lead to frustration with conventional politics: the resentment of threatening others is now heightened by alienation from "the system."

Searching for alternatives may take the alienated individual through a range of ideological and organizational possibilities. Reading, listening to speeches and debates, going to meetings, arguing with others: the search may lead from one version of truth to another, from one group to another, in what some searchers find a confusing odyssey that they wish to end in a clear resolution. They feel the need to believe and do "something." Some of the options will at least raise the issue of whether and when it is right to use violence to further political objectives. And some will offer convincing justifications for violence. Whatever the form of violence advocated or encouraged, eventually the killing of opponents will be the key issue in deciding how serious are one's political concerns. Taking up the gun or bomb is at this point the test of commitment.

The searcher will by now probably have been noticed by those already committed to terrorism. Whether the individual will become a terrorist is problematic, as terrorist organizations screen out the great majority of potential recruits. Regardless of their fervor, individuals seen as lacking the potential for total commitment and disciplined action will not be recruited. Those who are selected will have to "cross the bridge" to be accepted as members of the terrorist organization, which usually means they will be given the assignment of murdering a police officer or committing some other deadly act. The test serves both to confirm the recruit's willingness and ability to carry out an act of illegal violence and to give the organization the power to turn the offender over to the authorities if necessaryfor example, in the event of a refusal to obey orders or a future change of heart.

Commitment is ensured by a strict regimen of internal discipline combining isolation, blackmail, coercion, and indoctrination. Physical and social isolation is accomplished by persuading or forcing the individual to cut off ties to family, friends, and anyone else outside the organization. In rare instances, a contact may be authorized, usually in order to obtain funds, supplies, information, target access, or something else of use to the organization. Movements from place to place are tightly controlled. Members are required to turn over all financial and other personal assets to the organization. Blackmail is a constant threat should the member become seriously troublesome. More often, members who are thought to be weakening in their commitment or to be insubordinate, careless about security, or losing their nerve are punished by beatings, confinement, deprivation of food or other amenities, torture, rape, or murder.

While the elements of isolation, blackmail, and coercion place the individual terrorist in a highly vulnerable controlled environment, real commitment is achieved by indoctrination. Access to unauthorized sources of information is prohibited, exposure to authorized sources is required. Increasingly, the terrorist develops a perspective shaped only by the organization's ideology. Factual assertions cannot be checked, explanations cannot be tested, assumptions and implications cannot be debated. Dissensus becomes an impossibility as well as an offense within the organization. Not surprisingly, the world view promoted by indoctrination typically exaggerates the salience and resources of the organization and the effectiveness of its actions. The major themes are that the cause is just, the organization's power is growing, the struggle is the foremost political reality for opponents as it is for the terrorists, the opposition is weakening, and victory is assured.

The end product of the radicalization process is a dedicated terrorist, whose convictions are nonetheless real even though based as much on isolation and lack of knowledge as much as on collegial support and knowledge of political realities. To the terrorist, responsibility for terrorism and its casualties lies with the opposition, whose threats and intransigence have forced adoption of the terrorist option. The struggle is not a "fantasy war" but a real one.

Environments of terrorism. Excepting the most ruthless dictatorships, terrorist organizations have emerged in virtually every kind of society: democratic and authoritarian, developed and developing, ethnically or racially diverse and homogeneous societies. The diversity of social and cultural environments of terrorism has, so far anyway, defeated efforts to explain terrorism by pointing to class, racial, or other social inequalities; economic exploitation or decline; political oppression; demographic imbalances; or other social structural factors. (For exhaustive reviews of general theories of terrorism and other forms of political violence, see Schmid and Jongman, and Zimmermann.) If theories focused on political and economic factors have achieved little, their failure has at a minimum encouraged the questioning of the common assumption that violence is a political abnormality somehow caused by political and/or economic inequities. That violence may well be not just a potential aberration but an ever-present option in political conflicts is suggested by Laqueur's observation that terrorist organizations usually arise from "a split between the moderate and the more extreme wings of an already-existing organization" (p. 104).

A far more promising path to explanation is suggested by the increasing significance of religious elements, and the declining importance of secular materialist notions of class and power struggles, in the ideologies of terrorism. Juergensmeyer has in a monumental study opened up the implications of this historic shift, demonstrating that the meaningfulness of their struggle for most contemporary terrorists derives from religious traditions and innovations (seldom acknowledged as such) that constitute, or are compatible with, "cultures of violence" (pp. 1012). The thesis is developed through case studies of "social groupings" (encompassing huge and small networks as well as tight organizations) whose ideologies express themes found in five major religious traditions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism, and Buddhism.

In each case it is shown that the terrorist ideology cannot be cavalierly dismissed as simply a distortion or deviation. Christian antiabortionists such as Michael Bray justify the bombing of clinics and the murder of surgeons by complex theological arguments against killing the innocent and for establishing a new moral order. Yoel Lerner's 1995 assassination of Israel's prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was justified by Rabbi Meir Kahane as a religious act to ensure the survival of the state of Israel, which is the essential fore-runner of the biblical Israel to be fulfilled through divine redemption (the coming of the Messiah). The World Trade Center bombing and other violence against the United States and its allies is defended by invoking the Koran's prescription of violence to defend the faith against its enemies, including whoever threatens the material and cultural survival of the faithful. Sikh terrorism in India and abroad is similarly justified by such leaders as Simranjit Singh Mann as protecting the faith from the corrosive effects of secularism and Hinduization. And despite Buddhism's pacifist teachings, Shoko Asahara found justification for releasing sarin gas in the Tokyo subway in traditional Buddhist teachings that the rule of nonviolence can be broken when five conditions are satisfied: "something living must have been killed; the killer must have known that it was alive; the killer must have intended to kill it; an actual act of killing must have taken place; and the person or animal attacked must, in fact, have died" (Juergensmeyer, p. 113). Force may be used to defend the faith and to establish a peaceful moral order.

In each case, religious ideas provide an explanation of the believer's sense of loss and threat in this world; define in cosmic terms the need to struggle against those responsible; and give the believer's life a wonderful new significance as a holy warrior in a just cause. Doubt, confusion, and hopelessness are overcome by a transcendent truth that makes sense of what for many have been "real experiences of economic destitution, social oppression, political corruption, and a desperate need for the hope of rising above the limitations of modern life" (Juergensmeyer, p. 242). Increasingly, the religious ideologies driving terrorist movements resonate with widely held feelings that the secularism of the modern world order is threatening the nonmaterial values (family, morality, faith, caring, sharing) on which human societies depend for meaning and survival.

Three conclusions are drawn from reviewing efforts to explain terrorism. First, terrorists are not psychologically much different from the rest of us. Second, their organizations are shifting toward looser networks rather than the tight hierarchies of the past. Third, the environments inspiring terrorism are increasingly cultural, and specifically religious. The implications for the future appear to be grim.

The future of terrorism

Because individual terrorists and their organizations are becoming harder to keep track of, and given the difficulties of identifying terrorists and terrorism in the first place, the policy assumptions of the past are likely to be counterproductive in the future. Containment, in particular, does not seem to be a promising strategy when the ease of travel and communication are helping to make anachronisms of international borders. Similarly, efforts to control investments and limit technology transfers appear to be not only failing but also aggravating the fears of people around the globe who distrust the motives of multinational economic and political entities. The 2000 demonstrations in Seattle and elsewhere against the International Monetary Fund are harbingers of what we can expect as the development-investment programs of the Western power centers sharpen the great differences between those favored by the programs and those disadvantaged by them.

The "new terrorism" of religiously dedicated holy warriors is less vulnerable to being deterred by military and law enforcement threats. Indeed, the use of violence has not only failed to diminish international and domestic terrorism but also provided the ideologists of terrorism with useful ammunition. Rightist domestic terrorism in the United States has been strengthened by such incidents as the Waco assault, as has Islamic terrorism by the attempted assassinations of Osama bin Ladan and other leading figures. Though understandable and perhaps even appropriate in some instances, military tactical responses to terrorist threats and attacks have given credence in the eyes of believers to religious depictions of Western, particularly American, societies as satanic. The new terrorists are convinced of divine approval of their actions and of ultimate victory, even if it is to be a supernatural one. As Laqueur emphasizes, the new terrorists are so dangerous precisely because they "are not primarily interested in gain or glory, but instead want a state or a society in their own image, cleansed of their enemies" (p. 277).

Such warriors can be expected to show little reluctance to use weapons of mass destruction. Although governments have concentrated investigative resources on reducing the threat of major nuclear attacks, most analysts are more concerned with the growing possibility of small-scale yet spectacularly alarming weapons being used. Small nuclear devices are perhaps less likely to be used than chemical or biological weapons, but in any event the casualties of the future will probably be much greater on average than in the past. Meanwhile, conventional weapons continue to be readily available, along with instructions on how to make and use them. The portent is more incidents, more deaths and injuries, and more terrorist challenges to established social orders.

Austin T. Turk

See also Crime Causation: Political Theories; International Criminal Law; Political Process and Crime; War and Violent Crime; War Crimes.


Ben-Yehuda, Nachman. Political Assassination by Jews. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993.

Chalk, Peter. West European Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.

Crenshaw, Martha. "The Logic of Terrorism: Terrorist Behavior as a Product of Strategic Choice." Origins of Terrorism. Edited by Walter Reich. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Higgins, Rosalyn. "The General International Law of Terrorism." Terrorism and InternationalLaw. Edited by Rosalyn Higgins and Maurice Flory. New York: Routledge, 1997. Pages 1329.

Hoffman, Bruce. Inside Terrorism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.

Juergensmeyer, Mark. Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

Kappler, Burke W. "Small Favors: Chapter 154 of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, the States, and the Right to Counsel." Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 90, no. 2 (2000): 467598.

Laqueur, Walter. Terrorism. Boston: Little, Brown, 1977.

. The New Terrorism: Fanaticism and the Arms of Mass Destruction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Ross, Jeffrey Ian. "Beyond the Conceptualization of Terrorism: A Psychological-Structural Model of the Causes of This Activity." Collective Violence: Harmful Behavior in Groups and Government. Edited by Craig Summers and Eric Markusen. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999. Pages 169192.

Schmid, Alex P., and Jongmanlbert J. Political Terrorism. New York: North-Holland Publishing Company, 1988.

Smith, Brent L. Terrorism in America: Pipe Bombs and Pipe Dreams. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.

Smith, Brent L., and Damphousse, Kelly R. "Punishing Political Offenders: The Effect of Political Motive on Federal Sentencing Decisions." Criminology 34, no. 3 (1996): 289321.

Turk, Austin T. "Political Crime." Major Forms of Crime. Edited by Robert F. Meier. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1984. Pages 119135.

Wardlaw, Grant. Political Terrorism: Theory, Tactics, and Counter-Measures, 2d ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Wilkinson, Paul. Terrorism and the Liberal State. London: Macmillan, 1977.

Zimmermann, Ekkart. Political Violence, Crises, and Revolutions: Theories and Revolutions. Cambridge, Mass.: Schenkman Publishing Company, 1983.


views updated May 29 2018


Terrorism was first used to define a systematic policy of violence during the French Revolution and has since undergone important transformations that have been topics of both scientific investigation and efforts at technological control. What is now called terrorism is an old practice that has acquired new dimensions as a result of science and technology in at least three respects: rationale, publicity, and weapons (and other means). Any adequate ethical or policy assessment of terrorism requires consideration of all three aspects of the problem.

Historical Aspects

Terrorism is an ill-defined but ethically charged term, which generally refers to the highly public, calculated use of violence, destruction, or intimidation to gain political, religious, or personal objectives. Yet in this sense many wars and even some police actions might be described as terrorist insofar as they seek to induce or exploit fear. Some observers also argue that there is little principled difference between official U.S. definitions of terror and counterinsurgency measures described in U.S. armed forces manuals (Atran 2003).

From certain Roman emperors to the Spanish Inquisition (beginning in the fifteenth century) and the French Revolution's Reign of Terror (1793–1794), early forms of terrorism were primarily conducted by the state or other parties with high political power such as the Catholic Church. The nineteenth century, however, witnessed the development of complementary efforts by individuals or small groups such as the small band of Russian revolutionaries known as Narodnaya Volya (People's Will) who grew impatient with the slow pace of tsarist reforms. Members of this group are among the few to refer to themselves as terrorists, and, aided by the development of powerful and affordable explosives, they assassinated Tsar Alexander II in 1881. The Fenian Brotherhood, an Irish-American group, planted explosives around London in the mid-1800s to protest the British occupation of Ireland, thus demonstrating one of the main objectives of many terrorist organizations, namely, to attempt to reacquire territory that they feel is legitimately theirs. On June 28, 1914, Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Serbian nationalist terrorist organization called the Black Hand, assassinated Archduke Francis Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, thus triggering the social and political upheavals of World War I.

World War II witnessed the uses of state terrorism by both the Allied and Axis powers. After the war, terrorism continued to broaden beyond the assassination of political leaders. Terrorist movements developed in certain European colonies to both pressure colonial powers and intimidate indigenous populations into supporting a particular group. After colonialism had waned in the 1950s and 1960s, terrorism continued in several areas and for a variety of purposes. These attacks often targeted civilians, as in the case of the murder of eleven Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972.

Although suicide terrorism has deep historical roots (Atran 2003), it has played a major role in Middle East politics since the early 1980s. Since at least 1993, suicide attacks by groups such as the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) have continually thwarted peace efforts between Israel and Palestine. Although Islamic religious extremism is involved in many of these terrorist attacks, it should be noted that other religious groups have committed acts of terror. The same holds true for secular groups, such as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka.

In the 1990s, Osama bin Laden, a member of a wealthy Saudi family, rose to prominence as the leader of al-Qaeda (the Base), an Islamist terrorist organization. Determined to resist Western influence in Muslim countries, members of this group killed hundreds in bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998. Al-Qaeda members have been able to create a complex, networked organization capable of transcending national borders. Such capabilities allowed them to hijack commercial airplanes and crash them into the World Trade Center towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on September 11, 2001. Passengers onboard a fourth plane forced it to crash in a Pennsylvania field. These attacks caused approximately 3,000 deaths and extensive social, psychological, and economic damage, and set off major political changes around the world, much of which bears on the use of science and technology both as potential security threats and as sources of counterterrorist measures.


The justifications that terrorists give of their actions are perhaps even more difficult to consider than the definition of the actions themselves. It is easier—and initially appears more accurate—to describe terrorists as cowards or insane. But such a reaction runs the danger of misconstruing the phenomena and feeding into counterproductive responses.

Works by al-Qaeda and Theodore Kaczynski (the Unabomber) suggest that a major underlying rationale for some contemporary forms of terrorism is a condemnation of the dangers and depravity of modernity, including liberalism, capitalism, and a technological materialism divorced from spiritual or ethical guidance. Paul Berman (2003) traces much of the ideological impetus of al-Qaeda back to Egyptian Islamic fundamentalist groups and their "intellectual hero," Sayyid Qutb (1906–1966), who presented an extended critique of the modern world and the tyranny that technology holds over life. Qutb traced the source of error back to a split between the spiritual and material realms, which put humans out of touch with their own nature. He did not lament science but did decry the alienating effects of scientific "progress" (and the attendant consumerism) divorced from spirituality. The split between the secular and the sacred, he argued, was the fatal error that rendered the modern world inhospitable to a meaningful human existence and relationship with God.

Qutb's cultural critique also offered a revolutionary program to save humankind by calling for a small vanguard to establish sharia, the religious law of Islam, for all of society. Competing interpretations of the Koran and the meaning of Islam have created conflicts along the spectrum of liberal and extremist Muslims. For Berman Islamic terrorists are heirs to modern European fascism, with their ideals of submission, absolutism, and "the one instead of the many." William A. Galston (2003) suggests that such an interpretation erases key distinctions such as that between the meaningless self-annihilation of nihilists and the politically motivated acts of suicide terrorists. Furthermore, the thesis of liberalism versus totalitarianism reinforces the belief that terrorists "hate us for what we are, not what we do," which curtails critical scrutiny of policy decisions.

Kaczynski developed a related rationale in his manifesto, Industrial Society and Its Future (published by the New York Times and Washington Post in 1995). Whereas Qutb placed the problems of modernity in religious history and sought solutions in religious texts, Kaczynski appealed to human evolutionary history to explain modern social and psychological problems and relied on Western philosophers to buttress his critique. Nonetheless, both provided similar justifications for taking radical steps to undermine modern techno-industrial society. Alston Chase (2003) argues that (just as with Qutb) Kaczynski's writing cannot be simply dismissed as fringe lunacy or simple-minded Luddism. His ideas were shaped by real experiences as a mathematician at Harvard University in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

First, Kaczynski was subjected to dehumanizing psychology experiments at the hands of Henry A. Murray. Second, the climate of academia (and the wider culture) was saturated by the tenets of logical positivism, which held that ethical claims are meaningless, because science cannot prove them either true or false. Ethical and other values are purely matters of private emotion. As with Qutb, Kaczynski saw this separation of private (moral) and public (material) and other such fundamental schisms in modern industrial society as the root cause of unethical science and technology, vacuous consumerism, and massive human indignities and feelings of meaninglessness. Finally, Kaczynski held that science and technology had become servants of a military-industrial complex in ways that echoed the arguments of other critics such as the American mathematician Norbert Wiener (1894–1964). Such an argument justifies Kaczynski's rejection of the combatant/civilian distinction, because virtually all academic scientists and engineers could be perceived as caught up in a web of culpability. There is no doubt that acts of terror are objectionable, but this does not erase the possibility that their underlying rationale may at least be intelligible.

Although one major way to avoid considering the reasons that terrorists give for their actions is to reject terrorists themselves as irrational, another is to propose a sweeping historical thesis such as Samuel P. Huntington's "clash of civilizations" (1996). In response, Amartya Sen (2002) has argued that the "clash thesis" dangerously oversimplifies the heterogeneity of motives and objectives behind terrorist acts by reducing complex people and organizations to one dimension. Huntington's thesis paints a patina of coherence over the messy reality—that rationales for terrorism are diverse, complex, changing, and poorly understood. Context matters and terrorism cannot be reduced to a single "root cause" such as poverty, political conflict, or the intrusion of Western values on other cultures.

As an alternative to reliance on a large-scale historical thesis, it would perhaps be useful to undertake more detailed psychological and social scientific studies of terrorists and terrorist organizations. According to Scott Atran (2003), for instance, suicide terrorists have no appreciable psychopathology and are at least as educated and economically well-off as their surrounding populations, although there is a fairly strong negative correlation between civil liberties and suicide terrorism. In their studies attempting to uncover the causes of terrorism, Alan B. Krueger and Jitka Maleckova (2003) conclude that "any connection between poverty, education, and terrorism is, at best, indirect, complicated, and probably quite weak" (p. B10). They suggest that terrorism is a response to political conditions and feelings of indignity and frustration that are only weakly linked to economic circumstances. Marc Sageman (2004) similarly claims that people join terrorist organizations to escape a sense of alienation.

Atran also notes a correlation between U.S. involvement in international situations and terrorist attacks against the United States. Adolf Toben˜a and Scott Atran (2004) suggest that understanding terrorists' motivations requires research both on social conditions and individual traits. Hector N. Qirko (2004) proposes a model from evolutionary psychology to explain suicide terrorism. He suggests that this non-kin altruistic behavior can be explained in terms of inclusive fitness, because institutions that train suicide terrorists essentially create "fictive kin."

Contemporary terrorists are usually young males who feel that they have no alternative path to influence and power and that their voice will otherwise be ignored. Humiliation, despair, and loss of economic or social advantage are factors that often play into motivations to join terrorist movements. In many Muslim areas, expanding youth populations cannot find opportunities because of rigidly authoritarian regimes. For many, the allure of martyrdom becomes a strong case for carrying out suicide missions. Indeed Nasra Hassan (2001) reports that there is an excess of young recruits hoping for martyrdom.


A primary terrorist objective is the creation of fear in a targeted population in order to use the psychological impact of actual or threatened violence to effect political change. The capability to cause terror has been multiplied not just by more powerful weapons, but also by the expanded media coverage of terrorist acts made possible by innovations in communication technologies. Knowledge of terrorist acts is much more immediate, vivid, and widely disseminated than ever before.

Before the advent of mass media and modern communication technologies, acts of terror were committed in crowds in order to gain publicity. This led Brian M. Jenkins (1974) to describe "terrorism [as] theatre," which was vividly confirmed by the September 11 attacks, designed in part to provide billions of television viewers with images symbolizing the weakness of the United States. Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, chose that target for the open space surrounding it, which allowed for extensive television coverage. The Colombian leftist terrorist group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has its own radio broadcasts, and there are more than 4,000 terrorist websites (Wright 2004). Terrorists have adapted strategies with the emergence of satellite networks such as the Arabic news network Al Jazeera and the video capabilities of the Internet to expand their abilities to gain publicity.

Brigitte L. Nacos (1994) has explored the relationship between terrorism and the media, and suggested that the media unintentionally help terrorists achieve goals of publicity, recognition, instability, and respect. Focusing on the Iranian hostage crisis (1979–1981) and the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 (1988), Nacos argued that terrorists successfully manipulated the linkages between the news media, public opinion, and presidential decision-making by staging spectacles of terror. The opposite view is that media attention harms terrorist causes. Images of death and destruction focus attention not on the group's message but on its method, which can delegitimize its cause and alienate potential supporters.

What is not controversial, however, is the fact that media attention can and often has shaped the outcome of terrorist activities. It can disrupt counterterrorist operations and influence the dynamics of hostage situations. Terrorist groups increasingly target the media, which attracts attention and shapes coverage. The decision by managers of two U.S. newspapers (as urged by the Federal Bureau of Investigation) to publish the Unabomber's manifesto led to his identification and capture. Nacos argued, however, that this was a shameful act of government acquiescence to mass-media pressure, which might eventually encourage more terrorism. The mass media holds wider powers too, in the sense that its public representations partially define what counts as terrorism and what counts as legitimate acts of violence.

Such issues raise questions about the responsibility of the media in covering terrorism. Excessive coverage may further terrorist causes and encourage more attacks, but it is also true that too little coverage would not fulfill the media's goal of informing the public. One specific example of this dilemma is posed by the occasional audio and videotapes released by bin Laden. How much coverage should he be granted? An example of self-imposed limits on media coverage emerged in the aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, when the major media organizations declined to air images of beheadings performed by terrorists. But the explosion of media outlets, especially on the Internet, makes it easier for terrorists to publicize their message.

Media coverage of terrorism also raises the important ethical issue of tradeoffs between freedom of the press and security interests. Democratic governments must walk a fine line to find the proper balance for controlling media actions. In the 1980s the British government banned the broadcasting of statements by members of terrorist organizations and their supporters. Margaret Thatcher, the then prime minister of Britain, justified this policy by claiming that the surest way to stop terrorism was to cut off "the oxygen of publicity." Some argue that coverage of vulnerabilities in U.S. national security (e.g., the susceptibility of nuclear power plants to terrorist attacks) might also help terrorists prioritize future acts.

Finally, the publicity received by Islamic fundamentalist groups has given the impression that they commit the majority of suicide terrorist acts. But Robert A. Pape (2003), in a quantitative study of the 188 documented acts of suicide terrorism from 1980 to 2001, concluded that this impression was false. The leading instigator of suicide attacks was the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a secular Marxist-Leninist group that was responsible for seventy-five of the incidents.

Weapons and Other Means

As in many other areas of interaction between science, technology, and society, the most dramatic transformation in contemporary terrorism is new technological means. These means come in two forms: means of communication among terrorists that facilitate their planning and execution, and means in the form of weapons. The thousands of deaths resulting from the September 11 attacks signal terrorists' abilities to manipulate modern technologies to cause ever greater devastation. Contemporary terrorist attacks highlight the fact that not just the use of individual technological instruments is at stake. Developed societies' dependency on centralized, complex technological systems looms as a source of vulnerability that gives terrorists enormous power.

Lawrence Wright (2004) uses the March 2004 Madrid train bombings by al-Qaeda to detail the importance of the Internet to terrorist organizations. He argues that the Internet serves two interrelated purposes. First, it is a vehicle for strategic and tactical goals such as planning and organizing attacks, raising funds, and training recruits. The Internet and other communication technologies (e.g., cell phones and satellite phones) allow for highly coordinated international attacks. Al-Qaeda even publishes two online magazines that feature how-to articles on kidnapping and other terrorist tactics. Coded communications are used, and web sites are continually moved in order to avoid detection.

The second purpose served by the Internet is more fundamental. Muslim immigration in Europe is creating massive social and psychological disruptions. Many young Muslims have trouble adapting to their new situations and are confused about whether their adopted homelands are part of "the land of believers" or "the land of impiety." The Internet provides a virtual community and a compassionate, responsive forum that "stands in for the idea of the ummah, the mythologized Muslim community" (Wright 2004, p. 49). This virtual community strengthens feelings of common identity and provides mutual emotional support to combat feelings of alienation. Arabic satellite channels are being replaced by the Internet as the main conduit of information and communication among a growing global "jihadi subculture."

Marc Sageman (2004) sees further implications of the new Internet culture. Al-Qaeda, for example, is a nonhierarchical network, which increasingly uses bottom-up, self-selected recruitment strategies (rather than top-down selection) as a result of emerging Internet communities. Various levels of adherents form according to different interpretations of the ideology and purpose of al-Qaeda. Top-down control is diminished, as leaders no longer approve all attacks. After losing its Afghan sanctuary, the leadership of al-Qaeda is more reliant on such semi-independent cells in diverse regions. Sageman sees such local cells as the wave of the future, a theory supported by the Madrid bombings, which were carried out by a semi-independent cell. Because of the Internet, al-Qaeda is becoming a virtual community (not dependent on any one geographical locale) in the global space of the Internet. It is a "virtual Islamist state that is trying to find a place for itself in the actual world" (Wright 2004, p. 53). The cohesiveness of this virtual community presents fundamental questions about its legitimate recognition in the international arena.

The use of the Internet and other communications technologies has sparked a technological arms race as government entities develop their own innovations to track and monitor terrorist activities. Government intervention such as shutting down web sites that are judged to support terrorism has sparked controversies about the proper limits to free speech (e.g., should instructions on bomb making be available online?).

Terrorists also use technologies in the form of weapons, which span the spectrum from simple to complex. Nasra Hassan (2001) explains that the materials used to build suicide bombs (nails, gunpowder, light switches, acetone, etc.) are not only readily available but so affordable that the most expensive part of some Palestinian suicide missions is the transportation to the site of the attack. Similarly, very little expertise or high-tech equipment is needed to make effective agricultural bioterrorist weapons (Wheelis, Casagrande, and Madden 2002). Timothy McVeigh used an ammonium nitrate and fuel oil (ANFO) bomb, which was composed of many simple and readily available components (e.g., fertilizer) but was most likely fairly complicated to construct. So-called dirty bombs (combinations of TNT or ANFO explosives with highly radioactive materials) are similar in that radioactive materials are relatively easy to procure (significant quantities have even been found in scrap yards), but constructing and deploying an effective dirty bomb capable of widely dispersing radiation is difficult (Levi and Kelly 2002).

Nuclear weapons are extremely difficult to build and nuclear material is rare and hard to refine, but political unrest in nations possessing them has increased fears that terrorists could acquire existing nuclear weapons. The term loose nukes refers to nuclear weapons, materials, or knowledge that could fall into terrorist hands. The black market in uranium and plutonium and poorly paid Russian scientists are of special concern. Al-Qaeda has repeatedly attempted to purchase highly enriched uranium, and states that sponsor terrorism continually try to build nuclear weapons. The threat of nuclear terrorism raises the old "nuclear dilemma" former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower noted in the 1950s, namely, how to ensure atomic power is used to promote peace rather than threaten war. Fear surrounding these possibilities also spreads rumors of new weapons, such as "red mercury," which could make nuclear fusion weapons easier to build. Controversy surrounds the nature and very existence of red mercury, however (Edwards 1995).

Biological and chemical agents have also been used to kill and terrorize targeted populations. At least one British officer gave blankets used by smallpox patients to Native Americans during the French and Indian War (1754–1763), and reports exist of similar acts by land speculators and settlers. In 2001 an unidentified terrorist mailed letters laced with anthrax to U.S. senators and media icons. Five people died as a result. In the late 1980s Saddam Hussein used a combination of chemical agents including sarin, mustard gas, and possibly VX to kill as many as 5,000 and wound another 65,000 Kurds in northern Iraq.

In addition to both simple and more complex weapons, terrorists have adapted other technologies to serve as weapons. The most dramatic example is the use of commercial airplanes and skyscrapers by terrorists on September 11, 2001. It could also be argued, however, that terrorists even use television as a psychological weapon by creating images that induce fear.

Perhaps the most frightening reality raised by contemporary terrorist acts is the inherent vulnerability of complex sociotechnical systems. As Langdon Winner (2004) argues, life in modern civilization increasingly depends on large-scale, complex, geographically extended, and often centralized technological systems. The Y2K scare vividly raised the specter of vulnerability, as citizens, governments, and businesses alike realized how fragile such highly integrated and tightly coupled systems are. Examples include information and computer networks, dams and water purification systems, nuclear power plants, the energy transmission and distribution infrastructure, the communications infrastructure, chemical plants, gas pipelines, railroads, the mail system, food supply chains, huge fields of monoculture crops, and the containerized cargo system.

The human demands and material costs of policing these systems are, in the long term, unsustainable. Totalitarian societies have "hardened" their technologies to provide the necessary surveillance and protection, but this destroys civil freedom. Reliable engineering can solve only some of the problems. The only alternative left for free, democratic societies, Winner argues, is to embrace an attitude of trust. Citizens expect that key technologies will always work reliably. The relationship is reciprocal as it informs the structure and operation of technological systems themselves. The upshot is that "Many key components are built in ways that leave them open to the possibility of inadvertent or deliberate interference" (p. 156).

When this attitude of openness and trust is undermined by a sense of vulnerability and dread, rights and democratic institutions are threatened. Fears of cyber-, bio-, eco-, and other terrorist plots lead to a society that begins to treat all citizens as suspects, because anyone could potentially cause massive damage given the vulnerability of high-density populations dependent upon tightly integrated systems of all sorts.

Winner speculates that "Although seldom mentioned in the mass media, the ultimate fear driving public and private policies in the post 9/11 [era] is an awareness that seemingly secure, reliable structures of contemporary civilization are, taken together, an elaborate house of cards" (p. 167). This taps into our deepest fears about technology: that the powers we seek to control will come back to destroy us. Winner presents a suite of options based on the premise of designing technical systems that are more loosely coupled and "forgiving." Environmental design and bioregionalism provide models for shifting to locally available resources and decentralized systems.

The vulnerability of sociotechnical systems presents a curious reversal of the technological and power asymmetries in the relationship between terrorists and the groups they attack. The latter are generally regarded as privileged in terms of technology and power, whereas the former must take recourse to terrorist tactics precisely because of their position of weakness. Certainly, many of these groups are oppressed. But power in this dynamic is revealed as a two-way, nonhierarchical affair. The massive vulnerability of technological systems (and the fact that many technologies are becoming easier to manufacture on small scales partially because of the wide dissemination of knowledge) gives to individuals and small groups an inordinate amount of power to inflict damage and spread terror.


SEE ALSO Aviation Regulatory Agencies;Biological Weapons;Building Destructions and Collapses;Chemical Weapons;Fire;Information Ethics;International Relations;Security;Terrorism and Science.


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Berman, Paul. (2003). Terror and Liberalism. New York: Norton.

Chase, Alston. (2003). Harvard and the Unabomber: The Education of an American Terrorist. New York: Norton.

Edwards, Rob. (1995). "Cherry Red and Very Dangerous." New Scientist 146(1975): 4–5.

Elshtain, Jean Bethke. (2003). Just War against Terror. New York: Basic.

Galston, William A. (2003). "Why They Hate Us." Commonweal 130(11): 22–24.

Gilbert, Paul. (1994). Terrorism, Security, and Nationality: An Introductory Study in Applied Political Philosophy. London: Routledge.

Hassan, Nasra. (2001). "An Arsenal of Believers." New Yorker 77(36): 36–41.

Huntington, Samuel P. (1996). The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Jenkins, Brian M. (1974). Terrorism and Kidnapping. Santa Monica, CA: Rand.

Krueger, Alan B., and Jitka Maleckova. (2003). "Seeking the Roots of Terrorism." Chronicle of Higher Education, 6 June, B10–B11.

Levi, Michael A., and Henry C. Kelly. (2002). "Weapons of Mass Disruption." Scientific American 287(5): 76–81.

Nacos, Brigitte L. (1994). Terrorism and the Media: From the Iran Hostage Crisis to the World Trade Center Bombing. New York: Columbia University Press.

Pape, Robert A. (2003). "Dying to Kill Us." New York Times, 22 September, A17.

Qirko, Hector N. (2004). "'Fictive Kin' and Suicide Terrorism." Science 304(5667): 49–51.

Sageman, Marc. (2004). Understanding Terror Networks. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Sen, Amartya. (2002). "Civilizational Imprisonments." New Republic 226(22): 28–33.

Toben˜a, Adolf, and Scott Atran. (2004). "Individual Factors in Suicide Terrorism." Science 304(5667): 47–49.

Wheelis, Mark; Rocco Casagrande; and Laurence V. Madden. (2002). "Biological Attack on Agriculture: Low-Tech, High-Impact Bioterrorism." BioScience 52(7): 569–576.

Winner, Langdon. (2004). "Trust and Terror: The Vulnerability of Complex Socio-technical Systems." Science as Culture 13(2): 155–172.

Wolin, Richard. (2003). "Are Suicide Bombings Morally Defensible?" Chronicle of Higher Education, 24 October, B12–B14.

Wright, Lawrence. (2004). "The Terror Web." New Yorker 80(21): 40–53.


Kaczynski, Theodore. (1995). Industrial Society and Its Future. Available from http://www.unabombertrial.com/manifesto.


views updated May 29 2018


Violence directed primarily and randomly against civilians with the aim of intimidating them, achieving political goals, or exacting revenge for perceived grievances.

Since the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks that destroyed the twin World Trade Center skyscrapers in New York City and killed nearly 2,800 persons, terrorism arising out of conflicts in the Middle East has been a focus of international media attention. Concern about violence undertaken by groups and states it considered to be terrorists prompted the United States to declare a war on terrorism, two manifestations of which have been the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite this close association of terrorism with the Middle East, with the notable exception of the year 2001, the majority of terrorist incidents committed worldwide and the majority of victims of terrorism have been outside of or unrelated to political conflicts in the Middle East. Nevertheless, it is true that civilians somewhere in the Middle East have been victims of politically motivated violence every year since at least 1992.

Defining Terrorism

In trying to assess the significance of terrorism, the most difficult problem is the lack of an agreed-upon understanding of what the word terrorism means. Political scientists tend to restrict terrorism to acts of violence carried out by nonstate actors against civilians. Historians, sociologists, and experts in international humanitarian law, however, tend to use a broader definition that includes all premeditated acts of violence against civilians, whether carried out by nonstate political groups or by states. Governmentsespecially those confronting armed opposition groupsand the media generally use the political-science definition of terrorism, often expanding it to include violent acts against military as well as civilian victims. In contrast, the nonstate perpetrators of violence consider their actions to be legitimate forms of resistance to state terrorism aimed at suppressing self-determination, even though they may be directed against civilians (Kimmerling, p. 23). The notion of a legitimate right to resist state oppression is controversial, and no international legal convention addresses this matter. Nonstate groups generally cite the 1960 United Nations General Assembly Resolution on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples as recognizing their right of resistance. Indeed, that resolution declares, "forcible resistance to forcible denial of self-determination . . . is legitimate," and it says that nonstate groups may receive external support from other governments.

Giving a measure of international legitimacy to resistance struggles has complicated the problem of defining terrorism because it essentially has become a political decision whether a nonstate actor is deemed a terrorist or a genuine national liberation movement fighting for independence from foreign control or occupation. During the Cold War rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States (19471991), such decisions tended to be based more on ideological factors than on objective assessments of the goals and motives of particular nonstate groups. For example, the Soviet Union provided clandestine support for the South Yemen independence movement (19631967) and for the Dhufar liberation movement in Oman (19651971) primarily because both areas at the time were under the control of Britain, a major U.S. ally. Similarly, the United States provided covert assistance to the Kurds in Iraq (19701975) and the Mojahedin in Afghanistan (19791989) primarily because in both cases the nonstate groups were fighting for independence from Soviet client regimes. The Soviet Union and the United States condemned as
terrorists those nonstate groups that were fighting against regimes the other country favored, and they praised as national resistance heroes those groups fighting against governments they opposed.

Over time, a special vocabulary of terrorism emerged. For instance, the term state terrorism came to be used for violent acts used by disfavored states to suppress resistance movements. The Soviet Union used this term to describe the policies of two U.S. allies: Israel, for the repression of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip after 1967; and Turkey, for the repression of its Kurdish minority after 1984. The United States, in turn, used state terrorism as early as the mid-1970s to describe the repressive domestic policies of states it considered to be Soviet allies, such as Iraq, Syria, and South Yemen. During the 1980s another term, state sponsor of terrorism, emerged to describe the support for nonstate groups provided by countries that clearly were not allied to either the Soviet Union or the United States. Iran and Libya were identified as the main state sponsors of terrorism, the former because of its assistance after 1982 to Hizbullah in Lebanon. In the case of Libya, the United States accused that country of supporting Palestinian groups that targeted U.S. and Israeli interests in Europe and of assisting several terrorist groups operating in north and central Africa.

Origins of Terrorism in the ArabIsrael Conflict

The superpower rivalry in and rhetoric about the Middle East tended both to obscure the local origins of terrorism and to frustrate efforts to address the multifaceted consequences of violence. This problem is best revealed in the ArabIsrael conflict, which began in 1948 separately from but in tandem with the Cold War and still continues unresolved even though the superpower conflict has ended. One significant legacy of the Cold War relationship to the ArabIsrael conflict has been a great volume of partisan literature, especially in the years after the formation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964. The IsraeliPalestinian struggle over pre-1948 Palestine (which became Israel plus the territories of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in 1948) is the core of the ArabIsrael conflict. The literature on this aspect of the conflict illustrates the controversies in trying to achieve any relatively objective consensus on what groups merit designation as terrorists and what kinds of violent acts constitute terrorism. For this reason, it is a useful case to study.

For nearly thirty years prior to the signing of the Oslo Accord in September 1993, the State of Israel proclaimed the PLO and the various Palestinian resistance groups that comprised its membership to be terrorist organizations. Inevitably, there emerged a body of writings that supported the Israeli position, not just in Israel but also in Europe and North America. Although some of these studies were sophisticated and scholarly analyses of the PLO's goals and methods, other accounts were merely polemical denunciations of PLO tactics. Beginning in 1968 and continuing for more than a decade, armed Palestinian groups known as fidaʾiyyun (guerrillas) carried out numerous, violent operations that resulted in the deaths of civilians. Many of their actions were sensational incidents that attracted considerable media attentiona PLO objective, as the guerrillas hoped publicity would further their cause. The several international airplane hijackings, for example, culminated in September 1970 (known as Black September) with the hijacking of four planes in as many days, precipitating a civil war between the PLO and the army of Jordan. Attacks on Israeli interests abroad culminated in the seizing of Israeli athletes as hostages at the 1972 Olympic games in Munich, an incident that left eleven athletes dead. Sporadic cross-border raids into Israel (from Jordan and Lebanon) culminated in the temporary seizure of buildings in the northern Israeli towns of Kiryat Shmona and Maʿalot (April and May 1974) and the deaths of thirty-eight civilians, including many children. Rather than winning sympathy for the Palestinians as the perpetrators expected, such incidents created and reinforced a public image of the PLO as a terrorist organization.

In contrast to the official Israeli and U.S. views, the PLO saw itself as a national liberation movement dedicated to achieving Palestinian rights and resisting what it termed Israeli state terrorism. Its fighters were lauded as heroes and martyrs, and its operations against Israeli civilians were justified as defense of, or reprisals for, Israeli attacks on Palestinian refugee camps and assassinations of PLO leaders. The Soviet Union, the primary international backer of the PLO after 1968, tended to remain silent about many of the more sensational acts of violence by Palestinian guerrillas, but it continued to promote the PLO as a national liberation movement. Soviet support was especially significant after 1974 when Moscow encouraged diplomatic recognition of the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Quite separate from the Soviet backing for the PLO, a few academic studies and advocacy articles appeared that were sympathetic to Palestinian claims and rights. Although these writings were scarcer than the volumes of pro-Israeli literature and never achieved a similar impact on the mainstream U.S. media, they did have some influence on intellectuals in Africa, Asia, and Europe.

The IsraeliPLO conflict affected both regional and international politics by the late 1970s. This is because the PLO used Lebanon, where a large number of Palestinian refugees had lived since 1948, as a base for operations against Israel throughout the 1970s, and Israel responded with retaliatory raids against what it termed "terrorist nests"suspected PLO facilities in refugee camps. Many Lebanese and Palestinian civilians died in these raids, and their deaths were described officially as "collateral damage" in a larger operation against "terrorist infrastructure." The PLO condemned Israeli air strikes as further evidence of state terror and also cited them as justification for its own continuing attacks across the Lebanon-Israel border. The escalating cycle of attacks and reprisals contributed to the civil war in Lebanon (19751989) and also led to an Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon in 1978. Israeli forces occupied a 6-mile-wide security strip, ostensibly to prevent attacks into Israel; this occupation lasted until 2000. A second Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 resulted in a war with the PLO, its forced withdrawal from Lebanon under international protection, and the Israeli occupation of Beirut and all of southern Lebanon. However, almost as soon as the threat from the PLO seemed to be contained, Israel faced a new source of terrorism that stemmed directly from its occupation of Lebanon (which lasted until 1985).

A Lebanese group, Hizbullah, was formed in late 1982 with the initial aim of expelling Israeli forces from Lebanon. Hizbullah's tactics, which included suicide bombings against French and U.S. military forces in 1983 and, beginning in 1984, the kidnapping of European civilians to use as hostages for the release of its members held in Israeli jails, earned it an international reputation as a terrorist organization. Hizbullah, however, neither sought nor received any support from the Soviet Union. Like the revolutionary government that assumed power in Iran in 1979, Hizbullah was equally hostile to Soviet and U.S. policies in the Middle East. Although its objectives were first and foremost political, Hizbullah also was inspired by its own interpretation of Shiʿite Islam. Its frequent use of religious rhetoric to explain or to justify its actions tended to alienate the Soviet Union even more than its direct criticisms did. Thus, Hizbullah became one of the first major nonstate groups in the Middle East to lack a superpower patron. Despite or perhaps because of this status, Hizbullah succeeded in establishing a permanent presence in Lebanon's politics and in becoming a nonstate group whose actions Israel neither could control nor ignore.

Meanwhile, the removal of the PLO to Tunisia did not end its political influence among Palestinians, and when an intifada (uprising) erupted in December 1987 among Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the PLO gradually emerged as a main coordinating force for the resistance. New groups unaffiliated with the PLO also emerged during the intifada, principally HAMAS and Islamic Jihad. Unlike the PLO, which claimed to be inspired by secular ideas, HAMAS and Islamic Jihad cited religious ideals and percepts as at least partial justification for their resistance against Israeli rule. Concern about the increasing influence of groups such as HAMAS and Islamic Jihad may have prompted the leaders of Israel's Labor Party to begin negotiations with the PLO to end the long conflict. The political rapprochement between Israel and the PLO in 1993 not only was unexpected, but it also necessitated a re-evaluation of the negative ways each side had depicted the other. However, the years of intellectual and emotional investment in the terrorism paradigm made it difficult for some people on both sides to view formerly hated terrorists as legitimate partners in peace negotiations.
Thus, from the outset of the Oslo peace process, some Israelis and Palestinians were skeptical of the agreement and even were determined to overturn it. The assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995 (by an Israeli opposed to the Oslo Accord) and the first suicide bombings undertaken in 1996 by HAMAS were significant terrorist incidents that led to multiple actions and reprisals that cumulatively undermined popular support for the peace process among both Israelis and Palestinians.

It was in this increasingly tense atmosphere that Israeli politician Ariel Sharon intervened in a manner that would have the effect (albeit at the time, unforeseen) of overturning the peace process. Sharon was one of those Israelis who distrusted and even opposed the Oslo Accord, and it is plausible that he never had changed his conviction that the PLO was a terrorist organization. When in September 2000 he led a group of Knesset members, under armed escort, into the Muslim religious complex in Jerusalem known as al-Haram al-Sharif, his intention was to assert Israeli sovereignty over a site that Jews claim is the Temple Mountthe location of their ancient temple destroyed by the Romans more than 2,000 years agoand thus to prevent its possible return to Palestinian sovereignty, which had been proposed by some members of the Labor Party. The incident provoked clashes with Palestinian worshipers, and the next day Israeli police killed four protesting Palestinians as they emerged from Friday prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque in al-Haram al-Sharif complex. The situation escalated rapidly as Palestinian policemen, in an effort to protect civilians, clashed with Israeli soldiers at checkpoints in the West Bank. The al-Aqsa intifada thus began, and subsequently its characteristic features included targeted assassinations of suspected Palestinian resistance leaders by Israel and retaliatory Palestinian suicide bombings at crowded civilian sites inside Israeli cities. By early 2001, Israel and its supporters were labeling all acts of violence from the Palestinian side as terrorism.

The U.S. "War on Terrorism"

Middle East terrorism, except for incidents such as the attack at the Munich Olympic games in 1972, generally has stayed within the region. However, Middle Eastrelated terrorism acquired a global dimension with the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States by nineteen members of the al-Qaʿida network. Al-Qaʿida is a political organization founded by Saudi Arabian national Osama bin Ladin, and its objectives after 1991 were to attack the United States and its interests because it viewed the U.S. government as the main sponsor of regimes that it defined as "unjust," oppressive, and illegitimate. Ironically, bin Ladin collaborated with U.S. officials during the 1980s when he and the United States shared the same goal of forcing the Soviet Union to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. But when the United States dispatched troops to Saudi Arabia in 1990, bin Ladin viewed this development as being no different from the situation of Soviet troops in Afghanistanin both cases the army of an "imperialist" superpower occupying a weaker and Muslim country. Furthermore, the presence of U.S. military forces in Saudi Arabia meant that a non-Muslim army for the first time in more than 1,400 years was occupying the religiously sacred land in which were located Islam's two holiest sites, the cities of Mecca and Medina. Even though bin Ladin believed and practiced a very conservative interpretation of Sunni Islam, his primary objectives vis-à-vis the United States are political, not religious. Beginning with the bombing in the underground parking garage of the World Trade Center in 1993, persons close to his al-Qaʿida organization were implicated in several terrorist attacks. The most sensational incidents included suicide bombings outside the barracks housing U.S. military personnel in Saudi Arabia in 1996 and outside two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998. The 2001 attacks prompted the United States to declare a "war on terrorism," and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan became the first target because it provided sanctuary to al-Qaʿida and rejected requests for the extradition of bin Ladin and other leaders.

Its war on terrorism policy led the United States to focus on groups it designated as terrorist to an unprecedented extent. One consequence of this new preoccupation was that after 2001 Washington accepted the argument of Israeli prime minister Sharon that PLO chairman and Palestinian Authority president Yasir Arafat was condoning terrorist actions by groups such as HAMAS, Islamic Jihad, and his own Al-Fatah movement. When in spring 2002 the Israeli army reoccupied West Bank towns and villages that were supposed to be under the control of the Palestinian Authority, the United States effectively did not protest. Thus, the peace process between Israel and the PLO, seriously ailing since fall 2000, became an indirect but fatal casualty of the war on terrorism.

The war on terrorism is cause for concern among legal experts in the field of international humanitarian law, especially because states identified as sponsors of terrorism, such as Iraq, become legitimate targets for attack because they are thought to possess weapons of mass destruction that they might provide to terrorist groups. The experts believe that civilians, who have been the primary victims of violent conflicts since the early 1990s, will be the main victims again, and they cite statistics that demonstrate that this has been the case in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

The phenomenon of terrorism has prompted the drafting of several conventions, most notably the Rome Statute, that would make the intentional killing of civilians a war crime, no matter who is responsible (i.e., a government or a nonstate group). The intent is to criminalize violence against civilians so that individuals can be prosecuted. The European Union generally, and its member states such as Belgium specifically, have made the most progress in terms of accepting the idea that violence against civilians, whether undertaken by a state or nonstate organization, is terrorism and needs to be punished. Other states, including major countries such as China, Israel, Russia, and the United States, reject categorically the notion of state terrorism and insist that international laws pertaining to terrorism must limit definitions to nonstate groups that target civilians. Ultimately, one of the most effective ways of reducing terrorism is for states to identify and remove the causes that motivates terrorists, such as the denial of freedom and political participation, repressive political occupation, and poverty and despair.

see also aqsa intifada, al-; arafat, yasir; bin ladin, osama; black september; fidaʾiyyun; hamas; hizbullah; hostage crises; islamic jihad; palestine liberation organization (plo); popular front for the liberation of palestine; qaʿida, al-.


Davis, Joyce M. Martyrs: Innocence, Vengeance, and Despair in the Middle East. New York: Palgrave, 2003.

Falk, Richard. "Azmi Bishara, the Right of Resistance, and the Palestinian Ordeal." Journal of Palestine Studies 31, no. 2 (Winter 2002): 1933.

Hirst, David. The Gun and the Olive Branch: The Roots of Violence in the Middle East, 3d edition. New York: Thunder Mouth's Press/Nation Books, 2004.

Picco, Giandomenico. Man without a Gun: One Diplomat's Secret Struggle to Free the Hostages, Fight Terrorism, and End a War. New York: Times Books/Random House, 1999.

Ron, James. Frontiers and Ghettos: State Violence in Serbia and Israel. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

Shlaim, Avi. The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. New York: Norton, 2000.

Stern, Jessica. Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. New York: Ecco, 2003.

Victor, Barbara. Army of Roses: Inside the World of Palestinian Women Suicide Bombers. Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 2003.

eric hooglund


views updated Jun 11 2018


The unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property in order to coerce or intimate a government or the civilian population in furtherance of political or social objectives.

American Citizen Charged in al-Qaeda Plot to Kill President

Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, age 23, was charged in late February 2005 in a Virginia federal court for his alleged plot to assassinate President George W. Bush. He was also charged with providing support to al-Qaeda. Abu Ali, an American citizen, allegedly joined al-Qaeda while in Saudi Arabia. He was arrested in Saudi Arabia in June 2003 and was in custody there for more than one and a half years before charges were brought against him.

The United States government has designated al-Qaeda as a foreign terrorist organization. It is illegal to knowingly provide material services or support for the organization, or to attempt or conspire to do so.

Abu Ali's parents moved to the U.S. from Jordan in the 1970s. Ali was born in Houston but was raised in Virginia. His father has worked for many years at the Saudi Embassy. Abu Ali graduated from a private Muslim school in Virginia in 1999, where he was the valedictorian of his class. The school, the Islamic Saudi Academy, is subsidized by the Saudi Arabian government.

Abu Ali traveled to Saudi Arabia to study in 2000. He returned to the U.S. that same year and then visited Saudi Arabia again in the fall of 2002. He was arrested in June 2003 while taking final exams at the Islamic University of Medina.

Authorities searched Abu Ali's Virginia home after his arrest. They seized Arabic tapes promoting jihad and the killing of Jews, an undated document praising the September 11 attacks, a subscription to a handgun magazine, and other items.

The six-count indictment alleges that Abu Ali wanted to "become a planner of terrorist operations like Mohamed Atta and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, well-known al-Qaeda terrorists associated with the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001." It charges that Abu Ali provided material support for terrorism and that he trained overseas with al-Qaeda. Eleven unnamed coconspirators are used to support the indictment. The indictment also alleges that Abu Ali discussed shooting President Bush or detonating a car bomb to kill the president, and that one of the co-conspirators gave him a religious blessing for his plans.

Authorities contend that the plot to assassinate the president did not move beyond the discussion stage. They do believe, however, that the threat was serious.

According to FBI agent Barry Cole, Abu Ali told him about various plots during a four-day interrogation in September 2003 in Saudi Arabia. In addition to the assassination plot, Cole testified that Abu Ali told him about other possible plots, including plans to hijack planes and to use them on U.S. targets, a plan to free Guantanamo Bay prisoners, and to destroy U.S. naval ships in port in the United States. Cole said a captured al-Qaeda leader has confirmed the charges against Abu Ali and that the cell leader gave Abu Ali money to purchase books, a cell phone, and a laptop computer. Abu Ali allegedly made those purchases.

The U.S. government charges that Abu Ali also received forgery instruction and weapons training, including instruction in the use of hand grenades and other explosives. According to the indictment, he allegedly wanted to travel to Afghanistan to participate in violence against American military personnel but was unable to obtain a visa to do so.

Cole testified at the detention hearing that Abu Ali had initially asked to have a lawyer present during his interrogation. Ali allegedly backed down from that request when told that he could face Saudi charges or be held as an enemy combatant. Abu Ali's family claims that this was coercion to force him to talk.

After hearing Cole's testimony, U.S. Magistrate Liam O'Grady ordered Abu Ali to be held without bail pending trial. O'Grady called Abu Ali "a grave, grave danger to this community and this nation."

The magistrate indicated that he would reconsider the bail issue if the defense could provide further evidence about certain statements made by FBI Assistant Director Michael Mason. Mason told a Virginia audience in 2004 that he thought that Abu Ali might soon be released—that the government had no interest in prosecuting him.

Defense attorney John Zwerling argued that Abu Ali's confession had been obtained via torture and that Abu Ali had scars on his back from the mistreatment. In a December 2004 ruling, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates indicated that "at least some circumstantial evidence exists" that Abu Ali had been tortured and that U.S. officials had knowledge of this. Saudi and American authorities denied at the February hearing that Abu Ali had been tortured.

Zwerling further contended that Abu Ali had only been charged after Abu Ali's parents had brought a civil suit to seek further information about his detention in Saudi Arabia. Abu Ali's family claimed that the United States was behind his arrest and detention by Saudi officials. The family tried unsuccessfully to have Abu Ali returned to the United States. Eventually, in an unannounced move, the U.S. government secretly brought him back and indicted him. Judge Bates ordered the government to explain the role that the United States played in his detention.

At his arraignment in mid March, Abu Ali pleaded not guilty and sought "immediate access to medical, psychological and forensic experts to examine and evaluate" his claims that his confession had been obtained through torture. He claimed that Saudi authorities had whipped him across his back, and he offered affidavits from people who claimed to have seen the scars. The court ordered that Abu Ali be given an independent medical exam to corroborate or refute his claims of torture.

The charges could result in Abu Ali's imprisonment up to 80 years. An August 2005 trial date was set.

Congress Approves Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act

On December 17, 2004, President George W. Bush signed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, Pub. L. No. 108-458, 118 Stat. 3638, into law. The new statute created a director to oversee U.S. intelligence gathering and to make other changes that were recommended by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. While some lawmakers said that the legislation was necessary, other members of Congress said that the statute did not go far enough to achieve effective reform.

The September 11th attacks on the United States left many people concerned about the effectiveness of U.S. intelligence operations. Intelligence duties often fell under several different agencies within the U.S. government, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In 2002, Congress approved the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003, Pub. L. No. 107-306, 116 Stat. 2383, which included a number of provisions related to the funding of U.S. intelligence efforts. Title VI of the statute established the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, better known as the 9/11 Commission.

Congress charged the commission with examining and reporting on the facts related to the September 11th attacks. The commission was required to gather, evaluate, and report on information related to the attack that had been collected by existing government agencies. The commission was then required to "make a full and complete accounting of the circumstances surrounding the attacks, and the extent of the United States' preparedness for, and immediate response to, the attacks…." The commission was required to submit its findings, conclusions, and recommendations in a report to Congress and the President.

The commission consisted of ten members, including five Democrats and five Republicans. The commission thoroughly investigated the events leading up to the attacks released its final report 21 months later, and made a number of discoveries about the causes of the attacks. According to the commission's executive summary of its final report, "The most important failure was one of imagination. We do not believe leaders understood the gravity of the threat. The terrorist danger from [Osama] Bin Laden and al-Qaeda was not a major topic for policy debate among the public, the media, or in the Congress. Indeed, it barely came up during the 2000 presidential campaign."

Additionally, the commission determined that a series of failures had led to the success of the attacks. These failures involved diplomacy, the intelligence community, the FBI, immigration control, aviation security, homeland defense, emergency response, and Congress. The report indicated that the U.S. is safer now than it was prior to 9/11, but it noted, "[W]e are not safe."

The commission made a series of recommendations designed to provide greater protection against future terrorist attacks. Some recommendations included attacking terrorists and their organizations, preventing the continued growth of Islamic terrorism, and protecting the U.S. against terrorist attacks. As to the specific means by which the U.S. could protect itself, the commission recommended a reorganization of agencies responsible for combating terrorism and collecting intelligence.

More specifically, the commission recommended the establishment of a National Counterterrorism Center and a new cabinet official with the title of National Intelligence Director. The new cabinet member would oversee the National Counterterrorism Center and would have three deputies. One deputy would be the head of the CIA and would oversee foreign intelligence efforts. Two other deputies would administer defense and homeland intelligence efforts. The commission's goal in recommending these changes was to unify the efforts of the federal government in protecting against future attacks.

In response to the commission's report, both the Senate and House of Representative considered bills that would implement the commission's proposals. Senator Susan M. Collins (R-Maine) introduced S. 2845, which passed by a vote of 96-2 on October 6, 2004. During the same period of time, the House considered H.R. 10, which was introduced by J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). The House approved this bill by a vote of 282-134 on October 8, 2004.

The House and Senate disagreed as to the level of authority to give to the new director of national intelligence. On October 16, the chambers appointed a conference committee to resolve the differences. In December 2004, the House and Senate received the conference committee report. Despite misgivings by some members of both chambers, the bill passed the House and Senate on December 7 and December 8, 2004, respectively.

The new legislation followed most of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. The statute established the position of Director of National Intelligence and established a National Counterterrorism Center. The act further doubled the number of border patrol agents over a five-year period, allowed officials to wiretap certain terror suspects, and imposed new standards related to information that must be contained in driver's licenses.

Much of the criticism of the new statute was directed at the position of intelligence director. During negotiations between the House and Senate, the chambers agreed that the new official would not be a member of the president's cabinet. Bush's statements when he signed the legislation indicated that the basic structure of the current intelligence agencies would remain intact. "The new law will preserve the existing chain of command and leave all our intelligence agencies, organizations, and offices in their current departments," Bush said. "Our military commanders will continue to have quick access to the intelligence they need to achieve victory on the battlefield, and the law supports our efforts to ensure greater information sharing among federal departments and agencies, and also with appropriate state and local authorities."

One significant difference between the commission's recommendations and the final legislation was that the intelligence director does not oversee the National Counterterrorism Center. Instead, this center has own director who reports directly to the president. Several commentators noted that the new intelligence director's effectiveness will depend upon the power given to him or her by the president. According to retired Navy Admiral Stansfield Turner, who served director of the CIA under President Jimmy Carter, "Unless the president really gets behind the new director and, in effect, tells the [agency heads] they've got to cede authority" to the new director, then the intelligence director will likely have problems.

In February 2005, Bush nominated John D. Negroponte to serve as the new intelligence director. Negroponte had previously served as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and as the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq. The Senate confirmed Negroponte in April 2005, and he took office later that month. By the first week of May, he had hired several deputies and dozens of staff members. One of Negroponte's more significant tasks has been to brief the president on intelligence efforts, a task formerly handled by the director of the CIA.

Saudi Arabian Computer Scientist Acquitted of Patriot Act Violations

In June 2004, a Saudi Arabian computer science expert was acquitted of charges that he had used the Internet to help terrorists raise money and to recruit followers. Sami Omar Al-Hussayen, a 34-year-old Ph.D. candidate in computer science at the University of Idaho, was charged under the Patriot Act, which makes it illegal to provide expert advice or assistance to terrorists. Following a seven-week trial, a federal jury in Idaho acquitted Al-Hussayen on three terrorism charges, one count of making a false statement, and two counts of visa fraud . The terrorism charges carried a potential imprisonment of 15 years for each count.

Congress passed the Patriot Act in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. In addition to making it a crime to help terrorists, the act broadens the government's powers of surveillance and detention. Critics have charged that the Patriot Act infringes upon First Amendment rights and that in this case Al-Hussayen was targeted not for his own speech but for passing along the speech of others.

Authorities arrested Al-Hussayen in February 2003. He remained in jail until his trial, where he worked on his doctorate in his cell. Prosecutors charged that he had used his computer expertise to set up and run web sites that contained religious edicts that justified suicide bombings. The web sites also sought financial assistance for the militant Palestinian organization Hamas, and attempted to recruit new Muslim terrorists, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors linked Al-Hussayen to more than a dozen web sites that praised suicide attacks in Chechnya, Israel, and other places. Al-Hussayen contended that the web sites also contained postings that decried the violence. He also said that he was personally opposed to violence and that he condemned the attacks of September 11.

In his defense, Al-Hussayen said that his involvement with the creation of the material posted had been minimal; he had only been a volunteer who had maintained the web sites, but had had little, if anything, to do with the content posted on them. Moreover, his attorneys argued that freedom of expression, under the First Amendment, protected the material and that the information was not intended to raise money or to recruit extremists.

Al-Hussayen's attorneys called just one witness, Frank Anderson, a former CIA agent who had worked in covert operations in the Middle East for many years. Anderson testified that the web sites had little to do with the recruitment of terrorists. He said that recruitment relied upon a charismatic type who could build a personal relationship with a potential terrorist. He said that relationship was crucial in order to convince people to go against their normal inclinations and to be convinced to kill women and children. In response, prosecutors maintained that Anderson's experience with terrorists had ended when he left the CIA in 1995—just as the Internet was poised to take on a much larger role in disseminating information throughout the world.

Anderson testified that much of the material, including the religious edicts, could be found in many places on the Internet and elsewhere. He told jurors that some it was available through the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, operated by the U.S. government. He said that one of the web sites categorically condemned the use of terror.

The prosecution introduced hundreds of documents that showed the provocative nature of the material posted on the web sites. Defense attorneys argued the material failed to establish that Al-Hussayen actually supported terrorism.

Over objection by the defense, the trial judge granted jurors permission to view the web sites in question. In making his ruling, Judge Edward Lodge agreed that the material was prejudicial, but he said that it was up to the jury to weigh its evidentiary value. Prosecutors argued that Al-Hussayen knew that the information posted on the web sites encouraged people to become terrorists or to provide monetary support. Trial testimony established that the material had been posted to the Internet from Al-Hussayen's home computer, although others might have had access to the computer as well.

The jury deliberated nearly a week before reaching its decision. After the verdict was announced, one of the jurors commented on the government's lack of hard evidence to convince the jury that Al-Hussayen was a terrorist. The juror said that the prosecution's case was based on inference.

The jury was unable to reach a verdict on three other false-statement charges and five counts of visa fraud. The judge declared a mistrial on those charges. In lieu of a retrial, Al-Hussayen agreed to be deported to Saudi Arabia. His wife and children returned to Saudi Arabia earlier in 2004, instead of contesting deportation. Al-Hussayen reportedly is the son of Saudi Arabia's retired education minister and comes from a prominent Riyadh family.

After the trial, Al-Hussayen's attorneys claimed that the government's zeal in prosecuting him could have resulted in inspiring more enemies of the United States. The Idaho U.S. Attorney's Office responded that an acquittal did not mean that the charges should not have been brought at all.

Conviction of Attorney Lynn Stewart

Long known for representing unpopular defendants, attorney Lynn F. Stewart found herself on the wrong side of the bench when she became a federal felon in February 2005 and was automatically disbarred from practicing law. After a widely followed, seven-month trial, the public defender was convicted by a federal jury in Manhattan of providing material aid to Islamic terrorism, conspiracy, defrauding the government, and making false statements to the government (technically, two counts of conspiring to provide material aid to terrorists, and three counts of perjury and defrauding the government). She faced up to 30 years in prison for the five felony counts.

Having practiced law in New York for 30 years, the 65-year-old Stewart was a self-proclaimed "radical human rights lawyer" who publicly professed her belief in armed revolutionary struggle. She legally defended controversial clients such as the Black Panthers, various accused terrorists, drug dealers, and police killers. Her troubles began after her legal defense

of Sheik Abdel Rahman in a 1995 trial that resulted in his conviction. He is now serving a life sentence for inspiring a thwarted 1993 plot to bomb the United Nations building, the FBI building in Manhattan, the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, and other New York landmarks. He also promoted the assassination of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak. Following his conviction and imprisonment, his followers issued a series of threats against the United States, demanding his release.

Stewart and two other defendants, Ahmed Abdel Sattar and Mohammed Yousry, were accused of scheming to obtain Rahman's release. Following his conviction, Rahman was placed in solitary confinement in a maximum-security facility in Colorado. Special prosecutorial administrative rules prohibited Rahman from communicating with anyone outside of prison except for his wife and his lawyers. As his attorney, Stewart signed several documents pledging to obey the federal rules that barred her client from communicating with his followers.

Instead, she was accused of trying to cover up secret conversations between Rahman and his followers and of smuggling messages to and from him during her visits with him. Secret government audio recordings and videotapes confirmed Stewart's role in the message-relaying. At one point, she took a message from Islamic Group members to Rahman, and later received a message from Rahman in response. She then called a media reporter and read him the statement, hoping to make a public announcement that the sheik did not support the cease-fire between the Egyptian government and the Islamic Group, a fundamentalist organization that carried out terrorist attacks on tourists and police officers.

Stewart did not deny her actions. There was little dispute over the facts, and Stewart readily acknowledged that she had violated government regulations. However, proving the commission of the acts was only half of the prosecution's case. The other half was proving that she had committed a crime.

According to defendant Stewart, her conduct represented nothing more than the zealous representation of her client. The difficult issue that the jury had to assess was the extent to which an attorney could aggressively represent a convicted terrorist client without crossing the line into criminal behavior.

In the case before U.S. District Court Judge John G. Koeltl, jurors concentrated on evidence that went to the question of whether Stewart intended to help the sheik's terrorist disciples. They also focused on evidence showing that Stewart knowingly violated the prison rules aimed at preventing Rahman from communicating messages of violence to the outside world. (Stewart's co-defendant, Fattar, later issued a fatwa urging followers to kill Jews everywhere.) In addition to over 1,300 exhibits presented by prosecutors (mostly transcripts of the audio and video recordings), jurors were shown a videotape of Osama bin Laden vowing to "spill blood" unless Stewart's client, Rahman, was released from prison. While on the witness stand during the trial, Stewart sometimes appeared deaf to questions about the violent anti-American preachings of her client. Testifying on her own behalf, she told jurors that she was acting within a lawyer's "bubble" to defend her client as she saw best.

Because of the terror charges at trial, the chosen jury (consisting of eight women and four men) served anonymously and were identified by number only. After 12 days of deliberation, the jury concluded that by becoming the conduit for communications between Rahman and his terrorist Islamic guerrillas, Stewart had crossed the line. Stewart, on the other hand, later told students at NYU School of Law that "[t]he government moved the line." (She had been released on bail pending her sentencing hearing scheduled for September 2005.)

Stewart's conviction on five counts of aiding terrorism raised many questions among legal scholars and practitioners about the line between vigorous defense of a client and conspiring with terrorists. As Steven Lubet, director of Northwestern University's program on advocacy and professionalism, stated in an article for the Washington Post, "There is nothing about 'vigorous defense' that requires a lawyer to facilitate her client's political goals. This case has nothing to do with zealous defense." Said Peter Margulies, law professor at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island who studies terrorism cases, "I think the evidence suggested that Lynn Stewart had crossed the line."

As for Stewart, she vowed to appeal her conviction. Tearful and pale at the rendering of the verdict, she became indignant and unrepenting shortly thereafter, offering no apologies and telling a group of reporters outside the courtroom that she would do it again. "I see myself as a symbol of what people rail against when they say that civil liberties are eroded," she told them.


views updated May 18 2018


Terrorism, whether practiced by states, substate groups, or individuals, is found throughout human history. Most historical accounts, however, focus on what they take to be forms of terrorism that are practiced by substate groups and individuals.

During Biblical times, Jewish Sicarii, known for their use of a short sword (sica), struck down rich Jewish collaborators who were opposed to violent resistance against their Roman conquerors. Later, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, a group of Shiite Moslems, called the Assassins, opposed efforts to suppress their religious beliefs in Sunni-dominated Persia. Using daggers, the Assassins killed prefects, governors, and caliphs in front of many witnesses, thus ensuring their capture and execution because they believed that by their actions they would gain entry into paradise. Eventually, the group was suppressed by the Mongols in the thirteenth century.

In India, from the eleventh century on, a group called the Thugs was active until it was destroyed by the British in the nineteenth century. The Thugs ritually strangled their victims with a silk tie. They claimed allegiance to the goddess Kali, who it is said required them to kill in order to supply her with blood for nourishment.

Following the French Revolution, the Jacobins under Robespierre gave us the very term terror, unleashing a Reign of Terror between 1793 and 1794 upon all levels of French society. During this period, those executed included not only those accused of some offense or disloyalty, but sometimes their children, parents, or even grandparents as well.

Yet, it is not clear that all of these historical examples should be regarded, as they usually are, as acts of terrorism. Without a doubt, they are all cases in which terror (intense fear or fright or intimidation) is induced in large groups of people, but terrorism, as many have come to understand it, involves more than just this. First of all, many think that terrorism must have a political purposethat it must aim to achieve some change in a government or governmental institution or policy. Now, this is true of most of the historical examples just cited, but it is not true of the Thugs of India whose goals were personal and religious rather than political. Second, many also think that terrorism must directly target innocents, a requirement that does not really hold of any of these historical examples except that of the Jacobins. The Sicarii targeted Jewish collaborators who in virtue of their collaboration were clearly not innocent. The Assassins attacked people in positions of political leadership who were responsible for the religious persecution against Shiite Moslems and so were not innocent. So the only really clear example we have here of terrorism is that of Robespierre's Reign of Terror, directed as it was at innocents as well as at those who were considered to be guilty of some offense. However, in the case of Robespierre's Reign of Terror, what we have is an example of state terrorism, not terrorism as practiced by substate groups or individuals.

Since 1983, the U.S. State Department has defined terrorism as follows: "Terrorism is premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience." In a U.S. State Department document in which this definition is endorsed, there is also a section that discusses state-sponsored terrorism (Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism 2001). It is clear, then, that the U.S. State Department does not hold that only subnational groups or individuals can commit terrorist acts; it further recognizes that states can commit terrorist acts as well. So let us offer the following definition of terrorism, which is essentially the same as the U.S. State Department's definition once it is allowed that states, too, can commit terrorist acts and once it is recognized that it is through attempting to elicit terror (that is, intense fear, fright, or intimidation) that terrorists try to achieve their goals. The definition is: "Terrorism is the use or threat of violence against innocent people to elicit terror in them, or in some other group of people, in order to further a political objective."

Using this definition, there is no problem seeing the attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., particularly the attacks on the World Trade Center, as terrorist acts. Likewise, the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 as well as the suicide bombings directed at Israeli civilians are terrorist acts.

But what about the U.S. bombing of a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan with respect to which the United States blocked a United Nation's (U.N.) inquiry and later compensated the owner but not the thousands of victims who were deprived of drugs? Or what about the United States' $4 billion-a-year support for Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands, which began in 1969 and which is illegal, that is, in violation of U.N. resolutions that specifically forbid "the acquisition of territory by force" and which has resulted in many thousands of deaths? Or to go back further: What about U.S. support for the Contras in Nicaragua, and of death squads in El Salvador during the Reagan years, and the use of terrorist counter-city threats of nuclear retaliation during the Cold War and the actual use of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II resulting in over 100,000 deaths? Surely, all of these actions also seem to be either terrorist acts or support for terrorist acts according to our definition. How can we tell then, which, if any, of these terrorist acts or support for terrorist acts are morally justified?

Let us address this question from the perspective of the just war theory. In traditional just war theory, two requirements must be met in order to justify going to war. First, there must be a just cause. Second, just means must be used to fight the war. In order for there to be a just cause (1) There must be substantial aggression. (2) Nonbelligerent correctives must be either hopeless or too costly. (3) Belligerent correctives must be neither hopeless nor too costly.

Needless to say, the notion of substantial aggression is a bit fuzzy, but it is generally understood to be the type of aggression that violates people's most fundamental rights. To suggest some specific examples of what is and is not substantial aggression, usually the taking of hostages is regarded as substantial aggression while the nationalization of particular firms owned by foreigners is not so regarded. But even when substantial aggression occurs, frequently nonbelligerent correctives are neither hopeless nor too costly to pursue. And even when nonbelligerent correctives are either hopeless or too costly, in order for there to be a just cause, belligerent correctives must be neither hopeless nor too costly.

Traditional just war theory assumes, however, that there are just causes and goes on to specify just means as imposing two requirements: (1) Harm to innocents should not be directly intended as an end or a means. (2) The harm resulting from the belligerent means should not be disproportionate to the particular defensive objective to be attained. While the just means conditions apply to each defensive action, the just cause conditions must be met by the conflict as a whole.

Given the constraints imposed on just means, one might think that from the perspective of just war theory, acts of terrorism could never be morally justified. But this would require an absolute prohibition on intentionally harming innocents, and such a prohibition would not seem to be justified, even from the perspective of the just war theory. Specifically, it would seem that harm to innocents can be justified for the sake of achieving a greater good when the harm is: (1) trivial (e.g., as in the case of stepping on someone's foot to get out of a crowded subway), (2) easily reparable (e.g., as in the case of lying to a temporarily depressed friend to keep that person from committing suicide), or (3) nonreparable but greatly outweighed by the consequences of the action. Obviously, it is this third category of harm that is relevant to the possible justification of terrorism. But when is intentional harm to innocents nonreparable yet greatly outweighed by the consequences?

Consider the following example often discussed by moral philosophers: A large person who is leading a party of spelunkers gets stuck in the mouth of a cave in which flood waters are rising. The trapped party of spelunkers just happens to have a stick of dynamite with which they can blast the large person out of the mouth of the cave; either they use the dynamite or they all drown, the large person with them. Now, it is usually assumed in this case that it is morally permissible to dynamite the large person out of the mouth of the cave. After all, if that is not done, the whole party of spelunkers will die, the large person with them. So the sacrifice imposed on the large person in this case would not be that great.

But what if the large person's head is outside rather than inside the cave, as it must have been in the previous interpretation of the case. Under those circumstances, the large person would not die when the other spelunkers drowned. Presumably after slimming down a bit, the large person would eventually just squeeze out of the mouth of the cave. In this case, could the party of spelunkers trapped in the cave still legitimately use the stick of dynamite to save themselves rather than the large person?

Suppose there were ten, twenty, 100, or an even a larger number of spelunkers trapped in the cave. At some point, would not the number be sufficiently great that it would be morally acceptable for those in the cave to use the stick of dynamite to save themselves rather than the large person, even if this meant that the large person would be morally required to sacrifice his life? The answer has to be yes, even if you think it has to be a very unusual case when we can reasonably demand that people thus sacrifice their lives in this way.

Is it possible that some acts of terrorism are morally justified in this way? It is often argued that the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was so justified. President Truman, who ordered the bombing, justified it on the grounds that it was used to shorten the war. In 1945, the United States demanded the unconditional surrender of Japan. The Japanese had by that time lost the war, but the leaders of their armed forces were by no means ready to accept unconditional surrender. While the Japanese leaders expected an invasion of their mainland islands, they believed that they could make that invasion so costly that the United States would accept a conditional surrender.

Truman's military advisers also believed the costs would be high. The capture of Okinawa had cost almost 80,000 American casualties while almost the entire Japanese garrison of 120,000 men died in battle. If the mainland islands were defended in a similar manner, hundreds of thousands of Japanese would surely have died. During that time, the bombing of Japan would continue, and perhaps intensify, resulting in casualty rates that were no different from those that were expected from the atomic attack. A massive incendiary raid on Tokyo early in March 1945 had set off a firestorm and killed an estimated 100,000 people. Accordingly, Truman's Secretary of State James Byrnes admitted that the two atomic bombs did cause "many casualties, but not nearly so many as there would have been had our air force continued to drop incendiary bombs on Japan's cities" (Byrnes 1947, p. 264). Similarly, Winston Churchill wrote in support of Truman's decision: "To avert a vast, indefinite butchery at the cost of a few explosions seemed, after all our toils and perils, a miracle of deliverance" (Churchill 1962, p. 634).

Yet the "vast, indefinite butchery" that the United States sought to avert by dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was one that the United States itself was threatening, and had already started to carry out, with its incendiary attack on Tokyo. And the United States itself could have arguably avoided this butchery by dropping its demand for unconditional Japanese surrender. Moreover, a demand of unconditional surrender can almost never be morally justified since defeated aggressors almost always have certain rights that they should never be required to surrender. Hence, the United States' terrorist acts of dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki cannot be justified on the grounds of shortening the war and avoiding a vast, indefinite butchery if the United States could have secured those results simply by giving up its unreasonable demand for unconditional surrender. So, it is difficult to see how the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki could be justified acts of terrorism.

A more promising case for justified terrorism is the counter-city bombing of the British during the early stages of World War II. Early in the war, it became clear that British bombers could fly effectively only at night because too many of them were being shot down during day raids by German antiaircraft fire. In addition, a study done in 1941 showed that of those planes flying at night that were recorded as having actually succeeded in attacking their targets, only one-third managed to drop their bombs within five miles of what they were aiming at. This meant that British bombers flying at night could reasonably aim at no target smaller than a fairly large city. Michael Walzer (1992) argues that under these conditions, the British terror bombing was morally justified because at this early stage of the war, it was the only way the British had left to them to try to avert a Nazi victory. Walzer further argues that the time period when such terror bombing was justified was relatively brief. Once the Russians began to inflict enormous casualties on the German army and the United States made available its manpower and resources, other alternatives opened up. The British, however, continued to rely heavily on terror bombing right up until the end of the war, culminating in the fire-bombing of Dresden in which something like 100,000 people were killed. Nevertheless, for that relatively brief period when Britain had no other way to avert a Nazi victory, Walzer argues, its reliance on terror bombing was morally justified.

Suppose we agree with Walzer that British terror-bombing during the earlier stages of World War II was morally justified. Could there be a comparable moral justification for Palestinian suicide bombings against Israeli civilians? Israel has been illegally occupying Palestinian land since 1969 in violation of U.N. resolutions following the 1967 ArabIsraeli war. Even a return to those 1967 borders, which the U.N. resolutions require, still permits a considerable expansion of Israel's original borders as specified in the mandate of 1947. Moreover, since the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993 until 2001, Israeli settlements doubled in the occupied territories. Under Israel's prime minister Ariel Sharon, some thirty-five new settlements have been established in the occupied territories. In Gaza in 2001, there were 1.2 million Palestinians and 4,000 Israelis, but the Israelis control 40% of the land and 70% of the water. In the West Bank, there were 1.9 million Palestinians and 280,000 Israelis, but the Israelis controlled 37% of the water.

In addition, Israel failed to abide by its commitments under the Oslo Peace Accords to release prisoners, to complete a third redeployment of its military forces, and to transfer three Jerusalem villages to Palestinian control. Moreover, at the Camp David Meeting in 2000, Israel's proposals did not provide for Palestinian control over East Jerusalem upon which 40% of the Palestinian economy depends. Nor did Israel's proposals provide for a right of return or compensation for the half of the Palestinian population that lives in exile, most of them having been driven off their land by Israeli expansion. So the Palestinian cause is arguably a just one, and clearly the Palestinians lack the military resources to effectively resist Israeli occupation and aggression by simply directly attacking Israeli military forces. The Israelis have access to the most advanced U.S. weapons and $4 billion-a-year from the United States to buy whatever weapons they want. The Palestinians have no comparable external support. Under these conditions, is there a moral justification for Palestinian suicide bombers against Israeli civilians? Assuming that the Palestinians lack any effective means to try to end the Israeli occupation or to stop Israel's further expansion into Palestinian territories other than by using suicide bombers against Israeli civilians, why would this use of suicide bombers not be justified in much the same way that Walzer justifies the British terror bombing in the early stages of World War II?

Much depends on what Israel's intentions are. If the Israelis have the ultimate goal of confining most Palestinians to a number of economically nonviable and disconnected reservations, similar to those on which the United States confines American Indian nations, would not the Palestinians have a right to resist that conquest as best they can, even if this involves the use of suicide bombers? Of course, everything here turns on a correct assessment of Israeli intentions and on whether Palestinians (and Israelis) have sufficiently exhausted the use of nonbelligerent correctives. The 2005 political overtures from Sharon might also indicate a new beginning. Only time will tell.

Starting with the just war theory, we have seen that there are morally defensible exceptions to the just means prohibition against directly killing innocents. The cave analogy argument aims to establish that conclusion. British terror bombing at the beginning of World War II, but not the American dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of that war, seems to provide a real life instantiation of that argument. The Palestinian use of suicide bombers against Israeli civilians may or may not be a contemporary instantiation of that very same argument.

Yet, even if some acts of terrorism can be justified in this manner, clearly, most acts of terrorism cannot be so justified, and clearly, there was no moral justification for the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., particularly the attacks in the World Trade Center. For Americans, no act of terrorism compares with the September 11, 2001 (9/11), morning attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Initial estimates put the number of dead from this terrorist attack at more than 5,000, but later the death toll was reduced to around 3,000. Comparisons were made to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 where 2,403 sailors, soldiers, and civilians died. But the attack on a military outpost far removed from the American heartland is hardly comparable to an attack against targets in its largest city and in its capital. Nor was 9/11 carried out with the weapons of previous adversaries but by commandeering commercial aircraft with knives and box cutters and using them in murderous suicidal missions. So, this terrorism now faced is something new, something different, and, as a consequence, many people around the world feel vulnerable in a way they would have never thought possible before.

Even so, the question remains as to what is the appropriate response to unjustified terrorist acts. According to the just war theory, before using belligerent correctives, one must be sure that nonbelligerent correctives are neither hopeless nor too costly. The three weeks of diplomatic activity that the United States engaged in with the Taliban government of Afghanistan does not appear to have been sufficient to determine whether it was hopeless or too costly to continue to attempt to bring Osama bin Laden before a U.S court, or better, before an international court of law, prior to going to war against Afghanistan. The United States demanded that the Taliban government immediately hand over bin Laden and "all the leaders of Al Qaida who hide in your land" (Bush 2001). But was it reasonable to expect compliance from the Taliban, given that even after the overthrow of the Taliban government and the installation of a more friendly regime, the United States and its allies were still unable several years later to apprehend bin Laden and reduce the frequency of terrorist attacks sponsored by Al Qaida around the world? Was it reasonable for the United States to have expected the Taliban government, with its limited resources and loose control over the country, to have done in three weeks what it was not able to accomplish after several years? Similar and even more telling questions can be raised about the decision to go to war against Iraq as a response to the threat of terrorism.

Terrorism, whether practiced by states, substate groups, or individuals, has a long and varied history. Whereas the practice can be generally condemned, many who condemn it most strongly are themselves engaged in terrorism or support for terrorism. More significantly, in order for responses to terrorism or the threat of terrorism to be morally justified, they must meet the requirements of the just war theory by first exhausting nonbelligerent correctives, and frequently, this is not done.

See also Just War Theory.


Bell, J. Bowyer. Terror Out of Zion. New York: St, Martin's Press, 1977.

Bickerton, Ian, and Carla Klausner. A Concise History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002.

Byrnes, James F. Speaking Frankly. New York: Harper, 1947.

Crenshaw, Martha, "The Logic of Terrorism." In Origins of Terrorism: Psychologies, Ideologies, Theologies, States of Mind. Edited by Walter Reich. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Henderson, Harry. Terrorism. New York: Facts on File, 2001.

Kameel Nasr. Arab and Israeli Terrorism. London: McFarland, 1997.

Laquer, Walter. The Age of Terrorism. Boston: Little, Brown, 1987.

Malley, Robert, and Hussein Agha, "Camp David: The Tragedy of Errors." New York Review of Books 48 (13), 2001.

Nash, Jay Robert. Terrorism in the 20th Century. New York: M. Evans, 1998.

Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism. Patterns of Global Terrorism-2000, 2001.

Rappoport, David. "Religion and Terror: Thugs, Assassins, and Zealots." In International Terrorism: Characteristics, Causes, Controls. Edited by Charles Kegley, 147149. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990.

Simon, Jeffrey. The Terrorist Trap. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.

Walzer, Michael. Just and Unjust Wars, 2nd ed. New York: Basic Books, 1992

James P. Sterba (2005)


views updated Jun 11 2018


The unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property in order to coerce or intimate a government or the civilian population in furtherance of political or social objectives.

Guantanamo Bay Developments

In May 2006, the Pentagon released a list of individuals who are being held in a detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, under suspicion of terrorist activities. This list was allegedly the first complete list of Guantanamo detainees released to the public since the detention center was established more than four years ago, after the September 11th attacks in 2001.

The Associated Press had requested the names, photos, and other details of current and former detainees under the Freedom of Information Act in January 2006, and had filed a lawsuit in March after the Pentagon had not responded to the request.

A Pentagon spokesman said that the names had been kept classified because of the security operations and intelligence operations that occur at Guantanamo Bay, but he did not comment on why the Pentagon chose not to contest the Associated Press's request.

Although the list of names will help lawyers and human rights advocates track down detainees in order to investigate allegations of abuse at Guantanamo, the list did not include the names of some top terrorists in custody, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh, who have been accused of plotting the attacks of September 11, 2001. Although the most recent list included more than 200 names that had not previously been disclosed by the Department of Defense, questions persist about the existence of a "secret prison" at Guantanamo Bay. A spokesperson from the Department of Defense has denied the existence of other detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, however.

The Pentagon had released a list of more than 500 names to the Associated Press in April 2006, when ordered to do so by a federal judge in response the Freedom of Information Act request, but the list was not complete.

"This list takes us one step closer to our goal of fully reporting who has been swept into U.S. military custody in Guantanamo, and how they and their cases are being handled," said David Tomlin, the assistant general counsel for the Associated Press.

The interest in contacting detainees stems in part from allegations of prisoner abuse that surfaced in late 2004, when agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported the use of loud music, bright lights, and growling dogs to disorient and intimidate prisoners. The agents also reported having seen prisoners chained to the floor. An ongoing, high-level military investigation was initiated once the Pentagon became aware of the reports.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denied the allegations of torture at Guantanamo during a television interview in Liverpool, England, in April 2006.

"We don't want to be the world's jailer, and we certainly want to try people or release them," Rice said in the interview. "One of the misunderstandings about Guantanamo is the sense that somehow hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people have been there forever with no prospect of release. Indeed, we have released hundreds of people from Guantanamo either because we've deemed them not as dangerous as thought or because we've released them to their governments, as we did with Great Britain."

The U.S. Supreme Court addressed the question of how to manage the legal rights of the Guantanamo detainees in 2006. President Bush had used his prerogative as commander in chief during times of war and mandated that military tribunals would try the detainees, rather than civilian courts. In 2004, the Court ruled that the president could not indefinitely detain prisoners without filing charges. Later in 2004, U.S. District Judge James Robertson found that Guantanamo Bay detainees should be considered prisoners of war and therefore entitled to certain protections under the Geneva Conventions, including the right to hear the charges against them.

Many detainees have challenged their imprisonment. In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court was scheduled to rule on whether the detainees would be tried in military or civilian courts. Without a Supreme Court ruling, "it will be difficult for military commissions and status-review panels to decide fairly whether a detainee is a prisoner of war, after top Executive Branch and military leaders have declared all of them enemy combatants, not POWs," said Eugene R. Fidell, a Washington, DC-based lawyer specializing in military justice, in an interview with the Washington Post in 2004.

In an interesting twist, four British citizens who had been held at Guantanamo Bay for three years and then released to Great Britain won the right in 2006 to sue Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, for damages. The former detainees have stated that they will seek $10 million in damages from Rumsfeld and ten other military commanders for violating their religious rights by forcing them to shave their beards, harassing them during their worship activities, and forcing them to watch a Guantanamo guard flush a copy of the Muslim holy book, the Koran, down a toilet.

Cases Against Padilla and Moussaoui Continue

During 2005 and 2006, two terrorist suspects continued their legal disputes. Jose Padilla, who was designated by President George W. Bush as an "enemy combatant" in 2002, petitioned a federal district court in South Carolina for a writ of habeas corpus in an effort to force the U.S. government either to charge him with a crime or release him. Although the trial court agreed with Padilla, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's decision. In a second criminal case, Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged for the September 11th attacks in 2001, received a life sentence by a federal court in Virginia.

According to court records, Padilla, a U.S. citizen and native of Brooklyn, received training from al Qaeda in Afghanistan in 2000 and 2001. After the terrorist attacks in 2001, Padilla was present as U.S. forces fought Taliban forces in Afghanistan. He eventually escaped to Pakistan, where he continued to communicate with al Qaeda operatives. One senior planner for the terrorist organization, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, directed Padilla to travel to the United States in order to conduct terrorist activities. Officials accused Padilla of leading a plot to set off a radioactive "dirty" bomb and of planning to blow up apartment buildings.

When Padilla arrived at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation immediately arrested him pursuant to a warrant issued by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Federal agents transported him to New York, where he was held at a civilian correctional facility. On June 9, 2002, Bush designated Padilla as an enemy combatant pursuant to a federal statute enacted shortly after the terrorist attacks took place. Under this directive, Padilla was held at a naval brig in South Carolina without being formally charged with a crime.

Shortly after Bush issued the directive, Padilla filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Southern District of New York. Later in 2002, Padilla's attorney, Donna Newman, successfully argued before the New York court that Padilla was entitled to speak with her. Padilla ex rel. Newman v. Bush, 233 F. Supp. 2d 564 (S.D.N.Y. 2002). The government had maintained that he would use Newman as a conduit to transmit information to terrorists. Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed Padilla's petition, ruling that he had improperly filed them in New York. Rumsfeld v. Padilla, 542 U.S. 426, 124 S. Ct. 2711, 159 L. Ed. 2d 513 (2004). Padilla then filed a petition with the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.

Bush issued his directive based on the Authorization for Use of Military Force Joint Resolution (AUMF), which was approved by Congress on September 18, 2001. Pub. L. No. 107-40, 115 Stat. 224 (2001). This joint resolution provides as follows: "[T]he President is authorized to sue all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future attacks of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations, or persons."

In a decision issued on February 28, 2005, U.S. District Judge Henry F. Floyd Jr. determined that neither the AUMF by Congress nor powers inherently possessed by the president allowed Bush to hold Padilla. Accordingly, the judge ruled that the government must either charge Padilla with a crime or release him. Padilla v. Hanft, 389 F. Supp. 2d 678 (D.S.C. 2005). The government appealed the decision to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed the district court's decision in an opinion issued on September 9. Padilla v. Hanft, 423 F.3d 386 (4th Cir. 2005).

The appellate court reviewed the holding of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507, 124 S. Ct. 2633, 159 L. Ed. 2d 578 (2004), where the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the detention of a U.S. citizen who fought with Taliban forces in Afghanistan. The Court in a plurality opinion in Hamdi determined that the AUMF authorized the detention of the citizen because the citizen was a combatant of war. The Fourth Circuit decided that like the citizen in Hamdi, Padilla was an enemy combatant and that the result should be the same.

About two months later, the government submitted a motion to the Fourth Circuit, asking the court to allow the government to transfer Padilla to a civilian facility. Padilla had filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court, and the apparent purpose behind the government's motion was to avoid consideration of the issues in the case by the Court. The Fourth Circuit on December 21 denied the government's motion, deciding that the Supreme Court was the appropriate body to decide whether to approve the government's request. Padilla v. Hanft, 432 F.3d 582 (4th Cir. 2005). Early in January, however, the Supreme Court issued an order that granted the government's request to transfer custody to civilian authorities. Padilla was transferred to a federal detention facility in January 2006.

Like Padilla, Moussaoui's criminal case has extended over several years, with a number of delays during the process. A self-proclaimed al Qaeda operative, the government alleged that Moussaoui was part of the original September 11th plot. Had he not been arrested weeks before the attacks on an immigration violation, he would have been the twentieth hijacker, according to the government's case. Much of the prosecution's case was based on evidence from other suspected terrorists who were in the custody of the government. In 2004, the Fourth Circuit issued a complicated ruling about which witnesses that Moussaoui's counsel could depose. United States v. Moussaoui 382 F.3d 453 (4th Cir. 2004).

Moussaoui in April 2005 pleaded guilty to six charges of conspiracy related to his alleged terrorist activities. His trial began in February 2006. Government prosecutors sought the death penalty despite reports that the government had in its possession evidence suggesting that Moussaoui was not part of the September 11th plot. On May 3, 2006, a jury rejected the imposition of the death penalty on Moussaoui, and the court sentenced him to life in prison on the following day.

Two days after he was sentenced, Moussaoui's attorneys filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea and request a new trial on the question of whether he was guilty as to the charges. The motion said that Moussaoui "did not have any knowledge of and was not a member of the plot to hijack planes and crash them into buildings on September 11." Because the motion was filed after he was sentenced, the court summarily denied the motion on May 8.

Renewal of PATRIOT Act Delayed but Finally Approved

After months of debate and negotiations, Congress in March 2006 authorized the renewal of the USA PATRIOT Act, which was originally passed in 2001 at the urging of President George W. Bush and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. Many Democrats charged that the statute had been used to allow the government to infringe upon civil liberties of Americans. These concerns caused Congress to delay the act's reauthorization by several months.

In response to the September 11th attacks in 2001, Congress approved the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, Pub. L. No. 107-56, 115 Stat. 272. The statute, which was more than 100 pages long, enhanced security and surveillance procedures and authorized the use of a number of tools that the government could use to combat terrorists. Congress approved the act by overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate in October 2001.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) criticized the statute from the time of its enactment. As the government continued implementing programs to combat terrorism, the ACLU became increasingly vocal about the potential for abuse by law enforcement. By 2005, even some conservative groups, such as the American Conservative Union, had begun to question whether the act went too far in terms of impeding individual rights.

Several of the PATRIOT Act's provisions were set to expire on December 31, 2005. Representatives of the Bush administration, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller, advocated for renewal of the statute throughout much of 2005. In April, Gonzales and Mueller testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Gonzales testified that the statute "has been an integral part of the federal government's successful prosecution of the war against terrorism" and that "now is not the time to relinquish some of our most effective tools in the fight."

Just days after one of several bombing incidents in London in July 2005, the House approved a bill that made 14 of the Act's 16 provision permanent. The bill would have extended the other two provisions for an additional 10 years. The bill passed by a vote of 257 to 171, with 14 Republicans voting against it and 43 Democrats voting in favor of it. Although support for the bill was largely partisan, several top Democrats, including Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, voted for the legislation.

While the House was considering its proposed legislation in July, the Senate was also considering its own proposal. As the Act's expiration date neared, members of the House and Senate judiciary committees met in joint session to attempt to negotiate. On December 9, the negotiators announced that they had reached a tentative deal, though other members of Congress immediately attacked the new proposal, saying that it still did not adequately protect civil rights. The House approved the conference committee's version on December 15.

Shortly after the conference committee made its announcement, news reports indicated that Bush had secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on American citizens in the months that followed the attacks in 2001. For some members of the Senate, this news signified that the government could not be trusted with all of the powers included in the PATRIOT Act. On December 16, members of the Senate successfully filibustered the bill when only 52 senators voted to cut off debate, eight fewer than necessary to end the filibuster.

The Senate blocking of the proposal left Republicans scrambling to save the act prior to December 31. Senators who opposed passage of the act said that they were willing to compromise. Those who supported the bill, however, said that they were more willing to let the statute expire than to agree to a version that they might view as less effective. After the debate continued for several more days, the Senate agreed to a six-month extension of the PATRIOT Act.

Members of the House did not agree with the length of the extension. Representative James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R.-Wis.), the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said that the extension "would have simply allowed the Senate to duck the issue until the last week in June." In a nearly empty chamber on December 22, the House agreed through a voice vote to extend the act until February 3. The Senate approved this extension shortly thereafter.

Negotiation continued during January and February in 2006. Most of the debate centered on the protection of certain civil liberties. At a minimum, critics wanted to limit the government's access to library and business records. Unable to reach a compromise by the February 3 deadline, the House and Senate again agreed to an extension, this time through March 10. In both chambers, negotiators attempted to add procedural safeguards that would protect civil liberties, including the allowance of court challenges to some requests for information by the government.

On March 1, the Senate approved an amended bill that included many of these procedural safeguards by a vote of 89 to 10. About a week later, the House agreed to the proposals by a vote of 280 to 138. Supporters for the final legislation noted that negotiators had added several provisions that were designed to ensure that civil liberties would not be abused. Critics, on the other hand, continued to question whether the government could be trusted with the tools provided for in the statute. Bush signed the bill on March 9.

Millennium Bomber Sentenced

Ahmed Ressam, the Algerian man who was convicted of attempting to blow up the Los Angeles airport at the turn of the millennium, was sentenced in July 2005 to 22 years in prison.

Ressam, who came to be referred to as the "Millennium Bomber," received a lighter sentence than the prosecutors had hoped for because he had helped the federal government as an informant during the years since his arrest. However, Ressam became less cooperative in 2003, and his reluctance to talk to investigators has hamstrung cases against two individuals who have been accused of conspiring with him in the Los Angeles airport bombing plot. The sentencing for Ressam had been scheduled for April of 2005, but it was postponed in the hope of eliciting further cooperation. U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour said he had hoped that Ressam would testify against Samir Ait Mohamed and Abu Doha, who were waiting to be extradited from Canada and Britain, respectively, and who had also been charged in the airport bombing plot.

Among other useful information, Ressam supplied details that led to the capture of poten-tial bomber Richard Reid, who attempted to blow up an American Airlines flight in 2001 with a bomb secreted in his shoe.

The Associated Press quoted public defender Thomas Hillier as saying that the government sentence did not sufficiently account for Ressam's cooperation. "It is a flat fact that law enforcement, the public, and public safety have benefited in countless ways" as a result of Ressam's cooperation with federal investigators, he said.

Ressam has reportedly provided detailed information about al-Qaeda terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and has helped U.S. authorities identify more than 100 individuals with suspected links to al-Qaeda.

U.S. customs agents arrested Ressam in 1999, when he was driving a car filled with bomb-making materials off a ferry that had arrived in Port Angeles from British Columbia.

The prosecutors had asked for a 35-year sentence, and lawyers for Ressam had asked for 12 and a half years. The attorneys for Ressam have said that he is willing to cooperate again and that his valuable help in the past justifies a "substantial reduction" in his sentence.

The government had offered a 27-year sentence, which Ressam accepted in exchange for cooperation. Although defense lawyers have said that the defense felt manipulated by the twenty-seven-year offer, government prosecutors said that Ressam knew that he would be unlikely to receive a shorter sentence, given that had been convicted of nine federal counts related to the Los Angeles airport bombing attempt. In August 2005, the government appealed and requested a longer prison term, but the sentence had not been changed by early 2006. The prosecutors justified their request by arguing that when Ressam stopped cooperating, he became eligible for a harsher sentence that would start at 65 years.


views updated Jun 11 2018



Terrorism as a form of war has gained popularity among rebels, anarchists, and radical religious groups in the past fifty years. Though hardly a new form of warfare, it has taken on a high profile in recent years. Perhaps most chilling about a terrorist act is not the carnage that is left behind—though that is truly terrible—but the rationale behind the acts: to control and intimidate through terror, and thereby to instill in others the uneasiness of knowing a terrorist attack can strike anywhere, anytime.

The short poem "The Terrorist, He Watches" (2003) captures the everyday life of a city street in the seconds before a bomb explodes. "The distance keeps him out of danger, / and what a view—just like the movies" writes Polish poet and Nobel Prize-winner Wislawa Szymborska. The poem describes the nonchalant details of people coming and going in the moments leading up to a public bombing. The poem compares the utter lack of premonition among the victims with the cold impersonal gaze of the terrorist, freeze-framing the busy street as the moment approaches:

    This waiting, it's taking forever.
    Any second now.
    No, not yet.
    Yes, now.
    The bomb, it explodes.

Literature about terrorism ranges from a dismissal of the action as purely evil to investigations into the minds of terrorists. Some examine the terrorist events themselves and record how these fearful acts affect both individuals and societies. Terrorism literature compels the reader to look beyond surface details and see past the stereotypes and conventions of the image-based mass media that saturates modern society. The terrorists may be watching, but so are the writers.

Terrorism as Evil

Some novelists have emphasized terrorism's evil through portrayals of the perpetrators. They define evil in terms of disposition, malicious ideas, or corrupt social systems. Some, such as the postmodern novelist Don DeLillo, evoke terrorist evil as something that cannot be directly understood. In such authors' works, when the terrorist finally appears in the story, he or she explains nothing, only raising yet more questions.

Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel The Devils (1873) (also translated as Demons and The Possessed) levels a critique against the ideologies that were beginning to emerge in nineteenth-century Europe. The novel, like many that address terrorism, is based on a real-life event. In this case, the 1869 murder of one of its own by a five-man terrorist cell organized by Sergei Nechaev, a student revolutionary, provided the inspiration for the fictional character Pyotr Stepanovich. The novel is full of characters corrupted by ideas: liberalism (government with consent of the governed), atheism (the view that there is no divine being), anarchism (opposition to the state), socialism (shared ownership of property and goods by the people), and nihilism (the refusal of all creeds and belief systems). All of these concepts are shown to be satanic ideas that possess humans like demons, forcing them to commit evil. The terrorist cell disrupts a festive day of speeches and dancing, but their planned violence is overshadowed by murder and treachery within the group. They murder Shatov, one of their own members, and use another's suicide to cover up their guilt. Later writers that also hold ideologies responsible for human evil have seen The Devils as a prophetic work. To others, the novel seems to inaccurately describe the ideas that it demonizes and holds responsible for human evil, focusing on those ideas rather than on the people that profess them.

Joseph Conrad's novel The Secret Agent (1907) is based on the Greenwich Bomb Outrage of 1894, in which a man unintentionally blew himself up in Greenwich Park, London. Conrad resets the event in 1886 and attaches blame to a fictional group of lazy anarchists. The secret agent is Verloc, the owner of a pornography shop who works for an unspecified foreign agency that pressures his group to bomb the Observatory, an act that has "all the shocking senselessness of gratuitous blasphemy." Verloc and his fellow anarchists are drawn as caricatures (that is, representations that exaggerate particular features to make a point). For example, Conrad puts the following words in the anarchist Michaelis's mouth:

I have always dreamed … of a band of men absolute in their resolve to discard all scruples in the choice of means, strong enough to give themselves frankly the name of destroyers, and free from the taint of that resigned pessimism which rots the world. No pity for anything on earth, including themselves, and death enlisted for good and in the service of humanity.

Conrad's anarchists are so flawed that the novel does not condemn anarchism, but rather satirizes a particular type of person that preaches a radical doctrine for transparent personal reasons. According to Conrad, all social rebellion can be accounted for in terms of individuals' shortcomings. He dismisses the "poets, reformers, charlatans, prophets, and incendiaries" that make up the revolutionary masses. However, Conrad's scorn for the anarchists does not hinder his ability to evoke the warring social views that lead to terrorist violence. Though Conrad disagrees with the limp radicalism of the terrorists, he notes that "the framework of an established social order cannot be effectually shattered except by some form of collective or individual violence."

Don DeLillo compares writers and terrorists in his novel Mao II (1991), which tells the story of a reclusive novelist, Bill Gray, who emerges from seclusion to intervene on behalf of a Swiss poet taken hostage by a Lebanese terrorist group. The novel's namesake, Mao Zedong, the leader of Communist China from the 1940s through the 1970s, suggests the mass conformity that DeLillo characterizes as a threat to the individual. DeLillo's narrator warns: "The future belongs to crowds." The novel follows Gray's emergence, including a trip he takes to London to intervene for the hostage and then a further trip he takes to Beirut when the London meeting is canceled. During his trip to meet the terrorist Abu Rashid, who he expects will trade the poet for him, Gray dies, and Brita Nilsson, a photographer who earlier photographed Gray, finally interviews the terrorist. DeLillo's novel proposes that writers and terrorists share an intention to mold society:

There's a curious knot that binds novelists and terrorists…. Years ago I used to think it was possible for a novelist to alter the inner life of the culture. Now bomb-makers and gunmen have taken that territory.

As the Western writer approaches the terrorist that he in some ways resembles, he realizes that violence is, in fact, an absence of language. As Anthony Kubiak writes in "Spelling It Out: Narrative Typologies of Terror," "the one who experiences terror in the body and mind … experiences time standing still. For the victim there is only terror and horror—no meaning." The sense of timelessness and loss of language is captured in the novel's descriptions of the Swiss hostage's deterioration in the dulling weeks of deprivation and torture.

The Terrorist In Context

Some novelists approach terrorism as a phenomenon that can be rationally understood, looking past the rhetoric of evil to examine the social and economic global inequalities that breed terrorism. Such novels humanize both terrorist and victim. Although they sometimes risk losing sight of the barbarism at the heart of terrorism, at their best they employ fiction's estimable power to tell the untold stories of those silenced by death, terror, or their own blinding hatred.

Raising Holy Hell (1995), Bruce Olds's novel about the violent abolitionist John Brown (1800–1859), explores the consciousness and historical conditions of an American terrorist. Olds mixes genres and styles to create a multidimensional portrait that includes slave conditions, newspaper accounts, chemical and medical background, the racist rhetoric of politicians, imagined interviews between the author and his subject, and short chapters from the points of view of various acquaintances and from Brown himself.

Olds narrates Brown's early years in Connecticut as the son of a sadistic Christian tanner. His stepmother tells the reader that, even as a boy, Brown was cold and hateful. Olds explores both internal and external influences to account for Brown's later actions. Readers witness his first attack in 1856 on five settlers in Pottawatomie Creek, Kansas. Brown stalks through the rain, "a great, sombreroed, broadsword-wielding vulture." The novel is at its poetic best in the final account of the 1859 seizure of the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry. Brown saw two of his sons die there and was finally overpowered by General Robert E. Lee and a contingency of marines. Raising Holy Hell shows how the moral absolutism of nineteenth-century Christianity, combined with psychotic genius, created a figure that remains controversial in American history. Olds does not sugarcoat the harsh reality of Brown's life, but allows him to plead his case with the benefit of hindsight:

The unpleasant truth was, I was right, slavery was wrong, and no violence I ever committed, no blood I ever spilled, no madness I ever participated in can compare to the violence, bloodshed, and madness not only perpetrated against the millions of poor Negroes held in bondage, but visited upon the country in the years following my death.

Nicholas Shakespeare's novel The Dancer Upstairs (1995) is an account of a terror campaign in an unspecified third-world Latin American city, based on actual events in Lima, Peru. The novel's terrorist leader, Ezequiel, is based on the founder of the Shining Path (in Spanish, Sendero Luminoso) movement, Abimael Guzmán. This movement splintered from the Communist party of Peru in the late sixties and during subsequent decades terrorized Peru with bombings and sabotage. Guzmán's 1992 apprehension by Peruvian special forces and the investigator's search leading up to it are the focus of what Tony Gould, in the New Statesman & Society, calls a "very Conradian" novel, referring to The Secret Agent.

The novel tells the story of Agustín Rejas, a police colonel who worked undercover for twelve years trying to find Ezequiel, only to finally discover him living upstairs from the dance studio where Rejas's daughter takes ballet lessons. Shakespeare's terrorist is a product of the West, a philosophy professor who specializes in Immanuel Kant, the central Enlightenment figure of Western philosophy. Ezequiel's movement ominously hangs dead dogs from trees as a Maoist symbol—Chinese peasants revolting under Mao in the 1930s did the same—linking Ezequial with other rebellions that make their appeals to rural populations in opposition to modern urban elites. Like the dancer above whose studio he lives, this terrorist is both a product and critic of first-world culture. He is Westernized, and as a result understands that the wretched conditions of his exploited, impoverished country are caused by globalization and modernization, mostly perpetrated by the United States.

The Event

Some novels that attempt to place terrorism in context make use of the drama provided by the terror event (or events). Such matter lends itself well to suspenseful storytelling. The challenge for works that focus on the terrorist event itself is creating suspense in what are, in reality, usually dull periods of negotiation, isolation, and anticipation. In order to give such stories life, authors often rewrite the reality of terrorist events such as bombings, hostage takings, and assassinations.

The Irish writer Frank O'Connor describes terrorism as a personal encounter with a human face. His short story "Guests of the Nation" (1931) recounts the last days of two English soldiers taken hostage during the Irish civil war (1922–1923), in which O'Connor fought as an Irish Republican Army soldier. The story is based on a conversation he overheard about two hostages who befriended their guards. The first-person perspective allows the reader, like Bonaparte, the Irish guard who narrates the story, to imagine the Englishmen from a personal point of view, playing cards and arguing politics. Bonaparte is then told by his superior officer that the men are hostages, and that they must immediately kill them. The shock and inhumanity that Bonaparte feels is shared by the reader. The narrator's sense of emptiness, after killing the two soldiers point blank in a vividly violent scene, ends the story on a bleak note:

Noble says he saw everything ten times the size, as though there were nothing in the whole world but that little patch of bog with the Englishmen stiffening into it, but with me it was as if the patch of bog where the English were was a million miles away.

John le Carré dramatizes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his novel The Little Drummer Girl (1983), in which a young English actress, Charlie, is recruited by Kurtz, an Israeli intelligence agent, to infiltrate a group of Palestinian terrorists that have been terrorizing Western Europe. The Israelis put Charlie through rigorous brainwashing and role-playing so she will understand and sympathize with the Palestinian perspective. The Israelis assassinate the brother of the Palestinian terrorist leader, Khalil, allowing Charlie to infiltrate their group posing as the girlfriend of the dead brother. Charlie then undergoes another indoctrination, this time from the Palestinians. Charlie stays with Khalil and his sister Fatmeh, and grows attached to them, only to betray them when she sleeps with Khalil in a plan that allows the Israelis to kill him. Well-regarded as a spy thriller, the novel begs the question of whether the romantic thriller genre is capable of addressing the brutal reality of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. In a sense, The Little Drummer Girl's use of a sexy heroine and the sympathetic portrayal of both sides functions as a form of ideological substitution, interpreting complex politics in a psychological romance plot. Perhaps the dissatisfaction of readers on both sides of the conflict is, paradoxically, an affirmation of the novel's balanced approach, which depicts both sides of the conflict using terrorist tactics.

Robert Cormier's young adult novel After the First Death (1979) imagines vaguely Middle Eastern terrorists taking a school bus of preschoolers hostage on the outskirts of a New England town. The children are drugged and their lives are threatened by a group that wants the U.S. government to dismantle a secret agency, Inner Delta. The terrorists are led by the callous Artkin, and include Miro, a sixteen-year-old terrorist whose seduction by Kate, the bus driver, will lead to Kate's death. Deaths on both sides accumulate as a government sniper accidentally fires on the bus and the situation escalates. This book frames terrorism within adolescent interests, bringing together opposing sides of the conflict using sexuality and emphasizing the shortcomings of adult solutions.

Like The Dancer Upstairs, Ann Patchett's Bel Canto (2001) is based on a Peruvian terrorist incident. In December 1996, the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima, Peru, was taken over by the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, a Marxist insurgent group. Fourteen terrorists held seventy-two hostages for over four months. The crisis ended in April 1997, when President Fujimori ordered the embassy stormed. Patchett's novel is set in a similar home in an unnamed country that throws a lavish birthday party for a prominent Japanese businessman. The hosts have paid the world's greatest soprano, Roxane Coss, to sing for the businessman, an opera aficionado. The terrorists that take the party hostage are sympathetically drawn in a story about the relationships, some of them romantic, that develop between the terrorists and their captives. Patchett's terrorists are mostly underprivileged third-world teenagers who never kill or hurt their charges. Her portrait is humanizing—some would say distortingly so—but also allegorically suggestive of the global economic imbalances and corrupt government regimes that create insurgent resistance and lead to terrorist acts.


Another way to place terror in context is to focus on the victims of terrorist acts. Rather than exploit the innate drama of evil villains, these novels examine the lingering effects of terrorism, as well as its self-perpetuating nature.

Gabriel García Márquez's News of a Kidnapping (1997) is a nonfiction account of the kidnapping of ten people in Márquez's home country of Colombia. The book covers events that took place during 1990–1991, as the United States was attempting to extradite Pablo Escobar, head of a massive drug cartel. Then a fugitive, Escobar took hostages in order to pressure Colombia's government not to permit his extradition. This strategy worked; Escobar turned himself in for domestic imprisonment in 1991. Márquez, a writer better known for his novels, returns to his earlier craft of journalism for this work, which draws on survivor interviews. The result is an account that provides the details of the hostage-taking and subsequent negotiations that led to two of the hostages' deaths and the liberation of the others.

The Egyptian novelist Naguib Mafouz portrays terrorism as a media event that resonates in the personal lives of a cluster of characters in Cairo in his novella The Day the Leader Was Killed (1985). The novel is set in the days before the October 6, 1981, assassination of Egyptian president Anwar al-Sadat by the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Rather than focusing on the terrorists themselves, or rewriting real-life events to suit his themes, Mafouz sketches the perspectives of a trio of characters to tell the story of a grandfather, Muhtashimi Zayed, his grandson Elwan, and Elwan's fiancée Randa. Al-Sadat's assassination comes abruptly in the concluding pages of the story as the televised parade broadcast goes dead. The characters know something bad has happened when announcers start reading the Quran on television. Pondering the president's death, Muhtashimi thinks:

He doesn't deserve this end, whatever his misdeeds. On his day of glory? A plot. Surely there's a conspiracy. No doubt. The hell with him!… It was the inevitable end. He was a curse on us. He who kills will ultimately be killed. In a split second, an empire has collapsed. The empire of robbers.

The fight between tradition and modernity that the novel's three main characters struggle with is underscored by the assassination. Old Muhtashimi's apocalyptic thoughts lead to the novel's conclusion that suggests that he himself may be on the verge of making a commitment to religious militarism. Such characterizations of Muslims by Mafouz have led to the issuing of a fatwa (Islamic religious proclamation) calling for his death, and a subsequent 1994 stabbing attack by two extremists, which he survived.

Jonathan Saffran Foer's novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005) approaches the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center from the perspective of a precocious nine-year-old, Oskar Schell, who attempts to understand why his father died in one of the towers. After the attack, Oskar finds a key in his father's room marked with the word "Black." He begins interviewing every person with that last name in New York City. Joined by a 103-year-old former war journalist, Oskar travels the city, meeting diverse characters. Oskar's story is interspersed with those of his grandfather, who survived the World War II bombing of Dresden, and with stories from the bombing of Hiroshima. The inclusion of these acts of massive military violence broaden terrorism's definition from its typical meaning of acts by insurgent groups and balance Oskar's limited understanding of why the attack occurred.


In these works, terrorism appears as, among other things, an incomprehensible horror, a mournful loss, a suspenseful mystery, a rival discourse, a psychotic religious fundamentalism, and a political fable. Taken as a whole, these novels reveal the human cost and annihilation of meaning accomplished by terrorist violence. Just as there is little consensus regarding the best way to address terrorism, so do novels on the subject take diverse stances on its causes, although they all confirm its bloody destructiveness. Despite their richness, one can only hope that the future calls for fewer stories of terrorism.


Conrad, Joseph, The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale, edited and introduced by Martin Seymour-Smith, Penguin Books, 1984, pp. 67, 74, 82, 102.

DeLillo, Don, Mao II, Viking, 1991, pp. 16, 41.

Foer, Jonathan Saffran, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Houghton Mifflin, 2005, p. 244.

Gould, Tony, Review of "The Dancer Upstairs," in New Statesman & Society, Vol. 8, No. 371, September 22, 1995, p. 33.

Kubiak, Anthony, "Spelling It Out: Narrative Typologies of Terror," in Studies in the Novel, Vol. 36, No. 3, pp. 294-302.

Mahfouz, Naguib, The Day the Leader Was Killed, translated by Malak Mashem, Anchor Books, 2000, p. 96.

O'Connor, Frank, "Guests of the Nation," in A Frank O'Connor Reader, edited by Michael Steinman, Syracuse University Press, 1994, pp. 3-14.

Olds, Bruce, Raising Holy Hell, Henry Holt and Co., 1995, pp. 153, 209.

Shakespeare, Nicholas, The Dancer Upstairs, Doubleday, 1997, p. 48.

Szymborska, Wislawa, "The Terrorist, He Watches," in View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems, translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh, Harcourt Brace, 1995, pp. 108-09.

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