2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Politics and government

War on Terrorism
Nuclear terrorism
Car bombing
Suicide bombing
Smoke billowing from the World Trade Center after the 11th September 2001 terrorist attacks-one of the most iconic examples of modern terrorism.
Smoke billowing from the World Trade Centre after the 11th September 2001 terrorist attacks-one of the most iconic examples of modern terrorism.

Terrorism is a term used to describe violence or other harmful acts committed (or threatened) against civilians by groups or persons for political, nationalist, or religious goals. As a type of unconventional warfare, terrorism means to weaken or supplant existing political landscapes through capitulation, acquiescence, or radicalization, as opposed to subversion or direct military action.

"Terrorist attacks" usually are characterized as "indiscriminate", the "targeting of civilians", or as executed "with disregard for human life". The term "terrorism" often is used to assert that the enemy's political violence is immoral, wanton, and unjustified. Per the most common definition of terrorism— typically used by states, academics, counter-terrorism experts, and civil, non-governmental organizations, "terrorists" are actors who do not belong to any recognized armed forces or who don't abide the laws of war, and who, therefore, are regarded as "rogue actors".

Those labelled "terrorists" rarely identify themselves so and, instead, typically use terms referring to their ideological or ethnic struggle, such as: separatist, freedom fighter, liberator, revolutionary, vigilante, militant, paramilitary, guerrilla, rebel, jihadi or mujaheddin, or fedayeen, or any similar-meaning word in other languages.

Terrorism has been used by a broad array of political organizations in furthering their objectives; both right-wing and left-wing political parties, nationalistic, and religious groups, revolutionaries and ruling governments.

Some persons and governments believe that the term "Terrorism", as defined in dictionaries, now has a negative connotation, under the theory that a person who attacks the civilian population is, instead, a militant, regardless of the status of the victims of terrorism.


One 1988 study by the US Army found that more than one hundred (100) definitions of the word "terrorism" exist and have been used.

Some news sources refuse to use the term "terrorism"; others use the term in context. For example, the BBC and CNN has described the Northern Irish IRA as "terrorists", but describes Palestinian armed groups who employ the same methods against Israeli citizens as "militants".

Terrorism is a crime in all countries where such acts occur, and is defined by statute—see the wikipedia article definition of terrorism for particular definitions. Common principles among legal definitions of terrorism provide an emerging consensus as to meaning and also foster cooperation between law enforcement personnel in different countries. Among these definitions there are several that do not recognize the possibility of legitimate use of violence by civilians against an invader in an occupied country and would, thus, label all resistance movements as terrorist groups. Others make a distinction between lawful and unlawful use of violence. Ultimately, the distinction is a political judgment.

In November 2004, a UN panel described terrorism as any act: "intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act."

Key criteria

Official definitions determine counter-terrorism policy and are often developed to serve it. Most official definitions outline the following key criteria: target, objective, motive, perpetrator, and legitimacy or legality of the act. Terrorism is also often recognizable by a following statement from the perpetrators.

Violence – According to Walter Laqueur of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, "the only general characteristic [of terrorism] generally agreed upon is that terrorism involves violence and the threat of violence". However, the criterion of violence alone does not produce a useful definition, as it includes many acts not usually considered terrorism: war, riot, organized crime, or even a simple assault. Property destruction, that does not endanger life, is not usually considered a violent crime, but some have described property destruction by the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front as terrorism.

Psychological impact and fear – The attack was carried out in such a way as to maximize the severity and length of the psychological impact. Each act of terrorism is a “performance,” a product of internal logic, devised to have an impact on many large audiences. Terrorists also attack national symbols to show their power and to shake the foundation of the country or society they are opposed to. This may negatively affect a government's legitimacy, while increasing the legitimacy of the given terrorist organization and/or ideology behind a terrorist act. The September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon are examples of this. Attacking the World Trade Centre symbolizes that the terrorists can threaten the economic foundation of America and its capitalist ideals, and attacking the Pentagon symbolizes that America's great and prided military strength is yet vulnerable at its very core to the terrorists power.

Perpetrated for a Political Goal – Something all terrorist attacks have in common is their perpetration for a political purpose. This is often the key difference between an act of terrorism and a hate crime or lone-wolf "madman" attack. Terrorism is a political tactic, not unlike letter writing or protesting, that is used by activists when they believe no other means will effect the kind of change they desire. The change is desired so badly that failure is seen as a worse outcome than the deaths of civilians. This is often where the interrelationship between terrorism and religion occurs. When a political struggle is integrated into the framework of a religious or "cosmic" struggle, such as over the control of an ancestral homeland or holy site such as Israel and Jerusalem, failing in the political goal (nationalism) becomes equated with spiritual failure, which, for the highly committed, is worse than their own death or the deaths of innocent civilians.

Deliberate targeting of non-combatants – It is commonly held that the distinctive nature of terrorism lies in its intentional and specific selection of civilians as direct targets. Much of the time, the victims of terrorism are targeted not because they are threats, but because they are specific "symbols, tools, animals or corrupt beings" that tie into a specific view of the world that the terrorist possess. Their suffering accomplishes the terrorists' goals of instilling fear, getting a message out to an audience, or otherwise accomplishing their political end.

Unlawfulness or illegitimacy – Some definitions of terrorism give weight to a distinction between the actions of a legitimate government and those of non-state actors, including individuals and small groups. In this view, government actions that might be violent, operate through fear, aim at political ends, and target civilians would not be terrorism if they are being pursued by agents who are accountable to legitimate governmental authority. Governmental accountability, presumably, would operate to limit and restrain the violence, both in volume and tactics. Furthermore, taking this approach to the definition of terrorism would help prevent some of the analytic problems associated with characterizing some military tactics (such as firebombing of cities) which are designed to affect civilian support for the enemy war effort. However, governments which repeatedly resort to these kinds of tactics tend to lose legitimacy, whether philosophically or politically. Loss of legitimacy erodes the distinction between governmental and non-governmental violence where there is a consistent practice of targeting civilians.

Pejorative use

In his book "Inside Terrorism" Bruce Hoffman wrote in Chapter One: Defining Terrorism that

On one point, at least, everyone agrees: terrorism is a pejorative term. It is a word with intrinsically negative connotations that is generally applied to one's enemies and opponents, or to those with whom one disagrees and would otherwise prefer to ignore. `What is called terrorism', Brian Jenkins has written, `thus seems to depend on one's point of view. Use of the term implies a moral judgment; and if one party can successfully attach the label terrorist to its opponent, then it has indirectly persuaded others to adopt its moral viewpoint.' Hence the decision to call someone or label some organization `terrorist' becomes almost unavoidably subjective, depending largely on whether one sympathizes with or opposes the person/group/cause concerned. If one identifies with the victim of the violence, for example, then the act is terrorism. If, however, one identifies with the perpetrator, the violent act is regarded in a more sympathetic, if not positive (or, at the worst, an ambivalent) light; and it is not terrorism.

The difference between the words "terrorist" or "terrorism" and the terms above can be summed up by the subjective aphorism, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." This is exemplified when a group that uses irregular military methods is an ally of a State against a mutual enemy, but later falls out with the State and starts to use the same methods against its former ally. During World War II the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army was allied with the British, but during the Malayan Emergency, members of its successor, the Malayan Races Liberation Army, were branded terrorists by the British. yet twenty years later when a new generation of Afghan men are fighting against what they perceive to be a regime installed by foreign powers, their attacks were labeled terrorism by President Bush.

Some groups, when involved in a "liberation" struggle, have been called terrorist by the Western governments or media. Later, these same persons, as leaders of the liberated nations, are called statesmen by similar organizations.example is Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela.Cite error 3; Invalid <ref> tag; invalid names, e.g. too many

Sometimes states that are close allies, for reasons of history, culture and politics, can disagree over whether members of a certain organization are terrorists. For example for many years some branches of the United States government refused to label members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) as terrorists, while it was using methods against one of United States closest allies, that, that ally (Britain), branded as terrorist attacks. This was highlighted by the Quinn v. Robinson case

For these and other reasons, media outlets wishing to preserve a reputation for impartiality are extremely careful in their use of the term.


The relationship between terrorism and democracy is complex. Research shows that terrorism is most common in nations with intermediate political freedom and that the nations with the least terrorism are the most democratic nations. However, one study suggests that suicide terrorism may be an exception to this general rule. Evidence regarding this particular method of terrorism reveals that every modern suicide campaign has targeted a democracy- a state with a considerable degree of political freedom. The study suggests that concessions awarded to terrorists during the 80s and 90s for suicide attacks increased their frequency.

Some examples of "terrorism" in non-democracies to include ETA under Francisco Franco, the Shining Path under Alberto Fujimori, and the Kurdistan Workers Party when Turkey was ruled by military leaders.

While a nation espousing democratic ideology may claim a sense of legitimacy or higher moral ground than regimes that promote terrorism, any act of terrorism within the former creates a dilemma for the democratic state. On one hand, a state that prides itself in its tolerance of peaceful demonstration may choose to approach the problem of terrorism in ways outlined by its constitution; this may render that state ineffective in dealing with the problem, which could reflect upon its citizens a sense of impotency in a time of crisis. On the other hand, should that same terrorized state go outside its constitution to deal with the problem, the very notion of democracy itself pales in meaning. This, some social theorists would conclude, may very well play into the initial plans of the acting terrorist(s); namely, to delegitimize democracy.


Acts of terrorism can be carried out by individuals, groups, or states. According to some definitions, clandestine or semi-clandestine state actors may also carry out terrorist acts outside the framework of a state of war. The most common image of terrorism is that it is carried out by small and secretive cells, highly motivated to serve a particular cause. However, many of the most successful operations in recent time, such as 9/11, the London underground bombing, and the 2002 Bali bombing were planned and carried out by a close clique, comprised of close friends, family members and other strong social networks. These groups benefited from the free flow of information, and were able overcome the obstacles they encountered where others failed due to lack of information and communication. Over the years, many people have attempted to come up with a terrorist profile to attempt to explain these individuals' actions through their psychology and social circumstances. Others, like Roderick Hindery, have sought to discern profiles in the propaganda tactics used by terrorists.

Terrorist groups

State sponsors

A state can sponsor terrorism by funding a terrorist organization, harboring terrorism, and also using state resources, such as the military, to directly perform acts of terrorism. State-sponsored terrorism is widely denounced by the international community. When states do provide funding for groups considered by some to be terrorist, they rarely acknowledge them as such.


Methods of attack

Terrorists seek to demoralize and paralyze their enemy with fear, and also to pressure governments into conceding to the terrorist's agenda.

While they act according to different motivations and goals, all terrorist groups have one tactic in common: to achieve maximum publicity in order to intimidate and generate a message as a means to attain its objectives. Terrorism uses violence on one part of society to instill fear in the larger part of society to make a change. Terrorism employs propaganda as a tactic to ensure the attention of the public through the attention from the media. The term Propaganda of the Deed, coined by Malatesta, Cafiero, and Covelli, states that the message is most strongly conveyed through violence.

Often damage is done with an improvised explosive device although chemical weapons have been used on occasion. A source of concern is also a possible use of a nuclear weapon or biological weapons. In the September 11, 2001 attacks, planes were used as guided incendiary devices.

Terrorist groups may arrange for secondary devices to detonate at a slightly later time in order to kill emergency-response personnel attempting to attend to the dead and wounded. Repeated or suspected use of secondary devices can also delay emergency response out of concern that such devices may exist. Examples include a (failed) device that was meant to release cyanide-gas during the February 26, 1993 World Trade Centre bombing; and a second car bomb that detonated 20 minutes after the December 1, 2001 Ben Yehuda Street Bombing by Hamas in Jerusalem.


There are and have been training camps for terrorists. For the September 11, 2001 attacks, the pilots also took flying courses. The range of training depends greatly on the level of support the terrorist organization receives from various organizations and states. In nearly every case the training incorporates the philosophy and agenda of the groups leadership as justification for the training as well as the potential acts of terrorism which may be committed. State sanctioned training is by far the most extensive and thorough, often employing professional soldiers and covert operatives of the supporting state. The training generally includes physical fitness, combat or martial arts, firearms, explosives, intelligence/counterintelligence, and field craft. More specialized training may include mission specific subjects such as, language, cultural familiarization, communications, and surveillance techniques. In every instance the quality of training is extremely high and well organized.


Preparation of a major attack such as the September 11, 2001 attacks may take years, whereas a simpler attack, depending on the availability of arms, may be almost spontaneous.


Where terrorism occurs in the context of open warfare or insurgency, its perpetrators may shelter behind a section of the local population. Examples include the Intifada on Israeli-occupied territory, and insurgency in Iraq. This population, which may be ethnically distinct from the counter-terrorist forces, is either sympathetic to their cause, indifferent, or acts under duress.

Terrorists preparing for the September 11, 2001 attacks changed their appearance to avoid looking radical.


Terrorist organizations do not usually have only one means of funding, but many. Funding can be raised in both legal and illegal ways. Some of the most common ways to raise funds are through charities, well funded organizations, or a non violent organization with similar ideologies. In the absence of state funding, terrorists may rely on organized crime to fund their activities. This has included kidnapping, drug trafficking, or robbery. Additionally, terrorists have also found many more sources of revenue. Osama bin Laden, for example, invested millions in terrorism that his family made in the construction industry building luxury mansions for Saudi Arabia's oil- billionaires.


The revolution in communication technology over the past 10-15 years has dramatically changed how terrorist organizations communicate. E-mails, fax transmissions, websites, cell phones, and satellite telephones have made it possible for organizations to contemplate a global strategy. However, too great a reliance on this new technology leaves organizations vulnerable to sophisticated monitoring of communication and triangulation of its source. When the media published the information that the U.S. government was tracking Osama bin Laden by monitoring his phone calls, he ceased using this method to communicate.

Responses to terrorism

Responses to terrorism are broad in scope. They can include re-alignments of the political spectrum and reassessments of fundamental values. The term counter-terrorism has a narrower connotation, implying that it is directed at terrorist actors.

Specific types of responses include:

  • Targeted laws, criminal procedures, deportations, and enhanced police powers
  • Target hardening, such as locking doors or adding traffic barriers
  • Preemptive or reactive military action
  • Increased intelligence and surveillance activities
  • Preemptive humanitarian activities
  • More permissive interrogation and detention policies


Terrorist tactics were used in the 1st century by Zealots in a fierce and unrelenting terror campaign against the Roman Empire. In the 11th century, the radical Islamic sect known as the Hashshashin specialized in terrorising the Abbasid elite with politically motivated assassinations, eventually turning their attention towards Christian Crusaders.

The modern English term "terrorism" dates back to 1795 when it was used to describe the actions of the Jacobin Club in their rule of post-Revolutionary France, the so-called " Reign of Terror".

19th century terrorist groups included the anarchists in Europe and the United States (including Narodniks in Tsarist Russia), militant members of the turn-of-the-century Zionist movement, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and groups seeking independence for Armenia and Macedonia.

Some of the Most successful terrorist groups, were the vast arrange of guerilla, partisan, and resistance movements that were organised and supplied by the allies. Perhaps the most successful terrorist group of the war and of all time would the British Special Operations Executive, which conducted operations in every theatre of the war, and provided an invaluble contribution to the eventual allied victory.

Examples of major incidents

"International Terrorist Incidents, 2001" by the US Department of State
"International Terrorist Incidents, 2001" by the US Department of State
  • The Munich Massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes in 1972
  • The October 1984 bombing in Brighton, England, by the PIRA in an unsuccessful but lethal attempt to kill then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
  • The June 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182 originating from Canada
  • The destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland on December 21, 1988
  • The 1993 World Trade Centre bombing
  • The 1993 Mumbai bombings
  • The Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh on April 19, 1995
  • The Centennial Olympic Park bombing in 1996
  • The US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania on August 7, 1998
  • The Omagh bombing in Northern Ireland ( August 15, 1998)
  • The August 31 – September 22: Russian Apartment Bombings kills about 300 people, leading Russia into Second Chechen War
  • The September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, and Washington D.C.
  • The 2001 Indian Parliament attack on December 13, 2001
  • The Passover Massacre on March 27, 2002 in Netanya, Israel
  • The Moscow theatre siege and the Beslan school siege in Russia
  • The Bali bombing in October 2002
  • The March 11, 2004 attacks in Madrid
  • The July 7, 2005 bombings in London
  • The second Bali bombing on October 1, 2005
  • The Mumbai train bombings on 11 July 2006.

The deadliest events described as terrorism and not known to have been sponsored by a state were the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia, and Somerset County, Pennsylvania with a death toll of around 3000.

Some terrorist attacks or plots were designed to kill thousands of people, but either failed or fell short. Such plans include the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing, Operation Bojinka, and the 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot.

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