Terrorism is the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion. In the international community, however, terrorism has no universally agreed, legally binding, criminal law definition.[1][2] Common definitions of terrorism refer only to those violent acts which are intended to create fear (terror), are perpetrated for a religious, political or ideological goal, and deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants (civilians). Some definitions now exclude acts of state terrorism and some also include acts of unlawful violence and war. The use of similar tactics by criminal organizations for protection rackets or to enforce a code of silence is usually not labeled terrorism though these same actions may be labeled terrorism when done by a politically motivated group.

The word "terrorism" is politically and emotionally charged,[3] and this greatly compounds the difficulty of providing a precise definition. Studies have found over 100 definitions of “terrorism”.[4][5] The concept of terrorism may itself be controversial as it is often used by state authorities (and individuals with access to state support) to delegitimize political or other opponents,[6] and potentially legitimize the state's own use of armed force against opponents (such use of force may itself be described as "terror" by opponents of the state).[6][7]

Terrorism has been practiced by a broad array of political organizations for furthering their objectives. It has been practiced by both right-wing and left-wing political parties, nationalistic groups, religious groups, revolutionaries, and ruling governments.[8] An abiding characteristic is the indiscriminate use of violence against noncombatants for the purpose of gaining publicity for a group, cause, or individual.[9]


Origin of term

"Terrorism" comes from the French word terrorisme,[10] and originally referred specifically to state terrorism as practiced by the French government during the Reign of terror. The French word terrorisme in turn derives from the Latin verb terreō meaning “I frighten”.[11] The terror cimbricus was a panic and state of emergency in Rome in response to the approach of warriors of the Cimbri tribe in 105 BC. The Jacobins cited this precedent when imposing a Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.[12][13] After the Jacobins lost power, the word "terrorist" became a term of abuse.[6] Although "terrorism" originally referred acts committed by a government, currently it usually refers to the killing of innocent people[14] by a non-government group in such a way as to create a media spectacle.[15] This meaning can be traced back to Sergey Nechayev, who described himself as a "terrorist".[16] Nechayev founded the Russian terrorist group "People's Retribution" (Народная расправа) in 1869.

In November 2004, a United Nations Secretary General report 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".[17]


The definition of terrorism has proved controversial. Various legal systems and government agencies use different definitions of terrorism in their national legislation. Moreover, the international community has been slow to formulate a universally agreed, legally binding definition of this crime. These difficulties arise from the fact that the term "terrorism" is politically and emotionally charged.[18] In this regard, Angus Martyn, briefing the Australian Parliament, stated that "The international community has never succeeded in developing an accepted comprehensive definition of terrorism. During the 1970s and 1980s, the United Nations attempts to define the term foundered mainly due to differences of opinion between various members about the use of violence in the context of conflicts over national liberation and self-determination."[1]

These divergences have made it impossible for the United Nations to conclude a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism that incorporates a single, all-encompassing, legally binding, criminal law definition terrorism.[19] Nonetheless, the international community has adopted a series of sectoral conventions that define and criminalize various types of terrorist activities. Moreover, since 1994, the United Nations General Assembly has repeatedly condemned terrorist acts using the following political description of terrorism: "Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them."[20]

Bruce Hoffman, a well-known scholar, has noted that:

It is not only individual agencies within the same governmental apparatus that cannot agree on a single definition of terrorism. Experts and other long-established scholars in the field are equally incapable of reaching a consensus. In the first edition of his magisterial survey, “Political terrorism: A Research Guide,” Alex Schmid devoted more than a hundred pages to examining more than a hundred different definition of terrorism in a effort to discover a broadly acceptable, reasonably comprehensive explication of the word. Four years and a second edition later, Schimd was no closer to the goal of his quest, conceding in the first sentence of the revised volume that the “search for an adequate definition is still on” Walter Laqueur despaired of defining terrorism in both editions of his monumental work on the subject, maintaining that it is neither possible to do so nor worthwhile to make the attempt.”[21]

Nonetheless, Hoffman himself believes it is possible to identify some key characteristics of terrorism. He proposes that:

By distinguishing terrorists from other types of criminals and terrorism from other forms of crime, we come to appreciate that terrorism is :
  • ineluctably political in aims and motives
  • violent – or, equally important, threatens violence
  • designed to have far-reaching psychological repercussions beyond the immediate victim or target
  • conducted by an organization with an identifiable chain of command or conspiratorial cell structure (whose members wear no uniform or identifying insignia) and
  • perpetrated by a subnational group or non-state entity.[22]

A definition proposed by Carsten Bockstette at the George C. Marshall Center for European Security Studies, underlines the psychological and tactical aspects of terrorism:

Terrorism is defined as political violence in an asymmetrical conflict that is designed to induce terror and psychic fear (sometimes indiscriminate) through the violent victimization and destruction of noncombatant targets (sometimes iconic symbols). Such acts are meant to send a message from an illicit clandestine organization. The purpose of terrorism is to exploit the media in order to achieve maximum attainable publicity as an amplifying force multiplier in order to influence the targeted audience(s) in order to reach short- and midterm political goals and/or desired long-term end states."[23]

Walter Laqueur, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, noted that "the only general characteristic of terrorism generally agreed upon is that terrorism involves violence and the threat of violence".[citation needed] This criterion alone does not produce, however, a useful definition, since it includes many violent acts not usually considered terrorism: war, riot, organized crime, or even a simple assault.[citation needed] Property destruction that does not endanger life is not usually considered a violent crime,[according to whom?] but some have described property destruction by the Earth Liberation Front[24] and Animal Liberation Front[25] as violence and terrorism; see eco-terrorism.

Terrorist attacks are usually carried out in such a way as to maximize the severity and length of the psychological impact.[26] Each act of terrorism is a “performance” devised to have an impact on many large audiences. Terrorists also attack national symbols,[27] to show power and to attempt to shake the foundation of the country or society they are opposed to. This may negatively affect a government, while increasing the prestige of the given terrorist organization and/or ideology behind a terrorist act.[28]

Terrorist acts frequently have a political purpose.[29] Terrorism is a political tactic, like letter-writing or protesting, which is used by activists when they believe that no other means will effect the kind of change they desire.[according to whom?] The change is desired so badly that failure to achieve change is seen as a worse outcome than the deaths of civilians.[citation needed] This is often where the inter-relationship between terrorism and religion occurs. When a political struggle is integrated into the framework of a religious or "cosmic"[30] 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.[31]

Very often, the victims of terrorism are targeted not because they are threats, but because they are specific "symbols, tools, animals or corrupt beings"[citation needed] that tie into a specific view of the world that the terrorists possess. Their suffering accomplishes the terrorists' goals of instilling fear, getting their message out to an audience or otherwise satisfying the demands of their often radical religious and political agendas.[32]

Some official, governmental definitions of terrorism use the criterion of the illegitimacy or unlawfulness of the act.[33][non-primary source needed] to distinguish between actions authorized by a government (and thus "lawful") and those of other actors, including individuals and small groups. Using this criterion, actions that would otherwise qualify as terrorism would not be considered terrorism if they were government sanctioned.[citation needed] For example, firebombing a city, which is designed to affect civilian support for a cause, would not be considered terrorism if it were authorized by a government.[original research?] This criterion is inherently problematic and is not universally accepted,[attribution needed] because: it denies the existence of state terrorism;[34] the same act may or may not be classed as terrorism depending on whether its sponsorship is traced to a "legitimate" government; "legitimacy" and "lawfulness" are subjective, depending on the perspective of one government or another; and it diverges from the historically accepted meaning and origin of the term.[10][35][36][37]

Among the various definitions there are several that do not recognize the possibility of legitimate use of violence by civilians against an invader in an occupied country.[citation needed] Other definitions would label as terrorist groups only the resistance movements that oppose an invader with violent acts that undiscriminately kill or harm civilians and non-combatants, thus making a distinction between lawful and unlawful use of violence.[citation needed] According to Ali Khan, the distinction lies ultimatedly in a political judgment.[38]

An associated, and arguably more easily definable, but not equivalent term is violent non-state actor.[39] The semantic scope of this term includes not only "terrorists", but while excluding some individuals or groups who have previously been described as "terrorists", and also explicitly excludes state terrorism. According to the FBI terrorism is the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.[citation needed]

Pejorative use

The terms "terrorism" and "terrorist" (someone who engages in terrorism) carry strong negative connotations.[40] These terms are often used as political labels, to condemn violence or the threat of violence by certain actors as immoral, indiscriminate, unjustified or to condemn an entire segment of a population.[41] Those labeled "terrorists" by their opponents rarely identify themselves as such, and typically use other terms or terms specific to their situation, such as separatist, freedom fighter, liberator, revolutionary, vigilante, militant, paramilitary, guerrilla, rebel, patriot, or any similar-meaning word in other languages and cultures. Jihadi, mujaheddin, and fedayeen are similar Arabic words which have entered the English lexicon. It is common for both parties in a conflict to describe each other as terrorists.[42]

Attack by CIA-funded Mujahideen terrorists in Afghanistan in 1985. Ronald Reagan praised Afghan mujahideen as "freedom fighters".

On the question of whether particular terrorist acts, such as killing civilians, can be justified as the lesser evil in a particular circumstance, philosophers have expressed different views: while, according to David Rodin, utilitarian philosophers can (in theory) conceive of cases in which the evil of terrorism is outweighed by the good which could not be achieved in a less morally costly way, in practice the "harmful effects of undermining the convention of non-combatant immunity is thought to outweigh the goods that may be achieved by particular acts of terrorism".[43] Among the non-utilitarian philosophers, Michael Walzer argued that terrorism can be morally justified in only one specific case: when "a nation or community faces the extreme threat of complete destruction and the only way it can preserve itself is by intentionally targeting non-combatants, then it is morally entitled to do so".[43][44]

In his book Inside Terrorism Bruce Hoffman offered an explanation of why the term terrorism becomes distorted:

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.[45][46][47]

The pejorative connotations of the word can be summed up in the aphorism, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter".[42] This is exemplified when a group using irregular military methods is an ally of a state against a mutual enemy, but later falls out with the state and starts to use those 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.[48][49] More recently, Ronald Reagan and others in the American administration frequently called the Afghan Mujahideen "freedom fighters" during their war against the Soviet Union,[50] 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 are labelled "terrorism" by George W. Bush.[51][52] Groups accused of terrorism understandably prefer terms reflecting legitimate military or ideological action.[53][54][55] Leading terrorism researcher Professor Martin Rudner, director of the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies at Ottawa's Carleton University, defines "terrorist acts" as attacks against civilians for political or other ideological goals, and said:

There is the famous statement: 'One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.' But that is grossly misleading. It assesses the validity of the cause when terrorism is an act. One can have a perfectly beautiful cause and yet if one commits terrorist acts, it is terrorism regardless.[56]

Some groups, when involved in a "liberation" struggle, have been called "terrorists" by the Western governments or media. Later, these same persons, as leaders of the liberated nations, are called "statesmen" by similar organizations. Two examples of this phenomenon are the Nobel Peace Prize laureates Menachem Begin and Nelson Mandela.[57][58][59][60][61][62] WikiLeaks whistleblower Julian Assange has been called a "terrorist" by Sarah Palin and Joe Biden.[63][64]

Sometimes states which are close allies, for reasons of history, culture and politics, can disagree over whether or not members of a certain organization are terrorists. For instance, for many years, some branches of the United States government refused to label members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) as terrorists while the IRA was using methods against one of the United States' closest allies (Britain) which Britain branded as terrorism. This was highlighted by the Quinn v. Robinson case.[65][66]

For these and other reasons, media outlets wishing to preserve a reputation for impartiality try to be careful in their use of the term.[67][68]

Types of terrorism

In early 1975, the Law Enforcement Assistant Administration in the United States formed the National Advisory Committee on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals. One of the five volumes that the committee wrote was entitled Disorders and Terrorism, produced by the Task Force on Disorders and Terrorism under the direction of H.H.A. Cooper, Director of the Task Force staff.[69]

The Task Force classified terrorism into six categories.

U.S. Army Humvee destroyed by a car bomb, Baghdad, Iraq in 2006.
  • Civil disorder – A form of collective violence interfering with the peace, security, and normal functioning of the community.
  • Political terrorismViolent criminal behaviour designed primarily to generate fear in the community, or substantial segment of it, for political purposes.
  • Non-Political terrorism – Terrorism that is not aimed at political purposes but which exhibits “conscious design to create and maintain a high degree of fear for coercive purposes, but the end is individual or collective gain rather than the achievement of a political objective.”
  • Quasi-terrorism – The activities incidental to the commission of crimes of violence that are similar in form and method to genuine terrorism but which nevertheless lack its essential ingredient. It is not the main purpose of the quasi-terrorists to induce terror in the immediate victim as in the case of genuine terrorism, but the quasi-terrorist uses the modalities and techniques of the genuine terrorist and produces similar consequences and reaction.[70] For example, the fleeing felon who takes hostages is a quasi-terrorist, whose methods are similar to those of the genuine terrorist but whose purposes are quite different.
  • Limited political terrorism – Genuine political terrorism is characterized by a revolutionary approach; limited political terrorism refers to “acts of terrorism which are committed for ideological or political motives but which are not part of a concerted campaign to capture control of the state.
  • Official or state terrorism –"referring to nations whose rule is based upon fear and oppression that reach similar to terrorism or such proportions.” It may also be referred to as Structural Terrorism defined broadly as terrorist acts carried out by governments in pursuit of political objectives, often as part of their foreign policy.
Number of failed, foiled or successful terrorist attacks by year and type within the European Union. Source: Europol.[71][dead link][72][73] Four persons died in terrorist attacks from a separatist groups in 2008.[73] Only Islamist attacks were aimed at mass casualities.[74]

Several sources[75][76][77] have further defined the typology of terrorism:

  • Political terrorism
    • Sub-state terrorism
      • Social revolutionary terrorism
      • Nationalist-separatist terrorism
      • Religious extremist terrorism
        • Religious fundamentalist Terrorism
        • New religions terrorism
      • Right-wing terrorism
      • Left-wing terrorism
      • Single-issue terrorism
    • State-sponsored terrorism
    • Regime or state terrorism
  • Criminal terrorism
  • Pathological terrorism

Motivation of terrorists

Attacks on 'collaborators' are used to intimidate people from cooperating with the state in order to undermine state control. This strategy was used in the USA in its War of Independence and in Ireland, in Kenya, in Algeria and in Cyprus in their independence struggles.

Attacks on high profile symbolic targets are used to incite counter-terrorism by the state to polarise the population. This strategy is used by Al Qaeda in its attacks on the USA in September 2001. These attacks are also used to draw international attention to struggles which are otherwise unreported such as the Palestininian airplane hijackings in 1970 and the South Moluccan hostage crises in the Netherlands in 1975.

Abrahm suggests that terrorist organizations do not select terrorism for its political effectiveness.[78] Individual terrorists tend to be motivated more by a desire for social solidarity with other members of their organization than by political platforms or strategic objectives, which are often murky and undefined.[78]

Democracy and domestic terrorism

Demonstration in Madrid against ETA, January 2000. Roughly a million people met there.

The relationship between domestic terrorism and democracy is very complex. Terrorism is most common in nations with intermediate political freedom, and is least common in the most democratic nations.[79][80][81][82] 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.[83] The study suggests that concessions awarded to terrorists during the 1980s and 1990s for suicide attacks increased their frequency.[84]

Some examples of "terrorism" in non-democracies include ETA in Spain under Francisco Franco (although the group's terrorist activities increased sharply after Franco's death),[85] the Shining Path in Peru under Alberto Fujimori,[86] the Kurdistan Workers Party when Turkey was ruled by military leaders and the ANC in South Africa.[87] Democracies, such as the United Kingdom, United States, Israel, Indonesia, India, Spain and the Philippines, have also experienced domestic terrorism.

While a democratic nation espousing civil liberties may claim a sense of higher moral ground than other regimes, an act of terrorism within such a state may cause a dilemma: whether to maintain its civil liberties and thus risk being perceived as ineffective in dealing with the problem; or alternatively to restrict its civil liberties and thus risk delegitimizing its claim of supporting civil liberties.[88] For this reason, homegrown terrorism has started to be seen as a greater threat, as stated by former CIA Director Michael Hayden.[89] This dilemma, some social theorists would conclude, may very well play into the initial plans of the acting terrorist(s); namely, to delegitimize the state.[90]

Religious terrorism

Islamabad Marriott Hotel bombing. Some 35,000 Pakistanis have died from terrorist attacks in recent years.[91]

Religious terrorism is terrorism performed by groups or individuals, the motivation of which is typically rooted in faith-based tenets. Terrorist acts throughout the centuries have been performed on religious grounds with the hope to either spread or enforce a system of belief, viewpoint or opinion.[92] Religious terrorism does not in itself necessarily define a specific religious standpoint or view, but instead usually defines an individual or a group view or interpretation of that belief system's teachings.


The perpetrators of acts of terrorism can be 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. However, the most common image of terrorism is that it is carried out by small and secretive cells, highly motivated to serve a particular cause and many of the most deadly operations in recent times, such as the September 11 attacks, the London underground bombing, and the 2002 Bali bombing were planned and carried out by a close clique, composed of close friends, family members and other strong social networks. These groups benefited from the free flow of information and efficient telecommunications to succeed where others had failed.[93]

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. Some security organizations designate these groups as violent non-state actors.[94] A 2007 study by economist Alan B. Krueger found that terrorists were less likely to come from an impoverished background (28% vs. 33%) and more likely to have at least a high-school education (47% vs. 38%). Another analysis found only 16% of terrorists came from impoverished families, vs. 30% of male Palestinians, and over 60% had gone beyond high school, vs. 15% of the populace.[95]

To avoid detection, a terrorist will look, dress, and behave normally until executing the assigned mission. Some claim that attempts to profile terrorists based on personality, physical, or sociological traits are not useful.[96] The physical and behavioral description of the terrorist could describe almost any normal person.[97] However, the majority of terrorist attacks are carried out by military age men, aged 16–40.[97]

Terrorist groups

Picture of the front of an addressed envelope to Senator Daschle.
There is speculation that anthrax mailed inside letters to U.S. politicians was the work of a lone wolf terrorist.

State sponsors

A state can sponsor terrorism by funding or harboring a terrorist organization. Opinions as to which acts of violence by states consist of state-sponsored terrorism vary widely. When states provide funding for groups considered by some to be terrorist, they rarely acknowledge them as such.

State terrorism

Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.

As with "terrorism" the concept of "state terrorism" is controversial.[99] The Chairman of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee has stated that the Committee was conscious of 12 international Conventions on the subject, and none of them referred to State terrorism, which was not an international legal concept. If States abused their power, they should be judged against international conventions dealing with war crimes, international human rights and international humanitarian law.[100] Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said that it is "time to set aside debates on so-called 'state terrorism'. The use of force by states is already thoroughly regulated under international law"[101] However, he also made clear that, "regardless of the differences between governments on the question of definition of terrorism, what is clear and what we can all agree on is any deliberate attack on innocent civilians, regardless of one's cause, is unacceptable and fits into the definition of terrorism."[102]

State terrorism has been used to refer to terrorist acts by governmental agents or forces. This involves the use of state resources employed by a state's foreign policies, such as using its military to directly perform acts of terrorism. Professor of Political Science Michael Stohl cites the examples that include Germany’s bombing of London and the U.S. atomic destruction of Hiroshima during World War II. He argues that “the use of terror tactics is common in international relations and the state has been and remains a more likely employer of terrorism within the international system than insurgents." They also cite the First strike option as an example of the "terror of coercive diplomacy" as a form of this, which holds the world hostage with the implied threat of using nuclear weapons in "crisis management." They argue that the institutionalized form of terrorism has occurred as a result of changes that took place following World War II. In this analysis, state terrorism exhibited as a form of foreign policy was shaped by the presence and use of weapons of mass destruction, and that the legitimizing of such violent behavior led to an increasingly accepted form of this state behavior.[103][104][104]

Picture of a man in a suit with a mustache who looks like Hitler speaking behind a microphone.
Some theorists suggest genocide is a type of terrorism as committed by Adolf Hitler.[citation needed]

State terrorism has also been used to describe peacetime actions by governmental agents such as the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.[105] Charles Stewart Parnell described William Ewart Gladstone's Irish Coercion Act as terrorism in his "no-Rent manifesto" in 1881, during the Irish Land War.[106] The concept is also used to describe political repressions by governments against their own civilian population with the purpose to incite fear. For example, taking and executing civilian hostages or extrajudicial elimination campaigns are commonly considered "terror" or terrorism, for example during the Red Terror or Great Terror.[107] Such actions are often also described as democide or genocide which has been argued to be equivalent to state terrorism.[108] Empirical studies on this have found that democracies have little democide.[109][110]


State sponsors have constituted a major form of funding; for example, Palestine Liberation Organization, Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and some other terrorist groups were funded by the Soviet Union.[111][112] The Stern Gang received funding from Italian Fascist officers in Beirut to undermine the British Mandate for Palestine.[113]

"Revolutionary tax" is another major form of funding, and essentially a euphemism for "protection money".[111] Revolutionary taxes are typically extorted from businesses, and they also "play a secondary role as one other means of intimidating the target population".[111]

Other major sources of funding include kidnapping for ransoms, smuggling, fraud and robbery.[111]

The Financial Action Task Force is an inter-governmental body whose mandate, since October 2001, has included combatting terrorist financing.[114]


The Wall Street bombing at noon on September 16, 1920 killed thirty-eight people and injured several hundred. The perpetrators were never caught.

Terrorism is a form of asymmetric warfare, and is more common when direct conventional warfare will not be effective because forces vary greatly in power.[115]

The context in which terrorist tactics are used is often a large-scale, unresolved political conflict. The type of conflict varies widely; historical examples include:

  • Secession of a territory to form a new sovereign state or become part of a different state
  • Dominance of territory or resources by various ethnic groups
  • Imposition of a particular form of government
  • Economic deprivation of a population
  • Opposition to a domestic government or occupying army
  • Religious fanaticism

Terrorist attacks are often targeted to maximize fear and publicity, usually using explosives or poison.[116] There is concern about terrorist attacks employing weapons of mass destruction. Terrorist organizations usually methodically plan attacks in advance, and may train participants, plant undercover agents, and raise money from supporters or through organized crime. Communications occur through modern telecommunications, or through old-fashioned methods such as couriers.


X-ray backscatter technology (AIT) machine used by the TSA to screen passengers. This is what the remote TSA agent would see on their screen.

Responses to terrorism are broad in scope. They can include re-alignments of the political spectrum and reassessments of fundamental values.

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

The term counter-terrorism has a narrower connotation, implying that it is directed at terrorist actors.

According to a report by Dana Priest and William M. Arkin in the Washington Post, "Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States."[117]

Mass media

Media exposure may be a primary goal of those carrying out terrorism, to expose issues that would otherwise be ignored by the media. Some consider this to be manipulation and exploitation of the media.[118]

The internet has created a new channel for groups to spread their messages. This has created a cycle of measures and counter measures by groups in support of and in opposition to terrorist movements. The United Nations has created its own online counter-terrorism resource.[119]

The mass media will, on occasion, censor organizations involved in terrorism (through self-restraint or regulation) to discourage further terrorism. However, this may encourage organizations to perform more extreme acts of terrorism to be shown in the mass media. Conversely James F. Pastor explains the significant relationship between terrorism and the media, and the underlying benefit each receives from the other.[120]

There is always a point at which the terrorist ceases to manipulate the media gestalt. A point at which the violence may well escalate, but beyond which the terrorist has become symptomatic of the media gestalt itself. Terrorism as we ordinarily understand it is innately media-related.

—Novelist William Gibson[121]


Number of terrorist incidents 2009 (January–June)

The history of terrorism goes back to Sicarii Zealots — Jewish extremist group active in Iudaea Province at the beginning of the first century AD. After Zealotry rebellion in the 1st century AD, when some prominent collaborators with Roman rule were killed,[122][123] according to contemporary historian Josephus, in 6 AD Judas of Galilee formed a small and more extreme offshoot of the Zealots, the Sicarii.[124] Their terror also was directed against Jewish "collaborators", including temple priests, Sadducees, Herodians, and other wealthy elites.[125]

The term "terrorism" itself was originally used to describe the actions of the Jacobin Club during the "Reign of Terror" in the French Revolution. "Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible," said Jacobin leader Maximilien Robespierre. In 1795, Edmund Burke denounced the Jacobins for letting "thousands of those hell-hounds called Terrorists...loose on the people" of France.[126]

In January 1858, Italian patriot Felice Orsini threw three bombs in an attempt to assassinate French Emperor Napoleon III.[127] Eight bystanders were killed and 142 injured.[127] The incident played a crucial role as an inspiration for the development of the early Russian terrorist groups.[127] Russian Sergey Nechayev, who founded People's Retribution in 1869, described himself as a "terrorist", an early example of the term being employed in its modern meaning.[16] Nechayev's story is told in fictionalized form by Fyodor Dostoevsky in the novel The Possessed. German anarchist writer Johann Most dispensed "advice for terrorists" in the 1880s.[128]

Terrorism databases

The following terrorism databases are or were made publicly available for research purposes, and track specific acts of terrorism:

The following publicly available resource indexes electronic and bibliographic resources on the subject of terrorism:

  • Human Security Gateway

The following terrorism databases are maintained in secrecy by the United State Government for intelligence and counter-terrorism purposes:

See also

State terrorism:

  • Pakistani state terrorism
  • State terrorism and Russia
  • State terrorism and the United States
  • State terrorism by Iran


  1. ^ a b Angus Martyn, The Right of Self-Defence under International Law-the Response to the Terrorist Attacks of 11 September, Australian Law and Bills Digest Group, Parliament of Australia Web Site, 12 February 2002.
  2. ^ Thalif Deen. POLITICS: U.N. Member States Struggle to Define Terrorism, Inter Press Service, 25 July 2005.
  3. ^ Hoffman, Bruce "Inside Terrorism" Columbia University Press 1998 ISBN 0-231-11468-0. P. 32. See review in the New York Times Inside Terrorism.
  4. ^ Record, Jeffrey (December 2003). "Bounding the Global War on Terrorism". Strategic Studies Institute (SSI). http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pdffiles/pub207.pdf. Retrieved 2009-11-11. "The views expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government. This report is cleared for public release; distribution is unlimited." 
  5. ^ Schmid, Alex, and Jongman, Albert. Political Terrorism: A new guide to actors, authors, concepts, data bases, theories and literature. Amsterdam ; New York : North-Holland ; New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1988.
  6. ^ a b c Geoffrey Nunberg (October 28, 2001). "Head Games / It All Started with Robespierre / "Terrorism": The history of a very frightening word". San Francisco Chronicle. http://articles.sfgate.com/2001-10-28/opinion/17622543_1_terrorism-robespierre-la-terreur. Retrieved 2010-01-11. "For the next 150 years the word "terrorism" led a double life – a justifiable political strategy to some an abomination to others" 
  7. ^ Elysa Gardner (2008-12-25). "Harold Pinter: Theater's singular voice falls silent". USA Today. http://www.usatoday.com/life/theater/news/2008-12-25-pinter_N.htm. Retrieved 2010-01-11. "In 2004, he earned the prestigious Wilfred Owen prize for a series of poems opposing the war in Iraq. In his acceptance speech, Pinter described the war as "a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law."" 
  8. ^ "Terrorism". Encyclopædia Britannica. p. 3. http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9071797. Retrieved 2006-08-11. 
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  12. ^ Kim Campbell (September 27, 2001). "When is 'terrorist' a subjective term?". Christian Science Monitor. http://www.csmonitor.com/2001/0927/p16s2-wogi.html. Retrieved 2010-01-11. "The French were the first to coin the term, he says." 
  13. ^ Geoffrey Nunberg (October 28, 2001). "Head Games / It All Started with Robespierre / "Terrorism": The history of a very frightening word". San Francisco Chronicle. http://articles.sfgate.com/2001-10-28/opinion/17622543_1_terrorism-robespierre-la-terreur. Retrieved 2010-01-11. "In 1792 the Jacobins came to power in France and initiated what we call the Reign of Terror and what the French call simply La Terreur." 
  14. ^ Robert Mackey (November 20, 2009). "Can Soldiers Be Victims of Terrorism?". The New York Times. http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/20/define-terrorism/. Retrieved 2010-01-11. "Terrorism is the deliberate killing of innocent people, at random, in order to spread fear through a whole population and force the hand of its political leaders." 
  15. ^ Jeremy Lott (December 5, 2001). "Suicide Blunderers: Terrorists kill selves, blame Jews". Reason Magazine. http://reason.com/archives/2001/12/05/suicide-blunderers. Retrieved 2010-01-11. "The World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings were an unthinkable masterstroke, producing a media spectacle that rocked the world." 
  16. ^ a b Crenshaw, Martha, Terrorism in Context, p. 77.
  17. ^ "UN Reform". United Nations. 2005-03-21. Archived from the original on 2007-04-27. http://web.archive.org/web/20070427012107/http://www.un.org/unifeed/script.asp?scriptId=73. Retrieved 2008-07-11. "The second part of the report, entitled "Freedom from Fear backs the definition of terrorism–an issue so divisive agreement on it has long eluded the world community–as any action "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"" 
  18. ^ Hoffman (1998), p. 32, See review in The New York Times Inside Terrorism.
  19. ^ Diaz-Paniagua (2008), p. 47.
  20. ^ 1994 United Nations Declaration on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism annex to UN General Assembly resolution 49/60 ,"Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism," of December 9, 1994, UN Doc. A/Res/60/49.
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  25. ^ Daniel Schorn (June 18, 2006). "Ed Bradley Reports On Extremists Now Deemed Biggest Domestic Terror Threat". 60 Minutes. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/11/10/60minutes/main1036067.shtml. Retrieved 2010-01-11. "The biggest act of eco-terrorism in U.S. history was a fire ... Animal Liberation Front, whose masked members have been known to videotape themselves breaking into research labs, ..." 
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  27. ^ Rick Hampson (2009-07-06). "Statue of Liberty gets her view back". USA Today. http://www.usatoday.com/travel/destinations/2009-07-01-statue-of-liberty-crown_N.htm. Retrieved 2010-01-11. "On Saturday, the statue, closed above its base since the terror attacks, will reopen to visitors — a relative few, in small groups, specially ticketed, carefully screened and escorted by a park ranger." 
  28. ^ Juergensmeyer, Mark (2000). Terror in the Mind of God. University of California Press. pp. 125–135. 
  29. ^ Style= (June 12, 2009). "Number of Terrorist Attacks, Fatalities". Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/graphic/2009/06/12/GR2009061200051.html. Retrieved 2010-01-11. "The nation's deadliest terrorist acts – attacks designed to achieve a political goal" 
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  31. ^ Alexander Stille (May 31, 2003). "Historians Trace an Unholy Alliance; Religion as the Root Of Nationalist Feeling". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/31/arts/historians-trace-an-unholy-alliance-religion-as-the-root-of-nationalist-feeling.html?pagewanted=1. Retrieved 2010-01-11. "Now the context in which we see nationalism has completely changed, he said. Faced with the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, the West is more open to looking at the role of religion in the formation of nationalism." 
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  124. ^ Chaliand, Gerard. The History of Terrorism: From Antiquity to al Qaeda. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007. p.68
  125. ^ Hoffman, Bruce. Inside Terrorism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988. p. 167
  126. ^ Edmund Burke (1795). "Letter No. IV. To the Earl Fitzwilliam". Library of Economics and Liberty. pp. 308–76, 371. http://www.econlib.org/library/LFBooks/Burke/brkSWv3c4.html. Retrieved 2010-01-11. "Thousands of those Hell-hounds called Terrorists, whom they had shut up in Prison on their last Revolution, as the Satellites of Tyranny, are let loose on the people." 
  127. ^ a b c Crenshaw, Martha, Terrorism in Context, p. 38.
  128. ^ Crenshaw, p. 44.

External links

UN conventions
Terrorism and international humanitarian law
News monitoring websites specializing on articles on terrorism

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