"Terrorist" redirects here. For other uses, see Terrorist (disambiguation).

United Airlines Flight 175, which had been taken over by hijackers, hits the South Tower of the World Trade Center during the September 11 attacks of 2001 in New York City.
Worldwide non-state terrorist incidents 1970–2015

Terrorism is, in its broadest sense, the use of intentionally indiscriminate violence (terror or fear) in order to achieve a political, religious, or ideological aim.[1] It is classified as fourth-generation warfare and as a violent crime. In modern times, terrorism is considered a major threat to society and therefore illegal under anti-terrorism laws in most jurisdictions. It is also considered a war crime under the laws of war when used to target non-combatants, such as civilians, neutral military personnel, or enemy prisoners of war.[2]

A broad array of political organizations have practiced terrorism to further their objectives. It has been practiced by both right-wing and left-wing political organizations, nationalist groups, religious groups, revolutionaries, and ruling governments.[3] The symbolism of terrorism can exploit human fear to help achieve these goals.[4][5]

According to data from the Global Terrorism Database, more than 61,000 incidents of non-state terrorism claiming over 140,000 lives have been recorded from 2000 to 2014.[6]


Origin of term

See also: Terror and State terrorism
Mass killings in the Vendée during the Reign of Terror in France, 1793

"Terrorism" comes from the French word terrorisme,[7] and originally referred specifically to state terrorism as practiced by the French government during the 1793–1794 Reign of Terror. The French word terrorisme in turn derives from the Latin verb terrere (e, terreo) meaning "to frighten".[8] The Jacobins, coming to power in France in 1792, are said to have initiated the Reign of Terror (French: La Terreur).[9] After the Jacobins lost power, the word "terrorist" became a term of abuse.[9]

Although "terrorism" originally referred to acts committed by a government, currently it usually refers to the killing of innocent people[10] for political purposes in such a way as to create a spectacle. This meaning can be traced back to Sergey Nechayev, who described himself as a "terrorist".[11] Nechayev founded the Russian terrorist group "People's Retribution" (Народная расправа) in 1869.[12]

The lack of consensus as to what a terrorist is can affect policies designed to deal with terrorists. Some view them as soldiers that can be held at the end of a war and are entitled to various privileges spelled out in the Geneva Conventions. Others view them as criminals that should be tried in civil courts. Still others will argue that terrorists are best treated as a category to themselves and need policies tailored to them.[13]

In November 2004, a Secretary-General of the United Nations 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".[14]


Attack at the Bologna railway station on 2 August 1980 by the neo-fascist group Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari. With 85 deaths, it is the deadliest massacre in the history of Italy as a Republic.

The definition of terrorism has proven 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.[15][16] In this regard, Angus Martyn, briefing the Australian parliament, stated,

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 floundered 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.[17]

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 of terrorism.[18] The international community has adopted a series of sectoral conventions that define and criminalize various types of terrorist activities.

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 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.[19]

U.S. Code Title 22 Chapter 38, Section 2656f(d) defines terrorism as: "Premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience."[20]

Bruce Hoffman, a scholar, has noted:

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 definitions of terrorism in an effort to discover a broadly acceptable, reasonably comprehensive explication of the word. Four years and a second edition later, Schmid 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]

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

The Baghdad bus station was the scene of a triple car bombing in August 2005 that killed 43 people.
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 either by an organization with an identifiable chain of command or conspiratorial cell structure (whose members wear no uniform or identifying insignia) or by individuals or a small collection of individuals directly influenced, motivated, or inspired by the ideological aims or example of some existent terrorist movement and/or its leaders;


  • perpetrated by a subnational group or nonstate entity.[22]

A definition proposed by Carsten Bockstette at the George C. Marshall European Center for 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]

Each act of terrorism is a "performance" devised to affect many large audiences. Terrorists also attack national symbols,[24] 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 group and/or ideology behind a terrorist act.[25]

Terrorist acts frequently have a political purpose.[26] 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"[27] 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.[28]

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.[29]

Some official, governmental definitions of terrorism use the criterion of the illegitimacy or unlawfulness of the act.[30] to distinguish between actions authorized by a government (and thus "lawful") and those of other actors, including individuals and small groups. For example, carrying out a strategic bombing on an enemy city, which is designed to affect civilian support for a cause, would not be considered terrorism if it were authorized by a government. This criterion is inherently problematic and is not universally accepted, because: it denies the existence of state terrorism;[31] 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.[7][32][33][34]

According to Ali Khan, the distinction lies ultimately in a political judgment.[35]

An associated, and arguably more easily definable, but not equivalent term is violent non-state actor.[36] 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.

U.S. president Barack Obama, commenting on the Boston Marathon bombings of April 2013, declared that "[a]nytime bombs are used to target innocent civilians, it is an act of terror."[37] Various commentators have pointed out the distinction between "act of terror" and "terrorism", particularly when used by the White House.[38][39] 18 U.S.C. § 2331 defines "international terrorism" and "domestic terrorism" for purposes of Chapter 113B of the Code, entitled "Terrorism":

"International terrorism" means activities with the following three characteristics:

Involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law; Appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and Occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S., or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which their perpetrators operate or seek asylum.

Pejorative use

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 that have entered the English lexicon. It is common for both parties in a conflict to describe each other as terrorists.[40]

On whether particular terrorist acts, such as killing non-combatants, 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 that 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".[41] 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".[41][42]

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.[43][44][45]
President Reagan meeting with Afghan Mujahideen leaders in the Oval Office in 1983

The pejorative connotations of the word can be summed up in the aphorism, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter".[40] 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.[46][47] More recently, Ronald Reagan and others in the American administration frequently called the mujaheddin "freedom fighters" during the Soviet–Afghan War [48] yet twenty years later, when a new generation of Afghan men were fighting against what they perceive to be a regime installed by foreign powers, their attacks were labelled "terrorism" by George W. Bush.[49][50][51] Groups accused of terrorism understandably prefer terms reflecting legitimate military or ideological action.[52][53][54] 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 unlawful attacks 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.[55]

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.[56][57][58][59][60][61] WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange has been called a "terrorist" by Sarah Palin and Joe Biden.[62][63]

Sometimes, states that 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 Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) as terrorists while the IRA was using methods against one of the United States' closest allies (the United Kingdom) that the UK branded as terrorism. This was highlighted by the Quinn v. Robinson case.[64][65]

Media outlets who wish to convey impartiality may limit their usage of "terrorist" and "terrorism" because they are loosely defined, potentially controversial in nature, and subjective terms.[66][67]


Main article: History of terrorism
The Irish Republican Brotherhood was one of the earliest organizations to use modern terrorist tactics. Pictured, "The Fenian Guy Fawkes" by John Tenniel (1867).

Depending on how broadly the term is defined, the roots and practice of terrorism can be traced at least to the 1st-century AD.[68] Sicarii Zealots, though some dispute whether the group, a radical offshoot of the Zealots which was active in Judaea Province at the beginning of the 1st century AD, was in fact terrorist. According to the contemporary Jewish-Roman historian Josephus, after the Zealotry rebellion against Roman rule in Judea, when some prominent Jewish collaborators with Roman rule were killed,[69][70] Judas of Galilee formed a small and more extreme offshoot of the Zealots, the Sicarii, in 6 AD.[71] Their terror was also directed against Jewish "collaborators", including temple priests, Sadducees, Herodians, and other wealthy elites.[72]

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.[73]

In January 1858, Italian patriot Felice Orsini threw three bombs in an attempt to assassinate French Emperor Napoleon III.[74] Eight bystanders were killed and 142 injured.[74] The incident played a crucial role as an inspiration for the development of the early terrorist groups.[74]

Arguably the first organization to utilize modern terrorist techniques was the Irish Republican Brotherhood,[75] founded in 1858 as a revolutionary Irish nationalist group[76] that carried out attacks in England.[77] The group initiated the Fenian dynamite campaign in 1881, one of the first modern terror campaigns.[78] Instead of earlier forms of terrorism based on political assassination, this campaign used modern, timed explosives with the express aim of sowing fear in the very heart of metropolitan Britain, in order to achieve political gains.[79]

Another early terrorist group was Narodnaya Volya, founded in Russia in 1878 as a revolutionary anarchist group inspired by Sergei Nechayev and "propaganda by the deed" theorist Pisacane.[68][80][81] The group developed ideas—such as targeted killing of the 'leaders of oppression'—that were to become the hallmark of subsequent violence by small non-state groups, and they were convinced that the developing technologies of the age—such as the invention of dynamite, which they were the first anarchist group to make widespread use of[82]—enabled them to strike directly and with discrimination.[83] Modern terrorism had largely taken shape by the turn of the 20th century.


Top 10 Countries (2000–2014)


Depending on the country, the political system, and the time in history, the types of terrorism are varying.

Number of failed, foiled or successful terrorist attacks by year and type within the European Union. Source: Europol.[84][85][86] 1 person died in terrorist attacks from separatist groups in 2010.[84]
Aftermath of the King David Hotel bombing by the Zionist militant group Irgun, July 1946

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 titled 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.

The Task Force defines terrorism as "a tactic or technique by means of which a violent act or the threat thereof is used for the prime purpose of creating overwhelming fear for coercive purposes." It classified disorders and terrorism into six categories:[87]

Other sources have defined the typology of terrorism in different ways, for example, broadly classifying it into domestic terrorism and international terrorism, or using categories such as vigilante terrorism or insurgent terrorism.[91] One way the typology of terrorism may be defined:[92][93]

Motivations 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 Ireland, in Kenya, in Algeria and in Cyprus during their independence struggles.

Attacks on high-profile symbolic targets are used to incite counter-terrorism by the state to polarize the population. This strategy was used by Al-Qaeda in its attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the United States on September 11, 2001. These attacks are also used to draw international attention to struggles that are otherwise unreported, such as the Palestinian airplane hijackings in 1970 and the South Moluccan hostage crisis in the Netherlands in 1975.

Abrahm suggests that terrorist organizations do not select terrorism for its political effectiveness.[94] 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.[94] Additionally, Michael Mousseau shows possible relationships between the type of economy within a country and ideology associated with terrorism.[95]

Some terrorists like Timothy McVeigh were motivated by revenge against a state for its actions against its citizens.

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 it is least common in the most democratic nations.[96][97][98][99] However, one study suggests that suicide attacks 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.[100] The study suggests that concessions awarded to terrorists during the 1980s and 1990s for suicide attacks increased their frequency.[101] There is a connection between the existence of civil liberties, democratic participation and terrorism. According to Young and Dugan, these things encourage terrorist groups to organize and generate terror.[102]

Some examples of "terrorism" in non-democratic nations include ETA in Spain under Francisco Franco (although the group's terrorist activities increased sharply after Franco's death),[103] the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists in pre-war Poland,[104] the Shining Path in Peru under Alberto Fujimori,[105] the Kurdistan Workers Party when Turkey was ruled by military leaders and the ANC in South Africa.[106] Democracies, such as Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, Israel, Indonesia, India, Spain, Germany 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.[107] For this reason, homegrown terrorism has started to be seen as a greater threat, as stated by former CIA Director Michael Hayden.[108] 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 and cause a systematic shift towards anarchy via the accumulation of negative sentiments towards the state system.[109]

Religious terrorism

Main article: Religious terrorism
Civilians trapped in a London Underground train after a bomb exploded further down the train at Russell Square Tube station on 7 July 2005
Islamabad Marriott Hotel bombing. Some 35,000 Pakistanis have died from terrorist attacks in recent years.[110]

Religious terrorism is terrorism performed by groups or individuals, the motivation of which is typically rooted in faith-based tenets. Terrorist acts throughout history have been performed on religious grounds with the goal to either spread or enforce a system of belief, viewpoint or opinion.[111] The validity and scope of religious terrorism is limited to the individual or a group view or interpretation of that belief system's teachings.

Intimate terrorism

Intimate terrorism (IT) may also involve emotional and psychological abuse. Intimate terrorism is one element in a general pattern of control by one partner over the other. Intimate terrorism is more likely to escalate over time, not as likely to be mutual, and more likely to involve serious injury.[112] IT batterers include two types: "Generally-violent-antisocial" and "dysphoric-borderline". The first type includes people with general psychopathic and violent tendencies. The second type are people who are emotionally dependent on the relationship.[113] Violence by a person against their intimate partner is often done as a way for controlling their partner, even if this kind of violence is not the most frequent.[114][115] Support for this typology has been found in subsequent evaluations.[116][117]


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, 2008 Mumbai attacks 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.[118]

Over the years, much research has been conducted to distill a terrorist profile to explain these individuals' actions through their psychology and socio-economic circumstances.[119] 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.[120] 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.[121]

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.[122] The physical and behavioral description of the terrorist could describe almost any normal person.[123] However, the majority of terrorist attacks are carried out by military age men, aged 16–40.[123]

Non-state 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.

Groups not part of the state apparatus of in opposition to the state are most commonly referred to as a "terrorist" in the media.

State sponsors

A state can sponsor terrorism by funding or harboring a terrorist group. 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

Main article: 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.
Infant crying in Shanghai's South Station after the Japanese bombing, August 28, 1937.

As with "terrorism" the concept of "state terrorism" is controversial.[125] 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 law, and international humanitarian law.[126] 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".[127] 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 [or non-combatants], regardless of one's cause, is unacceptable and fits into the definition of terrorism."[128]

USS Arizona (BB-39) burning during the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.

State terrorism has been used to refer to terrorist acts committed 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 the German bombing of London, the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the British firebombing of Dresden, and the U.S. atomic bombing 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." He also cites 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" and 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.[129][130][131]

St Paul's Cathedral after the German bombing of London, c. 1940.

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.[132] The concept is also used to describe political repressions by governments against their own civilian populations with the purpose of inciting 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 the Great Terror.[133] Such actions are also often described as democide or genocide, which have been argued to be equivalent to state terrorism.[134] Empirical studies on this have found that democracies have little democide.[135][136]

Connection with tourism

The connection between terrorism and tourism has been widely studied since the Luxor massacre in Egypt.[137][138] In the 1970s, the targets of terrorists were politicians and chiefs of police while now international tourists and visitors are selected as main targets of attacks. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, were the symbolic epicenter, which marked a new epoch in the use of civil transport against the main power of the planet.[139][140] From this event onwards, the spaces of leisure that characterized the pride of West, were conceived as dangerous and frightful.[141][142] Maximiliano E Korstanje argued that terrorism represents a dialectic of hate, between a group of insurgents whose interests have been placed outside the electoral system and the state which is unable to anticipate the next blow. Historically, tourism and terrorism have inextricably intertwined. As enrooted in the capitalist ethos, terrorism rests on the logic of violence and extortion, where outsiders are used to achieve the in-group's goals.[143] Similarly, Luke Howie explains that the actions of terrorists are not aimed at effacing entire civilizations, as the media portrays, but in administering an extreme fear so that their claims will be accepted. Terrorists are usually psychologically insensitive to the suffering of others. Using extortion as a main tactic, the media lays a fertile ground which amplifies the effects of terrorism on the society.[144][145][146] Likely, one of the main problems of terrorism seems to be the need to capture the attention of an audience. To some extent, terrorists appear to jolt the society, however, the western audience experiences a gradual process of desensitization. This result leads these groups to innovate more cruel and violent strategies.[147]


Main article: Terrorist financing

State sponsors have constituted a major form of funding; for example, Palestine Liberation Organization, Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and other groups considered to be terrorist organizations, were funded by the Soviet Union.[148][149] The Stern Gang received funding from Italian Fascist officers in Beirut to undermine the British Mandate for Palestine.[150] Pakistan has created and nurtured terrorist groups as policy for achieving tactical objectives against its neighbours, especially India.[151]

"Revolutionary tax" is another major form of funding, and essentially a euphemism for "protection money".[148] Revolutionary taxes are typically extorted from businesses (including farms cultivating illicit drugs (such as Papaver somniferum))[152] and they also "play a secondary role as one other means of intimidating the target population".[148]

Other major sources of funding include kidnapping for ransoms, smuggling (including wildlife smuggling),[153] fraud, and robbery.[148] The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant has reportedly received funding "via private donations from the Gulf states".[154]

The Financial Action Task Force is an inter-governmental body whose mandate, since October 2001, has included combatting terrorist financing.[155]


Main article: Tactics of terrorism
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.[156]

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:

Terrorist attacks are often targeted to maximize fear and publicity, usually using explosives or poison.[157] There is concern about terrorist attacks employing weapons of mass destruction. Terrorist groups 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.


Sign notifying shoppers of increased surveillance due to a perceived increased risk of terrorism

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:

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

Response in the United States

See also: War on Terror
X-ray backscatter technology (AIT) machine used by the TSA to screen passengers. According to the TSA, this is what the remote TSA agent would see on their screen.

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."[158]

America's thinking on how to defeat radical Islamists is split along two very different schools of thought. Republicans, typically follow what is known as the Bush Doctrine, advocate the military model of taking the fight to the enemy and seeking to democratize the Middle East. Democrats, by contrast, generally propose the law enforcement model of better cooperation with nations and more security at home.[159] In the introduction of the U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, Sarah Sewall states the need for "U.S. forces to make securing the civilian, rather than destroying the enemy, their top priority. The civilian population is the center of gravity—the deciding factor in the struggle.... Civilian deaths create an extended family of enemies—new insurgent recruits or informants––and erode support of the host nation." Sewall sums up the book's key points on how to win this battle: "Sometimes, the more you protect your force, the less secure you may be.... Sometimes, the more force is used, the less effective it is.... The more successful the counterinsurgency is, the less force can be used and the more risk must be accepted.... Sometimes, doing nothing is the best reaction."[160] This strategy, often termed "courageous restraint," has certainly led to some success on the Middle East battlefield, yet it fails to address the central truth: the terrorists we face are mostly homegrown.[159]

Terrorism research

Terrorism research, also called terrorism and counter-terrorism research, is an interdisciplinary academic field which seeks to understand the causes of terrorism, how to prevent it as well as its impact in the broadest sense. Terrorism research can be carried out in both military and civilian contexts, for example by research centres such as the British Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies and the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT). There are several academic journals devoted to the field.[161]

Mass media

La Terroriste, a 1910 poster depicting a female member of the Combat Organization of the Polish Socialist Party throwing a bomb at a Russian official's car.

Mass 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.[162]

The Internet has created a new channel for groups to spread their messages.[163] 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.[164]

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.[165]

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[166]

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher also famously spoke of the close connection between terrorism and the media, calling publicity 'the oxygen of terrorism'.[167]


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:

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

See also


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  153. Gerben Jan Gerbrandy claiming that terrorist networks hunt wildlife for funding themselves Archived February 22, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
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  156. "Hackers warn high street chains". BBC News. 25 April 2008. Retrieved 2010-01-11. That's the beauty of asymmetric warfare. You don't need a lot of money, or an army of people.
  157. Suicide bombings are the most effective terrorist act in this regard. See the following works: Cited in Richardson, Louise (2006). What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Terrorist Threat. London, UK: John Murray. p. 33. ISBN 0-7195-6306-2.
  158. Priest, Dana; Arkin, William (July 19, 2010). "A hidden world, growing beyond control". The Washington Post.
  159. 1 2 Ankony, Robert C., "A New Strategy for America's War on Terrorism," Patrolling magazine, 75th Ranger Regiment Association, Winter 2011, 56-57.
  160. Sewall, Sarah, introduction to The U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, (2007).
  161. Tinnes, J (2013). "100 Core and Periphery Journals for Terrorism Research". Perspectives On Terrorism. 7 (2).
  162. The Media and Terrorism: A Reassessment Paul Wilkinson. Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Summer 1997), pp. 51–64 Published by Frank Cass, London.
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  165. Pastor, James F. (2009). Terrorism & Public Safety Policing: Implications of the Obama Presidency. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-1-4398-1580-9.
  166. William Gibson's blog, October 31, 2004. Retrieved April 26, 2007.
  167. "Speech to American Bar Association | Margaret Thatcher Foundation". www.margaretthatcher.org. Retrieved 2015-10-05.

Further reading

  • Bakker, Edwin. Forecasting the Unpredictable: A Review of Forecasts on Terrorism 2000–2012 (International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague, 2014)
  • Burleigh, Michael. Blood and rage: a cultural history of terrorism. Harper, 2009.
  • Chaliand, Gérard and Arnaud Blin, eds. The history of terrorism: from antiquity to al Qaeda. University of California Press, 2007.
  • Coates, Susan W., Rosenthal, Jane, and Schechter, Daniel S. September 11: Trauma and Human Bonds. New York: Taylor and Francis, Inc., 2003.
  • Crenshaw, Martha, ed. Terrorism in context. Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995.
  • Land, Isaac, ed., Enemies of humanity : the nineteenth-century war on terrorism. Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.
  • Lee, Newton. Counterterrorism and Cybersecurity: Total Information Awareness (2nd Edition). New York: Springer, 2015. ISBN 978-3-319-17243-9
  • Lutz, James and Brenda Lutz. Terrorism : origins and evolution. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005
  • Miller, Martin A. The foundations of modern terrorism : state, society and the dynamics of political violence. Cambridge University Press, 2013.
  • Nairn, Tom; James, Paul (2005). Global Matrix: Nationalism, Globalism and State-Terrorism. London and New York: Pluto Press. 
  • Neria, Yuval, Gross, Raz, Marshall, Randall D., and Susser, Ezra. September 11, 2001: Treatment, Research and Public Mental Health in the Wake of a Terrorist Attack. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
  • Stern, Jessica. The Ultimate Terrorists. First Harvard University Press Pbk. ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000, cop. 1995. 214 p. ISBN 0-674-00394-2
  • Terrorism, Law & Democracy: 10 years after 9/11, Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice. ISBN 978-2-9809728-7-4.
  • Jones, Sidney. Terrorism: myths and facts. Jakarta: International Crisis Group, 2013.
  • Korstanje Maximiliano (eds) 2016 Terrorism in a Global Village: how terrorism affects our daily lives?. New York: Nova Science Pubs. ISBN 978-1536102406

External links

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