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This article is part of the
Terrorism series:
Definition & Conventions
Counterterrorism &
"War on Terror" and its criticisms
Lists: Groups, State sponsors,
Guerrillas, Incidents,
Most wanted
Types: Nationalist, Religious,
Left-wing, Right-wing,
State, Islamic, Ethnic,
Bioterrorism, Narcoterrorism,
Domestic, Nuclear,
Tactics: Hijacking,
Suicide bomber
Configurations: Fronts,
Independent actors
Other: Terrorism insurance
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  1. Terrorism is a tactic of violence that targets civilians, with the objective of forcing an enemy to favorable terms, by creating fear, demoralization, or political discord in the attacked population.
  2. "Terrorism" is a pejorative characterisation of an enemy's attacks as conforming to an immoral philosophy of violence, in a manner outside of warfare, or prohibited in the laws of war.

The use of the term terrorism or terrorist is politically weighted, as it (and historically, other terms like it) is often used in propaganda used to drum up support in opposition to "terrorists." A nation that supports forms of organized violence (particularly where citizens are affected) tends to dissociate itself from the term, by using neutral or even positive terms to characterize its combatants—such as fighters or freedom fighters—both of which can be ambiguous terms for describing terrorist actors.

Terrorist is a label for one who personally is involved in an act of terrorism. Terrorist tactics may also be used by dissident groups or other actors to achieve political ends or for purposes of extortion. Although the tactic can be traced back through many millennia, the term "terrorism" originated from the French 18th century word terrorisme (under the Terror), based on the Latin language verbs terrere (to tremble) and deterrere (to frighten from).

Table of contents
1 History and causes
2 Examples of terrorism
3 External links
4 Further reading

History and causes

The Old Testament contains many references to behavior that can be described as terrorism. In the 1st century, Zealots conducted a fierce and unrelenting terror campaign against the Roman occupiers of the eastern Mediterranean. The Zealots enlisted sicarii to strike down rich Jewish collaborators and others who were friendly to the Romans.

In the 11th century, the radical Islamic sect known as the Assassinss employed systematic murder for a cause they believed to be righteous. For two centuries, they resisted efforts to suppress their religious beliefs and developed ritualized murder into a fine art taught through generations. Political aims were achieved through the power of intimidation.

During the French Revolution (1789 - 1799), the most severe period of the rule of the Committee of Public Safety (1793 - 1795) was labelled "The Terror" (1793 - 1794) and described Jacobin excesses. Some argue that this period is an example of state-sponsored terrorism. Certainly, it induced fear and outrage not only in the domestic population of France, but also throughout the European aristocracy.

In the early 19th century, Spanish insurgents successfully employed terrorism against Napoleonic domination.

By the mid-19th century, Russian intelligentsia grew impatient with the slow pace of Tsarist reforms, and sought instead to transform peasant discontent into open revolution. Anarchists like Mikhail Bakunin maintained that progress was impossible without destruction. Their objective was nothing less than complete destruction of the state. Anything that contributed to this goal was regarded as moral. With the development of sufficiently powerful, stable, and affordable explosives, the gap closed between the firepower of the state and the means available to dissidents. Organized into secret societies like the People's Will, Russian terrorists launched a campaign of terror against the state that climaxed in 1881 when Tsar Alexander II of Russia was assassinated. Also, a revolutionary Irish-American group called the Fenian Brotherhood planted explosive devices around the city of London in particular and the British mainland in general in the mid 1800's, in protest to the British occupation of Ireland. This is often seen as the first act of 'republican Terrorism'

Today, modern weapons technology has made it possible for a "super-empowered angry man" (Thomas Friedman) to cause a large amount of destruction by himself or with only a few conspirators. It can be, and has been, conducted by small as well as large organizations.

Some believe that individuals or groups resort to terrorism when other avenues for change, including economics, protest, public appeal, and organized warfare, hold no hope of success (also see rioting). Therefore some argue that one approach to reduce terrorism is to ensure that where there is a population feeling oppressed, some avenue of problem resolution is kept open, even if the population in question is in the minority.

Others, for example the American intellectual Noam Chomsky, believe that terrorism is typically sponsored by governments through the organisation, funding or training of death squads and similar paramilitary groups, often under the banner of counter-terrorism. Thus the causes of terrorism include attempts to gain or consolidate power either by instilling fear in the population to be controlled, or by stimulating another group into becoming a hardened foe, thereby setting up a polarizing us-versus-them paradigm (also see nationalism and fascism).

Terrorists often seek to demoralize and paralyze their enemy with fear. This sometimes works, but it can also stiffen the enemy's resolve.

In general, retribution against terrorists can result in escalating tit-for-tat violence. It is often felt that if the consequences of engaging in terrorism are not swift and punitive, the deterrent to other terrorist groups is diminished.

Terrorism relies heavily on surprise. Terrorist attacks can trigger sudden transitions into conflict or war. Frequently, after a terrorist attack, a number of unassociated groups may claim responsibility for the action; this may be considered "free publicity" for the organization's aims or plans. Because of its anonymous and sometimes self-sacrificial nature, it is not uncommon for the reasons behind the terrorist action to remain unknown or murky for a considerable period.

The existing order within countries or internationally depends on compromises and agreements between various groups and interests that were made to resolve past conflicts. Over time, these arrangements become less relevant to the current situation. Some terrorist acts seem calculated to disrupt the existing order and provoke conflicts in the expectation that it will lead to a new order more favorable to their interests.

Some people considered to be terrorists, or supporters of terrorist actions, at some point in their lives have gone on to become dedicated peace activists (Uri Avnery), respected statesmen (Yitzhak Shamir) and even Nobel Peace Prize laureates (Nelson Mandela, Yasser Arafat, Menachem Begin). This illustrates the plasticity of the term.

Examples of terrorism

Most people would agree that the following incidents are examples of domestic and international terrorism: the Oklahoma City bombing in the USA (April 19, 1995); the Omagh bombing in Northern Ireland (August 15, 1998); the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, USA; the Munich Massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes in 1972; and the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. See List of terrorist incidents for more examples.

The deadliest terrorist attack ever committed was the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. The deadliest terrorist attack ever planned was the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, which was designed to collapse both towers and kill as many as 250,000 people. However, even with more explosives that probably would not have happened, so the deadliest terrorist attack that could've succeeded was Operation Bojinka. The first phase, which called for the death of Pope John Paul II and the bombing of 11 airliners, had a prospective death toll of about 4,000 if it had succeeded. The plot was aborted after an apartment fire in Manila, Philippines on January 5, 1995, exposed the plot to police. The terrorists were slightly more than two weeks away from implementing their plot.

Since 1968, the U.S. State Department has tallied deaths due to terrorism. In 1985, it counted 816 deaths, the highest up to that time. The deaths decreased over the years, then rose to 3,295 in 2001, most as a result of the September 11, 2001 attacks. In 2003, however, more than 1,000 people died because of terrorism, the highest toll for any year other than 2001. Many of these deaths occurred from suicide bombings in Chechnya, Iraq, and Israel. By April 2004, the toll from terrorism was set to again surpass 1,000.

External links


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Further reading