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Religious Terrorism

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

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

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

Osama bin Laden, leader of Islamic terrorist group Al Qaeda. In 1998, Bin Laden called for a worldwide Islamic holy war to kill Christians and Jews. (AP/Wide World Photos)

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

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

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

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

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

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawTerrorism - Nationalistic Terrorism, Religious Terrorism, State-sponsored Terrorism, Political-social Terrorism, Environmental Terrorism - Terrorist tools