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Nationalistic Terrorism, Religious Terrorism, State-sponsored Terrorism, Political-social Terrorism, Environmental TerrorismTerrorist tools

Terrorism is the preplanned use of force or violence against innocent civilians to make a statement about a cause and influence an audience. Terrorist action is staged for maximum surprise, shock, and destruction. Its goal is to so terrorize or alarm individuals, groups, or governments that they give into the demands of the terrorists.

Terrorists are individuals or groups who plan and carry out violent acts to achieve their goals. While victims see them as murderous criminals, terrorists see themselves as heroes for their cause. The U.S. intelligence community further defines terrorist groups as subnational, not a recognized government or official agency of any country, and as operating in secret. The actions of a country's military or police are not considered terrorist acts.

Global terrorism continually impacted nations in the twentieth century and into the early 2000s. Europe, the United States, the Middle East, South America, Asia, and African countries all experienced violent unexpected terror acts. This chapter describes the different types of terrorism, the techniques used to spread fear by injury, murder, or the destruction of A plane hijacked by Islamic extremists just before crashing into the south tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Seen burning behind it is the north tower, which was hit by a hijacked plane about fifteen minutes before this photo was taken. (AP/Wide World Photos) property, and measures taken by the U.S. government to combat terror and protect American citizens.

Terrorists and terrorist groups differ widely in their behavior and goals. Terrorism can generally be placed into six main categories: nationalistic; religious; state-sponsored; political-social; environmental; and individual.

Always unexpected, terrorist attacks are meant to instill fear. Since such acts usually attract media attention, details of an attack can reach millions, which is exactly what the terrorists desire. Actions used by terrorists in the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century included kidnapping and assassination, bombings, and airline hijackings. The U.S. government treats all of the actions as criminal activities.

Kidnapping and assassination

Kidnappings and assassinations have always been tools for terrorist groups. Historically, the assassination of a country's leader has been a way to gain maximum notoriety and attention. Assassination of a country's leader, however, rarely brings about the kinds of change terrorists seek. Someone else takes over in the government, and problems carry on.

In the 1970s and 1980s terrorists turned to the kidnapping and assassination of diplomats or government officials. U.S. diplomats were kidnapped and assassinated in Guatemala (1968), Brazil (1969), Uruguay (1970), Sudan (1972), Cyprus (1974), Afghanistan (1979), and Lebanon (1984). By the end of the 1980s and into the 1990s U.S. victims abroad were more likely to be military personnel, agency workers, business executives, and missionaries than diplomats.

On January 23, 2002, protesting Pakistan's cooperation with the United States, terrorists kidnapped and later killed Daniel Pearl (1963–2002), a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. In February, Pakistani officials received a videotape of Pearl's murder. Four suspects in the murder, including Saeed Sheikh, were apprehended and tried. Sheikh had belonged to Jaish-e-Muhammad, a Kashmir separatist group. Sheikh was sentenced to death and the others received life imprisonment.

Another form of kidnapping and assassination involves taking hostages. One of the most infamous hostage dramas occurred in Iran on November 4, 1979. Iranian terrorists seized sixty-six American hostages from the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Thirteen were released quickly but fifty-three were held until January 20, 1981. The hostages were taken in protest of the United States admitting the former shah of Iran into the United States for medical treatment.

Another famous hostage incident occurred on October 7, 1985, aboard an Italian cruise ship, the Achille Lauro, in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Four Palestinian Liberation Front terrorists took more than seven hundred passengers hostage and killed one wheelchair-bound U.S. tourist before the Egyptian government negotiated the release of the passengers.


Many types of bombing incidents have been used by terrorist groups during the second half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. Every year bombing incidents account for the most lives lost and property destroyed at the hands of terrorists. Types of bombings include planting bombs in structures such as embassies, government office buildings, and hotels. Cars and trucks with bombs planted inside are frequently used to kill and destroy property. Beginning in the 1990s, suicide bombings—individuals with bombs strapped to their bodies—became common in the Middle East.

The following are examples of major structural bombings impacting the United States. On April 15, 1983, members of Islamic Jihad terrorist organization drove a truck holding a 440-pound bomb into the U.S. embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. The suicide truck bombing killed 63 people, including the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's director of Middle East operations, and injured 120. Another Islamic Jihad attack in Beirut came on October 23, 1983, when a suicide truck bomber armed with a 12,000-pound bomb blew up a marine barracks within a U.S. compound. The attack killed 242 Americans.

A car bomb planted by Islamic terrorists detonated in the underground parking garage of the World Trade Center in New York City on February 26, 1993. Six people were killed and one thousand injured. The deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil, up to that point, occurred in April 1995 when extremists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols blew up the U.S. federal building in Oklahoma City. The attack killed 166, many of them young children at a daycare center, and injured hundreds more.

On June 25, 1996, a bomb-rigged fuel truck exploded at the Khobar Towers housing facility in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 U.S. service personnel and injuring 515 others, including 240 U.S. citizens. Several Islamic terrorists groups claimed responsibility.

Two bombings of U.S. embassies took place at approximately the same time on August 7, 1998, in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. In Nairobi, 291 people including 12 U.S. citizens were killed and over 5,000 were injured. In Dar es Salaam, eighty-seven people including one U.S. citizen were killed. Both U.S. embassies were severely damaged. Osama bin Laden's Islamic terror organization, Al Qaeda, was responsible.

A new twist on bombing occurred on October 12, 2000, when a small boat full of explosives ran into the USS Cole docked in Aden, Yemen. Seventeen sailors were killed and thirty-nine injured. Al Qaeda was also responsible for the USS Cole bombing.

Suicide bombings. Reports of suicide bombings began about 1996 and were frequent in the early 2000s. At first they were a specialty terrorist action of the Arab-Palestinian terror group HAMAS. By 2002 in addition to HAMAS, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad all regularly claimed responsibility for suicide bombings in Israel. Killing themselves and those around them, suicide bombers strap bombs to their bodies and detonate them in crowded shopping areas, cafés, or on buses.

Arab-Palestinian youngsters are taught from an early age that dying for the cause of eliminating Israelis from Palestine is an honorable action. Suicide bombers are generally young adults, either male or female. By carrying out a suicide bombing the terrorists believe they become martyrs, a person who suffers death for a cause and is rewarded in heaven or paradise.

By the middle of 2004, the United States had not experienced any suicide bombings by an individual terrorist. The 9/11 attacks, however, involved nineteen suicide bombers who boarded and hijacked four U.S. commercial airplanes and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the Pennsylvania countryside.

Terrorist activities involving airlines

Using various approaches, terrorists have commandeered commercial airplanes full of passengers. The earliest form of terrorist use was to merely hijack (to take control of by using force, especially in order to reach a different destination) an airline and have it fly to a country the hijacker wanted to go. Individuals desiring to go to Cuba from the United States were responsible for a number of these hijackings in the 1960s. At the time, there were no regular airline flights between the United States and Cuba. The first U.S. aircraft hijacked was on May 1, 1961, when Antuilo Ramirez Ortiz, a Puerto Rican, forced pilots at gunpoint to fly to Havana, Cuba. As with subsequent hijackings, hijackers would leave the plane once in Cuba and the airliner would return to the United States without injury to passengers.

By the middle and late 1980s, several dramatic terrorist attacks involved blowing up loaded airliners. Kashmiri were blamed for the 1985 destruction of an Air India Boeing 747 over the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 329 people on board. In December 1988 Pan American Airlines Flight 103 blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 on board and 11 people on the ground. In 1991 two intelligence agents from Libya were charged with the act (one was later found guilty and sentenced to life in prison while the other was found not guilty). Yet another bombing by Libyans in September 1989 killed all 170 on board UTA Flight 772 over the Sahara Desert.

The most deadly air hijacking involved the nineteen Al Qaeda terrorists who hijacked four U.S. airliners on September 11, 2001. They then used the fully-fueled airplanes as bombs when two were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and one into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The fourth crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers fought the hijackers. The fourth plane was on course for Washington, D.C. A total of 3,047 people died in the attacks—2,823 at the World Trade Center including law enforcement officers and firemen responding to the attack, 184 at the Pentagon, and 40 aboard the airliner that went down in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

The attack led President George W. Bush (1946–; served 2001–) to declare a "War on Terror." He first ordered attacks on Afghanistan where Al Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden were headquartered. They were supported and hidden by Afghanistan's Taliban government. The Taliban government fell within weeks but bin Laden was not captured. He was still at large in 2004. President Bush next sent American troops into Iraq in March 2003 to remove Saddam Hussein (1937–) from power and stop Iraq's support of terrorist groups.

The Homeland Security Advisory System is a means to disseminate information regarding the risk of terrorist acts to federal, state, and local authorities and to the American people. (AP/Wide World Photos)

Terrorist Threat Integration Center

On May 1, 2003, the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC) began operation in northern Virginia. The entire national counterterrorism divisions of the FBI and CIA relocated to the single facility. FBI and CIA agents and analysts from every major agency in the U.S. intelligence community work side by side, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week analyzing intelligence data. These analysts receive a steady stream of intelligence data gathered in states and cities across the nation and from worldwide sources.

The FBI maintains fifty-six field offices and many smaller offices across the nation. In 2004 sixty-six of these offices had Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs). JTTFs are teams of FBI special agents and state and local law enforcement officers who work together to investigate potential terrorist activity. Local law agencies are considered the "eyes and ears" of intelligence gathering. All leads are funneled immediately to the TTIC for analysis.

The TTIC also receives and sends out continuous information to U.S. intelligence offices worldwide. For example, the FBI maintains forty-five Legal Attaché, or "Legat," offices and four sub-Legat offices around the world. FBI special agents, experts in the foreign country to which they are assigned, help prevent terrorism across international borders that might impact the U.S. homeland.

After one year of operation the TTIC reported in 2004 that another prime source of intelligence information came from questioning captured terrorists. The TTIC gives direction to those sessions and analyzes the information gained. Everyday the TTIC analyzes five to six thousand pieces of information and produces a daily report for the CIA and FBI directors, the president, and senior policymakers. TTIC also sends daily analysis reports to the 2,600 specialists in every major federal agency responsible for counterterrorism activities.

For More Information


McGeary, Johanna. "Who's the Enemy Now?" Time, March 29, 2004.

Web Sites

Center for Defense Information (CDI). http://www.cdi.org (accessed on August 19, 2004).

Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control. http://www.cdc.gov (accessed on August 19, 2004).

"Significant Terrorist Incidents, 1961–2003: A Brief Chronology." U.S. Department of State. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ho/pubs/fs/5902.htm (accessed on August 19, 2004).

"Terrorism." Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). http://www.fbi.gov/terrorinfo/terrorism.htm (accessed on August 19, 2004).

U.S. Department of Homeland Security. http://www.dhs.gov (accessed on August 19, 2004).

U.S. Department of the Treasury. http://www.ustreas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/sanctions/terrorism.html (accessed on September 1, 2004).

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law