Terrorism: when non-state actors use violence against civilians for political purposes.
- Target. It is commonly held that the distinctive nature of terrorism lies in its deliberate and specific selection of civilians as targets. Furthermore, an act is more likely to be considered terrorism if it targets a general populace than if it purposefully targets a specific individual or group. See also noncombatant and collateral damage.
- Objective. As the name implies, terrorism is understood as an attempt to provoke fear and intimidation. Hence, terrorist acts are designed and intended to attract wide publicity and cause public shock, outrage, and/or fear. The intent may be to provoke disproportionate reactions from states.
- Motive. These acts are intended to achieve political or religious goals, not for personal gain. For example, a gang of bank robbers who kill the bank manager, blow up the vault and escape with the contents would normally not be classed as terrorists, because their motive was profit. However, if a gang were to execute the same assault with the intent of causing a crisis in public confidence in the banking system, followed by a run on the banks and a subsequent destabilization of the economy, then the gang would be classed as terrorists.
- This criterion excludes organized crime.
- Legitimacy. Some hold that a legitimate government cannot, by definition, commit terrorism on its own territory. In this view, a state can commit war crimes or crimes against humanity, but these actions are distinct from terrorism. See state terrorism.
- This criterion excludes warfare between states, government repression, the Holocaust and other state-sponsored genocide.
Terrorism is a notoriously difficult term to define. One response is to claim that it identifies political violence or threats of violence against civilians or civilian infrastructure to achieve political, religious, or social goals. Terrorism can be carried out by individuals, groups, and governments. The problem with that defintion is that is it overbroad. Everything from an anonymous telephone threats to the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would be included. Another problem is that it neglects to distinguish between the intention of the perpetrator of the act or threat of political violence and the perception of the victim.
The definition which leads this article is that of Juan Cole.
- Michael Walzer: Non-state terrorism: "[T]he deliberate killing of innocent people, at random, in order to spread fear through a whole population and force the hand of its political leaders."
"There is also state terrorism, commonly used by authoritarian and totalitarian governments against their own people, to spread fear and make political opposition impossible."
"And, finally, there is war terrorism: the effort to kill civilians in such large numbers that their government is forced to surrender."
"The common element is the targeting of people who are, in both the military and political senses, noncombatants: not soldiers, not public officials, just ordinary people. And they aren't killed incidentally in the course of actions aimed elsewhere; they are killed intentionally."
See Five Questions About Terrorism.
- Walter Laqueur: "Terrorism consitutes the illegitimate use of force to achieve a political objective when innocent people are targeted."
- James M. Poland: "Terrorism is the premeditated, deliberate, systematic murder, mayhem, and threatening of the innocent to create fear and intimidation in order to gain a political or tactical advantage, usually to influence an audience."
- Vice-President's Task Force, 1986: "Terrorism is the unlawful use or threat of violence against persons or property to further political or social objectives. It is usually intended to intimidate or coerce a government, individuals or groups, or to modify their behavior or politics."
- FBI Definition: "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."
- U.S. Code of Federal Regulations: "The unlawful use of force and 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."
- Current U.S. National Security Strategy: "Premeditated, politically motivated violence against innocents."
- United States Department of Defense: the "calculated use of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or intimidate governments or societies in pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological."
- 1984 U.S. Army Training Manual: "Terrorism is the calculated use of violence, or the threat of violence, to produce goals that are political or ideological in nature."
- CIA Definition: "The term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience. The term “international terrorism” means terrorism involving the territory or the citizens of more than one country. The term “terrorist group” means any group that practices, or has significant subgroups that practice, international terrorism."
International Conventions on Terrorism
- There are eleven major multilateral conventions related to states' responsibilities for combating terrorism.
- In addition to these conventions, other instruments may be relevant to particular circumstances, such as bilateral extradition treaties, the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, and the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Moreover, there are now a number of important United Nations Security Council and General Assembly Resolutions on international terrorism, including UN Security Council Resolution 1373 and three important Security
- Council resolutions dealing with Libya's conduct in connection with the sabotage of Pan Am Flight 103 on December 21, 1988, which includes UN Security Council Resolutions 731 (January 21, 1992); 748 (March 31, 1992) and 883 (November 11, 1993)
- The following list identifies the major terrorism conventions and provides a brief summary of some of the major terms of each instrument. In addition to the provisions summarized below, most of these conventions provide that parties must establish criminal jurisdiction over offenders (e.g., the state or states where the offense takes place, or in some cases the state of nationality of the perpetrator or victim):
- Convention on Offenses and Certain Other Acts Committed On Board Aircraft (Tokyo Convention, agreed 9/63—safety of aviation)
- Applies to acts affecting in-flight safety;
- Authorizes aircraft commanders to impose reasonable measures, including restraint, on any person they have reason to believe has committed or is about to commit such an act, when necessary to protect the safety of the aircraft and for related reasons;
- Requires contracting states to take custody of offenders and to return control of the aircraft to the lawful commander.
- Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft (Hague Convention, agreed 12/70—aircraft hijackings):
- Makes it an offense for any person on board an aircraft in flight [to] "unlawfully, by force or threat thereof, or any other form of intimidation, [to] seize or exercise control of that aircraft" or to attempt to do so;
- Requires parties to the convention to make hijackings punishable by "severe penalties;"
- Requires parties that have custody of offenders to either extradite the offender or submit the case for prosecution;
- Requires parties to assist each other in connection with criminal proceedings brought under the convention.
- Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation (Montreal Convention, agreed 9/71—applies to acts of aviation sabotage such as bombings aboard aircraft in flight):
- Makes it an offense for any person unlawfully and intentionally to perform an act of violence against a person on board an aircraft in flight, if that act is likely to endanger the safety of that aircraft; to place an explosive device on an aircraft; and to attempt such acts or be an accomplice of a person who performs or attempts to perform such acts;
- Requires parties to the convention to make offenses punishable by "severe penalties;"
- Requires parties that have custody of offenders to either extradite the offender or submit the case for prosecution;
- Requires parties to assist each other in connection with criminal proceedings brought under the convention.
- Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against Internationally Protected Persons (agreed 12/73—protects senior government officials and diplomats):
- Defines internationally protected person as a Head of State, a Minister for Foreign Affairs, a representative or official of a state or of an international organization who is entitled to special protection from attack under international law;
- Requires each party to criminalize and make punishable "by appropriate penalties which take into account their grave nature," the intentional murder, kidnapping, or other attack upon the person or liberty of an internationally protected person, a violent attack upon the official premises, the private accommodations, or the means of transport of such person; a threat or attempt to commit such an attack; and an act "constituting participation as an accomplice;"
- Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (Nuclear Materials Convention, agreed 10/79—combats unlawful taking and use of nuclear material):
- Criminalizes the unlawful possession, use, transfer, etc., of nuclear material, the theft of nuclear material, and threats to use nuclear material to cause death or serious injury to any person or substantial property damage;
- International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages (Hostages Convention, agreed 12/79):
- Provides that "any person who seizes or detains and threatens to kill, to injure, or to continue to detain another person in order to compel a third party, namely, a State, an international intergovernmental organization, a natural or juridical person, or a group of persons, to do or abstain from doing any act as an explicit or implicit condition for the release of the hostage commits the offense of taking of hostages within the meaning of this Convention;"
- Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence at Airports Serving International Civil Aviation (agreed 2/88—extends and supplements Montreal Convention):
- Extends the provisions of the Montreal Convention (see No. 3 above) to encompass terrorist acts at airports serving international civil aviation.
- Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, (agreed 3/88—applies to terrorist activities on ships):
- Establishes a legal regime applicable to acts against international maritime navigation that is similar to the regimes established against international aviation;
- Makes it an offense for a person unlawfully and intentionally to seize or exercise control over a ship by force, threat, or intimidation; to perform an act of violence against a person on board a ship if that act is likely to endanger the safe navigation of the ship; to place a destructive device or substance aboard a ship; and other acts against the safety of ships;
- Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf (agreed 3/88—applies to terrorist activities on fixed offshore platforms):
- Establishes a legal regime applicable to acts against fixed platforms on the continental shelf that is similar to the regimes established against international aviation;
- Requires parties to assist each other in connection with criminal proceedings brought under the protocol.
- Convention on the Marking of Plastic Explosives for the Purpose of Identification (agreed 3/91—provides for chemical marking to facilitate detection of plastic explosives, e.g., to combat aircraft sabotage). Consists of two parts: the Convention itself, and a Technical Annex which is an integral part of the Convention.
- Designed to control and limit the used of unmarked and undetectable plastic explosives (negotiated in the aftermath of the Pan Am 103 bombing);
- Parties are obligated in their respective territories to ensure effective control over "unmarked" plastic explosive, i.e., those that do not contain one of the detection agents described in the Technical Annex;
- Each party must take necessary and effective measures to prohibit and prevent the manufacture of unmarked plastic explosives;
- Each party must take necessary and effective measures to prevent the movement of unmarked plastic explosives into or out of its territory; take necessary measures to exercise strict and effective control over possession and transfer of unmarked explosives made or imported prior to the entry-into-force of the convention; take necessary measures to ensure that all stocks of such unmarked explosives not held by the military or police are destroyed or consumed, marked, or rendered permanently ineffective within three years; take necessary measures to ensure that unmarked plastic explosives held by the military or police, are destroyed or consumed, marked, or rendered permanently ineffective within fifteen years; and, take necessary measures to ensure the destruction, as soon as possible, of any unmarked explosives manufactured after the date-of-entry into force of the convention for that state.
- Does not itself create new offenses that would be subject to a prosecution or extradition regime, although all states are required to ensure that provisions are complied within their territories.
- International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombing (agreed 12/97—expands the legal framework for international cooperation in the investigation, prosecution, and extradition of persons who engage in terrorist bombings):
- Creates a regime of universal jurisdiction over the unlawful and intentional use of explosives and other lethal devices in, into, or against various defined public places with intent to kill or cause serious bodily injury, or with intent to cause extensive destruction of the public place;
- Like earlier conventions on protected persons and hostage taking, requires parties to criminalize, under their domestic laws, certain types of criminal offenses, and also requires parties to extradite or submit for prosecution persons accused of committing or aiding in the commission of such offenses.
During the negotiations on the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, many states supported adding terrorism to the list of crimes over which the court would have jurisdiction. This proposal was not adopted. However, the Statute provides for a review conference to be held seven years after the entry into force of the Statute. This review will consider (among other things) an extension of the court's jurisdiction to include terrorism. Terrorists are generally not protected under the laws of war, although they are protected by the laws of the state in which they operate. For example, under the Third Geneva Convention, a person is eligible for prisoner of war status only if they "carry arms openly" and "respect the laws and customs of war." It also requires that members of militias and other irregular groups have "a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance." See unlawful combatant for further discussion.
Types of Terrorism and Terrorist Groups
For a complete list, see List of terrorist groups.
- Left-wing terrorism has not had the high profile in recent years that nationalistic and Islamic terrorism has. Left-wing terrorism probably reached a peak in the 1970s.
- Radical Left-Wing. These groups, which often draw their influences from Marxist, Leninist, or communist beliefs, hold that the only way society will come to share their beliefs is through the use of violence to force confrontations between what they view as an an oppressive society and an oppressed people. These groups were active largely in the 1960s and 1970s. They operated across the world, and had a few American operations, but Europe was their primary center of activity, in particular Germany and Italy. These groups were in decline by the 1980s, and generally no longer exist, particularly after the collapse of Communism in 1989.
- Environmental. In the 1990s a new form of left-wing terrorism emerged, focused on environmental issues. Their actions seldom have resulted in any loss of life, but have resulted in significant instances of property damage.
The difference between nationalistic terrorism and wars for national sovereignty is entirely one of perspective. One person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter. These nations have had, or currently have, nationalist revolutionary organizations fight for their liberation
- Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA) (Ireland)
- Provisional Irish Republican Army PIRA, Provos (Ireland) Still operating it declared cease fire in 1994
- Continuity IRA 1990s breakaway from the PIRA
- Official IRA the remainder of the IRA after the Provos left in 1969
From Morocco in the west to the Philippines in the east, from Tanzania in the south to Kazakstan in the north, these groups recruit young Islamic males for their operations. Often working in tandem with nationalistic terrorist organizations in Israel and the Palestian territories, Chehnya, and elsewhere, these groups also seek to overthrow what they perceive as Arab governments that are too secular, in particular Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Pakistan. They also coordinate strikes against western countries, particular western Europe and the United States. Sometimes they are supported, directly or indirectly, by state sponsors, such as Saudi Arabia; other times they are hunted by them; sometimes both.
- Abu Nidal Organization (ANO, also known as Fatah Revolutionary Council, Arab Revolutionary Brigades, Black September, and Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Muslims.
- Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)
- Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade
- Armed Islamic Group (GIA)
- Asbat al-Ansar ("the League of the Followers").
- Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya ("the Islamic Group, or IG").
- Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)
- Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM, "Army of Mohammed").
- Al-Fatah (Al-'Asifa)
- Hamas ("Islamic Resistance Movement").
- Al-Jihad ("the Struggle").
- Jemaah Islamiya (JI)
- Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LT, "Army of the Righteous").
- Lashkar I Jhangvi (LJ)
- Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK or MKO; also known as the National Liberation Army of Iran, the People's Mujahedin of Iran, the National Council of Resistance, and the Muslim Iranian Student's Society).
- Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ)
- Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)
- Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC)
- Palestine Liberation Front (PLF)
- Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC)
Right-wing terrorism, or "neo-Fascist" terrorism, seeks to do away with liberal democratic governments and create fascist states in their place. They frequently attack immigrants and are both racist and xenophobic, often specifically anti-Semitic. They may act alone or in a group; the former may be more common becasue of the mindset if right-wing terrorists. Often right-wing terrorism may overlap with religious terrorism.
Right-wing terrorists often seek to defend regimes currently in place. They are often called paramilitaries, and the contras would be a good example of them.
During the 1980s, right-wing Latin American terrorist groups, known as death squads, often consisted of members of the armed forces who acted in an unofficial capacity to terrorize dissidents, generally with the implicit support or protection of high-ranking officials. As private groups with overlapping memberships with the military, they were able to carry out a terror campaign on the government's behalf while giving the government a form of plausible deniability. The most famous victims of this campaign of death-squad terrorism in El Salvador were four American nuns in 1980, and Archbishop Oscar Romero also during that year. In a civil trial ending in July of 2002, a jury in Miami, Florida convicted two former Salvadoran defense officials of the torture of three Salvadoran dissidents, and ordered them to pay $54.6 million to the plaintiffs.
Lt Col Richard J Erikson, USAF wrote "Legitimate Use of Military Force Against State-Sponsored International Terrorism" for the Air University Press in 1989. In this groundbreaking work he defines four levels of state involvement. They are state sponsorship, state support, state toleration and state ination. "State sponsorship exists when a state directly uses international terrorism 'as a weapon of warfare to gain strategic advantage where they cannot use conventional means.'" "State support of international terrorism exists when a state uses its resources to provide assistance in the form of training, arms, explosives, equipemnt, intelligence, safe havens, communications, travel documents, financing, or other logistical support but does not direct the terrorism incidents." "State Toleration exists when states, athough aware of terrorist groups within their borders, do not support them but do not act to suppress them either." "in this particular circumstance (State Inaction), the state does not wish to ignore international terrorists within its borders but lacks the ability to respond effectively."
The classic model of state sponsored terrorism is that of Libya where a government, under direct orders from its supreme dictatorial leader, simply hires a terrorist to go blow up civilian airliners unconnected to any military activity.
- What Acts Are Terrorism?
Beyond this point, what constitutes state sponsored terrorism becomes more a question of definition and rhetoric than fact. In international law, sovereign state's have a recognized right to engage in War under certain circumstances, for example, to defend itself from attack or to protect allied nations from attack. This authority under international law recognizes that war is a messy business and that civilians as well combatants can and will be harmed by war. Moreover, not every war crime or violation of international standards for the conduct of war (like the Geneva Conventions) consitutes terrorism. Mistreating captured enemy soldiers, perhaps to the point of torture, may be a human rights violation, a Geneva Convention violation, and a war crime, but it stretched a reasonable use of the term "terrorism" too far to call mistreatment of enemy soldiers in a war "State Sponsored Terrorism".
Likewise, the death penalty, to the extent it has a political purpose (e.g. discouraging crime) is arguably within the definitions of terrorism show above.
Other state actions are, however, arguably state sponsored terrorism under some definitions.
If a country at war, for example, blows up religious sites where thousands of civilians are taking refuges, having no reason to believe that there are any military targets at the site, for the purpose of breaking the will of the enemy power, this might be fairly called a form of state sponsored terrorism. Some people accuse Israel of engaging in state sponsored terrorism towards the Palestinians in this sense of the word -- claiming that it is wantonly harming innocents for no direct military purpose to achieve its political ends. Israel, of course, denies this and states that it is defending itself in an unconventional hot war of self-defense which is a traditional perogative of a sovereign state. Likewise government sponsored attacks on minorities to encourage their flight from an area as a form of "ethnic cleansing" could be considered state sponsored terrorism.
Another scenario, one which the U.S. government was complicit in, involves cases when covert agents of a government, for example, assassinate foreign leaders or mine the harbors of nations with which it is not at war, and perhaps has not even been authorized by any law making part of its government to act. This looks more like the example of Libya above. Where the line between legitimate covert action (if there is such a thing) and state sponsored terrorism lies is not obvious.
- What links make terrorist actions state sponsored?
Another issue in the question of what constitutes state sponsored terrorism is at what level action must be authorized to constitute state action. Is it state sponsored terrorism if enlisted members of a state's military force covertly form a death squad contract to government policy? What if the government suspects that a death squad is operating, but doesn't investigate? What if a senior member of the government directs the death squad in direct contravention of the will of the legitimate majority of decision makers in the government or in a manner contrary to the law of that government and the policy of its executive and legislative leaders? What if the government is simply not vigorous in carrying out its responsibility to prevent private violence? Does it matter if the lack of vigor is due to incompetence or malice?
What if a government give money to an organization that conducts both legitimate and terrorist activities, intending to ear mark the funds for legtimate activities? What if a government gives money to an organization that teaches ideologies heartily embraced by terrorist organizations, but engages in no terrorism itself and does not embrace terrorist methods on its own? Does it matter that the government did or did not expect the teaching organization grants to impact the number of terrorists in the world? Does wishful thinking make support non-terroristic?
Responses To Terrorism
Often the greates impact from terrorism comes not from the terrorist act itself, but from the steps nations take to protect themselves from terrorism.
There are major partisan differences over the appropriate response to terrorism. Many Democrats have urged greater attention to matters like Port Security while placing less emphasis on efforts to curb Civil Liberties. For example, while it passed by bipartisan majorities, many people are concerned about provisions of the PATRIOT Act such as the right of the government to make searches of business and library records and force those involved to keep that fact secret, and the perogative claimed by the Bush Administration to identify people as Enemy Combatants and detain them without any due process. It has also begun a policy sometimes described as Enemy Combatant Lite to attempt to harass immigrants whose wrongdoings are dubious and to attempt to attribute terrorist malice to relatively innocent acts of speech and charity. The U.S. also has a policy called Rendition of sending people to countries with dictatorial regimes for torture at its behest so that it doesn't have ot get its own hands dirty.
Many progressives are also concerned about violations of Civil Liberties by allies such as Israel and the United Kingdom carried out in response to terrorism. For example, the United Kingdom has detained a number of individuals for three years without trial, based in part on U.S. provided evidence which may have been obtained through torture.
- American Politics Journal: Republicans Can't Keep Us Safe
- DKos diary in support of a war for hearts and minds against terrorism.
- Secret Prisons Timeline
- Operation Agatha