What are the Types Of Terrorism Out There?
Over the past three or four decades, the term “terrorism” has become a ubiquitous addition to the national dialogue. As such, we are not only aware of the term; we all have a worldview against which to measure it that has been forged in violent tragedies from Oklahoma City to 9/11 to the bombings of the Boston Marathon. Indeed, far from an academic discussion, denizens of the 21st-century are well versed in the destructive effects of a terrorist attack, and yet arriving at a definition of terrorism can be problematic owing to political consideration that typically weigh down the word.
What is Terrorism?
Various world bodies and nations have sought to arrive at a definition of terrorism. Towards that end, when it comes to determining what terrorism is, these bodies have generally concurred that terrorism is the use of violence and intimidation in pursuit of political ends. Unlike when organized nation-states use military force against each other, terrorist attacks are designed to strike fear and terror into the general population.
As one might imagine, where one stands on either side of a political question, is largely the determining factor on whether they apply the label of “Terrorist.” For instance, when George Washington took up arms against King George III, his actions were universally seen as terroristic from the vantage point of Britain’s Parliament, and had the revolution failed, his enduring legacy would have been that of a failed traitor rather than that as the Founding Father of a new nation.
Rather than simply dismiss this fact by noting that old adage, “History is written by the victors,” the term has ongoing political baggage dependent on where a person stands on a political issue. In the “War on Terrorism” for instance, the American public understand what terrorism is every time a subway is attacked or an embassy is bombed. Conversely, for the tribesmen of northern Yemen, who have been the targets of United States Predator Drone attacks for more than a decade, they would be more likely to label the operator of that remotely controlled platform of destruction the true terrorist.
Definition of Terrorism
When it comes to arriving at a definition of terrorism, those definitions have been written by governmental agencies that have invariably steered the question away from the actions of a nation state’s military, and towards the actions of non-governmental actors who have resorted to asymmetrical warfare to achieve their political goals.
In the United States, terrorism has been defined under Title 18 of the Federal Criminal Code. Section 2331 of Chapter 113 (B) sets out the following definition of terrorism:
Involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the Unites States or of any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction if the United States that appears to wielded with the intent:
- To intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
- To influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
- To affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping
The United States Criminal Code also goes further, and assigns geographical distinctions between international and domestic terrorism. The former occurs primarily outside the political jurisdiction of the United States, while the latter applies to attacks within its geographic boundaries.
For instance, the 1983 bombing of the United States Marine barracks in Beirut was an example of an international terrorism strike, while the attacks of 9/11 were examples of types of domestic terrorism.
There are many different types of terrorism, but the most ingrained vision is that of suicide bombings, hijacked airplanes, and public beheading. Stereotypically, we look to the Middle East as the hotbed of most terrorist activity, and that prejudice is not without its merits, but the reality is that types of terrorism occur all over the world as people give up on political dialogue in favor of violent means.
Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan, South America, the Indian sub-continent, Chechnya, and beyond have all seethed under the explosive impact of terrorist operations within their borders. In the United States, for most Americans, examples of terrorism are what happens in far distant cities, and only reported in the daily news.
That false sense of security ended on the morning of September 11, 2001.
The attacks of 9/11, by 19 Saudi and Yemeni nationals, who under the command of Al-Qaida leaders, high jacked four commercial airlines and flew them into New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and a final craft, which subsequently crashed into a Pennsylvanian field when the plane’s passengers took action against the would-be attackers.
An attack that had its roots in international terrorism came home to roost in the United States. In response to this unprecedented attack, then-President George W. Bush launched a “War on Terror” that continues unabated more than a decade later.
As scholars, politicos, pundits, and military experts debate the best way to end the scourge of terrorism, solutions need to delve into the inherent inequalities that push a people away from the negotiating table and towards the battlefield.
Types of domestic terrorism include everything from the aforementioned strikes of 9/11 to the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. While the Federal Bureau of Investigation merely makes a distinction between attacks that occur from within and without the national borders, in the public consciousness, types of domestic terrorism is invariably linked with attacks by Americans on other Americans. That is because of the ease in which a homegrown terrorist can destroy a target as compared to foreign-born terrorists who first needs to slip past border security measures.
According to the United States Justice Department, there is a far more likelihood of a homegrown domestic terrorist attack on the United States than from a foreign foe originating overseas. The department notes the proliferation of right-wing militias and hate groups across the country, and their increasingly belligerent stance that they have taken against the federal government over the past two decades.
Under this kind of pressure from both within and without, the state has increasingly looked to counter terrorism methods to help stem the danger. Critics points out that these methods risk the very freedoms that these types of terrorism are designed to erode. With passage of the Patriot Act, and in the wake of rampant eavesdropping by the National Security Agency, these criticisms are not without merit as we assess what we are losing as a society in our attempts to preserve our basic freedoms.
Counter terrorism efforts seek to disrupt or stop active terrorist operations against the country, and the key component in this effort is the obtaining of actionable intelligence material. Terrorists have grown increasingly sophisticated and an attempt to thwart their moves relies heavily on human and electronic intelligence gathering approaches. Whether it is learning of the existence of a safe house storing explosives, or a phone trace from a satellite in outer space, each element of intelligence fits together like the pieces of a puzzle. It is the job of the counter terrorism team to sift through these clues and form a larger intelligence picture of a group’s capabilities.
Once a target has been identified, an action team, either law enforcement or military, will be sent in based on the latest intelligence reports to kill or capture the would-be terrorist before they have a chance to trigger their attack. An old adage in the counter terrorism game holds that the public only learns of an intelligence failure. In other words, while successes go unnoticed owing to the absence of a cataclysmic terrorist attack, failures reminds us of our need to remain ever watchful in a dangerous world.
Balancing our need to protect ourselves from a terrorist attack should always be the knowledge that if we strip our citizens of their basic civil rights in that battle against extremism, we risk losing the war in the first place.