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Terrorism in the

21st Century:

An Introduction

dod disclaimer
DoD Disclaimer


- The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not purport to reflect the position of the United States Military Academy, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense.

understanding the strategy
Understanding the Strategy
  • NATO definition of terrorism:

The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence against individuals or property in an attempt to coerce or intimidate governments or societies to achieve political, religious or ideological objectives

  • Sun Tzu
    • Know yourself
    • Know your allies
    • Know your enemy
sun tzu know your enemy
Sun Tzu: Know Your Enemy
  • What motivates terrorists?
  • How does someone become a suicide bomber?
  • What do these people want?
  • What are they capable of?
  • How do they view this struggle?

“You have to be lucky everyday – We only have to be lucky once” - IRA Bomber

Key Terms
  • Vision
  • Power
  • Belief
  • Strategy
  • Tactic
  • Duty
  • Shame
  • Freedom fighter
  • Self-sacrifice


// ##

Key Terms
  • Vision – “Shape the future”
  • Power to achieve the vision
  • Belief in a higher cause
  • Strategy – to compel, coerce, etc.
  • Tactic – bombing, assassination, etc.
  • Duty to the cause, to family, to God
  • Shame upon you for not doing seeking justice
  • Freedom fighter – must kill to secure freedom (?)
  • Self-sacrifice – to be killed in the service of a higher cause is “heroic”


// ##


Defining Terrorism

Primary Types

  • Left-wing
  • Right-wing
  • Ethno-nationalist (separatist)
  • Religious
  • State
  • State-Sponsored


// ##

left wing terrorists
Left-wing Terrorists
  • Driven by liberal or idealist political concepts
  • Prefer revolutionary anti-authoritarian anti-materialist agendas
  • Typically target elites that symbolize authority
  • Examples:
    • Anarchists, Earth First, Animal Liberation Front
right wing terrorists
Right-wing Terrorists
  • Often target race and ethnicity
  • Examples:
    • Aryan Brotherhood, the Order, White Aryan Nation
ethno nationalist separatists
  • Usually have clear territorial objectives
    • Liberation/separation
    • Popular support usually along ethnic/racial lines.
  • Examples:
    • Tamil Tigers, Chechens, ETA, IRA, PKK
religious terrorists
Religious terrorists
  • Belief in a struggle of good vs evil
    • Acting along desires of a diety – target is thus not necessarily human
    • Feel unconstrained by law – higher calling
    • Complete alienation from existing socio/political order
    • Support may be diffuse
  • Examples:
    • al Qaeda, Hizballah, Hamas, Jemaah Islamiyah, Christian Militia, Aum Shinrikyo, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Amal, Lehi, Irgun
state terrorism
State Terrorism
  • Governments can engage in acts of terrorism
  • Examples:
    • Iraq, Saddam Hussein deployed chemical weapons in Kurdish villages, killing thousands
    • Intent was to frighten other villages into stopping their political revolt
    • It worked
state sponsored terrorism
State-Sponsored Terrorism
  • Governments can also support terrorist groups that do their bidding
  • Examples:
    • Iran, which supports Hizballah
    • Before 9/11, Hizballah had killed more Americans than any other terror group
    • Embassy bombings, kidnappings, targeted assassinations, suicide attack on Marine barracks at Beirut airport
a brief history of modern terrorism
A Brief History of Modern Terrorism
  • Roughly 130-year history
  • 4 Waves, each roughly 40-45 years
    • Anarchist Wave
    • Anti-Colonial/Decolonization Wave
    • New Left Wave/Leftist anti-Western sentiment
    • Religious Inspiration Wave
  • Issue to consider for each wave:
    • Doctrines of terror
    • Technology (especially for communication/propoganda)
    • Avenues of funding and support
terrorism as strategy
Terrorism as Strategy
  • Terrorism as means to achieve goals and objectives
  • Strategic goals include:
    • Political change (e.g., overthrow govt., drive out occupiers, etc.)
    • Social change (e.g., France headscarf ban)
    • Economic change (e.g., stop resource export)
    • Religious change (e.g., fundamentalism)
  • Overall goal: create a “better” world
some strategic objectives of terrorism
Some Strategic Objectives of Terrorism
  • Recognition: Gaining national or international recognition for their cause; recruiting new personnel; raising funds; demonstrating their strength
  • Coercion: Force a desired behavior of an individual or government
  • Intimidation: Prevent individuals, groups, or governments from acting
  • Provocation: Provoking overreaction by a government to the attack on symbolic targets or personnel, thereby gaining sympathy for their cause.
  • Insurgency support: Forcing the government to overextend itself in dealing with the threat, thereby allowing the insurgency to gain support and commit further attacks against the government.

New York, World Trade CenterFebruary 26, 19936 Dead, 1,042 Injured

Oklahoma CityMurrah Federal Building,19 April 1995168 Dead, 490 Injured

aum shinrikyo and the sarin gas attacks japan 1994 1995
Aum Shinrikyo and the Sarin Gas AttacksJapan, 1994 & 1995

Matsumoto, JapanMarch, 1994

7 Dead, 34 Injured

Tokyo, JapanTeito Rapid Transit Authority (Subway System)March 20, 199512 Dead, 5,000 Injured

Sarin gas kills by paralyzing muscles so that a person cannot breathe.

Sarin enters the body by inhalation, ingestion, and through the eyes and skin.

Symptoms begin with watery eyes, drooling, and excessive sweating, and then rapidly progress to difficulty in breathing, dimness of vision, nausea, vomiting, twitching, and headache.

Ultimately the victim will become comatose and suffocate as a consequence of convulsive spasms.


American Embassy Bombings, Kenya and TanzaniaAugust 1998

200 Americans, Kenyans, and Tanzanians deadOver 5,000 injured

the strategy of terrorism
The Strategy of Terrorism
  • Increasing interest in “soft targets” (economically strategic impact, and less protected) such as:
    • pubs in Northern Ireland & London UK
    • openmarkets & cafes in Israel
    • international airport, Sri Lanka
    • bus in Manila, the Philippines
    • shopping mall in southern Philippines
    • nightclub in Bali, Indonesia
    • banks in Istanbul, Turkey
    • hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia
    • nightclub in Berlin, Germany
    • and, of course . . .
modern trends in global terrorism
Modern Trends in Global Terrorism
  • More violent attacks (increasing lethality)
  • Increasing use of suicide bombers (the ultimate smart bomb)
karachi pakistan may 8 2002 june 14 2002
Karachi, PakistanMay 8, 2002 June 14, 2002

Attack on U.S. Consulate

Bus attack

14 Dead, including11 French engineers

12 Dead50 Injured

bali indonesia october 12 2002
Bali, IndonesiaOctober 12, 2002

202 Dead350 Injured

Citizens from 21 countries, mostly Western tourists, were killed in the blasts

jakarta indonesia august 5 2003
Jakarta, IndonesiaAugust 5, 2003

12 Dead60 Injured

J.W. Marriott Hotel, Jakarta

riyadh saudi arabia november 8 2003 april 21 2004
Riyadh, Saudi ArabiaNovember 8, 2003 April 21, 2004

Attack on Security Services Headquarters

3 simultaneous suicide car bomb attacks on Al-Muhayaapartment complex

4 Dead148 Injured

17 Dead122 Injured

istanbul turkey november 20 2003
Istanbul, TurkeyNovember 20, 2003

27 Dead400 Injured

Primary Targets: British consulate and the HSBC bank headquarters

madrid spain march 11 2004
Madrid, SpainMarch 11, 2004

191 Dead1,035 Injured

jakarta indonesia september 9 2004
Jakarta, IndonesiaSeptember 9, 2004

9 Dead173 Injured

Australian Embassy was primary target

london uk july 7 2005
London, UKJuly 7, 2005

54 Dead716 Injured

strategy and recruitment
Strategy and Recruitment
  • Terrorism is an individual’s strategic choice most often driven by a combination of:
    • Intense grievances
    • Sense of crisis
    • Address a power imbalance - empower the disenfranchised
  • The ties that bind: training camps, extended family, social networks; trusted networks = key
  • Combination of ideology and psychology
  • No constraints re: geography, organizational affiliation, etc.
modern terrorism and recruitment
Modern Terrorism and Recruitment
  • Overall goal: create a “better” world
    • Powerful message for recruitment . . .
    • Video 1
    • Video 2
    • Video 3
    • Video 4
    • Video 5


strategy and training38
Strategy and Training
  • Establish training camps – developing the will to kill and the skill to kill
  • Operational space: Geographic isolation
  • Teachers: Experts in relevant knowledge, e.g., military combat experience
  • Committed learners
  • Time, money, and basic necessities
  • Afghanistan
  • Algeria
  • Bosnia
  • Chechnya
  • Colombia
  • Egypt
  • Indonesia
  • Japan
  • Kashmir
  • Lebanon
  • Libya
  • Northern Ireland
  • Peru
  • The Philippines
  • Somalia
  • Spain
  • Sri Lanka
  • Sudan
  • Syria
  • Turkey
  • United States
  • Uzbekistan
strategy and training39
Strategy and Training
  • Psychological dimensions
  • Moral disengagement
    • Displacement of responsibility
    • Disregard for/distortion of consequences
    • Dehumanization
    • Moral justification
  • Group power over behavior, personal decisions
  • Preparation for martyrdom
to be distinguished from

Definition of Suicide Terrorism

To be distinguished from:

Intentionally killing oneself for the purpose of killing others, in the service of a political or ideological goal

  • High-risk missions w/out suicide as main intent
  • Fooled couriers
  • Suicide – without homicide – for a political cause
suicide terrorism who
Suicide Terrorism: Who?


  • The “profile” is wrong
  • Suicide terrorists are:
    • Preteen - mid-sixties
    • Both single and married with families
    • Both male and female
    • Both educated and uneducated
    • Not motivated by religious fanaticism
    • World’s leader in suicide terror are Hindu; Tamil Tigers who are conducting insurgency against Sri Lanka


  • Generalized profile of suicide terrorists, including:
    • Young
    • Single
    • Male
    • Uneducated
    • Religious fanatics
trends most deadly form of terrorism so far
Trends: Most deadly form of terrorism (so far)
  • Israel: 0.5% of attacks, 56% of fatalities.
  • U.S.: 9/11 – 10 times more deadly than any previous terrorist attack in history.
    • Hizballah, Lebanon
      • 1981 attack on the Iraqi Embassy in Beirut
      • 1983 – attack on the U.S. Embassy in Beirut
      • 1983 – attack on the Marines sleeping in barracks at the Beirut airport (241 killed)
  • Also, suicide attacks typically get more media coverage; more “strategic communications” effect
trends 1980s

- Lebanon

- Kuwait

- Sri Lanka

Trends: 1980s
trends 1990 2005

- Israel

- India

- Pakistan

- Yemen

- Algeria

- Chechnya

- Kenya

- Tanzania

- Panama

- Argentina

- Croatia

- Australia

- Turkey

- Russia

- Morocco

- Indonesia

- Saudi Arabia

- Afghanistan

- Indonesia

- Spain

- U.K.

- U.S.

Trends: 1990-2005
marine barracks beirut lebanon 23 october 198348
Marine Barracks Beirut, Lebanon23 October 1983

“We couldn’t stay there and run the risk of another suicide attack on the Marines.”

-- Ronald Reagan, An American Life

  • 241 Dead
  • 105 Injured
why are suicide attacks effective

Baghdad -- 14 Oct 03

Why Are Suicide Attacks Effective?
  • Suicide attacks work because they have a different structure
  • With suicide terrorism model the weakeracts as coercer and the stronger actor is the target
  • Key difference
    • Target of suicide campaign cannot easily adjust to minimize future damage
2 midlife formerly dime ct approach
2. MIDLIFE (formerly DIME) CT Approach

Question: Once we understand the threat, how do we address it?

Answer: We employ all the instruments of national power available to us.

  • Military
  • Intelligence
  • Diplomacy
  • Legal
  • Information
  • Financial
  • Economic
  • Case studies of groups and events help us learn about each of these dimensions
intelligence learn from our own mistakes
Intelligence: Learn from our own mistakes
  • We assumed simultaneous 9/11 attacks in U.S. were beyond the capabilities of terrorists
  • Overestimated the significance of past successes & the terrorists’ own incompetence
  • Attention was focused exclusively on opposite ends of the terrorist technological spectrum
  • Believed terrorists were still interested in publicity and not killing
elements of the national ct strategy
Elements of the National CT Strategy

4 D’s:

  • Defeat terrorist organizations of a global reach
  • Deny terrorists the sponsorship, support, and sanctuary they need to survive
  • Diminish the underlying conditions that promote the despair and destructive visions of political change that lead people to embrace terrorism
  • Defend against terrorist attacks on the U.S., our citizens and our interests around the world
coordination levels
Coordination Levels










Air Force









National Counterterrorism Center

  • NCTC currently has assignees (USG staff) from:
    • Federal Bureau of Investigation
    • Department of Defense
    • Central Intelligence Agency
    • Department of Homeland Security
    • Department of State
    • Others – DOE, NRC, HHS, USDA, USCHP
  • Assignees to NCTC retain authorities of parent entities
  • In NCTC, key organizations involved in the fight against terrorism are collectively fulfilling shared responsibilities

Terrorism Information Access and Integration

  • In NCTC, key organizations involved in the fight against terrorism are collectively fulfilling shared responsibilities

Toward a Counterterrorism “System”

  • Beyond implementing Center responsibilities, the greater goal is facilitating a counterterrorism “system” as part of a greater U.S. Government (USG) system-of-systems
    • All USG elements need not be centralized; however, a distributed but integrated framework must be consciously agreed upon and orchestrated
    • Roles and responsibilities of USG CT elements must be as unambiguous and straightforward as possible; intentional rather than haphazard redundancy