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Understanding Terrorism and Terrorist Organizations

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I am a Historian, Martial Artist and Criminal Justice/ Military expert having focused my lifetime studying Warrior Ethos and culture.


Terrorism has become a part of life in the 20th century. There are many motives however vague they can be. Political failure, ethnic discontent and the like are breeding grounds for terrorism.

Religion has played a more predominate role in terrorism during the past ten years and for some reason is the precipitating factor of acts directed against the United States. Terms like "violent eschatology" and "chosen ones" have led to much violent intolerance. However I must say this that just because groups use a religious tone does not necessarily mean that such behaviors are justified through whatever religion.

Terrorism is defined by the American government as consisting of two types International and Domestic.
International terrorism involves violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that violate state or federal law. They appear to be intended to 1. intimidate or coerce a civilian population; 2. to influence policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; 3. affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping. It occurs primarily outside the territorial United States or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means in which they are accomplished, the persons appear intended to intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which the perpetrators operate or seek asylum. An example would be the recent beheading of Mr. Foley a photojournalist by ISIS forces. This attack was directed towards the US government and military actions in Iraq and was indeed an act of intimidation.
Domestic terrorism contains the same activity as international terrorism only that it occurs primarily within the territorial Jurisdiction of the United States. The federal offense then is that which is calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion or to retaliate against government conduct and is subsequently followed by other Federal violations like attacking someone on federal property or the like. Although the incidents fall in local and state jurisdictions the FBI has a stake in the event as well and most likely will institute a joint terror task force and assist with investigations. An example would be the 9/11 attacks.

This is where it gets confusing. “Guerilla war” is performed in many cases by units with inferior strength (i.e. number of combatants or type of weapons available). Guerillas commonly use terrorist tactics against both their enemies, and even against civilians, to generate support through submission. These types of actions could be raids or active demolition of high value targets by unconventional means. Chuck Norris going in to the wilds of the jungle conquering bad guys left and right then strapping a block of c-4 to a bridge and blowing it up. In “total war,” air forces may target civilian populations with massive destruction to eliminate the means or will of the target population to support their military or government. An example of this would be like the bombing in WWII where entire cities were bombed. But these examples are not acts of terrorism but of war and in accordance with rules of war. Terror is completely different.

In short terrorism is described as both a tactic of strategical violence, a crime and a holy duty by some radical religious groups, and a justified reaction to oppression and an inexcusable action. Everything is dependent on the respective point of view. It is said that terrorism is an effective approach for the weaker side of two conflicting parties.


In October 1983, terrorists using a truck bomb destroyed the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 245 Marines, soldiers, and sailors, and wounding another 146. Several sources state this was the largest non-nuclear blast ever detonated, with the bomb made of 12,000 pounds of high explosive integrated with containers of flammable gas.

On April 19, 1995, a truck bomb containing a very large IED destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, wounding hundreds more, and damaging nearly 300 other buildings.

On June 25, 1996, 19 USAF Airmen were killed by a truck bomb at the Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

On August 7, 1998, bombs exploded almost simultaneously at the U.S. Embassy buildings in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. According to UN statistics, the Nairobi bombing alone killed 213 and injured more than 4,000.

The October 12, 2000, a suicide attack on the U.S.S. Cole, an American Destroyer refueling in the port of Aden in Yemen, marked the first time a modern American warship was successfully targeted by terrorists. Seventeen sailors were killed and 39 others were injured.

Specific Forms of Terrorism

•Weapons of Mass Destruction- biological agents or other type of weapon or explosives.

•Narco-terrorism –Drug cartels using terrorist tactics –Terrorist organizations selling drugs to support political agenda. For example poppy fields in Afghanistan were part of Osama bin Laden's monetary gains

•Cyber-terrorism –Computer attacks –Viruses –Destruction of information infrastructure

Terrorists, depending on their goal will use a wide variety of acts. Whether it is bombing, armed assaults, assassination, arson, kidnapping/ hostage taking, hijacking, sabotage, hoaxes. They will do whatever they can to shock the senses and create a climate of fear to obtain an objective.


•Terrorist - An individual who uses violence, terror and intimidation to achieve a result.

•Terrorist Group - Any element, regardless of size or espoused cause, that commits acts of violence or threatens violence in pursuit of its political, religious, or ideological objectives.

Who are Terrorists?

This is where it gets tricky because there is slight difficulty in deciding who should be classified as a terrorist no matter the country. The common perception of who a terrorist is is dependent on a particular point of view or situation. Although terrorists and terror groups are the main focus on the war on terrorism and long term studies have been conducted experts still are having difficulty with the nature of terrorists and their behaviors simply due to the fact that all humans are different. There also is a lot of secrecy; nonetheless there are some common characteristics that show up across the board.

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National Terrorists are those individuals or groups that conduct operations within the U.S. these are the same as domestic terrorism. Trans National are those who operate across the border of countries. Not to be confused with international terrorism.

Affiliations of terrorism

•Religion •Social/economic upheaval

•Nationalism, Marxism, anarchism

•Labor disputes

•Ethnic separatism

•Regional and global interests

Religious vs. Secular Terrorism

•Religious Terrorism: Violence is seen as a sacramental act or divine duty. Violence is an end in itself. Religious terrorists are not affected by political, moral, or practical constraints. They use religion as a “legitimizing force.” There are limitless levels of violence because they view non-believers as inferior or less worthy and view themselves as “outsiders,” rather than components within a society.

•Secular Terrorism: Secular Terrorists view indiscriminate violence as immoral and counterproductive. They appeal to actual and potential followers to use self-restraint in target selection. They are utilitarian-they seek to bring about change that will be of most benefit to the greatest number of people. They view violence as a means to an end.


What causes Terrorist groups to form?

Terrorist groups form due to any number of circumstances. There are Hate groups, white supremacists, black panthers, eco-terrorists, anti-government extremists, separatist groups, radical religious groups and the list goes on and on. The one necessary ingredient is discontent.
We have all at some time been fed up with something that is happening in the political atmosphere. What separates everyday individuals from terrorist groups is the fact that we use the political system by voting as our conscience should dictate. We use the government's protected remedies to effect a goal. Even if that is through PEACEFUL demonstration such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr conducted during the civil rights movements of his era. He advocated pure peace but a loud voice so that it could be heard over the violence. More was changed through that example than by any violent act.

It is vital to remember that terrorism is intended as a communication through the medium of violence. Because the objective is to reach a target audience with the psychological impact, terrorist planning exhibits many differences from military planning or “rational” strategies.

Terrorist strategies will be aimed at publicly causing damage to symbols or inspiring fear. Timing, location, and methods of attack are designed to accommodate media dissemination and ensure “newsworthiness” to maximize impact.

In the most recent years, religion has played a more significant role in terrorism. In 1998 a terror group was formed and called "the international Islamic Front to Fight Jews and Crusaders" they openly professed to discriminate on the grounds of religion. Guess who was a founding member of this group. Wait for it..... Osama bin Laden. This makes for a frightening motive because the end result which is usually translated in the ultimate rewards of the afterlife make suicide a well sought after component to acts of terror. It is seen as a divine task.

For example in Islam, divine credit is given not only to those who fight in the crusade against evil, but also those who sponsor the fight which allows for a wide base of followers. In other instances, religious intolerance motivates terrorists where they typically target members of the same religion but of different sects. This makes for bloody conflicts like what we see in Pakistan and Syria where Sunni Vs. Shiite and so forth; and in Ireland where Protestant vs Catholic.

The Goals of Islamic Terrorism

Specifically, the reasoning for focusing Islamic terrorism on the United States revolves around:

•The return to one Islamic Arab empire (Muslim Caliphate) that stretches from West Africa to the Arabian Peninsula

•The expulsion of American Troops (Infidels) from the holy lands

•The Palestinian/Israeli conflict and U.S. support of Israel •The war in Iraq and Afghanistan •The elimination of secular Muslim regimes

•The elimination of Western influence in Muslim lands

•The elimination and cleansing of the evils of the Western world


Gangs vs Terrorist

Terrorist use acts of violence to coerce a group into a desired action

Gangs use violence to coerce citizens into fearful submission; thereby gaining free reign

Terrorists don't care who dies; it's all the better to get the point across

Gangs don't care who dies; it's a dog eat dog world out there, gotta do whatever to get "mines"

Is there any difference???

Terrorist Distinctions

•Organizational structure

•Team oriented

•Belief systems

•Motivational values

•Use of crime for a symbolic statement about a political cause

•Even if terrorists are alone when they perform a violent act, they are still team oriented. Even suicide bombers do not act entirely alone; They are supported by an organization, and go on a mission that is assigned to them by the leaders of the organization.

•Many terrorist acts involve a great deal of training, discipline, and personal sacrifice. Most notably, suicide bombing or attacks of purely symbolic nature (like the bombing of the Statue of Liberty) are unlikely to bring personal gain to those who commit the act.

•Terrorists are motivated by “higher” values than self gain, and the acts they commit are for a cause, not their own profit. Terrorists find strength in the cause and the ideology or religion behind that cause.

Criminal Distinctions

•Generally, criminals behave differently than Terrorists. Often, criminals are: Economically opportunistic. Impulsive. Uncommitted. Self-centered and undisciplined. Use crime to obtain goods for self.

•They are typically undisciplined, untrained, and oriented toward escape. Terrorists have prepared for their mission, are willing to take risks, and are attack oriented.”

This is were in particular that Law Enforcement must look at these distinctions especially when dealing with gang related investigation. Some gangs use terror to gain control of their neighborhood however their motivations are quite different and as such they are not considered as terrorists by strict definition. Terror investigations are set up differently and the main focus is on group ideology and their behavior.

Today, the term “terrorist” also applies to large groups that are independent from a state (such as Al Qaeda and the Aum Shinrikyo), violent religious fanatics, or “special interest” or “single cause” groups, which use violence as part of their campaign to bring about change


New Threat group ISIS

Since American forces have been pulled out of Iraq this year (2014) we have seen a fall in the effectiveness of the governing body put in place there after the fall of Saddam's regime. Surrounding nations such as Syria and Iran have always been a hot bed for terrorist activity. Some might say that American presence and then systematic evacuation is to blame. It is no coincidence that the Middle East is a hot bed for Terrorist Groups due to ongoing political and civil unrest however we can not forget that Ireland has had it's fair share of Terrorist groups as well.

ISIS or Islamic state of Iraq and Syria has been deemed as a terrorist organization by many western powers. However it has been acting more like an army and government. It is imposing war actions, raids, hostage taking and ransoming and even taxation. It calls itself a caliphate. Caliphates are Islamic forms of government that were set up due to the expansion of such empires as the Ottoman and so forth that conducted war on most of Europe in order to take over lands in the name of the Islamic religion. ISIS as a caliphate has claimed wide religious authority over all Muslims across the world and appears to have as it's main objective the overtaking of all of the Muslim world and bringing it under their sole authority. They are purportedly derived from Iraqi Al-Queda and Mujaheddin forces and are predominately Sunni. They wish to force all Muslims into sharia law.
ISIS got it's start from the Syrian Civil War and it has been able to gain regional support because of allegations of certain discrimination of Iraqi Sunnis since the fall of Saddam Hussein. It's members had political ties to the governorates of Iraqi and Syrian posts. Until recently they shared in the struggle with Al Qaeda; however due to their intense brutality it appears as though such ties have been severed. They have been a predominate force in the Anbar and Northern Iraq offensives within the past few months (June-August 2014). As a result of such clashes the caliphate was proclaimed and thus the group began to call itself the Islamic State.
We see this drastic change from acting for a certain country to forming their own government and claiming it in charge of an area and doing things that a government is responsible for such as taxation and making war among many things. This is not really a new occurrence. When we look back in history we see that groups led by Tariq who invaded Spain in 711 would terrorize the local population; put itself in charge of cities and then impose taxes effectively taking over areas. Tariq's forces then set up the southern portions of Spain as a caliphate to govern the region known as the Ummayad Caliphate.
ISIS however maintains it's hard-line anti-west beliefs and promotes religious violence. Those who do not agree with them are deemed as infidels. They interestingly enough think that the Ottoman Empire deviated from pure Islam and thus they wish to create their own caliphate. Leadership of jihad only falls to a legitimate authority in their eyes. Which is why you see them in confrontation with Hamas because they view them as apostates. They wish to establish a pure Islamic state where they are in charge and rule over conquered territory. The problem lies in that once they do they immediately institute sharia law and undertake sectarian attacks that are violent and more ruthless than other groups.
In the latest execution of an American journalist Foley, we were able to discover that ISIS' intentions are indeed to take back Iraq and eventually other Muslim countries by the statements that were made to that effect before carrying out the televised execution of Mr. Foley. This is not a new trend in terrorism; in fact it is their most popular tool when attacking vital or hard targets do not effectively get their message across. It acts as a single instance of violent and atrociousness that will shock the minds of it's intended audience and in so doing scare into submission those immediately in their area of operations as well as to the entity or nation that they are addressing. In this immediate case it is their wish to expel American forces from Iraq and to cease all further military action.
ISIS has taken organized terror to a higher level. Not only are they more proficient than Al-Queda but they have exhibited a clear organizational leadership and hierarchical structure from top to bottom; as a professional army/militia would have in place. They are skilled in guerrilla warfare which makes them even more deadly due to the fact that the new Iraqi army does not have any tactical competence much like the South Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. This is apparent by the continual taking over of locations by ISIS forces. Whether or not this comes from internal corruption, being paid off, or a simple lack of wanting to engage in open combat. Nonetheless this has added to ISIS' success both on and off the battlefield.

Social Media's role in new wave terrorism

Isis has proved the benefits of using social media. They have cd's, dvd's, posters, pamphlets and web related propaganda that is aimed at boosting their cause and the caliphate. Which makes sense because today's youth culture is centered around social media. Criminal Gangs use the principle as well for recruitment and getting their message out to other like mined individuals and to create a "hype" for the group. ISIS holds religious lectures and proselytize to locals often using churches that have been converted into Islamic centers. The precipice of which is their posting of the execution of Mr. Foley. In the video ISIS calls out Obama to put a stop to air strike operations of facilities.



As time goes on and different methods to combat terrorism are initiated, we will see slight changes in terrorist acts. This will also allow for certain nuances in how groups operate. We are sure to see some changes in terrorism as well. Sadly this is where civilian populations will feel the brunt of the struggle between legitimate authority and terror groups. ISIS has shown to be the most organized and most adaptive by far. While terrorism will not completely go away everyone needs to be aware of it's presence in order to at least attempt to combat it.

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