When the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, the United States government knew exactly who was responsible for the offensive and had a clear understanding of their intentions. Japan launched the strike as a deliberate act of war. Like Pearl Harbor, the September 11 surprise attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon has had a devastating effect on Americans and their allies all around the world. But unlike Pearl Harbor, officials don't know for sure who is responsible. The United States feels like it is at war, but its citizens don't know who they're fighting against.
A lot of the evidence that has come out points to Osama bin Laden as the mastermind behind these acts of terrorism. But there are a number of other terrorist groups who might mount such a strike.Now, we'll find out how the U.S. Department of State designates a terrorist group and look at some of the most prominent organizations active today to see what they are fighting against, what they have done in the past and who their leaders are.
Terrorism is defined in the dictionary as:
The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.
Terrorism is also used by small, organized groups of people to wage war against established nations. A terrorist war is very different from a conventional war between two nations. A conventional war is intense and concentrated. It has battle lines, battle fields and the combatants are trained military professionals fighting against one another. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. A terrorist war, on the other hand, consists of random acts of violence against civilians where they live and work.
The goal of terrorism depends on the terrorists. Some examples:
- To coerce a group of people, such as a government, into granting certain demands
- To extract revenge for a perceived wrong
- To make life miserable for a government
Foreign Terrorist Organizations
Abu Nidal Organization (ANO)
Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)
Armed Islamic Group (GIA)
Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA)
Gama'a al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group, IG)
HAMAS (Islamic Resistance Movement)
Harakat ul-Mujahidin (HUM)
Hizballah (Party of God)
Japanese Red Army (JRA)
Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)
Source: U.S. Department of State, 10/8/99*
*New list created every two years
The trend in terrorism over the last 15 years has been moving toward attacks that result in as many fatalities as possible. Reportedly, a terrorist incident in the 1990s had a 20 percent higher likelihood of resulting in death or injury than an incident occurring two decades ago. Groups such as Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'ida are committing acts of violence that are resulting in increasingly larger numbers of casualties. More than six thousand people were victimized by the bombing of two U.S. embassies in African countries -- one in Kenya and one in Tanzania -- in 1998.
Today's terrorists have an incredible arsenal at their fingertips, both literally and figuratively. Not only are there an enormous number of weapons of destruction at their disposal, but they are also able to use technological advances and society's normal infrastructure to their benefit. For example:
Communication is now so inexpensive and easy that it is a much simpler task for terrorist groups to organize, plan and recruit. Several terrorist groups have been known to use the Internet in their operations, either as a means of communication or as another arena for terrorism. Through large-scale communication, some groups are able to recruit new members and find financial backing. Allegedly, a group known as the Internet Black Tigers, affiliates of the Tamil Tigers, have orchestrated assaults on Israeli government Web sites and e-mail servers.
- Biological and chemical weapons are now much easier for small groups to manufacture.
- Nuclear materials are much easier to obtain and refine.
- Letter bombs use the normal postal infrastructure to deliver bombs to individuals.
- Bombs made of common fertilizer and gasoline loaded into a rental truck can drive to the door of a target building on city streets and cause massive destruction.
An even larger threat looms -- weapons of mass destruction. One of the most feared scenarios is the use of chemical or biological warfare in terrorist acts. In 1995, the group Aum Shinrikyo released sarin gas, a neurotoxin, in the Tokyo subway. Thousands were wounded and 12 people were killed. The scenario of a nuclear bomb loaded into a suitcase is a consistent theme in novels and movies. Such a bomb could destroy an entire city.
According to the U.S. Department of State, there are three criteria that a group must meet before they can be designated as a foreign terrorist organization:
- The organization must be foreign.
- The organization must engage in terrorist activity as defined in Section 212 (a)(3)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
- The organization's activities must threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security (national defense, foreign relations or economic interests) of the United States.
Foreign Terrorist Organizations
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE)
Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK, MKO, NCR, and many others)
National Liberation Army (ELN)
Palestine Islamic Jihad-Shaqaqi Faction (PIJ)
Palestine Liberation Front-Abu Abbas Faction (PLF)
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC)
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)
Revolutionary Organization 17 November (17 November)
Revolutionary People's Liberation Army/Front (DHKP/C)
Revolutionary People's Struggle (ELA)
Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso, SL)
Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA)|
Source: U.S. Department of State, 10/8/99*
*New list created every two years
Although there are scores of terrorist organizations around the world, there are a few groups that stand out.
An offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, formed in 1987 by Hassan El-Bennan, the Hamas is an Islamic resistance movement. Its primary goal is to replace Israel with an established Islamic Palestinian state. The majority of its terrorist activities have been made against both military personnel and civilians in Israel. Some members have committed suicide bombings with high casualty counts. Although the majority of members are located in the Gaza Strip, there are reports of extended membership and sympathizers in parts of Europe and North America. Actual numbers are not known, but it is believed that there are tens of thousands of supporters worldwide. Hamas is reported to be financed by individuals in Palestine, Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as through fund raising efforts in Europe and North America.
The Party of God, or the Hizballah, is a radical and well-known group from Lebanon. A devout Islamic organization founded by Ayatollah Mahmud Gaffari, the Hizballah seeks an Islamic republic in Lebanon that would bar all non-Islamic people. Known for its anti-Israeli and anti-American sentiments, this group has repeatedly allied itself with Iran and Syria. Thought to number in the thousands, the majority of members are located in Beirut and the southern regions of Lebanon. There are also small factions on the African Continent, in Europe and in parts of North and South America. Twenty-three alleged Hizballah supporters were arrested in the United States -- in Charlotte, Concord and Lexington, North Carolina -- for, among other things, funding a foreign terrorist organization and money laundering. The Hizballah is responsible for the 1993 bombing of both the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 and an attack on the Israeli Embassy in Argentina in 1992.
The Irish Republican Army (IRA, also known as the PIRA -- Provisional Irish Republican Army) is another group that is widely known. It has not been listed as a foreign terrorist organization since the IRA declared a cease-fire in July 1997. Before that declaration, numerous kidnappings, assassinations and bombings were carried out by this group and related organizations. The goal of the IRA has been to put an end to the British control of Northern Ireland. At its height in the mid-1970s, it is believed that the IRA's numbers were in the thousands. Other related organizations are the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP), the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), the People's Liberation Army (PLA), the People's Republican Army (PRA) and Sinn Fein. Allegedly, Libya supplied funding, training and weapons to the IRA. For more information about the IRA and Sinn Fein, click here.
In addition to attacks from foreign terrorists, U.S. citizens are threatened by a number of domestic extremist groups.
Domestic U.S. Terrorists
Domestic terrorism has been a problem since the earliest days of the United States, though the motives and methods have changed substantially over time. Historians note that this activity tends to come in waves. Today, the United States is enduring one of the worst periods of domestic terrorism it has ever seen.
The most prominent domestic terrorists today are violent, anti-government "Patriots." In general, these terrorists claim that the U.S. government is infringing on their individual rights, and/or that the government's policies are criminal and immoral. Such groups may hold that the current government is violating the basic principles laid out by the U.S. Constitution and that a new world order is attempting to enslave humanity. Some groups also believe that the government and other organizations are transgressing the rule of God as described in the Bible. Some groups see themselves as separate nations within the United States, taking the initiative to establish their own laws and common-law courts.
The current trend with these radicals is a structural organization called "leaderless resistance." In this scheme, small groups (five to 10) of anti-government extremists act alone, detached from any central organization. Timothy McVeigh and any accomplices he might have had seem to fit this model, though many believe he was actually part of a larger conspiracy. The basic idea of leaderless resistance is to thwart attempts at suppression. Instead of giving the U.S. government a single target, like-minded anti-government radicals launch a series of separate attacks. There's no easy way to shut down the organization because there is no organization.
Small terrorist bands may join up with larger militia organizations that act within the law, embracing the underlying beliefs of the established group and then taking them to the next level. While established militia groups typically see government forces as the enemy, they do not, as a rule, espouse violent action against U.S. citizens. It is important to note that the vast majority of people who follow the Patriot movement are not violent terrorists.
Most other modern terrorist groups in the United States act in violent opposition to a specific activity. For example, radical pro-life groups have bombed numerous abortion clinics and assassinated abortion doctors, supposedly in defense of unborn babies. Some extreme animal-rights groups vandalize scientific facilities and steal animal test subjects, as a strike against animal research. As with militia groups, most people with these strong beliefs do not resort to violent action. It is only a small minority who express their convictions through terrorist acts.
Finally, there are individual terrorists acting on their own. Theodore Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber, is a good example. He used terrorism to coerce the New York Times and the Washington Post to publish his manifesto, and was later captured as a direct result of that publication.
There are a wide range of terrorist organizations in the world, driven by a variety of causes and beliefs. Terrorism is a worldwide threat, with many faces and sources. To learn more about modern terrorism, and to find out what can be done to fight it, check the links on the next page.
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