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Terrorism refers to the calculated use of violence or the threat of violence, often against the civilian population, to instill fear in an audience for purposes of obtaining political goals. Terrorism can be committed by individuals or non-government groups; some consider governments capable of terrorism as well. One who carries out such acts is a terrorist, though that term is often used to describe political dissidents of all kinds.

As defined by the United States Department of Defense, terrorism is a very specific type of violence, although the term is often applied to other kinds of violence felt to be unacceptable. Typical terrorist actions include assassinations, kidnappings, bombings, drive-by shootings, lynchings, hijackings, and random killing. It is a political, not military, strategy and is generally conducted by groups not strong enough to mount open assaults, although it is used in peace, conflict, and war. The intent of terrorism is to induce a state of fear in an audience (not its victims) in order to cause the audience (or its government) to alter its behavior.

Infamous acts of terrorism include the destruction of the World Trade Center as well as the Omagh Bombing in Northern Ireland, and the Oklahoma City bombing. See terrorist incidents.

Some famous terrorist organizations of the 20th century include the [Italian Red Brigade]?, the Irgun gang and the Stern gang, the Irish Republican Army, the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Ku Klux Klan, the Peruvian Shining Path, the Islamic Jihad, the Weathermen, and al-Qaeda. Terrorism is extremely difficult for governments to control or prevent, especially if its practitioners are willing to risk or embrace certain death in the process. A few governments such as Iraq, Yemen, and Libya, and the countries that supported the Taliban regime in Afghanistan have been accused of actually promoting or protecting, as they share with views, ideologies, religious intransigence, or objectives with certain terrorist groups.

Terrorism has been used throughout recorded history at least as far back as ancient Greece. Prior to the 19th century terrorists would give immunity to innocents not involved in the conflict. For example, Russian radicals intent on the assassination of Tsar Alexander II cancelled several actions out of concern it would injure women, children, elderly, or other innocents. Over the past two centuries, however, as states have become increasingly bureaucratized, the death of a single individual leader did not produce the political changes that the terrorists desired, so they turned to more indirect methods to cause general anxiety and loss of confidence in the government.

Today terrorism's use has increased among the alienated due to the psychological impact it can have on the public through the extensive media coverage that it can generate. Terrorism is often the last resort of the desperate, and can be and has been conducted by small as well as large organizations. Historically, groups may resort to terrorism when they believe all other avenues, including economics, protest, public appeal, and organized warfare, hold no hope of success (also see rioting?). This suggests that perhaps one effective way to combat terrorism is to ensure that in any case where there is a population feeling oppressed, that at least some avenue of gaining attention to problems is kept open, even if the population in question is in the minority on an opinion. Another reason to engage in terrorism include attempts to gain or consolodate power either by instilling fear in the population to be controlled (see also racism and intolerance?), or by stimulating another group into becoming a hardened foe, thereby setting up polarizing us-versus-them dynamics (also see nationalism and fascism). A third common reason to engage in terrorism is to demoralize and paralyze one's enemy with fear; this sometimes works, but can also stiffen the enemy's resolve. Often, a particular group engaged in terrorist activities can be characterised by several of these reasons. In general, retribution against terrorists can result in an escalating tit-for-tat; however, it is often felt that if the consequences of engaging in terrorism are not swift and punishing, the deterrent to other terrorist groups becomes diminished.

Terrorism relies heavily on surprise and often occurs when and where least expected. Terrorist attacks can trigger sudden transitions into conflict or war. It is not uncommon after a terrorist attack for a number of unassociated groups to claim responsibility for the action; this may be considered "free publicity" for the organization's aims or plans. Because of its anonymous and often self-sacrificial nature, it is not uncommon for the reasons behind the action to remain unknown for a considerable period.

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 three important Security Council resolutions dealing with Libya's conduct in connection with the 1988 sabotage of Pan Am 103, 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(s) where the offense takes place, or in some cases the state of nationality of the perpetrator or victim).

1. Convention on Offenses and Certain Other Acts Committed On Board Aircraft (Tokyo Convention, agreed 9/63--safety of aviation):

2. Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft (Hague Convention, agreed 12/70--aircraft hijackings):

3. 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):

4. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against Internationally Protected Persons (agreed 12/73--protects senior government officials and diplomats):

5. Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (Nuclear Materials Convention, agreed 10/79--combats unlawful taking and use of nuclear material):

6. International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages (Hostages Convention, agreed 12/79):

7. Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence at Airports Serving International Civil Aviation (agreed 2/88--extends and supplements Montreal Convention):

8. Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, (agreed 3/88--applies to terrorist activities on ships):

9. 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):

10. 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)

11. 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):

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 confrence to be held seven years after the entry into force of the Statute, which will consider (among other things) an extension of the court's jurisdiction to include terrorism.

Related links:

See also: The Terrorist (film), Terrorist groups, guerrilla, doublespeak


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