Terrorism and Numerous Islamist Groups

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Terrorism—attacks on civilians and noncombatants for political purposes—has an ancient history. In earlier eras, terrorism was often religiously motivated. In the first century c.e. Jewish Zealots fought the Romans; the Assassins, a Shi’i sect of Islam, killed Muslims who disagreed with their practices in the 11th century; and Hindu Thugees in India killed innocents as part of ritualistic practices from the 7th to the 19th century From the 18th to the late 20th century, most terrorists were motivated by nationalist or political causes. Contemporary terrorism is systematic, political, conveys a message, and generates fear. Terrorism may be committed by a state or by individual groups, although some dispute the use of the term for governmental actions. In English the term terrorism derives from the French revolutionary reign of terror under Maximilien Robespierre, when thousands were sent to their deaths, often at the guillotine, in 1793–94. After World War II nonstate groups often adopted terrorist tactics to achieve political goals. Terrorism was usually the tactic of the weak and disaffected who lacked access to or possession of high technology and sophisticated weapons of war. In the modern era, the media and instant communications provided terrorists with ready platforms to publicize their programs and grievances. Publicity on a global scale permitted terrorists to have a psychological impact far beyond single deeds, thereby greatly magnifying their effects. In their struggles against imperial powers, Third World liberation movements sometimes adopted terrorist tactics by attacking civilians as well as colonial armed forces to achieve national independence. Third World leaders often argued that these tactics were no less “terrifying” or horrific than the bombing of villages, the use of napalm, or the imprisonment of thousands in concentration camps. However, governments tended to apply the term terrorist only to those groups they disliked or opposed, and to ignore or downplay those groups or countries that used similar tactics against their own citizens or enemies. During the 1960s–70s leftist groups were responsible for numerous terrorist attacks in Europe. The Baader Meinhof Gang, militant German anarchists, bombed U.S. military installations and police stations and attempted to assassinate Alexander Haig, the supreme Allied commander of NATO, as well as bankers and media moguls. After most of their leaders had been imprisoned or had died, the Meinhof Gang’s attacks ended in the 1990s. The communist Italian Red Brigades also kidnapped and killed leading establishment figures. In its struggle against the British, the nationalist Provisional irish republican army (IRA) planted bombs in shopping malls and killed Lord Louis mountbatten, first earl Mountbatten of Burma, and narrowly missed killing British prime minister margaret thatcher. Similarly, the nationalist Basque party (ETA) attacked Spanish leaders and placed bombs at targets with heavy civilian use. In the Middle East small Palestinian Marxist-Leninist groups skyjacked civilian airliners in dramatic and well-publicized attacks that brought world attention to the Palestinian national cause. The palestine liberation organization (PLO) also launched terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians as well as the military. At the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, Palestinians attacked and killed Israeli athletes. Israel retaliated by killing Palestinian leaders in Beirut and in Europe. The Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), under Abdullah Ocalan, mounted a separatist insurgency against turkey; the PKK placed bombs on buses and other civilian sites and was outlawed by the Turkish government. In Asia the nationalist tamil tigers in Sri Lanka attacked civilians, and the Japanese Red Army, a leftist paramilitary group, launched attacks in Europe and elsewhere. In 1995 the group Aum Shinrikyo released the poison gas sarin in the Tokyo subway. Terrorism escalated throughout much of South...
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