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Terrorism Around the World

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  • 0:01 Modern Threats
  • 0:45 Al-Qaeda & the Middle East
  • 2:50 ISIL
  • 3:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you'll explore the major terrorist threats of the modern world, including both al-Qaeda and ISIL. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Modern Threats

In future years, when historians look back and write about this time period, terrorism will be a major buzzword. Terrorism is defined as an act of extreme violence to intimidate an opponent. Terrorist groups have been a dominant factor in modern global politics. They are especially difficult to defeat because most of them are stateless organizations, meaning they are not supported by or tied to any single nation. Thus, they can jump over borders, play foreign powers against each other, and exploit the weaknesses in international security. Although there are many threats in the modern world, in this lesson, we are going to focus on two of the most notorious: al-Qaeda and ISIL.

Al-Qaeda and the Middle East

As Americans, one of the first things that come to mind when we think about terrorism is the violent extremist group al-Qaeda, the group responsible for the World Trade Center attack of 9/11. Al-Qaeda groups rely on a radical interpretation of Islam and were founded in a period of immense violence. Their origins date back to the Cold War, a period when the United States and Soviet Union fought to establish capitalist vs. communist regimes around the world.

The Soviet Union actively intervened in Afghanistan and helped the nation's armed forces fight against rebel insurgencies. The rebels, however, were being supported by anti-Soviet nations, like the United States, who provided billions in weapons and supplies. The war was long and extremely violent, leading to the rise of more radical tactics by the rebels. Out of this group, extremist leaders, like Osama bin Laden, formed al-Qaeda.

Al-Qaeda terrorism is often misunderstood as a purely religious struggle or a hate of large capitalist nations. While they are religiously founded, the motivation for most actions seems to be opposition to foreign powers interfering in the Middle East. Specifically, actions that are considered to be harmful to Muslim populations are opposed through violent attacks meant to impose or intimidate. In other words, acts of terror. Anything from the rise of American business in Middle Eastern oil fields to the support of Israel could be deemed damaging to Muslim interests in the eyes of al-Qaeda.

At its height, al-Qaeda performed major acts of terror in nations across the world. Prior to 9/11, al-Qaeda was responsible for the bombing of the U.S. embassy buildings in 1998. They were also behind the deadly 2002 bombings of Bali, Indonesia. However, after the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011, al-Qaeda dissolved from a centralized, organized unit into smaller groups of independent radicals. With the decline of al-Qaeda, new terror threats have emerged.

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