What Is Terrorism? - Definition, History, Types & Statistics

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

In this lesson, learn what constitutes terrorism. Review the definition, examine the history, and explore the types of terrorism that exist in the world today. You will also take a look at 2013 statistics to see how terrorist attacks are occurring across the globe.

Definition of Terrorism

If you ask anyone you know, it is likely that they will be able to recall exactly where they were on September 11, 2001. This sad day in American history was a defining moment in the war on terrorism that exists in the United States today.

Terrorism consists of criminal activity. There is no single definition of terrorism since it encompasses a range of activity all designed to intimidate and instill fear. However, one well-known definition of terrorism is in the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Policy and Counterterrorism Guidelines. This definition states that terrorism is ''a violent act or an act dangerous to human life in violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any state to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.''

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  • 0:02 Definition of Terrorism
  • 1:00 Types of Terrorism
  • 1:33 History of Terrorism
  • 3:23 Terrorism Statistics
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Types of Terrorism

There are two types of terrorism. Initially, there is domestic terrorism. Domestic terrorism includes acts of terror which are committed by those who are located in and operate from the United States. Moreover, the efforts of a domestic terrorist are solely aimed towards the United States. Conversely, international terrorism is a type of terrorism which includes acts of terror committed by individuals affiliated with foreign countries. The efforts of international terrorism is typically to further a political or social objective.

History of Terrorism

In the 1960s and the 1970s, domestic terrorism saw an increase in the United States. Groups known as the Black Panthers, the Weathermen, and other radical groups frequently challenged authorities. Moreover, in the 1980s, international terrorism began to grow. For instance, terrorism in Israel began to grow with bombings occurring frequently. The war in Lebanon also started, which brought with it terrorist acts which shocked the world.

In 1993, the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City started a new era of a threat of international terrorism activity in the United States. Then, in 1995, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. This was known as homegrown terrorism, since these were individuals born and raised in the United States seeking to terrorize fellow Americans. Thereafter, in 1996, the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski (an individual terrorist), was arrested and charged for killing three and injuring twenty-three individuals. Kaczynski created bombs he sent through the postal system and demonstrated how a single person can create a threat of terrorism.

In 1998, Islamic terrorist Osama bin Laden attacked American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing American citizens. Then, in 2001, bin Laden successfully funded and organized the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing approximately 3,000 individuals.

Currently, cyberterrorism, which is terrorism through the use of computers and the internet, is a primary focus of law enforcement's efforts. There are concerns that the nation's economic, business and military systems may be attacked. Therefore, there are increased efforts to minimize the risks.

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