International terrorism * is distinguished by three characteristics. First, as with other forms of terrorism, it embodies an act which is essentially criminal. It takes the form of assassination or murder, kidnapping, extortion, arson, maiming, or an assortment of other acts which are commonly regarded by all nations as criminal. Second, international terrorism is politically motivated. An extremist political group, convinced of the rightness of its cause, resorts to violent means to advance that cause—means incorporating one or more of the acts cited above. Often the violence is directed against innocents, persons having no personal connection with the grievance motivating the terrorist act. Finally, international terrorism transcends national boundaries, through the choice of a foreign victim or target, the commission of the terrorist act in a foreign country, or an effort to influence the policies of a foreign government. The international terrorist strikes abroad or at a diplomat or other foreigner at home, because he believes he can thereby exert the greatest possible pressure on his own or another government or on world opinion.
The international terrorist may or may not wish to kill his victim or victims. In abduction or hostage-barricade cases he usually does not wish to kill—although he often will find occasion to do so at the outset to enhance the credibility of his threats. In other types of attacks innocent deaths are his specific, calculated, pressure-shock objective. Through brutality and fear he seeks to impress his existence and his cause on the minds of those who can, through action or terror-induced inaction, help him to achieve that cause.
On September 6, 1970, for example, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine hijacked three airliners flying from Europe to New York, diverted them to airports in the Middle East, and moments after their passengers had been evacuated, blew them up. The terrorists' purposes were: to attract world attention to the Palestinian cause; to convince the world that the Palestinians could not be ignored in a Middle East settlement or there would be no lasting settlement; and to demonstrate that they had destructive powers which they were prepared to use, not just against Israel but far afield against other governments and peoples, until their aims were achieved.
*While this paper is limited to a discussion of international terrorism, much of what is said is applicable also to indigenous, or national, terrorism such as that within Northern Ireland, Argentina, and many other countries.