One of the most active criminal groups in the world is the Mafia. This criminal organisation originated as a secret society in thirteenth century Sicily. By extortion, 'protection' ransom and blackmail, the Mafia formed an immensely powerful organisation, which by the nineteenth and twentieth centuries had become developed in New York assisted by the rapid increase in Italian emigrants.
A potential development in terrorism is that terrorist groups will become more like traditional criminal organisations. There are clear parallels between Mafia-controlled kidnappings of executives for ransom in Italy, long a common form of crime in that country, and the 'politically-inspired' kidnappings of foreign executives in Latin America.
Terrorist tactics are simple but effective from the practitioner's point of view. Bombing, kidnapping, assassination, the seizing of facilities and conveyances and maiming are not the monopoly of the terrorist. They are the trade of the criminal, the violently deranged and even the wartime saboteur. The distinctions lie not in the acts themselves, since murder, assassination and execution are all forms of homicide, but in the motivation for the deed, and in the selection of the victims. Carlos Marighella points out the distinction between guerrillas and outlaws and he cautions others, like Regis Debray, against a group's losing sight of its politics and becoming a mafia.
Many terrorist groups have attracted criminal elements at one time or another. Some originally bona fide politicians later turned to crime; others such as the Mafia were predominantly criminal from the beginning, but also had political interests. The dividing line between politics and crime was by no means always obvious and clear-cut: criminals were quite often good patriots or instinctive revolutionaries (or reactionaries) and they certainly had useful knowledge to pass on to the terrorists. But they would not accept discipline and their presence caused friction, corruption and eventually demoralisation. The temptation to use the loot from ransom for private gain or to settle personal accounts was overwhelming.
Whatever the ideological reasons for terrorism the nature of it is criminal activity as in many cases it involves murder.
Governments actively condone terrorist acts of violence to keep citizens under control by using terror policies. In turn revolutionary or freedom fighters can adopt different methods of terror to oppose the political establishment. Not only South Africa has witnessed this activity, but also many countries in Latin America and rogue states such as Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria and Zaire.
In this era of globalisation, states have the money, technology, information systems, intelligence operations and support that make state terrorism so feared around the world. The events of September 11 brought home the ultimate in terrorism on the USA in its major city.
See also: Crime; Debray; Marighella; Organised Crime.