Contemporary Terrorism: An Overview

By Alexander, Yonah | National Forum, Fall 1992 | Go to article overview

Contemporary Terrorism: An Overview


Alexander, Yonah, National Forum


Terrorism--the calculated unlawful utilization of physical force and psychological intimidation by substate or clandestine state agents directed against innocent targets, primarily intended to achieve social, economic, political, strategic, or other objectives--is not new in the history of humanity.

Tragically, the failure of the international community to fully recognize terrorism as criminal behavior and as low-intensity warfare has encouraged the expansion of terrorist activity in the last two decades. There are thousands of terrorist groups that have caused great damage, and many have had state sponsors in the process. Terrorist operations have been cheap to activate and expensive to counter.

The Actors. Although they are nourished by various political and social roots and sustained by wide-ranging ideologies, terrorist groups have nevertheless a common disposition: contempt for and hostility toward the moral and legal norms of the domestic and international order, and glorification of violent deeds for the sake of the causes they seek to advance. Terrorists regard themselves as beyond the limits of any society and system of government and, consequently, not bound by any obligations and constraints, except those they have imposed on themselves for purposes of subrevolutionary and revolutionary success.

More specifically, these indigenous subnational groups, acting in most cases independently but sometimes as proxies of foreign governments, have proliferated throughout the world. Seeking to achieve ideological, nationalist, or other goals (e.g., single-issue political objectives as exemplified by animal-rights extremists), these groups have varying objectives.

In the United States, some of the groups that have been involved in terrorist activities or have supported a policy of violence over the past two decades are the African People's Socialist Party (APSP); American Indian Movement (AIM); Animal Liberation Front (ALF); Armed Forces of National Liberation (AFLN); Aryan Nations; Black Liberation Army (BLA); Boricuan People's Army (Macheteros, EPB); El Rukns; the Order; Posse Comitatus; United Freedom Front; and the Weather Underground.

These groups represent a great variety of ideologies and political and social goals. For example, among the more active groups is the Aryan Nations, which is probably the most violent right-wing group in the United States. It provides an umbrella to maintain ties among affiliate groups, such as the Christian Identity Movement, the Order, the Covenant and the Sword, the Arm of the Lord, and the Ku Klux Klan. It is committed to white supremacy, as well as the elimination of Jews and all other minorities.

In Europe, a multitude of ideological and nationalist groups exist. They include the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA); Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA); Fighting Communist Cells (CCC); Corsican National Liberation Front (FLNC); Direct Action (DA); First of October Anti-Fascist Resistance Groups (GRAPO); Iraultza; Irish National Liberation Army (INLA); Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide (JCAG); Popular Forces 25 April (PF-25); Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA); Red Army Faction (RAF); Red Army for the Liberation of Catalonia (ERCA); Red Brigades (RB); Revolutionary Cells (RZ); Revolutionary Organization 17 November (17 November); and Terra Lliure (TL).

Among the major active European groups is the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), also known as the Provos, an offshoot of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). PIRA was formed in 1969 to force Great Britain to evacuate Ulster and then to unify Ireland under a Marxist government. Acting as a clandestine armed wing of the Sinn Fein (the legal political arm of the IRA), PIRA operates not only in Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic, and Great Britain, but also on the continent in Western Europe.

In the Middle East, the list of terrorist groups includes the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO); Al-Daawa; Arab Organization of 15 May; Atonement and Flight (Tafkir wal Hijra); Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP); Fatah; Forghan; Grey Wolves; Hizballah (Islamic Jihad); Kurdish Worker's Party (PKK); Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Faction (LARF); Organization of the Armed Arab Struggle (OAAS); Palestine Liberation Front (PLF); Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO); Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ); Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP); Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC); Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-Special Command (PFLP-SC); Popular Struggle Front (PSF); and Sai'qa. …

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