Terrorism & Counterterrorism I. Conceptualizing Terrorism

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Terrorism & Counterterrorism

I. Conceptualizing Terrorism

II. Drivers of Modern Terrorism

III. Types of Terrorism

IV. Counterterrorism & State Terrorism

V. Terrorism, Counterterrorism, & State Terrorism in Latin America

VI. How should terrorism be confronted?

I. Conceptualizing Terrorism

  • A. U.S. legal definitions

  • State Department [Title 22 of USC Section 2656f(d)]

  • premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

  • unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives

  • Department of Defense

  • unlawful use of -- or threatened use of -- force or violence against individuals or property to coerce or intimidate governments or societies, often to achieve political, religious, or ideological objectives.

  • B. International legal definitions

  • 14 of the 15 treaties avoid defining terrorism in general and expressly exclude scenarios of fully domestic terrorism

  • Instead, they make certain potential terrorist tactics illegal when committed by non-state actors

  • FIRST: 1963 Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed On Board Aircraft
  • 1997 International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings
  • 2005 Int’l Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism
  • 2010 Convention on the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Relating to International Civil Aviation
  • 2010 Protocol to the (1971) Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft
  • 1999 Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism

  • In this instance, the tactic being outlawed is financing terrorism – thus, a more general definition of terrorism was essential

  • Terrorism is “an act intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to a civilian, or to any other person not taking an active part in the hostilities in a situation of armed conflict, when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act.”
  • This treaty continued the prior practice of exempting purely domestic terrorism

  • draft Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism

  • Negotiations began in 1996 and have been stalemated since 2002

  • "1. Any person commits an offence within the meaning of this Convention if that person, by any means, unlawfully and intentionally, causes: (a) Death or serious bodily injury to any person; or (b) Serious damage to public or private property, including a place of public use, a State or government facility, a public transportation system, an infrastructure facility or the environment; or (c) Damage to property, places, facilities, or systems referred to in paragraph1 (b) of this article, resulting or likely to result in major economic loss, when the purpose of the conduct, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a Government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act."
  • Most affluent countries want armed forces excluded from the convention

  • Many low- and middle-income countries want state and non-state combatants excluded in situations of “foreign occupation”

  • C. Scholarly Definitions

  • Both Alex Schmid & Walter Lacquer (in separate studies) identified over 100 definitions…

  • Consider Bruce Hoffman’s 1998 definition:

  • By distinguishing terrorists from other types of criminals and terrorism from other forms of crime, we come to appreciate that terrorism is

  • ineluctably political in aims and motives;

  • violent -- or, equally important, threatens violence;

  • designed to have far-reaching psychological repercussions beyond the immediate victim or target;

  • conducted by an organization with an identifiable chain of command or conspiratorial cell structure (whose members wear no uniform or identifying insignia); and

  • perpetrated by a subnational group or non-state entity.”

“We may therefore now attempt to define terrorism as the deliberate creation and exploitation of fear through violence or the threat of violence in the pursuit of political change. All terrorist acts involve violence or the threat of violence. Terrorism is specifically designed to have far-reaching psychological effects beyond the immediate victim(s) or object of the terrorist attack. It is meant to instill fear within, and thereby intimidate, a wider `target audience' that might include a rival ethnic or religious group, an entire country, a national government or political party, or public opinion in general. Terrorism is designed to create power where there is none or to consolidate power where there is very little. Through the publicity generated by their violence, terrorists seek to obtain the leverage, influence and power they otherwise lack to effect political change on either a local or an international scale.”

II. Drivers of Modern Terrorism

  • Frustration over unmet, longstanding grievances

  • e.g. Northern Ireland, Basque Country, South Africa, Palestine

  • Resistance to cultural globalization

  • Leveraging of telecommunication globalization

  • Reaction to economic injustice

  • Response to government repression

  • Anger over absence of democracy

  • Unhappiness re: foreign states’ actions

  • Breeding ground provided by failed state scenario

  • Fund for Peace: Failed States Index

  • http://www.fundforpeace.org/

III. Types of Terrorism

  • ARENA: Domestic v. Global Terrorism

  • As noted earlier, existing international law focuses on the global dimensions of domestic terrorism and on outright global terrorism


  • Ethnonationalist autonomy


  • Political equality


  • Socioeconomic equality


  • Pursuit of religious purity


  • State terrorism: repression of unwanted elements

  • Genocide – EXAMPLES?

  • Political silence – the above plus many more situations

IV. Counterterrorism & State Terrorism

  • “…the conventional military forces of a state are marshaled against…[a] guerrilla combatant & may be an internal or external adversary.”

  • “Assassinations…[target] a single person or a specified group of people is designated for elimination.”

  • “Torture is used…as an instrument of intimidation, interrogation, and humiliation.”

  • “…covert operations include assassinations, sabotage, kidnapping….to wage low-level & secretive war against an internal or external adversary.”

  • “…ongoing strikes against targets affiliated with a single person or a specified group of people.”

  • “Repressive responses include…raids by special operations units, air strikes, or other actions….to destroy or severely disrupt….”

V. Terrorism, Counterterrorism, & State Terrorism in Latin America

  • A. Terrorism in Latin America

  • 1960s and 1970s

  • Major rural guerrilla operations in Colombia and in much of Central America; smaller movements elsewhere in Latin America

  • “Urban guerrilla” operations in much of South America

  • Kidnappings of wealthy residents
  • Bank robberies
  • Kidnappings & executions of some public figures
  • Attacks on security forces & thefts of weapons & munitions
  • 1980s

  • Peruvian guerrillas (esp. Shining Path) shift to urban guerrilla tactics (& then face a massive crackdown in the 1990s)

  • 1990s and the early 21st century

  • Colombian guerrillas maintain territorial control but shift to urban guerrilla tactics (& drug trafficking) to raise money & to harass the government

V. (cont.)

  • B. Urban Guerrilla Operations in Argentina

  • Late 1950s

  • After Juan Perón is overthrown in 1955, some Peronists take up arms against to harass the military government

  • Late 1960s & early 1970s

  • Leftist Peronist groups – After a new military regime forms in 1966, some young people join the Montoneros & the Shirtless Command

  • The Montoneros are the largest & most active group
  • 1970 abduction & execution of Gen. Pedro Aramburu
  • 1975 kidnapping & random of Jorge Born yields U$S 64 million
  • Leftist non-Peronist groups – After two attempts at rural insurgency failed in the early 1960s, the People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP) formed in 1968 in affiliation with one wing of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party (PRT)

  • The ERP failed to launch a rural insurgency & turned to urban guerrilla tactics in the early 1970s
  • Freed over 200 imprisoned guerrillas from Trelew Prison in August 1972 – including ERP leader Mario Roberto Santucho

V.C. The “Dirty War” in Argentina (1976-1983)


  • The military government uses force & forced abductions between 1966-1973; many (but not all detainees) enter the justice system

  • A series of elected Peronist governments from 1973-1976 give increasing latitude to security forces over time and organize the paramilitary Argentine Anticommunist Alliance (AAA)


  • The military takes power (again) on 3/24/76 to launch a “Military Process of National Reorganization”

  • Elections & civil liberties are suspended

  • The country is divided into 5 defense zones

  • Each has a task force dedicated to repression of guerrillas, insurgent ideas, and presumed guerrillas & presumed sympathizers

  • Each task force has various task groups that work with autonomy to identify & abduct people for detention or elimination

  • Somewhere between 10,000 and 40,000 people are “disappeared” between 1976 & 1983

  • 200 to 800 people were killed by guerrilla activists (1968-1983)

  • Many times that many people are detained & tortured

V.D. Counterterrorism & State Terrorism Revisited: What distinguishes state terrorism?

  • “There are many people who are horrified by the cold & impious nature of the executions, and it’s reasonable that they feel that way. Killing involves taking in one’s hands a decision that only should be made by God.
    But those same people go to the movies to enjoy the actions & applaud the adventures of Agent 007. One could ask: what is the difference between an executioner of the AAA & the glamorous James Bond?”
    Horacio Paino, co-founder of the Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance (AAA), August 1984

Why might one say that the Argentine government conducted counterterrorism & why might one call it state terrorism?

VI How should terrorism be confronted?

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