The famous French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) wrote in his book on the origins of government, The Social Contract (1762), that no laws are binding unless agreed upon by the people. The idea became one of the chief influences that brought about the French Revolution in 1789. During the revolution some small groups of radical factions supported rule by violence and terror.
“The word “terrorism” first became popular during the French Revolution, when the régime de la terreur was initially viewed as a positive political system that used fear to remind citizens of the necessity of virtue, ” wrote Raymond Bonner in the New York Times. “The use of violence to “educate” people about ideological issues has continued, but it has taken on decidedly negative connotations – and has become predominantly, though not exclusively, a tactic deployed by those who do not have the powers of state at their disposal.”
The leader of the radical faction during the French Revolution, Jean-Paul Marat (1743-93), fanatically supported violence and terror. At the peak of his power he was stabbed to death by a young girl, Charlotte Corday.
During the Spanish Civil War in 1936 four rebel columns advanced on Madrid, supported by rebel sympathizers from within the city. The Fascist general Gonzalo Sierro described the sympathizers as the “fifth column.” The “fifth column” engaged in espionage and sabotage. The term still refers to any group attempting to undermine a nation from within its borders.
The face of modern terrorism
Rule by terror is as old as human history. War has never been humane. Terrorists also call their targets “terrorists.” But what is a terrorist? What is the difference between a liberation army and a terrorist group? The aim of liberation armies is to claim or reclaim rule with the wider support of the people, to liberate people. (Many groups falsely claim to be liberation armies.) Those who use terror to rule or attempt to rule against the will of people are terrorists.
Modern terrorism sprang from the unstable political and social climate of the 1960s when colonialism finally collapsed. The event that is considered the beginning of modern terrorism was the hijacking of one of Israel’s El Al passenger jets in Rome on 23 July 1968 by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Almost instantly terrorist groups from around the world gained international attention.
In their early years terrorists robbed banks and kidnapped people for ransom to obtain funds. Although such methods are still used by terrorists in the Philippines, Columbia and elsewhere, modern terrorist groups are well-funded and well-organized across the world, operating as foreign fighters. They find harbor and support in countries such as Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Sudan and Syria and often use forged or stolen passports to reach their target destinations. There is thought to be more than 500 terrorist networks operating around the world.
1972 – September, 5: A Palestinian terrorist group called Black September murder 2 Israeli athletes and kidnap 9 others at the Munich Olympics. In the shootout with German police the 5 Arab terrorists are killed. The 9 hostages were killed when one of the terrorists threw a hand grenade into their helicopter. Black September emerged from the guerrilla group al-Fatah, which was founded by Abu Jihad and Yasir Arafat in the 1959.
1974 – September, 8: An explosion on Trans World Airlines Boeing 707 near Kefallinia, Greece caused the airplane to plunge into the Ionian Sea – 88 killed.
1977 – December, 4: Terrorist shoot the pilots of a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 737, the airliner crashes near Johor Baharu – 100 killed.
1983 – September, 23: A bomb exploded as the Gulf Air Boeing 737 prepares to land near Abu Dhabi – 111 killed.
1983 – October 25: Lebanese suicide bomber attacks an American Marine barracks in Beirut – 216 US Marines and hundreds of civilians killed.
1987 – November, 29: A bomb in the cargo bay of a Korean Air Boeing 707 exploded in mid-air – 115 killed.
1988 – December, 12: Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York exploded in mid-air over Lockerbie, Scotland. Two terrorists, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah were eventually handed over by Libya to Scottish authorities in 1994 but are appealing their case – 270 killed, including 189 Americans.
1989 – September, 19: A Union de Transports Ariens DC-10 exploded over the Tenere Desert, Niger. Libyan and Syrian terrorists are implicated – 170 killed.
1993 – February, 26: Muslim extremists detonate a 550 kilogram (1,200 pound) bomb in the parking basement of the World Trade Center, New York – 6 killed and thousands injured.
1998 – August, 7: Bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania – 257 killed and some 5,000 wounded.
1999 – July: Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Ladin issues a declaration of international war on the West and Christian states.
2001 – September, 11: Muslim extremists on a suicide mission hijack four airliners; one airliner crashes, one is flown into the Pentagon and two are flown into the towers of the World Trade Center – more than 2,000 killed. The United States and her allies declare war on international terrorism.
2004 – March, 11: Al Qaeda members from Morocco, Pakistan, Spain and Syria detonate 10 bombs on the Madrid train line in Spain, killing 191 people and injuring more than 600.
2004 – September, 1: Chechen Muslim terrorists seize a school in Besan, Russia. Russian security forces charge the school after explosions are heard and during the shootout 334 hostages were killed, including 186 children.
2005 – July, 7: London bombings – 3 Muslim suicide bombers on tube trains and 1 Muslim suicide bomber on a bus kill 52 people and injure 700.
2008 – November, 26: 10 Pakistani Muslim terrorists carry out a series of 12 attacks over 4 days in Mumbai, India, killing 164 people, injuring more than 300.
2010 – March, 29: Two female Chechen Muslim suicide bombers kill 40 people and injure more than 100 on the Moscow metro rail system.
2011 – January, 1: A car bomb placed in front of the Coptic Orthodox church, Alexandria, Egypt by Muslim terrorists, thought to be sponsored by Al Qaeda, kill 23 Christians, injuring 97.
2012 – January, 20: Muslim terrorist organization Boko Haram kill 185 people in Kano, Nigeria.
2013 – April, 15: Two Muslim Chechen brothers explode two pressure cooker bombs along the Boston Marathon route, killing 3 and injuring 264.
2014 – December, 2: Al-Shabaab jihadist kill 36 non-Muslim miners at a stone quarry in Mandera, Kenya.
2015 – January 7: Two Muslim brothers kill 12 people and wound 11 others at the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, France.
2015 – April 2: Al-Shabaab terrorists take 700 hostage at the Garissa University College in Garissa, Kenya. They free the Muslims and kill 147 Christians and wounding 79.
2015 – October 31: A group from the so-called Islamic State claim responsibility for the bombing of Russian Metrojet Flight 9268 over the Sinai, Egypt which killed all 224 passengers.
2015 – November 15: Terrorists from the so-called Islamic State in Syria kill 129 people, injuring many more in attacks across Paris, France.
See the updated list of terrorist incidents on Wikipedia.
Most notorious terrorists
Before Osama bin Ladin could claim the title of most notorious terrorist, Carlos the Jackal was the most wanted man in the world. A Venezuelan, his real name was Ilich Ramirez Sanchez. In 1975, he kidnapped 11 oil ministers of OPEC for ransom of $20 million, was involved in Black September at the Munich Olympics in 1972, the hijacking of an Air France plane in 1976, attempted assassination of US President Ronald Reagan in 1981, and numerous other incidents. He was captured in Khartoum, Sudan on 14 August 1994 and handed over to French authorities.
Osama bin Ladin was assassinated by US Navy Seals on 1 May 2011.
The terrorists involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing: Ahmad Ajaj, Nidal Ayyad, Mahmed Abouhalima, Abdul Rahman Yasin and Ramzi Ahmed Yousef.
Why did the World Trade Center towers collapse?
Each of the WTC towers had a double-strength structure consisting of a concrete core supported by a steel structure around the outside. The towers were designed to withstand the strongest winds and bombs. However, the explosion of the 94,000 litres (24,000 gallons) of aircraft fuel created temperatures in excess of 800C (1,470F), enough to have melted the steel, it was reported. The weight of the top collapsing floors caused the floors below them to implode one by one very fast.
Thousands more people could have lost their lives had the tower not had the double structure. The architects of the WTC, however, maintain that the buildings were designed to withstand such an attack, giving rise to 9/11 conspiracy theories.
“The purpose of terror is to terrorise” – Lenin (born Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov 1870 – died 1924).
Sources include: Top 10 of Everything 2001 by Russell Ash, published by Dorling Kindesley 2001, New Scientist, 2001, Compton’s Encyclopaedia, published by Broderbund 1998. Post updated 2015.