The Four Waves of Modern Terror: International Dimensions
David C. Rapoport, UCLA Geneva September 2011
September 11, 2001 is the most destructive day in the long bloody
history of terrorism. It led President George W. Bush to declare a “war
(that) would not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been
found, stopped and defeated”.2 But his declaration was not altogether
unique. Exactly 100 years before, when an anarchist assassinated President
McKinley in September 1901, his successor President Theodore Roosevelt
called for a crusade to exterminate terrorism everywhere.
Will we succeed now? No one knows, but we can better appreciate
the difficulties ahead by examining the history of non-state terror which is
deeply implanted in our culture. That history offers parallels worth
pondering, and provides a perspective for understanding the uniqueness of
9/11 and its aftermath.
To this end, I will examine modern terror from its
initial appearance, emphasizing continuities and change, particularly with
respect to international ingredients.
The Wave Phenomenon
Modern terror began in Russia in the 1880s. Within a decade it
appeared in Western Europe, the Balkans, and Asia, and in a generation the
wave was complete. Anarchists initiated the activity, and their primary
strategy- assassination campaigns against prominent officials- was adopted
by virtually all contemporary groups, even those with nationalist aims in the
Balkans and India.
Significant successful examples of secular rebel terror existed earlier,
but each was specific to a particular time and country. The Sons of Liberty
made striking contributions to the American independence struggle as did
Ku Klux Klan (KKK) to the South‟s ability to segregate blacks after the
Civil War, but neither group had international emulators.
The “anarchist wave” was history‟s first global terrorist experience;
beginning in 1880 and completed in the 1920s. Three similar, consecutive,
and overlapping expressions followed. The “anti colonial wave” began in
the 1920s and lasted about forty years. The “new left wave” of the 1960s
followed subsequently and diminished significantly as the century closed
leaving a few groups active in Nepal, Spain, the U.K., Peru and Columbia.
1979 saw the “religious wave” emerged; and if it follows the history of its
predecessors, it will disappear by 2025, and a new one then may appear.
Academics and governments focus on organizations for good reasons.
Organizations launch terror campaigns, and governments always are
primarily concerned with disabling those organizations.
Moreover, we are
obsessed with contemporary groups and contemporary events, and thus are
less sensitive to a wave
which requires considerable time to complete its
What is a “wave”? It is a cycle of activity in a given time period with
expansion and contraction phases. Those activities occur in many
countries, driven by a common predominant energy shaping the relationship
of participating groups. As their names suggest, a different energy drives
A wave‟s name reflects its dominant special feature. Nationalist
organizations, for example, appear in all waves, but each wave shapes its
national elements differently. In the first wave anarchist and nationalist
groups used the same tactics and sometimes groups trained each other.
Third wave nationalist groups displayed profoundly left-wing aspirations,
and religious pressures shape nationalism in the fourth wave. All groups in
the second wave were nationalist but we named the wave anti-colonial
because colonial powers were the enemy, an enemy which had become
ambivalent about retaining their colonial status and helps explain why the
second wave produced the first successes. In other waves that ambivalence
is absent or very weak which is why their nationalist groups rarely succeed.
A wave is composed of organizations, but the two have different life
rhythms. Organizations normally break up before the wave originally
associated with them does. “New left” organizations were particularly
striking in this respect, generally lasting only two years. Nonetheless, the
wave contained sufficient energy to create successor groups. When its
energy cannot inspire new organizations, a wave disappears. Resistance,
political concessions, and changes in the perception of generations explain
Occasionally, an organization survives its original wave. The Irish
Republican Army (IRA) is the oldest modern terrorist organization
emerging first in 1916, though not as a terror organization.
It then fought
five campaigns (the 1950 struggle used guerrilla tactics)
in two successive
waves. At least two of its offshoots, the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA
are still active. The PLO founded by the Arab League in 1964 to serve as a
military element in various Arab armies became independent in 1967 as a
terrorist organization. In time it became the pre-eminent body of the “New
Left Wave” because of its international connections even though it was
primarily a nationalist group. More recently, PLO elements became active
in the fourth wave, even though the organization began as a wholly secular
group. When an organization transcends its particular wave or origin, it
reflects the new wave‟s influences, thereby posing new special problems for
the group and its constituencies.
The first three waves lasted about a generation each, a time frame in
which specific dreams inspiring parents lose their attractiveness for their
Although the resistance of those attacked is crucial in explaining
why terror organizations rarely succeed, the wave length duration also
suggests that the wave has its own momentum. Over time fewer
organizations survive because the problematic nature of the struggle
becomes increasingly manifest. The pattern is familiar to students of
revolutionary states, i.e., France, the Soviet Union, and Iran. The inheritors
of the revolution simply do not value it in the same way its creators did. In
the Anti-Colonial Wave, the process is also relevant to the colonial powers.
A subsequent generation found it much easier to discard colonialism. The
wave pattern calls our attention to crucial political themes in the general
world culture-themes that distinguish different generations.
Why did the first wave occur when it did? There are many reasons.
Technology developments were crucial. New communication and
transportation patterns materialized. The telegraph, daily mass-newspapers,
and railroads flourished in the late 19th century. Events in one country were
known elsewhere in a day or so. Prominent Russian terrorists traveled
extensively helping to inspire sympathies and groups elsewhere; sometimes
as the journeys of Michael Bakunin indicate they had more influence abroad
than at home. Peter Proudhon spent more time in France than in Russia.
Mass transportation enabled mass emigrations to create diaspora
communities that affected politics in both their “new” and “old” countries.
Subsequent innovations continued to shrink time and space. The second
technological change was the development of dynamite introduced for
peaceful engineering and industrial purposes and became easily accessible
for other purposes. Producing bombs was a “comparatively simple
process...and bombs were easily portable, much safer to us than earlier
explosives, and their effects were controllable.”
The bomb made it possible for small underground groups to engage in
terror. Before that, as the Sons of Liberty and the KKK indicate, non-state
terror was a mob activity. Russian writers created a strategy for terror, for
successors to use, improve and transmit. Sergei Nechaev; Nicholas
Mozorov, Peter Kropotkin, and Serge Stepniak were leading contributors.
The Sons of Liberty and KKK had no emulators partly because they made
no effort to explain their tactics. Likewise the ancient religious terrorists
always stayed within their own religious tradition, the source of their
justifications and binding precedents. Each religious tradition produced its
own kind of terrorist, and sometimes the tactics were so uniform that they
appear as a form of religious ritual.
A comparison of Nechaev‟s Revolutionary Catechism with Bin
Laden‟s training manual, Military Studies in the Jihad Against The
Tyrants shows that they share a paramount desire to become more efficient
by learning from experiences of friends and enemies alike.
difference is the role of women. Nechaev considers them “priceless assets;”
they were crucial leaders and participants in the first wave. Bin Laden
dedicates his book to protecting the Muslim woman, but ignores what
experience can tell us about female terrorists. Initially women did not
participate in al Qaeda, but al Qaeda in Iraq gave them a minor role.
Sri Lanka, Chechnya, and Palestine in the fourth wave they were more
Each wave produces major technical works that reflect the wave‟s
special properties and contribute to a common effort to formulate a
“science” of terror. Between Nechaev and Bin Laden, there were inter alia,
Georges Grivas, Guerrilla War and Carlos Marighella, Mini-Manual of
the Urban Guerrilla, in the second and third waves.
“Revolution,” the over-riding aim in every wave, is understood in
Revolutionaries create a new source of political
legitimacy, and most often that means national self-determination, a
principle introduced by the French Revolution which also made the term
terror part of our political vocabulary.
The definition of rule of “the
people” a crucial element of the revolutionary vocabulary has never been
(perhaps never can be) clear and fixed; it provokes recurring conflict even
when it is accepted everywhere. Revolution can also mean a radical
reconstruction of authority to eliminate all forms of inequality, a cardinal
theme in the first and third waves. It can mean a new source of legitimacy;
sacred texts or revelations dominate the fourth wave.
This article focuses on the global context, emphasizing five
ingredients: terrorist organizations, diaspora populations, states,
sympathetic foreign publics, and finally supra-national organizations.
THE “FIRST WAVE”: CREATING A DOCTRINE
The creators of modern terrorism inherited a world where
revolutionaries, depending on pamphlets and meetings, suddenly seemed
obsolete. The masses, Nechaev said, regarded traditional revolutionaries as
“idle word spillers”!
A new form of communication, “Propaganda by the
Deed”, was needed; it would be heard and command respect because the
revolutionary‟s act involved serious personal risks, signifying deep
The anarchist analysis contained four major points; 1) society has
huge reservoirs of latent ambivalence and hostility, 2) social conventions
were devised to muffle and diffuse antagonisms by generating guilt and
providing channels for settling grievances and securing personal amenities,
3) one can demonstrate that these conventions are simply historical
creations, acts now perceived as immoral our children will hail as noble
efforts to liberate humanity, 4) terror is the quickest and most effective
means to destroy those social conventions. Perpetrators free themselves
from the paralyzing grip of guilt to become different kinds of people, and
terror forces government respond in ways that undermine the principles
governments claim to respect and defend.
Dramatic action repeated again
and again would invariably polarize society, and revolution inevitably
A striking incident inspired decades of turbulence. In 1878 Vera
Zasulich wounded a Russian police commander who abused political
prisoners. When the judge asked why she threw her weapon to the floor,
she proclaimed she was a “terrorist not a criminal”.
The jury unexpectedly
freed her, and crowds greeted the verdict with thunderous applause.
A successful campaign entailed learning how to fight and die. The
most admirable deed occurred in a court trial in which one accepted
responsibility and indicted the regime in the process. Stepniak, a major
Russian participant, described the terrorist as “noble, terrible, irresistibly
fascinating uniting the two sublimities of human grandeur, the martyr and
Dynamite was the weapon of choice. Criminals did not use it
partly because it could kill the criminal in the process.
Terror was violence beyond the moral conventions used to regulate
violence, i.e., the rules of war distinguishing combatants from non-
combatants and the rules of punishment distinguishing guilty from the
innocent. Invariably, most onlookers would label acts of terror atrocities or
outrages. The rebels described themselves as terrorists-not guerrillas-
tracing their lineage to the French Revolution. They sought targets that
could affect public attitudes.
Tactics depended upon the group‟s political
objective and on the specific context. Judging a context constantly in flux
was both an art and a science.
Major unexpected political events which dramatized a government‟s
vulnerabilities and excited hope, the indispensable lubricant of rebel
activity, stimulated a wave.
In Russia the events which exposed the
vulnerability of the system began with the dazzling efforts of the young
Czar Alexander II whom the New York Times called the “greatest liberator
in history”. In 1861 with a stroke of the pen, he freed the serfs (1/3 of the
population) promising them funds to buy land. Three years later he
established limited local self-government, “Westernized” the judicial
system, abolished capital punishment, relaxed censorship powers, and
reduced control over education. Hopes were aroused but could not be
fulfilled quickly enough; the funds promised the former serfs, for example,
were insufficient. In the wake of inevitable disappointments, systematic
assassination strikes against prominent officials began, culminating in the
death of Alexander II himself.
Russian terrorists trained other groups, i.e Armenian and Polish. Then
the Balkans exploded, where many groups found the boundaries of states
recently torn out of the Ottoman Empire unsatisfactory.
Russians fled to the West, the most democratic European states,
Switzerland, England, and France gave them the best sanctuaries. In 1905
the Terrorist Brigade had its headquarters in Geneva launched strikes from
Finland, an autonomous part of the Russian Empire, got arms from an
Armenian terrorist group Russians helped train, and were offered funds by
Japan laundered through American millionaires!
In Europe they taught
Asian students tactics to use in Asia.
The high point of international terrorist activity occurred in the 1890s
in the “Golden Age of Assassination,” when monarchs, prime ministers, and
presidents were struck down one after another, often by foreign assassins
moving easily across international borders.
The most immediately
affected governments clamored for international police cooperation and
better border control, a situation President Theodore Roosevelt thought
ideal for launching the first international effort to eliminate terrorism.
Anarchy is a crime against the whole human race, and all mankind
should band together against the Anarchist. His crimes should be
made a crime against the law of nations…declared by treaties among
all civilized powers.
But the effort did not last. The interests of states pulled them in
different directions, a process which continued as the century progressed.
Bulgaria gave Macedonian nationalists sanctuaries and bases to aid
operations in the Ottoman Empire. The suspicion that Serbia helped
Archduke Franz Ferdinand‟s assassin precipitated World War I--the first
great international over-reaction in terrorist history.
THE “SECOND WAVE’: MOSTLY SUCCESSFUL AND FINDING A
A “wave” by definition is an international event, though the first one
was sparked by a domestic political situation. The Versailles Peace Treaty
concluding World War I precipitated the second wave. The victors used the
principle of national self-determination to break up the primarily European
empires of the defeated states. The non-European portions of those
empires, deemed not yet ready for independence, became League of Nations
“Mandates” administered directly by victorious powers until regarded as
prepared for independence.
Inadvertently, the victors undermined the legitimacy of their own
empires. In 1921 the IRA (Irish Republican Army) established the Irish
World War II victors reinforced and enlarged Versailles‟
implications. Once more the defeated had to abandon empires, but this time
the colonial territories (Manchuria, Korea, Ethiopia, Libya, etc.) became
independent states not Mandates The victors began liquidating their own
empires as well, not in response to terrorist activity, i.e., India, Pakistan,
Burma, Ceylon, Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, the Philippines, Ghana, Nigeria,
etc., a process indicating how firmly committed the Western world had
become to the principle of self-determination.
The U.S., the West‟s
hegemonic power, pressed hardest to eliminate empires.
Terror campaigns were fought in territories where special political
problems made withdrawal a less attractive option. Jews and Arabs in
Palestine, for example, had dramatically conflicting versions of what
terminating British rule should mean. The considerable European
population in Algeria did not want Paris to abandon them, and in Northern
Ireland the majority wanted to remain British. In Cyprus, the Turkish
community would not accept union with Greece, the terrorist aim, and
Britain wanted to retain Cyprus as a base for operations in the Middle East.
Terrorist activity persuaded imperial powers to withdraw in these special
cases, but that did not resolve the remaining tensions. Begin‟s Irgun fought
to gain the entire Palestine mandate but settled for partition.
elements refused to believe that Britain would never leave Northern Ireland
without the majority‟s consent. EOKA (National Organization of Cypriot
Fighters) fought to unify Cyprus with Greece but accepted an independent
state which EOKA then tried to subvert in the hope that the new government
would join Greece. In Algeria all Europeans fled, even though the FLN
proclaimed that it wanted to establish a democratic state including the
Europeans--objectives never achieved.
Successful terrorist groups developed in all empires after World War
II and helped establish new states, Israel, Cyprus, Algeria, etc. As empires
dissolved, the wave receded The Cold War accelerated the process as the
Soviets were always poised to help rebels. The Soviet Union‟s internal life
was not affected, partly because it did recognize itself an empire and had no
overseas territories. In the period between the two World Wars, there was
terrorist activity in various Balkan states; but the new states the Versailles
Treaty created there lacked overseas territories and they did not consider
themselves colonial powers.
Because the term terrorist had accumulated so many negative
connotations, second wave organizations understood they needed a new
language to describe themselves, The Israeli group Lehi was the last self-
identified terrorist group. Menachem Begin, leader of the Irgun (Lehi‟s
Zionist rival), concentrating on purpose rather than means, described his
group as “freedom fighters” struggling against “government terror.”
appealing was this self-description that all subsequent terrorist groups
followed suit. Moreover, as the anti-colonial struggle seemed more
legitimate than first wave‟s purpose, the “new” language became attractive
to potential political supporters as well. (Even Bin Laden later described
himself as a “freedom fighter.”)
Governments appreciated the political
value of “appropriate” language too, and began to describe all violent rebels
as terrorists. To avoid being seen as blatantly partisan, the media corrupted
language further. Major American newspapers, for example, often
described the same persons alternatively as terrorists, guerrillas, and
soldiers in the same description of an event!
Tactics changed as well. Because diaspora sources contributed more
money, bank robberies were less common. The first wave demonstrated
that assassinating prominent political figures often were counterproductive,
and few assassinations occurred in the second wave. The Balkans was an
exception; perhaps that was related to the fact that although assassinations
in the Balkans did provoke World War I, the Versailles Peace Treaty did
establish some new Balkan states.
Elsewhere, only Lehi (the British
called it the “Stern Gang”) remained committed to assassination as the
principal tactic. Martyrdom often linked to assassination seemed less
significant as well.
The new strategy was more complicated than the old. A larger array of
targets was chosen, and it was important to strike them in proper sequence.
First eliminate the police, a government‟s eyes and ears, through systematic
assassinations of officers and/or their families. The military units replacing
them would prove too clumsy to cope without producing counter-atrocities
that would increase social support for the terrorists. If the process of
atrocities and counter-atrocities was well executed, it favored those
perceived to be weak and without alternatives.
(Note that during the
“Golden Age of Assassination”, anarchists were seen as bizarre, incapable
of living peacefully anywhere.) Major energies went into guerrilla-like (hit-
and- run) actions against troops, attacks that still went beyond the rules of
war because the assailants had no identifying insignia and concealed their
weapons. Some groups however (i.e. the Irgun) initiated a pattern of giving
warnings to limit civilian casualties.
In some cases (i.e., Algeria), terror
was only one aspect of a more comprehensive rebellion that included
extensive guerrilla forces.
Second wave terrorists exploited the international scene more
productively than their predecessors did. Different national groups touted an
international revolutionary tradition that gave them common bonds, but the
heroes invoked in the literature of those groups were almost always their
own national ones.
The underlying assumption for this conflict seemed to
be that if one strengthened ties with foreign terrorists, other international
assets would become less useful.
Diaspora groups regularly displayed abilities not seen earlier. 19th
Century Irish rebels received money, weapons, and volunteers from the
Irish-American community; but after World War I, Irish-Americans induced
the U.S. to pressure Britain to accept an Irish state.
exerted similar leverage when the Holocaust horrors became public.
Foreign states with kindred populations were also active. Arab states
gave the Algerian FLN (National Liberation Front of Algeria) crucial
political support, and those adjacent to Algeria offered sanctuaries for cells
to stage attacks. Greece sponsored the Cypriot uprisings against the British,
and then against Cyprus when it became a state. Frightened Turkish
Cypriots in turn looked to Turkey for aid. Turkish troops invaded the
northern part of the island in 1974 and are still there.
Outside influences obviously depend on the purpose of terrorist
activity and the local context, the different Irish experiences illustrate. The
1920s effort was seen simply as an anti-colonial movement, and that was
when the Irish American community had its most productive impact.
diaspora was less interested in the IRA‟s brief campaigns to bring Northern
Ireland into the Republic during World War II and the Cold War.
As the second wave progressed, the League of Nations got involved, a
matter Townsend discusses in this volume.
After World War II, the UN
inherited the League‟s ultimate authority over the remaining colonial
Mandates, now scenes of extensive terrorist activity. When Britain decided
to withdraw from Palestine, the UN was crucial in legitimizing the partition;
and subsequently all anti-colonial terrorists sought to involve the UN in
their struggles. Most new states admitted to the UN were former colonial
territories and gave the anti-colonial sentiment in that body more power.
UN debate participants used Begin‟s language more and more to describe
anti-colonial terrorists as “freedom fighters.”
THIRD WAVE: EXCESSIVE INTERNATIONALISM?
The agonizing Vietnam War was the major political event stimulating
the “new left wave”. The effectiveness of the Vietcong‟s “primitive
weapons” against the American Goliath‟s modern technology rekindled
hopes that the world system was vulnerable. Groups popped up in the Third
World and in the West also where the war stimulated enormous antagonism
among the youth toward the existing system. Western groups like the
American Weather Underground, the German Red Army Faction, the Italian
Red Brigades, the Japanese Red Army, and the French Action Directe
claimed to be vanguards for the masses in the Third World, a development
the Soviet world encouraged with moral support, training, and weapons.
As in the first wave, radicalism and nationalism often were
intertwined as the Basque, Armenian, Corsican, Kurdish, and Irish cases
Although every first wave nationalist movement failed, the linkage
was renewed; ethnic constituencies always are larger more durable than
radical ones. Nationalist groups were the third wave‟s most durable
entities, but their failure rate was high and those still struggling will
probably fail too. The states attacked, Spain, France, U.K., Turkey, and the
former colonial territories that became new states, simply do not consider
themselves colonial powers, a pattern also seen in the Balkan experience in
the second wave, and thus the government ambivalence necessary for rebel
success is absent.
When the Vietnam War ended in 1975, the PLO replaced the Viet
Cong as the wave‟s heroic model. Originating after the extraordinary
collapse of three Arab armies in the Six-Day War (1967), its existence and
persistence gave credibility to supporters who argued that only terror could
destroy Israel. The PLO‟s centrality was strengthened because its training
facilities in Lebanon were available to other groups and the PLO got strong
support from Arab states and the Soviet Union.
The first and third waves shared striking resemblances. Women in the
second wave had been restricted to the role of messengers and scouts; now
they became leaders and fighters again.
“Theatrical targets”, comparable
to those of the first wave, replaced the second wave‟s “military” ones.
International hijacking is one example; some 700 occurred during the third
wave‟s first three decades.
Planes were often hijacked to secure hostages. Hostages were seized
in other ways too, and hostage crises became a wave characteristic. The
most memorable happened when Red Brigades kidnapped former Italian
Prime Minister Aldo Moro in 1979. When the government refused to
negotiate, he was brutally murdered and his body dumped in the street. The
Sandinistas took Nicaragua‟s Congress hostage in 1978, an act so audacious
it sparked a popular insurrection that brought down the Somoza regime a
year later. The Columbian April 19 Movement (M-19) in 1985 tried to
duplicate the feat by seizing the Supreme Court, but the government refused
to yield and nearly a hundred people, including 11 justices, perished.
Kidnappings occurred in 73 countries, especially in Italy, Spain, and
Latin America. From 1968 to 1982 there were 49 international kidnappings
incidents involving 951 hostages.
Initially, hostages were taken to give
their captors political leverage, but soon another concern became more
attractive. Companies insured their executives and kidnapping became
lucrative. When money was the principal issue, kidnappers found that
hostage negotiations were also easier to consummate on their terms.
Informed observers estimate that the practice “earned” $350 million.
Some organizations became criminal groups reviving a significant Russian
first wave pattern.
The abandoned practice of assassinating prominent figures was
revived. The IRA and its various splinter organizations, for example,
assassinated two British ambassadors in 1976 and 1979, Lord Mountbatten
in 1979 and then attempted to kill Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher in
1984 and John Major in 1991.
The Palestinian Black September
assassinated Jordan‟s Prime Minister in 1971, made an attempt on Jordan‟s
King Hussein three years later and killed the American Ambassador in the
Saudi Embassy in Khartoum in 1973, the year ETA killed Spanish Prime
Minister Luis Carrero Blanco.
But first and third wave assassinations had a different logic. A first
wave victim was assassinated because he/she held a public office. Third
wave assassinations more often were justified as “punishments”. Jordan‟s
Prime Minister and King had forced the PLO out Jordan in a savage battle.
The attempt against British Prime Minister Thatcher was because she was
“responsible” for the deaths of 9 IRA hunger strikers who rejected the
practice of treating IRA prisoners as ordinary criminals.
government refused to negotiate for his life, Aldo Moro was murdered.
For good reason, the term “international terrorism” was revived. Again
the revolutionary ethos created bonds between separate national groups,
which intensified when first Cuban and then PLO training facilities were
made available. Emblematic of this new internationalism was that some
state sponsors like Libya now supported all radical groups.
dimensions were reflected in the targets chosen too. Some groups conducted
more assaults abroad than on their home territories; the PLO, for example,
was more active in Europe than on the West Bank, and sometimes more
active in Europe than many European groups themselves were! Different
national groups cooperated in attacks, i.e. the Munich Olympics massacre
(1972), the kidnapping of OPEC ministers (1975) and hijacking both an Air
France flight to Uganda in 1976 and a Lufthansa plane to Somalia in 1977.
On their own soil, groups often chose targets with international
significance. Strikes on foreign embassies began when the PLO attacked
the Saudi Embassy in the Sudan (1973). The Peruvian group Tupac Amaru,
partly to gain political advantage over its rival Sendero Luminoso, held 72
hostages in the Japanese Embassy for more than four months (1996-97)
until a rescue operation killed every terrorist in the complex.
The U.S. became a favorite target of most groups. 1/3 of the
international attacks involved American targets in Latin America and the
Middle East, where the U.S. supported most governments under terrorist
European groups focused on American facilities in NATO. Despite
its pre-eminent status as a victim and its denunciation of terrorism, Cold
War concerns sometimes induced the U.S. to support terror activity in
Nicaragua, Angola, and elsewhere, indicating how difficult it was to forgo a
worthwhile purpose always when deplorable tactics had to be used.
Third wave organizations paid a large price for being unable to
negotiate the conflicting demands imposed by various international
The commitment to a revolutionary ethos alienated traditional
foreign supporters, particularly during the Cold War. The IRA lost
significant Irish-American diaspora support when its goal was a united
socialist Ireland and accepted aid from Libya and the PLO. The Cold War
had to end before the Irish diaspora and the U.S. government could move to
resolve the Irish issue.
Involvement with foreign groups forced terrorists to neglect their
domestic constituencies. A leader of the German Second of June group said
obsession with the Palestinian cause induced it to attack a Jewish synagogue
on the anniversary of Kristall Nacht; a date many say was the beginning of
the Holocaust. Such “stupidity” he said alienated Germans.
cooperating entities had unequal power, the weaker found that its interests
were ignored, the German Revolutionary Cells, hijacking partners of the
Palestine Front for the Liberation of Palestine, discovered when it could not
get that group‟s help to release German prisoners. “(D) ependent on the
will of Wadi Haddad and his group,” whose agenda was very different than
theirs after all, the Revolutionary Cells terminated the relationship and soon
The PLO, always a loose confederation, often found international ties
costly complicating serious existing divisions within the organization. In
the 1970s, Abu Iyad, PLO intelligence chief, wrote that the Palestinian
cause was so important in Syrian and Iraqi domestic politics that those
countries felt it necessary to capture some PLO organizations to serve their
own ends making it even more difficult to settle for a limited goal, as Israeli
and Cyprus had done earlier.
Entanglements with Arab states created problems for both parties.
Raids staged from Egyptian occupied Gaza helped precipitate a disastrous
war with Israel in 1956. Egypt prohibited Palestinians from launching raids
from that territory ever again. A Palestinian raid from Syria brought Syria
into the Six-Day War, and subsequently Syria tightly controlled those
operating from its territories. When a PLO faction hijacked British and
American planes to Jordan (1970) in the first effort to target non-Israelis,
the Jordanian army devastated the PLO and pushed it out of Jordan.
Finally, an attempted assassination of an Israeli diplomat in Britain sparked
Israel to invade Lebanon (1982) forcing the PLO to leave the land that gave
it so much significance among foreign terrorist groups. Tunisia, the PLO‟s
new host, prohibited it from training foreign groups and to a large extent the
PLO‟s career as an effective terrorist organization seemed to be over.
(Ironically, Abu Nidal‟s renegade faction associated with Iraq, which made
two previous attempts to kill the PLO‟s leader Arafat, organized the
assassination attempt, a fact known to the Israeli government.)
Other state sponsors found promoting terrorist activity expensive. In
the 1980s, Britain severed diplomatic relations with Libya and Syria to
punish them for sponsoring terrorism in the U.K. In 1986 the U.S., with
British aid, bombed Libya, and then the European Community imposed an
Iraq‟s surprising restraint during the 1990 Gulf War also
revealed some difficulties of state sponsored terror. Iraq threatened to use
terror and Western authorities predicted that terrorists would flood
But the terror never materialized; if it had the Gulf War might
have aimed to bring Saddam Hussein to trial for war crimes, and a desire to
avoid that result may explain his uncharacteristic restraint.
The third wave began ebbing in the 1980s. Revolutionary terrorists
were defeated in one country after another. Israel‟s invasion of Lebanon
(1982) eliminated PLO facilities for training terrorist groups. International
counter-terrorist cooperation became increasingly effective. The
international police cooperation sought in 1904 began to materialize as
Trevi and Europol were established respectively in 1975 and 1994.
Differences between states remained; even close allies could not
always cooperate. France refused to extradite PLO, Red Brigade, and ETA
suspects to West Germany, Italy, and Spain respectively. Italy spurned
American requests to extradite a Palestinian suspect in the seizure of the
Achille Lauro cruise ship (1984) and refused to extradite a Kurd in 1988
because Italian law unlike Turkish law forbids capital punishment. The U.S.
also refused to extradite some IRA suspects. Events of this sort will not
stop until that improbable day when the laws and interests of separate states
The UN‟s role changed dramatically. Now “new states”, former
colonial territories, found terrorism threatened their interests and they
particularly shunned nationalist movements fighting to secede.
international and UN conventions from 1970 through 1999 prohibited
hijacking, hostage taking, attacks on senior government officials and
foreign states‟ facilities, and the financing of international activities.
“Freedom Fighter” was no longer a popular term in UN debates, and
the word terrorism was even used for the title of documents. i.e.,
“International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombing”
Evidence that Libya‟s agents were involved in the Pan Am
Lockerbie plane crash produced a unanimous Security Council decision in
1988 obliging Libya to extradite the suspects, and a decade later when
collective sanctions had their full effects Libya complied. In 2003 Libya
paid compensation to the victims‟ families.
Very serious ambiguities and conflicts still remain reflecting the ever-
present fact that terror serves different ends, some of which are prized.
Ironically, the most important ambiguity concerned the PLO, the wave‟s
major organization. It received an official UN status and over 100 states
gave it diplomatic recognition after 1974 when the Arab League finally
decided that the PLO (and not Jordan or Egypt) was entitled to receive a
share of the Palestine Mandate, destined to be a sovereign state.
The wave produced only four successes, and each was related to
special circumstances. Two of the successes were very limited. After losing
much of its striking power and a major supporter the Soviet Union
collapsed, the PLO recognized Israel and Israel in turn allowed it to come
back to the West Bank in 1992. South Tyrol terrorists struggled for
independence from Italy but settled for autonomy in 2001 when Italy finally
lived up to its treaty with Austria.
The two African successes were more complete. South West Africa, a
German overseas territory, became a League of Nations Mandate under the
jurisdiction of South Africa-a contiguous state. South Africa planned to
incorporate the territory. Unlike other nationalist struggles in the third
wave, they got important international support. But only after a 24 year
struggle, and the Cold War ended inducing the Soviets to withdraw their
aid, South Africa yielded to allow the state of Namibia to be born in 1990.
In South Africa itself the African National Congress (ANC) in 2001
achieved the wave‟s most complete success. Although the government‟s
apartheid policies generated enormous international hostility, the rebels had
to give up their New Left commitment and the Soviet Union had to fall
before the whites agreed to let the ANC participate in elections which they
knew it would win. Just as the weakness of the PLO encouraged Israel to
let it return, the carefully restrained attacks in South Tyrol and South Africa
made governments there more willing to concede.
THE “FOURTH WAVE”: HOW UNIQUE AND HOW LONG?
As the third wave began to ebb, the fourth gathered force. Religious
elements have always been important in modern terror because religious
and ethnic identities often overlap as the Armenian, Macedonian, Irish,
Cypriot, French Canadian, Israeli, and Palestinian struggles illustrate.
the early aim was to establish secular states; now religious states are the
object. The fourth wave occasionally produced a secular group. When Sri
Lanka Buddhists tried to transform the country into a religious state, the
secular Tamil Tigers tried to secede and became a significant wave element.
The wave has reshaped the international system profoundly. The
collapse of the Soviet Union was partly due to its defeat in Afghanistan
making the U.S. the only super-power, at least for a while. Terrorists played
a significant role either as provocateurs or participants in four wars.
Contemporary American policies authorizing drone attacks on various
states has weakened the principle of sovereignty.
While the assassination
precipitating World War I had a greater impact on the international system
and virtually eliminated the first wave too,
the impact now on the
international system was spread out during the wave‟s entire life span.
Islam is at the heart of the wave. Islamic groups have conducted the
most significant deadly and profoundly international attacks. The events
providing the hope for the wave originated there and influenced religious
terror groups elsewhere.
After Islam erupted, Sikhs sought a religious state
in India. Jewish terrorists attempted to blow up Islam‟s most sacred shrine
in Jerusalem, and committed a variety of attacks including the assassination
of Israeli Prime Minister Rabin in 1995. In that year Aum Shinrikyo, a
strange group combining Buddhist, Hindu, and Christian themes, released
nerve gas on a Tokyo subway killing 12 and seriously injuring 40, an event
creating a persistent worldwide anxiety that more chemo-bio weapons
would occur soon.
Christian terrorism, based on racist interpretations of the Bible,
emerged. In true medieval millenarian fashion, armed rural communes
composed of extended families withdrew from the state to wait for the
Second Coming and the great racial war. The violence produced has not
been great except for the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995.
Four events in 1979 involving Muslims highlighted both the
importance of religion and the weakness of secular forces. The Iranian
Revolution occurred, the Camp David Treaty was signed, a new Islamic
century began and the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.
Street demonstrations in Iran disintegrated the Shah‟s secular state,
providing clear evidence that religion now had more political appeal than
neo-Marxism because at the same time Iranian third wave groups mustered
only meager support against the Shah. “There are no frontiers in Islam”
Ayatollah Khomeini proclaimed, and “his” revolution reshaped relationships
among Muslims and between Islam and the rest of the world. Most
immediately, the Iranians inspired and assisted Shiite terror movements
outside of Iran (i.e., Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Lebanon).
In Lebanon Shiites (influenced by the self-martyrdom tactic of the
medieval Assassins) introduced suicide bombing quickly ousting American
and other foreign troops in the country on a peace mission following the
1982 Israeli invasion. “Suicide bombing” became the wave‟s trademark.
Despite the conventional wisdom that only a belief of rewards in Paradise
could inspire these acts; the secular Tamil Tigers, impressed by the success
in Lebanon, used the tactic in Sri Lanka to give their movement new life.
From 1983 to 2000 they employed “suicide bombers” more than all Islamic
groups put together, using women often, for the first time in this wave.
The Camp David Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel indicated
that the most powerful secular Arab state supporting the PLO changed its
policy. Iran closed Israel‟s embassy and gave the site to the PLO.
The monumental Iranian Revolution was unexpected, but many
Muslims believed that the year would be very significant because a new
Islamic century began then and would produce a Mahdi (redeemer). That
expectation often sparked uprisings in the past when a new Islamic century
In the first minutes of the new century, several hundred Muslims
occupied the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Islam‟s holiest site. It took several
weeks and many casualties to dislodge them. Numerous examples of Sunni
terrorism appeared during that siege in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Morocco,
Algeria, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The Saudi government,
anxious to restore its religious authority, undermined by the Mecca attack,
aided the resistance and was joined by the U.S. for Cold War reasons.
Abdallah Azzam (1941-89) a former PLO member, who wrote several
works defining the Afghan struggle as a religious obligation to defend
Muslim territories was instrumental in bringing numerous Arab volunteers,
including Bin Laden, to Afghanistan.
The Soviets gave up in 1989; two
years later the stunning and unimaginable collapse of the Soviet Union
Religion had eliminated a secular super-power--an astonishing event
with important consequences for terrorist activity. Lands with large Muslim
population formerly part of the Soviet Union (i.e., Chechnya, Uzbekistan,
Azerbaijan, etc.) became important new terrorist fields. Conflicts in Bosnia
attracted foreign volunteers, especially the trained confident Arab Afghan
veterans. Kashmir again became a critical issue where the death toll since
1990 has been more than 50,000.
The fourth wave was much more deadly and effective than the third,
but produced fewer terrorist groups. About 200 groups, mostly third wave,
were active in the 1980s but during the next decade the number fell to
The trend is partly related to the sizes of the primary audiences. A
major religious community is simply much larger than any national one.
Different cultural traditions also may be relevant. The huge number of
secular terrorist groups came largely from Christian countries; and
Christianity always generated more religious divisions than Islam did.
Islamic groups have been the most durable; major groups in Lebanon,
Egypt and Algeria have persisted for over two decades.
groups tend to be large, and when Bin Laden transformed Abdallah
Azzam‟s group into al-Qaeda it contained over 5,000 members.
larger third wave groups had several hundred active members. The PLO in
Lebanon was trying to create a regular army and constitutes a special case
with around 25,000 members.
Al Qaeda‟s purpose under Bin Laden was transformed, aiming to
create a single Islamic state under the Sharia (Islamic law). Most
volunteers were Arabs; more than sixty countries contributed recruits. In
the first three waves by way of contrast, organizations drew recruits from a
single national base.
The contrast between PLO and al-Qaeda training
facilities reflects this fact; the PLO trained units from other organizations
while al-Qaeda accepted individuals only. Middle Eastern and African
states with dominant Muslims populations were designated as “The Near
Enemy”, and al Qaeda vigorously supported Islamic terror groups aiming to
overthrow those states. But those campaigns were indiscriminate and
When Saudi Arabia during the 1990 Gulf War allowed the U.S. to
establish military bases in Islam‟s holiest land to drive Iraq out of Kuwait,
an outraged al Qaeda proclaimed that the permission violated Prophet
Muhammad‟s command that the land should harbor only one religion. The
organization asserted it was now justified in attacking “The Far Enemy”,
confident that would ultimately unify the Sunni world.
military posts in Yemen and Saudi Arabia but the Americans remained.
Strikes against American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (1998) inflicted
heavy casualties, and futile cruise missile responses were made against al
Qaeda targets “turn(ing) Bin Laden from a marginal figure in the Muslim
world to a global celebrity.”
Unsuccessful efforts to strike targets in America began in 1993.
then there was 9/11; an effort to rejuvenate a failing cause by triggering
The response was unprecedented partly because
so many foreign nationals had been killed. Under UN auspices, more than
100 states (including Iran) joined the effort against al Qaeda in
Afghanistan. Still, no one expected the intervention to be so quick and
apparently decisive. Invaders had always found Afghanistan difficult to
subdue. Moreover, the history of terrorism demonstrates that even when
anti-terrorist forces are very familiar with territories harboring targets (this
time they were not) the entrenched had considerable staying power, i.e.,
Cyprus, Algeria, Northern Ireland, and Sri Lanka.
One reason al-Qaeda in Afghanistan collapsed so quickly was that it
violated a cardinal rule for terrorist organizations, namely remain
underground always. Al Qaeda stayed visible to operate its extensive
and as the Israelis demonstrated in ousting the PLO
from Lebanon, visible groups are very vulnerable. Al-Qaeda did not plan
for an invasion possibility. Perhaps its contempt for previous American
reactions convinced it that the “paper tiger” would avoid difficult targets
Before the invaders finished the job, the U.S. made a reckless
decision to carry the battle to Iraq changing the international scene
profoundly, giving al Qaeda many new recruits while the U.S. lost many
allies. International over-reactions by governments has been a common
feature in terrorist history ever since World War I.
consequence Israel‟s reckless invasion of Lebanon to destroy the PLO was
the creation of Hezbollah, the most durable entity of the Religious Wave.
But al Qaeda played its hand badly too, as a critical much publicized
letter from the central command to al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in
Many of your Muslim admirers among the common folk are
wondering about your attacks on the Shia. The sharpness of this
questioning increases when the attacks are on one of their
mosques. Among the things which the feelings of the Muslims who
love and support you, will never find palatable also-are the scenes
of slaughtering the hostages. We are in a battle and more than half
of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media. We just
don’t need this.
The inclination to attack on Islamic holy days never stopped.
indiscriminate attacks produced the “Great Awakening” in which Sunni
tribes, vigorous al Qaeda supporters, reversed themselves, a crucial
The group‟s gradual deterioration was highlighted by using drones
killing Bin Laden in May 2011 and Atiyah Abd al-Rahman , al Qaeda’s
second in command two months later leading General Douglas Lute, a
National Security Advisor, to say that all the senior leadership of Al Qaeda
“could be knocked out in six months”!
Perhaps, but the wave is not over. Al Qaeda still has franchises in
Yemen and elsewhere.
When American troops leave Iraq, al Qaeda in
Iraq might revive. The new Libyan regime contains members formerly
associated with al Qaeda, such as Abdel Beihaj chairman of the Military
Council in Tripoli. What that means ultimately is unclear, but one should
remember that an al Qaeda related uprising in Libya in 1998 induced
Qaddafi’s government to be the first to denounce Bin Laden as an
“international criminal” and issue a warrant for his arrest (1998).
If American drone attacks transform the Pakistani scene, new groups
might be created in a country possessing a nuclear arsenal. If Pakistan does
not resolve the Kashmir problem with India, religious terrorism will
probably persist there while resuming its nationalist orientation. Religious-
nationalist groups elsewhere will not disappear soon, i.e. Hezbollah,
Hamas, and Jewish religious terror groups. More new ones like the Islamic
Boko Haram in Nigeria could materialize.
Leaving Afghanistan without an agreement with the Taliban could be
a disaster. Since the Taliban‟s basic concern has been Afghanistan and it
has never been interested in international operations, there is reason to
believe that it would keep an agreement to prevent international activity--
our basic concern.
Recent events have reminded students of terrorism that they had
neglected the „lone wolf‟ or “leaderless resistance” tactic. It was first
recommended by Louis Beam (1992) who argued that the vulnerability of
Christian groups to government infiltration and entrapment meant a new
tactic was necessary, one which could only be responded after it occurred.
Timothy McVeigh used the tactic in the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995,
the deadliest terrorist act in American history until 9/11. But the act
repulsed Christian groups and the level of violence has still been minimal—
so far. Anders Breivik‟s two attacks in Norway on July 22, 2011 killed 77,
the 4th wave‟s second most devastating lone wolf action in the West. He
cited American Christian arguments for “lone wolf” strikes but like
Timothy McVeigh he alienated potential supporters.
In 2005 Abu Misab al Suri, a jihadist theorist and veteran leader,
noting that the centralized hierarchical structure was no longer suitable for
al Qaeda and that sanctuaries for training abroad were not available,
recommended “leaderless resistance” to revitalize Islamic terror and exhaust
the Western economy,
a recommendation that Al Qaeda in the Arabian
Peninsula publicly endorsed in October 2009. A week later, Major Nidal
Hasan killed 14 fellow soldiers at Ft Hood. He was followed by the
Christmas Day Bomber passenger from Yemen, and then the May 2010
Times Square bomb attempt. Another attempt by a U. S. soldier aimed at
Fort Hood personnel occurred in July 2011.
Since 2009 16 Islamic lone
wolf attacks have been attempted in the U.S.
But so far the new tactic has
only highlighted the organization‟s weakness.
Ever since Aum Shinrikyo used nerve gas, many have been worried
that since this wave has been so indiscriminate, chemical and biological
weapons would be common. Bin Laden said that al Qaeda was “obligated”
to employ them, but its efforts were never successful.
My view is that the
concern is unreal because states which used them found they had little value
and terrorists need weapons with properties not found in those weapons.
It is no accident that the bomb has continued to be the major weapon since
modern terror began. Alex Schmid‟s valuable new Handbook on
Terrorism Research notes that “the largest topic (18.9 per cent of all the
articles written on terrorism) concerns the threat of weapons of mass
destruction”, but he devotes only two sentences to the issue! Does he feel
we talk too much about it too?
In 2004 we said that the fourth wave would be over by 2026 and have
no reason yet to change our mind.
CONCLUDING THOUGHTS AND QUESTIONS
Unlike crime or poverty, international non-state terrorism is only 135
years old, generated by technology, the spread of French Revolutionary
spirit and system of sovereign states. The political reason for the first wave
was the failure of a democratic reform program, and self-determination
inspired the second. Third wave groups maintained that the egalitarian
principle of the French Revolution was never fully accepted. The fourth
wave‟s spirit is explicitly anti-democratic; democracy requires “the people”
to be sovereign and religion supplied an alternative legitimating principle.
The paper emphasized variations in the relationships between the
waves and the international world. In the first wave the intense hostility of
so many states stimulated efforts to eliminate terrorism by making it an
international crime; but the international police cooperation planned never
materialized. Ironically in view of our situation since the 1960s, democratic
states were most likely to provide refuge for foreign terrorists and be most
resistant to the international police efforts.
The first wave transformed the international system in a wholly
unanticipated way when Serbian-Bosnian nationalists assassinated the
Arch-Duke of the Austro-Hungarian Empire precipitating World I, and a
resulting peace treaty made self-determination a crucial ingredient of
international politics. Europe became a continent of national states, and the
first successful terrorist organizations appeared in overseas empires. The
world as a whole largely accepted the cause proclaimed, especially since
participants in the new wave made their strikes and target choices more
discriminate and comprehensible. The language of the UN debates, the
League of Nations‟ successor, kept referring to anti-colonial terrorists as
“freedom fighters.” States no longer could expand their boundaries through
The third wave rejected its predecessor‟s concern with domestic
targets, often losing potential domestic constituencies in the process. It
revived and significantly extended the first wave‟s practice of mutual
cooperation in executing attacks. Most activity was directed against
Western governments (especially the U.S.) and their Third World allies. For
the first time individual states overtly sponsored groups; indeed, Libya said
it would support all radical groups and tried to do so. Terrorism became an
ingredient of the Cold War as the Soviets covertly supplied many with
technical help. But the favorable UN attitude toward terrorism dissolved;
many new states now were victims of secessionist efforts or affected by the
wave‟s new tactics, i.e., hostage taking and hijacking. Very few
organizations achieved any success, and those that did limited their strikes
and made serious compromises. The ANC in South Africa was the most
successful group and its restraint was a factor.
The most destructive and indiscriminate wave by far was the fourth.
No regular tactic produced as many casualties as self-martyrdom or suicide
bombing did. 9/11 was in a class by itself, a suicide bombing that killed
more people (including more from different nationalities) than ever before
in terrorist history. The international scene was dramatically altered. The
Soviet Union‟s collapse was partly due to its defeat in Afghanistan leaving
the world with only one “super-power”--at least for a while. Terrorists
played significant roles either as provocateurs or participants in three other
major wars as well. Religious ties and antagonisms enabled new
cooperative forms between terrorist groups and produced hopes that
religious communities would produce a different kind of global order.
American responses authorizing drone attacks on individuals in various
independent, even allied, states threaten the principle of sovereignty, the
rock of the international order. Bin Laden said he would bankrupt the
a claim no one has given serious thought.
Will the 4th wave‟s demise mean that George W. Bush‟s pledge to
end global terrorism has been fulfilled? Perhaps, but the terrorism we have
been discussing is a strategy that attracts small groups in a technological
and international context mirroring that of the late 19th century, and it is
unclear what should or could be done to eliminate that context. My sense is
that a 5th wave will probably begin before the 4th ends.
What form will it take? If history is a reliable guide, we will not know
beforehand. Previously, dramatic unanticipated political events stimulated
each wave. Perhaps the world‟s enormous economic difficulties may have
that effect now.
1 An earlier version of this essay was published in Current History (Dec 2001) 419-25. A second version is “Modern
Terror: The Four Waves” in Audrey Cronin and J. Ludes eds. Attacking Terrorism: Elements of a Grand Strategy
(Washington, D.C.: Georgetown Univ. Press, 2004) pp. 46-73.
2.On September 20, the President told Congress that “any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be
regarded as a hostile regime. (T) he war would not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found,
stopped, and defeated.” (My emphasis).
See Richard B. Jensen, “The United States, International Policing, and the War against Anarchist Terrorism”,
Terrorism and Political Violence (Hereafter TPV) 13:1, (Spring 2001) 5-46.
No good history of terrorism exists. Schmid and Jongman‟s initial monumental study of the terrorism literature did not
even list a history of the subject! See Political Terrorism: A New Guide to Actors, Authors, Concepts, Theories,
DataBases, and Literature, Revised Ed. (New Brunswick, N.J: Transaction Books, 1988).
We lack the space to discuss the domestic scene but the unusual character of terrorist activity made an enormous impact
on national life in many countries beginning in the latter part of the 19th century. Every state affected in the first wave
radically transformed its police organizations, as tools to penetrate underground groups The Russian Okhrana, the
British Special Branch, and the FBI are conspicuous examples. The new organizational form remains a permanent,
perhaps indispensable, feature of modern life. Terrorist tactics, inter alia, aim at producing rage and frustration, often
driving governments to respond in unanticipated, extraordinary, illegal, socially destructive ways and shameful ways.
Because a significant Jewish element, for example, was present in the several Russian terrorist movements, the Okhrana
organized pogroms to intimidate Russian Jews, compelling many to flee to the West and to the Holy Land. Okhrana
fabricated The Protocols of Zion, a book that helped stimulate virulent anti-Semitism that went well beyond Russia.
The influence of that fabrication continued for decades, and still influences Christian and Islamic terrorist movements
today. Democratic states “over-reacted” too. In 1901 President Theodore Roosevelt proposed sending all anarchists back
to Europe. Congress was more restrained and simply barred foreign anarchists from entering the county. More than a
decade later President Wilson‟s Attorney-General Palmer implemented a proposal similar to Roosevelt‟s and rounded up
all Anarchists to ship them back “home”, regardless of whether or not they had committed crimes. That event produced
the 1920 Wall Street Bombing, which in turn became the justification for an immigration quota law making it much more
difficult for persons from Southern and Eastern European states (the original home of most anarchists) to immigrate for
decades, a law Adolph Hitler praised highly. For a discussion of the Spanish situation, see Floria Grafl, “Terrorism and
Counter-Terrorist Communities of Violence in 1920‟s Barcelona” in this volume.
It is still too early to know the domestic consequences of 9/11 will ultimately be. One first reaction suggested
that we had learned from past mistakes. The federal government made special efforts to show that we were not at war
with Islam, and it curbed the first expressions of vigilante passions. The significance of subsequent measures seems more
problematic. Our first experience with terror led us to create important new policing arrangements. Congress established
a Department of Homeland Security with 170,000 employees, clearly the largest change in security policy in our history.
No one knows what that seismic change will mean. One casualty could be the Posse Comitatus law, which prohibits the
military forces from administering civil affairs, a law that ironically was passed because we were unhappy with military
responses to KKK terrorist activity after the Civil War! A policy of secret detentions, a common reaction to serious
terrorist activities in many countries has been implemented. Extensive revisions of immigration regulations are being
instituted. Prisoners taken in Afghanistan are not being prosecuted under the criminal law, reversing a long-standing
policy in virtually all states including our own. Previous experiences suggest that it will take time for the changes to have
their effect because so much depends upon the scope, frequency, and duration of future terrorist activity.
Anita Blagojevic‟s article in this volume analyzes the internal reactions of European institutions to 911 in the volume,
“Countering Terrorism and Defending Human Rights After 9/1l: The Role of the European Union and the Council of
In this volume Rashed Uz Zaman provides a detailed account of the complexities of the Indian situation, “Bengal
Terrorism and the Ambiguity of the Bengali Muslims”.
David M. Chalmers, Hooded Americanism: The History of the Ku Klux Klan 3rd Edition (Durham, N.C.: Duke
University Press, 1987) p. 19.
The activities of the Thugs and Assassins had international dimensions but were confined to specific regions; more
important there were no comparable groups operating at the same time in this region or elsewhere. See my “Fear and
Trembling” Terror in Three Religious Traditions” American Political Science Review (78:3) 1984 658-77.
The lineage of rebel terror is goes back at least to the first century. Hinduism, Judaism and Islam produced the Thugs,
Zealots, and Assassins respectively; names still used to designate terrorists. Religion determined every purpose and each
tactic of the ancient form. See Rapoport, Ibid.
By far most published academic articles on terrorism deal with organizations and counter-terrorist policies. My
experience as an editor of TPV, suggests the proportions are increased further in this direction if we consider the articles
submitted for publication too.
See note 2.
The rebels fought in uniform and against soldiers. George Barnard Shaw said “My own view is that the men who were
shot in cold blood…after their capture were prisoners of war “. Prime Minister Asquith said that by Britain‟s own
standards, the rebel‟s were honorable, that “they conducted themselves with great humanity…fought very bravely and did
not resort to outrage”. The Manchester Guardian declared that the executions were “atrocities”. See my Introduction to
Part III of Morality of Terrorism Eds. David C. Rapoport and Yonah Alexander, 2nd. Ed. (New York: Columbia
University. Press, 2001) pp. 219-27.
Guerrillas carry weapons openly and wear an identifying emblem, circumstances obliging states to treat them as
Any one who has tried to explain the intensity of the 1960s to contemporary college students knows how difficult it is
to transmit one generation‟s experience to its successor.
David Ronfeldt and William Sater, The Mindsets of High-Technology Terrorists: Future Implication From an
Historical Analog (Santa Monica : Rand Note, 19810) p...3
Nechaev‟s “Revolutionary Catechism” is reprinted in my Assassination and Terrorism (Toronto: 1971, C.B.C.). See
Michael Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin, Revolutionary Pamphlets (New York: 1927, Benjamin Bloom) Nicholas
Mozorov, “Terroristic Struggle”, Felix Gross ed. Violence and Politics (The Hague: 1972, Mouton) pp. 102-22.
Sergius Stepniak, Underground Russia: Revolutionary Profiles and Sketches from Life (Westport, Conn.: Hyperion
See Rapoport “Fear and trembling… (Note 8).
It took time for this attitude to develop in Islam. If one compares Bin Laden‟s work with Faraj‟s Neglected Duty, a
work written at the beginning of the 4th wave to justify the assassination of Egyptian President Sadat (1981) the two
authors seem to be in two different worlds. Faraj cites NO experience outside the Islamic tradition, and his most recent
historical reference is to Napoleon‟s invasion of Europe! See my “Sacred Terror: A Case from Contemporary Islam” in
Walter Reich ed. Origins of Terrorism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1990) pp.103-130. I am grateful to
Jerry Post for sharing his copy of the Bin Laden treatise. An edited version is on the Department of Justice website,
Bin Laden’s dedication reads
“Pledge, O Sister
To the sister believer whose clothes the criminals have stripped off:
To the sister believer whose hair the oppressors have shaved.
To the sister believer whose body has been abused by the human dogs.
Covenant, O Sister…to make their women widows and their children orphans...”
While women did participate in supplementary and logistic roles in al Qaeda, alQaeda in Iraq is the only group in the
movement to use women as fighters and even here the role was very limited. It employed four female suicide bombers in
the 2050-06 period. It was not clear why they were used; al Zarqawi’s decision and it may be that he was running out of
male volunteers. See Jennie Stone and Katherine Patillo, “Al Qaeda‟s Use of Women in Iraq: A Case Study”, Laura
Sjoberg and Caron E. Gentry, eds., Women, Gender, and Terrorism (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2011)
Our concern is with revolutionary groups in the waves. Right-wing and single issue” (i.e. abortion) groups are not
The term terror originally referred to actions of the Revolutionary government that went beyond the rules regulating
punishment in order to “educate” a people to govern itself.
Vera Figner, the architect of Narodnaya Volya’s foreign policy identifies the first four ingredients. A fifth was created
later. For a more extensive discussion of Figner, see my “The International World as Some Terrorists Have Seen It: A
Look at a Century of Memoirs” in my Inside Terrorist Organizations (London: Frank Cass, 2001) 2nd Ed. pp. 125 ff.
“Revolutionary Catechism” in my Assassination and Terrorism, (note 16).
The term comes from the Italian anarchist Carlo Cafiero, 1880.
An equivalent for this argument in religious millennial thought is that that the world must become impossibly bad
before it could become unimaginably good.
Adam B. Ulam, In the Name of the People (New York Viking Press, 1977) p. 269.1 (emphasis added)
Newspaper reports in Germany the next day interpreted the demonstrations to mean that a revolution was coming. New
York Times April, 4, 1878
Stepniak, Underground Russia. (Note 16) pp. 39-40.
The bomb was most significant in Russia, although other terrorist groups used it extensively. The Irish “Skirmishers”
of the 1880s were the only ones who confined themselves to the bomb.
A guerrilla force has political objectives but aims to weaken or destroy the enemy‟s military forces first. The terrorist,
on the other hand, strikes directly at the political sentiments that sustain the enemy.
Thomas Hobbes may have been the first to emphasize hope as a necessary ingredient of revolutionary efforts. The first
chapter of Menachem Begin‟s account of his experience in the Irgun, contains the most moving description of the
necessity of hope in terrorist literature. The Revolt: Story of the Irgun, (Jerusalem: Steinmatzky‟s Agency, 1997).
There were many organizations, i.e., the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, Young Bosnia, Serbian
Black Hand etc
The Japanese offer to finance Russian terrorists during the Russo-Japanese War (1905) encouraged Indian terrorists to
believe that the Japanese would help them too. Peter Heehs, Nationalism, Terrorism, and Communalism: Essays in
Modern Indian History (Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1998) p. 4. Russian terrorists refused the Japanese offer,
fearing that the transaction during a time of war would destroy their political credibility.
Ibid, Chapter 2.
Italians were particularly active as international assassins, crossing borders to kill four heads of state or holders of
principal political offices in different countries, i.e. the French President Carnot (1894), Spanish Premier Casnovas
(1896), and the Austrian Empress Elizabeth 1898. In 1900 an Italian Anarchist Gaetano Bresci a member of the
Anarchist community in Patterson New Jersey, the capital of Italian Anarchism in North America returned to Italy to
assassinate King Umberto I. Several other attempts failed. The “war” of the Italian anarchists against the U.S. is
described by Nunzio Pernicone, “Luigi Galleani and Italian Anarchist Terrorism in the United States”, Studi
Emigrazione/Edtudes Migrations, 30, n 111, 1993 pp. 469-89. See also Lowell Blaisdell, “The Assassination of Humbert
I” Prologue. The Quarterly of the National Archives (Fall, 1995) Vol. 27, No. 3 241-247. Richard Jensen supplied
the Blaisdell reference.
Jensen, (note 3) p. 19. See also Jensen‟s contribution to this volume, “The First Global Wave of Terror and
International Efforts to Combat It”. The aim was to deal with terrorists under the law governing pirates. Douglas B
Burgess discusses the issues involved in this volume, “Hostis Humani Generi: Piracy as a Legal Precedent for
The IRA‟s success in 1921 occurred when the British recognized the Irish State. Northern Ireland, however, remained
British, and the civil war between Irish factions over the peace settlement ended in a defeat for those who would not
support the treaty.
For an interesting useful account of the decolonization process, see Robert Hager Jr. and David A. Lake “Balancing
Empires: Competitive Decolonization in International Politics” Security Studies 9:3. (Spring 2000) 108-48. They
emphasize that the literature on decolonization “has ignored how events and politics within the core (metropolitan area)
shaped the process.” p. 145.
Begin said that his decision was determined by the fact that since many Jews favored partition, a civil war would occur.
The Revolt (note 31) pp. 152-53. His reminds his readers of the Zealot revolt against the Romans which culminated in a
disastrous civil war. In “Terror and the Messiah” I discuss this issue in greater detail, Morality of Terrorism (note 12)
Alistair Horne, A Savage War of Peace (London: Macmillan, 1977) pp. 94-6.
Begin, The Revolt (note 31) Chapters 9 and 10.
See Al Qaeda in its Own Words, eds. Gilles Kepel and Jean-Pierre Milelli (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press,
For a more detailed discussion of the definition problem, see David C. Rapoport. “Politics of Atrocity” in Terrorism
Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Eds. Yonah. Alexander and Seymore Finger (New York:1987, John Jay Press) pp. 46 ff.-
Begin points out in The Revolt that it was too costly to assassinate prominent figures . Alexander I of Yugoslavia
(1934) was the most prominent victim during the 2nd wave.
The strategy is superbly described in the film “Battle of Algiers” based on the memoirs of Yaacev Saadi who organized
the battle. Attacks against the police occur and police responses are limited by rules governing criminal procedure. In
desperation, the police set a bomb off in the Casbah inadvertently exploding an ammunition dump killing Algerian
women and children. A mob emerges screaming for revenge, giving the FLN a moral warrant to attack civilians.
There is another underlying element which gives rebel terrorism often a special weight in a democratic world. The
atrocities of the strong always seem worse than those of the weak because people believe the weak have no alternatives.
The King David Hotel in Jerusalem bombing in July 1946, the administrative center for British forces, killed 91 people
including many civilians. Warnings were given to front desk operators but were never transmitted to the administration.
See my “The International World…” (note 22).
Irish-Americans have always given Irish rebels extensive support. The Fenian movement was born in the American
Civil War. Members attempted to invade Canada from the U.S. and then went to Ireland to spark rebellion there.
World War I increased the American influence and Wilson justified the war with the self-determination principle.
„Charles Townsend, “Methods Which All Civilized Opinion Must Condemn: The League of Nations and International
Action Against Terrorism”. When a Croatian group assassinated Alexander I of Serbia in Marseilles (1934), the League
tried to contain international terror by drafting two conventions, including one for an international court (1937). Neither
came into effect. Two League members (Hungary and Italy) apparently encouraged the assassination and blocked the
anti-terror efforts, see Martin David Dubin, “Great Britain and the Ant-Terrorist Conventions of 1937,” TPV (V, I).
Spring 1993 p.1.
See John Dugard, “International Terrorism and the Just War” in The Morality of Terrorism (note 12) pp. 77-98.
i.e. Basque Nation and Liberty (ETA), the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA), the
Corsican National Liberation Front (FNLC), and the IRA.
During the periods of the first and third waves the rights of women were also asserted more strenuously in the general
Sean Anderson and Stephen Sloan, Historical Dictionary of Terrorism (Metuchen, NJ: 1995. Transaction Press,) p.
Although bank robbing was not as significant as in the first wave, some striking examples materialized. In January
1976 the PLO together with their bitter enemies the Christian Phalange hired safe breakers to help them loot the vaults of
the major banks in Beirut. Estimates range between $50 and a $100 million stolen. “Whatever the truth the robbery was
large enough to earn a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest bank robbery of all time.” James Adams,
The Financing of Terror (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986) p.192.
, p. 94.
Anna Geifman, Thou Shalt Kill: Revolutionary Terrorism in Russia, 1894-1917 (Princeton: University Press, 1993)
The attack on Major actually was an attack on the cabinet, so it is not clear whether or not the Prime Minister was the
principal target, Lindsay Clutterbuck tells me in a personal note.
The status of apolitical prisoner was revoked in March 1976. William Whitelaw who granted the status initially ranked
it as one of his “most regrettable decisions.”
See Thomas Riegler, “
Quid pro Quo
: State Sponsorship of Terrorism in the Cold War” in this volume.
Sometimes the U.S. supported terrorist activity, i.e. the Contras in Nicaragua.
When a disappointed office seeker assassinated President Garfield, Figner‟s sympathy letter to the American people
said that there was no place for terror in democratic states, a statement that alienated elements of her radical
constituencies in other countries.
Michael Baumann, Terror or Love (New York: Grove Press, 1977) p. 61.
Interview with Hans J. Klein in Jean M. Bourguereau, German Guerrilla: Terror, Rebel Reaction and Resistance
(Sanday, Orkney, U.K Cienfuegos Press 1981) p. 31.
Abu Nidal was himself on a PLO list of persons to be assassinated.
In this volume Mattia Toaldo discusses the American strikes against Libya , “Reagan and Libya: A History of
Preemptive Strikes and (failed) Regime Change”
W. Andrew Terrill, “Saddam‟s Failed Counterstrike: Terrorism and the Gulf War”, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism
XVI (1993) pp. 219-32.
For a very interesting discussion of West German‟s role in helping to transform UN attitudes, see Bernhard Blumenau‟s
essay in this volume. “”But We Have a Chance!” West Germany‟s Efforts Against International Terrorism at the UN in
In addition to four UN conventions there are eight other major multi-lateral terrorism conventions starting with The
Tokyo Convention of 1963 dealing with the aircraft safety. http://usinfo.state.gov/topical/pol/terror/conven.htm and
See Shaloma Gauthier, “SWAPO, the UN and the Struggle for National Liberation” in this volume.
Virtually all studies of the uprising emphasize the crucial importance of non-violent resistance. See Zunes, Stephen
“The Role of Non-Violent Action in the Downfall of Apartheid” Journal of Modern African Studies 37/1 1999, 137-
69. I. W. Wink, Violence and Non-Violence in South Africa; Jesus’ Third Way. (Philadelphia: 1988, New Society
Publishers) Robert Ross, A Concise History of South Africa (New York :1999, Cambridge University Press Chapters
Khachig Tololyan, “Cultural Narrative and the Motivation of the Terrorist” in my Inside Terrorist (note 22) 217-33.
There were 2 Afghan wars and 2 Iraqi wars, one with Iran and with the U.S. The Iraqi- Iranian War was the longest
conventional war of the 20th century. The First Gulf War (1990) also occurred in the period. Iraq‟s invasion of Kuwait
was the cause of the Gulf War not terrorism, but significant irritation with Iraq for its record in supporting 3rd wave
groups was a contributing factor to the U.S. response.
For a discussion of the sovereignty issue which focuses on al Qaeda practices, see Sean N. Kalic, “Terrorism in the
21st Century: A New Era of Warfare” in this volume.
There were serious bomb attacks with large casualties in the 1920s, but they were sporadic and the movement clearly
See David C. Rapoport, “Comparing Militant Fundamentalist Movements and Groups”, in Martin Marty and Scott
Appleby, Eds. Fundamentalisms and the State (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993) pp. 429-461.
In the period specified, Tamils suicide bombers struck 171 times and the combined total for all 13 Islamic groups using
the tactic was 117. Ehud Sprinzak cites the figures Yoram Schweitzer compiled in “Rational Fanatics” Foreign Policy,
Oct. p.69 2001. The most spectacular Tamil act was the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Ghandi. The Tamil
example has other unusual characteristics. Efforts to make Sri Lanka a Buddhist state stimulated the revolt. Although
Tamils largely come from India, there are several religious traditions represented in the population, and religion does not
define the terrorists‟ purpose. Religion did not motivate the notorious Kamikaze attacks during World War II either.
The most familiar was the 19th century uprising in the Sudan, which resulted in the murder of legendary British General
Two other times secular forces helped launch a religious terror activity. Israel assisted Hamas to get started, thinking
that it would compete to weaken the PLO. To check left-wing opposition, President Sadat released religious terrorists
from prison who later assassinated him.
See Thomas Hegghammer, “Introduction, Abdallah Azzam, The Imam of Jihad” Al Qaeda in Its Own Words, eds.
Kepel, Gilles and Jean- Pierre Milelli (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2009) pp. 81-101.
Peter Bergen Holy War Inc. Inside the Secret World of Osama Bin Ladin (New York: Free Press, 2001) p. 208
See Ami Pedahzur, William Eubank, and Leonard Weinberg, “The War on terrorism and the Decline of Terrorist Group
Formation” TPV, (14:3) Fall 2002, 141-147.
The relationship between different religious terror groups is unusual. Groups from different mainstream traditions (i.e.
Christianity, Islam, etc) do not cooperate. Traditional cleavages within a religion (i.e., Shiite and Sunni Islam) sometimes
are intensified. But the Shia do aid Sunni terrorist groups hostile to Israel.
I have no statistical evidence on this point.
Rohan Gunaratna, Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror, (New York: Columbia Univ. Press 2002) p. 97.
In the first wave individuals often went abroad and associated with other groups.
Bernard Lewis, “License to Kill, Foreign Affairs, November/December 1998
Bergen, (note 82) p. 225.
Those attacks, as well as expected ones that did not materialize, are discussed in a special volume of TPV (14:1) Spring
2002 edited by Jeffrey Kaplan entitled Millennial Violence: Past, Present, and Future. The issue was also published as
a separate volume with the same title by Frank Cass, London, 2002.
For a very interesting discussion of the circumstances which provoke American military responses to terrorist attacks,
see Michelle Mavesti, “Explaining the United States‟ Decision to Strike Back at Terrorists,” TPV, 13,2 (Summer, 2001)
If the organization understood its vulnerability, it might have thought that an attack on the sovereignty of the state
protecting it was unlikely. One reason the Taliban government refused repeated UN demands to expel al Qaeda was that
because without al Qaeda support it could not survive local domestic opposition. Nonetheless, the failure to plan for an
invasion possibility is astonishing.
Gunaratna, Inside, note 86.
Note 5 deals with over-reactions with respect to prisoners and the domestic scene.
The practice of beheading prisoners was also a serious concern. Zawahari, 2nd in command wrote the letter and knew
from personal experiences in Egypt the political dangers of excessive tactics. See Michael Scheuer,
Has al Zawahari Reined in al-Zarqawi? (Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Focus 3.14 2006
Suicide attacks have generated increasing antagonisms to the organization among Muslims The only place suicide
bombing is acceptable in Muslim countries now is in the West Bank where Israelis are present too. Pew Research
Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. Muslim Americans: No Signs of Growth in Alienation or Support for
Extremism Muslim Americans: Released, August 30, 2011 al-Zarqawi
Eric Schmitt and David Sanger, “White House Advisor Says U.S. Has Six Months to “Knock Out” Rattled Qaeda
Leadership”, New York Times July 29, 2011
Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula is the largest and most active franchise internationally. It has between 300 and 500
members. See Alistair Harris, Exploiting Grievances Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace, Middle East Program Number 111 May 2010) p.14.
Gunaratna, Inside (note 76 ) pp. 142-3.
See Louis Beam, “Leaderless Resistance”, The Seditionist 12 199. Jeffrey Kaplan‟s extremely interesting article
“Leaderless Resistance”, TPV (9.3) Autumn, 1997, pp. 80-95 discusses Beam‟s work. See also Ehud Sprinzak, “Right
Wing Terrorism in Comparative Perspective; The Case of Delegitimation” Terrorism and Political Violence (7.1)
Spring 1995, pp. 17-43. William Pierce‟s Turner Diaries influenced Timothy McVeigh the Oklahoma City Bomber.
Pierce also published a novel on the lone wolf, The Hunter, under his fictitious name Andrew MacDonald.
Al Suri uses Beam‟s term “leaderless resistance” and includes individuals and autonomous cells in the concept. See
Lawrence Wright, “The Master Plan” New Yorker September 11, 2006 pp .48-59 and Sarah Zabel, The Military (note
21) pp. 5-7. See Brynjar Lia‟s comprehensive discussion of Abu Misab al Suri‟s work in his Architect of Global Jihad:
The Life of al-Qaida Strategist Abu Mus’ab al Suri (New York: Columbia Press, 2007. Lia‟s article “Doctrines for
Jihadi Training”, Terrorism and Political Violence 20/4 2008, pp. 518-42 compares al Suri with other al Qaeda
Kaplan, Ibid. (note 99) p 80. See also Ehud Sprinzak, “Right Wing Terrorism in Comparative Perspective; The Case
of Delegitimation” Terrorism and Political Violence (7.1) Spring 1995, pp. 17-43. William Pierce‟s The Turner
Diaries influenced the Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh and Piece also published a novel The Hunter under
the same fictitious name Andrew MacDonald used for his principal book.
SPLC Report Fall 2011, p.3. This equals the attack number in the previous eight years.
Sammy Salama and Lydia Hansell, “Does Intent Equal Capability? Al Qaeda and Weapons of Mass Destruction” ”,
Non Proliferation Review 12,3 November 2005 online 05/10 03615-39
See my “Terrorism and Weapons of the Apocalypse”, National Security Studies Quarterly V, I (Summer 1999) 49-
67. Reprinted in Henry Sokolski and James Ludes eds. Twenty-First Century Weapons Proliferation (London: 2001,
Frank Cass) pp. 14-32
Bradley McAllister and Alex P. Schmid, “Theories of Terrorism”, Routledge Handbook of Terrorism Research
[London: 2011, Routledge) p .255.
See “Modern Terror” (note 1)
In a video released in March 2004, Osama bin Laden , said he used against the Americans the same methods used by
mudjahedines against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. "We will continue this strategy bleeding America to the