7.3.3 International Terrorism

International terrorism is the radicalisation and coordination of terrorists operating in several countries, to achieve a political objective.

Terrorism was defined earlier as the use of violence by a few people to frighten many others, “for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause” (7.2.8).  The examples given there were of operations in a single country.  International terrorism involves the operational guidance of multiple terror groups and individual terrorists.  No single country can bring it to an end, either by force or by negotiation.

The most striking examples to date are of Islamic terrorism:

●  Al-Qaeda had its origins in Osama Bin Laden’s resistance against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.  It then switched its focus to resisting American activities in the Middle East, and its 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York made it a household name.  It has subsequently sponsored other Islamic terrorist groups acting against Western interests.  A US congressional report in May 2024 described its Background, Current Status, and U.S. Policy, listing operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and the Magreb.

●  ISIS (‘Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’) is also known as IS (the so-called ‘Islamic State’), ISIL (‘Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant’), or Da’esh (an Arabic acronym that sounds like words for crushing and discord).  When Comparing Al Qaeda and ISIS, Daniel Byman noted that “Al Qaeda’s primary enemy is the United States, which it sees as the root cause of the Middle East’s problems”, whereas “the primary target of the Islamic State has not been the United States, but rather “apostate” regimes in the Arab world”.  It was attacking Shia Muslims and enjoyed “stunning success”, attracting thousands of foreign fighters.

●  Iran is sponsoring numerous terrorist groups, as listed in the US Country Reports on Terrorism 2021. It is a Shia Muslim country which is seeking regional dominance, working through Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen for example.  It has also funded Hamas in Gaza, which is a Sunni group.  These are all parts of its strategy of opposing America wherever it sees an opportunity to do so, as mentioned earlier (7.7.1).

Technology has increased the threat posed by international terrorism:

●  Terrorists have been able to use the Internet to communicate with numerous cells of activity: providing propaganda, training materials, guidance and coordination.

●  They may hack into computers to gain access to secret information about targets.

●  They may also gain access to the knowledge to make weapons of mass destruction.

●  The Internet enables them to pool their knowledge and to innovate rapidly.

The implications of these capabilities are so serious that the whole approach to international security needs to be re-examined.  Collaborative policing and the sharing of intelligence will be necessary to ensure that governments are at least as agile as those who oppose them.

As described earlier (, Islamic terrorists have Quranic authority to resist attacks on their religion.  Any perceived injustice against Muslims risks radicalising those who would otherwise have been peaceful.  Actions against terrorists must not be capable of being construed as oppression against Islam:

●  Politicians must not use language which demonises all Muslims.

●  It is extremely important to minimise civilian deaths, yet Israel’s actions in fighting Hamas in Gaza have “killed more than 25,000 Palestinians”, according to Reuters. Israel also prevented food aid from reaching the population, which resulted in the headline: Gaza starvation could amount to war crime, UN human rights chief tells BBC.

Israel’s failure to exercise due care led to negative propaganda, with the result that UK antisemitic hate incidents hit new high in 2023 for example.


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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/733b.htm.