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 has its origins in Osama Bin Laden’s resentment at the American presence in the Middle East, although it subsequently supported other conflicts with its expertise.  A US congressional report describes 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 an offshoot of Al-Qaeda.  It 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).  The Independent article, Who are ISIS?, explains that it is a Sunni Muslim group that has been waging war in Iraq and Syria, and has been carrying out acts of terrorism all over the world.  The success of its recruitment strategy speaks for itself: a CNN report, ISIS goes global: 143 attacks in 29 countries have killed 2,043, shows how much the organisation had expanded by February 2018.

●  Iran is sponsoring numerous terrorist groups, as listed in the US Country Reports on Terrorism 2021.  It is a Shia Muslim country, but it has also funded Hamas in Gaza which is a Sunni group.  It appears to be seeking regional dominance and to be opposing America where it sees an opportunity to do so, as mentioned earlier (

Technology has increased the threat posed by international terrorism:

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

●  Terrorists 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.

It is also advisable to ensure that Islamic terrorists aren’t provided with any further evidence to support their assertion that they are waging a ‘just war’.  The Quran recognises the Golden Rule (, and it urges “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (, but it does permit the use of force to defend Islam.  Reza Aslan, in his book No god but God (p. 84), describes the Quran’s position on jihad, saying “the doctrine of jihad was its outright prohibition of all but strictly defensive wars” and quoting the Quran (in his own translation):

“do not begin hostilities; God does not like the aggressor” (2:190);

“permission to fight is given only to those who have been oppressed” (22:39).

it is therefore important that actions against terrorists should not be capable of being construed as attacks against Islam as a religion.  It is important to use language which condemns their crimes and avoids demonising all Muslims.


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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/edition04/733.htm.