Global Terrorism: Challenges & Response

Shahid H. Raja
15 min readJun 4, 2021



Terrorism is a historical as well as a universal phenomenon, practised by every type of organisation, religious or non-religious, right-wing or left-wing. Consequently, the reasons for the terrorist activities are always subject to context, time and place. However, there has been an increase in terrorist attacks; the Middle East, Asia, and Africa were most affected by terrorism.

As terrorism is a complex phenomenon, it is difficult to pinpoint a specific reason for its occurrence. A better approach is to determine the conditions that make terror possible or likely; most of these conditions have to do with the circumstances such as political, social repression, or economic strife. This 2-part article attempts to do that and suggests a comprehensive set of solutions to eliminate it.


Terrorism is a historical as well as a universal phenomenon; very few countries can claim not to have been affected by this menace which is on the rise. It has been practised by every type of organisation, religious or non-religious, right-wing or left-wing Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus even the so-called most peaceful Buddhists have engaged in terrorist attacks. Consequently, the reasons for the terrorist activity and the identity of those who carry out these acts are always subject to context, time and place.

As per the Global Terrorism Database, more than 61,000 incidents of non-state terrorism claiming over 140,000 lives have been recorded from 2000 to 2014. However, in 2016, OECD member countries experienced the most deaths from terrorism since the September 11 attacks in 2001. There has been a 67% increase in attacks and a nearly 600% increase in deaths from terrorism since 2014. Middle East, Asia, and Africa were most affected by terrorist attacks with Syria -Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan the worst affected.

Terrorism Defined

Unfortunately, there is no consensus on its accurate definition. More than one hundred definitions in the field; one country’s terrorists are another country’s freedom fighters. However, for this presentation, we can define, “terrorism” as —

“any violent act of intentional targeting of non-combatants by a person or a group to create panic among the public to get tactical or strategic concessions from the policymakers for the accomplishment of their political or non-political goals.”

However, United States Code distinguishes between domestic terrorism and international terrorism for purposes of its Chapter 113 B, entitled “Terrorism”. As per their definition, “International terrorism” means activities that involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that violates federal or state law, occurs primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.A. and appear to be intended to

1. intimidate or coerce a civilian population

2. to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion

3. to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping

Terrorism in History-Ancient World

As stated earlier, terrorism is a historical phenomenon; some of the examples of its historicity are as follows

· Zealots: Historically, Jewish Zealots could be counted as the first organized terrorists whose acts of violence against the Romans resulted in their banishment from Israel 2000 years ago.

· Assassins: Followers of Hasan bin Sabah of the 10th century can also be described as terrorists for the violence perpetrated by them on the order of their spiritual leader.

· Thugs: Members of secret Indian cult, both Muslims and Hindus, who worshipped Mother Kali, goddess of destruction. They operated as gangs of highway robbers, tricking and later strangling their victims with handkerchiefs or noose. They would then rob and bury their victims.

Terrorism in History-Modern World

Since the start of modern history in the late 18th century, following cases of global terrorism are prominent

· Jacobins: Radical revolutionaries who coined the term “terrorism” during French Revolution, killed more than 35,000 people to terrify French people into submission to their ideas

· Anarchists: Pioneers of modern terrorism at the global level, started in the 1880s in Russia, later spread to Europe/North America. Using extremes acts of violence as their main strategy to achieve their objectives, assassinated several world leaders/bombed buildings

· Nationalist/anti-colonial Terrorism: Terror groups that operated in Asia, Africa, and elsewhere during the last phase of colonialism and continued up to 1980sa. Also the Zionist underground terrorist organization Irgun used these very tactics, including the notorious act of bombing of the King David Hotel on Monday, July 22, 1946

· the 1970s/80s Terrorists: Irish Republican Army, ETA in Spain and PLO/Black September in the Middle East to press for the acceptance of their respective political demands. Tamil Tiger in Sri Lanka popularized suicide bombing and women suicide bombers, successfully copied by the Jihadist terror organizations in the Middle East and Europe

· Leftist Romantics: Those who took part in 1968 street demonstrations in Paris, London and other European capitals became disillusioned taking armed struggle as a strategy to begin a communist revolution by force. Inspired by the success of Chinese and Vietnamese guerrillas, they espoused pseudo-Marxist ideologies and wreaked havoc with the help of modern technology. Italy’s Red Brigades hijacked the Italian prime minister’s plane and executed him. Germany’s Baader-Meinhof group carried out acts of violence in association with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

· Pre-9/11 Terrorists: Trained by CIA during the Soviet-Afghan War of the 1980s, these radicalized Muslims took arms against oppressive, un-Islamic governments of the Middle East and their sponsors for implementing true Islam. One such resistance group was Al-Qaida led by Osama Bin Laden started a global Jihad against the West after the deployment of American/NATO forces in the Middle East during the First1990 Gulf War.

· Post 9/11 Terrorists: Terrorist activities were carried out after the actions taken by the USA after it launched War on Terrorism. One such group is IS asserting that the only way to progress for the Muslims is to follow the original religious principles of Islam practised during the golden period of the Islamic Caliphate, a seventh-century empire led by Islam’s founding generations.

Causes of Violence and Terrorism

Terrorism is a complex phenomenon, a specific kind of political violence committed by people who do not have a legitimate army at their disposal. Rather than seeking the causes of terrorism itself, a better approach is to determine the conditions that make terror possible or likely. Barring a few Lone Wolf cases, most of these conditions have to do with the circumstances such as political, social repression, or economic strife.

There are two sets of conditions that make violence against civilians seem like a reasonable and even necessary option;

· A. Conditions facilitating Start of Terrorism-Pull Factors vs Push Factors

· B. Conditions facilitating Survival of Terrorism-4 Ss Model

A. Factors Initiating Terrorism-Pull Factors:

Pull factors are those reasons which are so appealing that a person or a group of people feel attached to them and are ready to kill others for these attractive things- something so attractive to pull someone towards it. Some of these could be

· Ideology/Idea-Maybe Intellectual underpinnings of organization/ idea, promises of salvation in the hereafter. Thanks to technology and the spread of the internet, Jihadist organizations developed a broad message of Jihad that can be easily contextualized and distributed widely across various channels to receptive minds.

· Personality-Sheer charismatic personality of the person behind ideology/ organisation i.e., hate preachers and those that prey on vulnerabilities and grievances and channel recruits into violent extremism through persuasion, pressure and manipulation.

· Personal-Personal quest, a sense of belonging to a cause, ideology or social network, friendship and kinship ties/compulsions could also motivate a person to resort to joining an extremist outfit. Scott Atran argues that “extremism arises, in part, when membership in a group reinforces deeply held ideals, and an individual’s identity merges with the group’s.”

· Adventure-Sheer excitement of enjoying power and control, adventure and the possibility of heroism/ personal redemption are also strong pull factors for attracting the rich.

· Financial Gain-For poor persons, it may be the financial benefits of joining such organizations.

· Protection-Lastly, members of the mafia join such organizations for protection from the state agencies.

Factors Initiating Terrorism-Push Factors

Push factors, on the other hand, are those reasons which force or push a person to become an extremist or join a terrorist organization and start an armed struggle against those whom he thinks are responsible for his grievances. Five main reasons for a group of people to resort to acts of violence and ultimately terrorism are;

l Marginalization: Socioeconomic deprivation and political marginalisation of a significant minority in a country for any reason, actual or perceived, create feelings of hatred against the institutions of the state. According to a study published in the Journal of Peace Research (2011), an analysis of 172 countries between 1970 and 2006, found solid support for a link between minority groups’ experience with economic discrimination and higher rates of domestic terrorism. It was found that “countries that feature economic discrimination against minority groups experience around six more incidents of domestic terrorism per year.”

l Repression and Injustice: Repression and injustice justify for terrorists to mobilise people for protest, converts these groups into violent outfits and even militant if their grievances are not redressed. To get the support of silent majority of their group, they resort to their emotional manipulation by using cards of race, religion, caste, colour etc. These feelings of economic injustice and socio-political marginalization are then used by the vested interests, local or foreign, state or non-state, for the furtherance of their foreign policy or domestic agenda.

l Identity Politics: Popularised by Francis Fukuyama, identity crises relate to cultural marginalisation, which produces alienation and a lack of belonging to either home or the parents’ society. According to him, the second generation of Muslim migrants to Europe are facing this identity crisis as they are not owned by the people of their respective host countries while their links to the parent’s country are not so strong. Consequently, this sociocultural isolation reinforces their religious solidarity with Muslims around the world; any issue of the greater Muslim Ummah is internalised by these isolated youths prompting them to turn extremist

l Foreign Policy Options: Foreign occupation or the foreign policy decisions of powerful countries against the weaker countries arouse feelings of injustice and nationalism which is then exploited by others. Domestic grievances are framed around victimhood against Western foreign policy and military intervention. In an article published in the Chicago Tribune of September 12, 2006, Robert Pape, professor of political science at the University of Chicago. wrote: “Amid prognostications of doom, we have lost sight of the truth: that suicide terrorism is a tactic, not an enemy, and that beneath the religious rhetoric with which it is perpetrated, it occurs largely in the service of secular aims. Suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation rather than a product of Islamic fundamentalism.”

l Islamophobia: The central core of this narrative is that the ‘West is at war with Islam’, which creates a narrative of ‘them and us’. Conflicts are filtered through this core narrative: Bosnia; Chechnya; Iraq; Syria; Somalia and Palestine, etc. These conflicts and events can become a focal point for mobilisation. The ban on the Muslim veil; the cartoon crises and other contentious issues are all evidence that the West is at war with Muslim communities. There is a keen sense of alienation and injustice which is reinforced by Islamophobia, xenophobia and discrimination.

l Betrayal Syndrome: Every global and regional power creates/supports militant groups in their areas of respective interests for the furtherance of their foreign policy agenda. Once used, these militants are abandoned by their erstwhile sponsors; they, in turn,n become their nemesis or what Jack Blum described as a “disposal problem”. According to him, “after every covert war, there is an unintended disposal problem. We steered and encouraged these people. Then we dropped them. Now we’ve got a disposal problem. When you motivate people to fight for a cause — jihad — the problem is, how do you shut them off?’

l Lack of Political Empowerment: The majority of the terrorists are now coming out of the Middle East where dictatorial regimes are the norm rather than the exception. Whatever the cause, the lack of democracy has left the Middle East vulnerable to radical recruitment. Globalization with increasing integration of economics, communications, and cultures across national boundaries is affecting, directly as well as indirectly, the governance structures, processes and the cultural fabric in every country. It is stoking the aspirations of the middle classes for a better quality of life with a greater say in the socio-political decision making. However, the political establishment in most ME countries, historically governed by authoritarian elites, are not providing them adequate channels of expression/ empowerment. Consequently, these countries are increasingly witnessing the outbursts of popular resentment against the status quo which is then exploited by the regional and global hegemons as well as the non-state violent actors.

According to a UNO report “Bad governance, especially disregard for the rule of law, discriminatory social policies, political exclusion of certain communities…harassment by the security authorities, and confiscation of passports or other identity documents, all contribute to feelings of despair, resentment, and animosity towards the government and provide fertile ground for the terrorist recruiter.”

Factors Sustaining Terrorism-4 Ss Model

Irrespective of the fact how they are defined or what is their cause of action, a terrorist organisation ultimately needs four things to survive and be successful

A. Slogan/Cause: Terrorism must have a cause, how unachievable or absurd it may seem to be. It could be an armed struggle against occupation forces (i.e. Taliban fighting against NATO forces in Afghanistan) or foreign policy decisions of outside states adversely affecting those resorting to terrorism (i.e. 9/11 or the. terrorist acts in Europe). Similarly, a vocal group of minorities facing oppression at the hands of the state or by the majority may take up arms and carry out acts of terrorism against those whom they think are responsible for their grievances. (i.e. Moros in Philippines/ Rohingyas in Myanmar

B. Support: Terrorists need the shelter, support and sympathy of the people they think they are fighting for. If they think that they are not being supported by the public, they start terrorist activities against them to force them to support them. See the acts of terrorism by the Muslim militias against their people in this context. As Peter Neumann, the director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization, pus it: “Terrorism is not necessarily about the number of people you kill; it’s about the terror you create.”

C. Space: Terrorist organisations must have an area of operation for their terrorist activities. Their main aim is to create panic among the public and awe the law enforcement agencies and other organs of the state by performing high visibility, maximum casualty acts of terrorism to create maximum impact. For this, they need some space-urban or rural.

D. Sponsors: Whether they spring up spontaneously or are created by some agency for specific objectives, every terrorist organisation ultimately needs and gets a foreign sponsor. There is no dearth of such sponsors in modern days. It could be a global power, a regional aspirant for hegemony or any disgruntled neighbour interested to achieve its national interests. It provides them with finances, arms, training and strategic/tactical advice. Tamil Tigers, Mukti Bahini, Moros, Uyghurs, Hezbollah, IRA, Taliban, I SIS-all were/ are being sponsored by outside forces for the advancement of their respective foreign policy agent-Terrorism

Anti- Terrorism Strategy

Stopping violence is rarely simple or easy. Only time and commitment by a majority of the parties involved can resolve​ a conflict. Keeping in view the multidimensional nature of terrorism, we must adopt a long term holistic and comprehensive approach for its eradication. While the Pull and Push causes of terrorism need long term policies, the sources of survival of terrorism can be choked even in the short term. Some of the measures are as follows;

Formulation of long-term National Action Plan

Urgent need for a comprehensive framework for tackling terrorism, implemented in letter and spirit with more emphasis on intelligence gathering and better coordination among all the agencies involved in counter-terrorism at the provincial and federal level. Carrot and stick strategy to announce amnesty for those who voluntarily renounce terrorism and severe punishment to those captured during counter-terrorism operations. Divide and eliminate strategy to divide the terrorist by infiltrating professional spies inside their ranks and creating dissension among their ranks. Hearts and mind strategy to win over those segments of the population who hold sympathies for these groups and provide the material, financial and logistical support through a systematic information campaign. Living document and should be revised by the requirements and incorporating the lessons learned.

Use of Force- Adequate, and Legitimate

Using force to protect its territory and people from foreign aggression and internal subversion is the right of every state. Four-point strategy to counter-terrorism through the use of force

l Do not kill the political head of the terrorist organisation-his death results in the formation of splinter groups difficult to trace and eliminate. Secondly, we need him when finally negotiations are to be held

l Do not spare the second tier of the terrorist outfit. Being the planners, these are the most dangerous persons in the organisation

l Co-opt the third tier of this terrororganisationstion through every means possible-these is the field operators and help in locating the second tier leadership

l Win over the people living in the terror-prone area by carrying out the development activities to ensure life is going on normal

Countering 4 Ss

As stated above, irrespective of the fact how they are defined or what is their cause of action, a terrorist organisation ultimately needs four things to survive and be successful. We need to plug these sources

l Slogan: Find what narrative they are using to invite people and get their support. Counter it with but a better narrative with facts and figures, logic and emotions using the opinion-makers including religious scholars, media persons and official spokespersons

l Support: Find and choke the channels of material and financial support to the terrorist outfits

l Space: Keep on limiting the space terrorists use to carry out the terrorist activity by utilising all the technological and human intelligence

l Sponsors: Similarly, take all measures, physical and diplomatic to restrain the access of terrorists to foreign sources of funds and arms

Improved Criminal Justice System

Improve the investigating and prosecution branches of the judicial system so that even the hardened criminals and terrorists are convicted and sentenced with due process of law. Selection and appointment of all police personnel and prosecution officers strictly on merit and their constant capacity building by modern techniques of investigation and prosecution. Similarly, judges need to be appointed on merit and provided maximum security so that they can dispense justice without any fear or favour. High-security prisons to confine the hard-core terrorists to ensure they do not have contacts with the outfield commanders

Plugging in the Sources of Terrorism

Extreme poverty and widespread inequality create an environment of resentment and estrangement facilitating the recruitment of terrorists. Government must accelerate the growth but also a selective attack on the worst form of poverty through appropriate social safety nets. Another important source and driver of terrorism is discrimination, actual or perceived, which needs to be prudently tackled through legislative measures, financial support and development effort. Last but the least is the control of the spread of hate material against a group based on caste, creed or colour or ethnicity. In these days of technological connectivity, rumours spread like wildfire.

Mainstreaming Ex-Terrorists/Returning Foreign Fighters

While using full legitimate force, state they should keep the window open for those who renounce terrorism and surrender. Their systematic re-absorption should be tackled by a special agent who should also keep an eye for possible double-dealing foreign fighters who travelled to Syria, are returning as ISIS is finally defeated on the ground with ideas and intentions to replicate the ISIS model collectively or as lone wolves. Not all returnees present the same degree of threat, treating all former fighters as high risk may radicalise them further through unwarranted persecution. Some ex-terrorists could become powerful voices against the groups they once joined. Government should thoroughly screen these returnees to identify the more dangerous among them as well as to select credible and trustworthy individuals who could counter-recruitment narratives.

Regional & Global Cooperation

Terrorism ultimately draws its support from regional and global powers; as such, renunciation by all states not to use terrorist outfits as their proxies for the achievement of their narrow national interests could go a long way in eliminating terrorism. Accordingly, formulation of a comprehensive strategy by involving all the regional and concerned global stakeholders to combat the threats posed by the non-state actors in the region is crucial.

This strategy should not only cover intelligence sharing and apprehending the terrorists but should also target those criminal elements who facilitate the through drug trafficking and money Laundering. Greater investments in counterterrorism by OECD nations have resulted in an increased number of ISIL attacks, as well as ISIL-inspired attacks, being thwarted by the authorities. In 2016, two in three ISIL-involved attacks were foiled compared to about half of ISIL-inspired attacks.

Marshall Plan

Marshall Plan style development of springboards of terrorism (Middle East, Africa, Afghanistan/Pakistan etc) as a region by providing easier connectivity and inter-dependent project as well as peaceful resolution of long-term simmering disputes in these countries could also effectively choke the terrorism springs. In fact, without solving these disputes, there cannot be any long-term peace in these regions. Lastly, the promotion of good governance and human development in the developing countries as a priority could be the best contribution by the UNO towards the elimination of terrorism.


Although terrorism, howsoever defined, is a global as well as a historical phenomenon with no guarantee of its 100% elimination in the short to medium term, yet with concerted and coordinated efforts we can control its lethality and extent of damage


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