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Terrorist Attack of September 11, 2001
To most Americans, terrorism is best represented by the attacks of September 11, 2001. This was the largest terrorist attack in U.S. history. Nearly 3000 people were killed.

However, terrorism is not a new phenomenon. It has been around for as long as humans have organized governments. 

Terrorism refers to violence--usually against civilians--by a group or government for the purpose of creating fear in order to push a political, religious or social goal. 

The term itself was first used during the French Revolution when the revolutionary leader, Maximilien Robespierre, famously stated, "Let terror be the order of the day." During what became known as the "Reign of Terror," the government of France rounded up and killed over 60,000 people thought to be a threat to the revolution.

These acts go back even further. The Assyrians in ancient Mesopotamia used terror as a weapon of war, famously lining the walls of conquered cities with the skins of civilians.

Most terrorism is political in nature. That means that groups use terrorism in order to cause a change in government.

For example, several groups used terrorism in Russia in the 1800s in order to get rid of the Tsar and try to change Russia's government. In 1881, a terrorist group called "The Peoples' Will" successfully assassinated Tsar Alexander II in a bombing in St. Petersburg.

The Irish Republican Brotherhood and later the Irish Republican Army used terrorism against England in an attempt to bring Independence to Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Religion is often used as a justification for terrorism. But, it should be noted, that no religion actually supports terrorism, but groups use religion in order to justify its goals to bring about political change.

Before the creation of Israel, for example, Zionists (those who wanted to reestablish a Jewish state in Palestine) used terrorism to draw attention to this goal. On July 26, 1946, a Jewish group known as Irgun bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing over 90 people.

After the creation of Israel, conflicts arose between the Israeli state and the Palestinians with terrorism often the means by which groups such as the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Hamas tried to gain control over territory controlled by Israel.

In the Central African Republic, a Christian group calling itself Antibalaka has attacked local Muslim populations in an effort to extract revenge for a bloody coup that occurred in 2013.

Of course, the most notorious of terrorist organizations is ISIS, or the Islamic State. This group is waging war in various Middle Eastern countries in order to establish a unified government under Islamic law. They have taken responsibility for many terrorist attacks, most notably the Bataclan Massacre in Paris and the Manchester Bombing in England.  Often, ISIS uses suicide bombers to carry out their attacks.

Although ISIS attacks are heavily covered by the media in the Western World, it should be noted that most of the terrorist attacks conducted by ISIS occur in Muslim countries where the majority victims are Muslim civilians. ISIS wants to overthrow current governments in the Middle East to establish a Caliphate.

45 Years of Terrorism (1970-2015). Courtesy of the the Global Terrorism Database https://www.start.umd.edu/gtd/
Many countries have experienced domestic terrorism in which groups use violence for social goals. For example, in the United States, the Ku Klux Klan was established to intimidate African Americans and enforce segregation. In addition, terrorist activities have been conducted by groups wanting to end abortion or stop animal abuse and whaling. 

Terrorism can generally be classified into several basic types:
  • State-Sponsored terrorism: terrorist acts on a state or government by a state or government.
  • Dissent terrorism: terrorist groups which have rebelled against their government.
  • Left and Right-winged Terrorism: terrorist groups rooted in political ideology.
  • Religious terrorism: terrorist groups which are extremely religiously motivated.
  • Criminal Terrorism: terrorists acts used to aid in crime and criminal profit.
  • Issue-Oriented Terrorism: terrorist acts to advance a specific issue.