Terrorism is as old as the Roman Empire and it existed in some form or the other, be it the Zealots in Judea or the Assassins in the 11th to 13th century with religion being a strong motivating factor behind terrorist activities until the French Revolution.

In fact, the term “terrorism” originated from the Reign of Terror (Regime de la Terreur) of 1793-94. Following the Second World War, the focus of terrorist activities shifted from Europe to the Middle East, Africa and Asia with the emergence of various nationalistic and anti-colonial groups in these regions. Left wing extremism, based on the belief that terrorism is the only strategy of revolutionary movement for the weak in the Third World (e.g. in Malaysia, Vietnam etc.), surfaced in Europe and elsewhere as well, especially since the late 1950s.

International terrorism today is marked by the large number of transnational terrorist groups, mostly motivated by the Islamist fundamentalist ideology with Al-Qaeda, ISIS at the forefront.

“Terrorism exploits the freedom our open societies provide to destroy our freedoms” —Dr. Manmohan Singh.

Definition of Terrorism

It is somewhat surprising that despite terrorism being recognised as a global phenomenon, attempts in the past for arriving at an internationally accepted definition of terrorism have proved futile. According to some observers, this ambivalence is primarily due to two reasons:

  • Firstly , a ‘terrorist’ in one country may be viewed as a ‘freedom fighter’ in another;
  • Secondly, some States resort to or encourage various kinds of criminal acts, clandestinely, through their own agencies or hired agents to subvert or to otherwise destabilize another lawfully established government or in extreme cases get important political or governmental personalities of another State assassinated. Terrorism is the systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective. 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission (2ndARC) suggests that following points should be included in the definition of terrorism:
  • Use of firearms, explosives or any other lethal substance to cause or likely to cause damage to life and property and essential infrastructure including installations/establishments having military significance.
  • Assassination of (including attempt thereof) public functionaries. The intent should be to threaten the integrity, security and sovereignty of India or overawe public functionaries or to terrorise people or sections of people.
  • Detention of any person or threat to kill or injure any person to force the government to act or abstain from acting in a particular manner.
  • Providing/facilitating material support, including finances, for the aforesaid activities.
  • Commission of certain acts or possession of certain arms etc. by members or supporters of terrorist organizations which cause or are likely to cause loss of life, injury to a person or damage to any property.

Types of Terrorism

Depending on the various goals and objectives of the terrorist group/groups, the nature of terrorism also differs. Various kinds of terrorism are as hereunder:

Terrorism by External State (State Sponsored Terrorism)
  • State-sponsored terrorism or warfare by proxy is government support to violent non-state actors engaged in terrorism. State sponsored terrorism on a massive scale appeared in international politics in the 1960s and 1970s. In recent times, some countries have embraced terrorism as a deliberate instrument of foreign policy.
  • One distinction of state sponsored terrorism from other forms of terrorist activity is that it is initiated to obtain certain clearly defined foreign policy objectives rather than grabbing media attention or targeting the potential audience. As noted by 2nd ARC, state-sponsored terrorism is the most effective means of terrorism from the perspective of the perpetrator. Example – Pakistan sponsored terrorism in India, especially in Jammu & Kashmir .
Terrorism by Non-State Actors
  • It involves individuals or organizations involved in terrorist activities to influence politics at a national and, sometimes, international level but do not belong to or ally themselves to any particular country or state. For example, Naxalites, LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), LET (Lashkar – e-Taiba) etc .
  • Further, the use of non-state actors is essentially the employment of a proxy element, which gives the state of Pakistan a degree of deniability. However, there is no doubt that none of the so called non-state actors like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) could have operated with impunity without the active funding, logistical and military support of Pakistan. The close linkages of the ISI and such groups are well documented as is their direct involvement in attacks like 26/11.
Ideology Oriented Terrorism
  • Left-Wing Terrorism
    • Violence against the ruling elite mostly by the peasant class motivated by what are called leftist ideologies have occurred time and again in history. The ideological basis for the left and subsequent violent movements was provided by the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao Zedong. Leftist ideologies believe that all the existing social relations and state structures in the capitalist society are exploitative in character and a revolutionary change through violent means is essential. Example – Maoists in India and Nepal.
  • Right-Wing Terrorism:
    • Right-wing groups generally seek to maintain the status-quo or to return to some past situation that they feel should have been conserved. Sometimes, groups espousing rightist ideologies might assume ethnic/racist character too. They may force the government to acquire a territory or to intervene to protect the rights of an ‘oppressed’ minority in a neighbouring country (i.e., the Nazi Party in Germany).
    • Violence against migrant communities also comes under this category of terrorist violence. It is to be noted here that religion can play a supportive role to rightist violence. Examples of these are: Nazism in Germany, Fascists in Italy, white supremacy movements in the US known as Ku Klux Klan (KKK).
Religious Terrorism
  • Present-day terrorist activities around the world are motivated largely by religious imperatives. According to Hoffman, the practitioners of terrorism motivated either in whole or in part by a religious imperative consider violence as a divine duty or a sacramental act.
  • It embraces different means of legitimisation and justification compared to other terrorist groups, and these distinguishing factors make religious terrorism more destructive in nature. Example: ISIS and radicalisation of youths, Taliban etc.
Ethno-Nationalist Terrorism
  • Ethnic terrorism can be defined as deliberate violence by a subnational ethnic group to advance its cause. Such violence usually focuses either on the creation of a separate State or on the elevation of the status of one ethnic group over others.
  • Various examples are activities by Tamil Nationalist groups in Sri Lanka and insurgent groups in North East India.

Causes of Terrorism

Historical Factors
  • These factors include injustice of the past and distortion of history at times. For example, terrorism in Kashmir and North east. The Kashmir issue is a result of different interpretation of instrument of Accession by India, Pakistan and Kashmiri separatists. North-East insurgency is a result of historical policy of British colonialists to keep the region away from mainstream Nationalist movement.
Religion
  • There have been several terrorist incidents in India which were motivated by religious fundamentalism. Religion in itself is not the root cause of terrorism. However certain agencies exploit religion to promote terrorism. For example: The ISI launched an initiative in 1991, even before the Babri Masjid demolition to forge an alliance between Khalistani terrorism that prevailed in Punjab and the terrorist groups in Jammu & Kashmir.
Ethnicity
  • An ethnic group refers to a social group that shares a common and distinctive culture, religion, language, or the like. The States in India’s North East region have a long history of conflict and violence among the tribal groups within the same State, and also neighbouring States. In this region, ethno-nationalism is quite often expressed through violence. Various examples of ethnicity based terrorism include Naga insurgency, Mizo insurgency etc.
Political
  • Political causes of terrorism emanate from lack of effective redressal of grievances and lack of political representation. For example, a major part of north eastern region of India was under the state of Assam. However political aspirations of different ethnic groups could not be satisfied. This led to insurgencies like Mizo insurgency which was effectively controlled after the Mizo Accord.
Human Rights
  • Human rights violation by majority or the security forces have always added fuel to the fire. This has been the case in almost all insurgency affected areas. Some of the examples include- abuse of (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) AFSPA in Kashmir and North East. Similarly, in Myanmar the human rights abuse by majority and the armed forces have led to the Rohingya crisis.
Economic
  • Economic causes of terrorism include unequal distribution of resources, lack of development, poor socio-economic conditions among others. Often, the lack of development and the lack of any prospect for improving one’s living standards provide a fertile ground for extremist ideologies to flourish. Large proportion of the recruits to extremist groups are from deprived or marginalized backgrounds or from regions which somehow seem untouched by the vibrant growth in other parts of the country. The unevenness of our development process leads to differences and divisions in the country.
  • For example: the inter-regional divide, the rural-urban divide and the inter-sectoral divide, are leading to disaffection and large-scale migration. An example of this is the rise of Maoism in central Indian tribal areas which have generally lagged behind in terms of development.

Methods of Terrorism

The traditional tactics used by terrorists are attacks on persons and property using weapons, bombs, lEDs, grenades, landmines etc, apart from hostage-taking, hijacking and forcible take-over of buildings, especially Government/public buildings. These could be classified as conventional means of terrorism.

In addition, there is increasing resort to suicide attacks and kidnapping. Besides, there are looming threats of terrorists acquiring Weapons of Mass Destruction (nuclear, chemical or biological) and of cyber terrorism as well as environmental terrorism.

Environmental Terrorism
  • While eco-terrorism is in protest against the destruction of the natural environment, environmental terrorism is the premeditated damage caused to the natural world for example during the Gulf War of 1991 when Saddam Hussein ordered the detonation of more than 700 oil wells which engulfed Kuwait in smoke.
Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) are weapons that can inflict heavy and indiscriminate damage on a given target. Nuclear, chemical and biological weapons are the commonly identified weapons of mass destruction.
Chemical Weapons
  • A chemical attack could be the release of toxic gas caused by attacking an industrial facility, or releasing a chemical that has been stolen from its legitimate users to inflict heavy damage on the enemy. Chemical weapons are different from conventional weapons or nuclear weapons as the destructive effect of chemical weapons are not primarily due to any explosive force. Example: nerve agent VX.
Nuclear Weapons
  • Nuclear weapons are devices designed to release energy in an explosive manner as a result of nuclear fission, nuclear fusion, or a combination of the two processes. Example – the atomic bomb ‘Little Boy’ dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945.
Biological Weapons
  • Bio-terrorism is a relatively new form of terrorist activity that has emerged as a result of the advancements in biotechnology being accessible to terrorist groups. The American Center for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) defines bio-terrorism attack as “the deliberate release of viruses, bacteria, or other germs (agents) used to cause illness or death in people, animals, or plants”. These natural agents are changed to “increase their ability to cause disease, make them resistant to current medicines, or to increase their ability to be spread into the environment.” These are spread though air, water or food. Terrorists use biological agents “because they can be extremely difficult to detect and do not cause illness for several hours to several days.” Examples of biological weapons agent include anthrax, botulinum etc.
Cyber-Terrorism
  • The term ‘cyber-terrorism’ is of very recent origin in comparison to other forms of terrorist activities. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), cyber-terrorism is a criminal act perpetrated by the use of computers and telecommunications capabilities, resulting in violence, destruction and/or disruption of services to create fear by causing confusion and uncertainty within a given population, with the goal of influencing governments or people to conform to a particular political, social, or ideological agenda.
  • Thus, cyber-terrorism is the most advanced means of terrorist strategy developed with the advancement in information and communication technologies that enables terrorists to carry out their operations with minimum physical threat to themselves. As per The Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-ln) until June 2017, India witnessed more than 27,000 cyber security threats. Recent ransomware attacks using Wanna Cry and Petya viruses have amply confirmed cyber attacks as a “Weapon of Mass Disruption” with more than 300,000 computers affected across different sectors: health, finance, transport, ports and so on in 150 countries. One of the biggest cyber-attack in the history of India’s banking sector was the hacking of 32 lakh debit cards in 2016.
Lone Wolf Attacks

A “lone wolf” is a terrorist who carry out attacks alone without having any direct contact with any organization. Lone Wolf Attacks, i.e. actors acting allegedly by themselves without any tactical or financial support from an established insurgent group or international terrorist organization. (For Example, Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016)


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