History of Terrorism

By: Ahmed Alhaj (Site Admin)


Khartoum, (sudanow. info) Terrorism has blighted human civilisations for as long as we can remember. No nation and no region has escaped its horror. The blood-stained pages of the last century have ample record of demonic leaders, hell-hound anarchists,revolutionaries and mad-caps who bludgeoned whole populations into panic and horror.



 The two World Wars, the holocaust in Germany, the brutalities of the Japanese occupation, the forced and bloody expulsion by Zionists, with Western complicity, of 700,000 Palestinians from the land of their birth, the mass murders and uprooting that accompanied India’s partition, the incineration of thousands of innocent civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the widespread torture and murder by the former apartheid regime in South Africa were all acts of terror motivated by political or ideological considerations. Likewise, the horrific bombings and use of deadly chemicals by the United States in Vietnam that killed nearly a million people, the secret and illegal American bombing of neutral Cambodia between 1969 and 1973 that killed 750,000 peasants, the genocide in Kampuchea’s killing fields, in the Balkans, in Rwanda and in Sudan, the hijacking and mid-air blowing-up of civilian airlines by Arab militants, several similar hijackings by the American air force and CIA-trained Cuban rebels, the suicide bombings in the Middle East and Sri Lanka, ethnic and religious “cleansing” in former Yugoslavia, and the continuing brutalisation and de-humanisation of Palestinians by a cruel and heartless American-Israeli alliance  are prime examples of terrorist crimes committed by human beings against each other during the last century.

The Indian army is implicated in war crimes in Kashmir. The Indian police and top politicians from the BJP political party and the fanatical RSS group are implicated in mass murders in Ahmedabad but have not been prosecuted or punished for their bestialities .

''Looking at the war crimes in American-run prisons in Guantanamo Bay and in American-sponsored torture chambers around the world, and viewing with helplessness the continuing genocide in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon and Sudan, it appears that this century may surpass the blighted record of the last century.''

However, from the point of view of global impact and media coverage, nothing beats the demonic acts of September 11, 2001 in the US. In mourning the innocent victims of the demonic acts of terrorism, we need to affirm the principle that the killing and maiming of innocent civilians by terrorist attacks cannot be justified on any ground whatsoever and must be condemned as a crime against humanity. Having said that, a number of related observations must be made.

First, “state terrorism” is no less despicable than terrorism by non-state actors. When a nation wages a war of aggression or economic pillage of another nation and tyrannises, shatters and brutalises entire populations – that too is terrorism and a crime against humanity. The illegal war against Iraq in 2003 on trumped-up charges is a case in point.

Second, the concept of terrorism should not be tailored to suit the strategic purposes of some powerful states. Terrorism cannot be confined to hijackings and suicide bombings. It must also encompass such atrocities as political kidnappings, mass expulsions (as in the Balkans) and “targeted killings” like the type resorted to by Israel and the US. From a third world perspective, the perimeters of terrorism should include such abominations as deliberate destruction of basic amenities and willful attempts at economic strangulation of entire populations. Israel is guilty of such atrocities in the occupied territories.

Third, there is much hype about September 11, 2001 as having changed the world. Indeed it is a watershed event because it unleashed primordial forces in the world’s sole superpower and allowed a militantly rightist government to extend its world empire by brutal force. From the point of view of media coverage too, no other previous perfidy received as much coverage. But, surely, September 11, 2001 was not the most grave or tragic event of the last few decades. Many other 9/11s of greater savagery and suffering have gone unrecognized and unmourned.

On September 11, 1922, the British Government, as a follow-up to the 1917 Balfour Declaration which promised European Zionists a national home for the Jewish people, decided to bequeath the ancient land of 700,000 Arabs to the Jews. Europe and America then watched with indifference as Zionist gangs descended terror on the Palestinians in order to force them to flee their homeland. Of this perfidy, Winston Churchill said, “I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that a greater wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly-wise race has come in and taken their place.

On September 11, 1973 in Chile, General Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in a CIA-backed coup. US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, justified this by saying, “Chile should not be allowed to go Marxist just because its people are irresponsible”. In the 17-year regime of terror that followed, thousands of people were killed, tortured or incarcerated indefinitely. September 11 also has resonance for Iraq. On September 11, 1990 George Bush Sr., on the authority of the UN, announced his decision to go to war with Iraq over the latter’s conquest of Kuwait. In trying to right Iraq’s wrongs, appalling acts of inhumanity were committed by the allied forces. Iraq was subjected to a month of devastating bombings and missile attacks. New weapons of mass terror were tested against civilian targets. Iraqi soldiers in bunkers were buried alive by American bulldozers. Iraq’s farms were shelled with 300 tons of depleted uranium. Food and water supplies were deliberately damaged. Sanctions of mass destruction, worse than a medieval siege, were employed despite knowledge that half a million children had perished as a result. Madeline Albright, US secretary of State, thought that “the price is worth it”.

Added to these 9/11 tragedies are other forgotten barbarities. To the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki many summers have gone by since August 1945 when 300,000 ordinary Japanese were obliterated by nuclear strikes. Likewise many summers have gone by without remembrance of the fact that in Vietnam, Korea, Indonesia, Laos, China, Afghanistan and Cambodia millions of Asians were bombed, burned and butchered over the last five decades by Americans and their allies. The Europeans tortured and murdered thousands in apartheid South Africa. During the Reagan years, tens of thousands of Nicaraguans lost their lives as Washington’s proxy army, the Contras, raped, bombed, tortured and murdered. The International Court of Justice ruled in favour of Nicaragua and condemned the US for its “unlawfully use of force” and ordered the US to pay reparations. The US rejected the judgment. The Security Council considered a resolution. The US vetoed the resolution.

In Panama in 1989, American military action killed thousands of civilians and left 20,000 Panamians homeless.

 Add to these unmourned victims the hundreds of thousands who were brutally murdered by US-sponsored civil wars and coups d’etats in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Guatemala and El Salvador. In Beirut, Sabra, Chatilla and Jenin, thousands of helpless refugees were murdered by Israel and its allies using American weapons and money. The murderers and their cohorts are embraced by Washington as “men of peace”.


As we mourn the victims of terrorism in the US, Spain, Egypt, Indonesia and the UK, let us remember that with American complicity, a full-scale genocide is underway in Palestine. No bells toll for the victims of unbelievable Israeli savagery. Instead, the victims are vilified, de-humanised and brutalised. And the


“Manyother 9/11s of greater savagery and suffering have gone unrecognised and unmourned”

chief backer of the genocide struts on the world stage as “the most peace-loving nation on earth”.


Somehow when Asians or Arabs commit terrorism, that is a crime against humanity. When Americans, Europeans and Israelis bomb, burn and brutalise the coloured people, that is a war against terrorism or (as in Iraq) a war of liberation. Such hypocrisy and racism must be condemned. Let us remember the words of Noam Chomsky, Professor at MIT, US: “September 11 was the first time in history that the West received the kind of attack that it carries out routinely in the rest of the world”.


Fourth, terrorism is not a monopoly of Muslims. The European Union has a list of terrorist groups that includes the Basque separatist group ETA and the Irish Republican Army. The US list includes Kahane Chai, Liberation Tigers of Tamil, National Liberation Army (ELNP), Real IRA, and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia. There are other unlisted groups like Germany’s Baader Meinhof gang and the outlawed Cambodian Freedom Fighters whose members include an American citizen. The UK has outlawed Sikh groups Babbar Khalsa and the International Sikh Youth Foundation, November 17 Revolutionary Organisation (N17) and the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party.


Fifth, we need to distinguish the faith from the faithful. Despite the fact that terrorism is not a monopoly of Muslims, there is no doubt that there are terrorist individuals and terrorist groups within the Muslim ummah. Many of them clothe their missions in Islamic religious vocabulary. However, in relation to them it needs to be observed that we must distinguish the faith from the misguided actions of the faithful. Terrorists constitute a small lunatic fringe of Muslim society. Unfortunately, however, their words and deeds are given such concentrated publicity by sections of the Western media that viewers and readers begin to associate the evils committed by Muslim wrongdoers with Islam the religion.


Sixth, there is need for consistency in drawing attributions. It is not fair to judge Islam by reference to the ground realties of post-colonial Islamic societies while evaluating Western civilisation by reference to its pristine ideals. Theory must be compared with theory, reality with reality. When the Western world exploits and demeans Asia and Africa through colonialism; practices slavery and apartheid; annihilates indigenous groups in three continents and supports genocide in Yugoslavia, Palestine, Iraq, Kashmir and Chechnya, these atrocities are not pinned (and rightly so) on the lapel of Christianity, Judaism or Hinduism. Nazi and Serbian atrocities and brutal dictatorships in many Christian countries in Africa and Latin America are not, and rightly so, attributed to Christianity but Saddam’s atrocities, suicide bombings by desperate Palestinians and Taliban’s fanaticism are laid at the door of Islam. Countries with Christian majorities like Brazil, Argentina, Guatemala, Peru, Chile, Nicaragua and Colombia and political leaders like Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Pinochet, Videla, Marcos, Milosevic, Karadzic, Ratko Mladic have been guilty of the worst possible human rights abuses. In many Third World countries, European churches involved themselves in forced conversions and genocide. A string of American Presidents from Truman to Bush have caused the death of millions of coloured people in 28 or so countries around the world. But their sins were never laid at the door of their religion, and rightly so. When Saddam tried to manufacture a bomb, it was an Islamic bomb. But the bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki and tens of other counties were not Christian bombs. Johan Galtung and Dietrich Fischer point out that the US media never mentions the state terrorism exercised by the US on other countries. Since 1945 the US has intervened abroad 67 times, causing twelve millions deaths, about half by overt action (Pentagon) and covert action (CIA). These are practically unknown to most Americans, and rarely mentioned, with the notable exception of Chalmer Johnson’s book ‘Blowback’ and Bill Blum’s ‘Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower’.


Saddam was referred to as the “Butcher of Baghdad” and rightly so. But Ariel Sharon, the “Butcher of Beirut” and the psychopathic murderer of thousands of innocent refugees in Sabra and Shatila was anointed a “man of peace” by the President of the US. When the Israeli General who is linked to the 2001 Jenin atrocities was named Israel’s Defence Chief, the world did not criticise. When in July 2001, Israeli missiles slammed civilian targets killing nine Palestinian children, Ariel Sharon described the slaughter as a “great success”. The world offered no criticism and (rightly) did not condemn Ariel Sharon’s religion as responsible for the barbarity.


If Saddam, Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar are regarded as personifications of Islam, then surely Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Stalin, Pinochet, Videla, Marcos, Milosevic, Karadzik, Ratko Mladic, McVeigh, Mugabe, Estrada, Ariel Sharon, George Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz should also be counted as standard-bearers of a shamed Judeo-Christian civilisation.




There is much disagreement over what amounts to “terrorism”. A person hounded by some as a terrorist may be honoured by others as a freedom fighter. To the ancients of Rome, the Kelts and Germans were terrorists. The Huns, the Vikings, Scottish rebels against Edward II, the Christian crusaders, the Nazis, the American patriots who fought against the British colonisers, and the republicans in France between 1793–1795 were all variously described as terrorists. The Nazis used this appellation for the hapless Jews of Germany.


When the British and French were being killed in the Middle East, an official UN Report listed 1,259 incidents of terrorist attacks by Jewish Stern gangs between 1944 and 1948. But now that the victims are mostly Palestinians, not much is heard in the American and Jewish dominated media of state-sponsored terrorism by Israel against its neighbours. Even lesser criticism is aired at periodic bombing forays by the US into Sudan, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact the United States has unleashed weapons of terror on 28 countries since World War II. It has waged war against some country or the other every year for the last 50 years. And war is the ultimate form of terrorism.


  • There is an Alice in Wonderland quality about the term terrorism. Many nations like the US, Britain and Australia are using the term in a selective and self-serving way.  

  • “When I use a word”, Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less”.

  • “The question is”, said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things”.

  • “The question is”, said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all”.


Legislation:A fair amount of legislation has emerged in this area. There are 12 counter-terrorism conventions of the United Nations. The UK has the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 and the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1975. The US has the Patriot Act 2001 and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. India has the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act 1987 and the Terrorist Affected Areas (Special Courts) Act 1984. A host of countries in Europe have similar legislation.

Definition: Many definitions abound in the above laws. One could quibble endlessly about them. The author proposes the following: “The use or threat of use, for the purpose of advancing a political, economic, religious or ideological cause, of acts that are unlawful in international law and that involve serious violence against persons, properties or infrastructures.”


  • Terrorism is the actual or threatened use of violence for political, economic or religious ends. An act is a terrorist act if its aim is to :–

  •  overawe the lawful government, or

  •  compel the government or any other person to do or abstain from doing any act under threat of force or reprisal, or

  • strike terror in the people, or spread panic or terror to bring about capitulation, or  

  •  alienate any section of the people, or

  • adversely affect the harmony amongst different sections of the population,

  •  or harm people not directly involved in the struggle.

Terrorism has an element of surprise in the choice of who, where and when.(1)


The method of the terrorists may vary. A terrorist may use bombs, dynamites, explosives, inflammable substances, firearms, lethal weapons, poisons, noxious gases, chemicals, biological or other substances of a hazardous nature. The cyber age offers vast possibilities for cyber terrorism.


A terrorist may assassinate, detain or kidnap persons or threaten to kill or injure such persons.

The consequences of a terrorist’s acts may be that there is likelihood of death or injury, damage to or destruction of property, disruption of supplies or services essential to the community, starvation, and denial of basic necessities of life or economic strangulation.


Third world perspectives: Terrorism is not confined to hijackings and suicide bombings but must also encompass such atrocities as political kidnappings, mass rapes, mass expulsions and “ethnic cleansing”. War is the ultimate form of terrorism.


From a Third World perspective, the perimeters of terrorism should include such abominations as deliberate destruction of basic amenities, homes and farms, and willful attempts at economic strangulation by destroying a people’s livelihood or threatening the economic and social foundations of a society. For example Nablus in occupied Palestine was under 24-hour curfew after the Israeli army reoccupied it in June 2002. Nobody was allowed to leave his home except for a few brief hours every 10 days to stock up on food, which was in short supply. Shops, factories, offices were closed down. An official from UNICEF accused Israel of depriving a whole generation of Palestinian children of the right to education.2 Tim Harper in the Toronto Star of Sept. 3, 2002 stated that in the last two years, more than 17,000 Palestinians were dispossessed of their homes and land. Apartment complexes were bombed in the dead of night. Factories and businesses were destroyed. Social infrastructures were wrecked beyond repair. Orange and olive orchards were destroyed. Water and land were stolen. Farms,orchards and wells were poisoned. All these acts were acts of terrorism.


Terrorism can be domestic or international, economic or political, religious or secular. There is now even a possibility of environmental terrorism.

State terrorism:Terrorism can be committed by individuals or groups or by the state itself. Government can be guilty of violating the Anti-Terrorism Conventions and Protocols of the UN in the same measure as individuals. To the victims it makes no difference that the atrocities are committed by civilians or soldiers in uniform. Examples would be Russia in Chechnya, China in Xinjiang and Tibet, US and Israel in Palestine and Lebanon, Indian Government in Kashmir and Gujarat and the US in Afghanistan, Iraq and 28 other countries it has bombed since 1945.


In the commission of terrorist acts it should be no defence that the law of the land permits the acts in question. Thus, the actions of the Nazis, of the apartheid regime in former South Africa and of the genocidal and apartheid regime of Israel today may have a basis in national law but that does not change the character of the terrorist acts. The same will have to be said of the unprovoked war of aggression against Iraq.


Self-determination: Article 1(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights recognises the right of a people to self-determination. Should freedom fighters and liberators be branded as terrorists? It is submitted that noble struggles should be waged through noble means. Nothing can justify bludgeoning innocent people into terror and horror. There are moral objections to the use of human beings as pawns or instrumentalities for political ends. Alternative models of liberation are available. For instance, Mahatma Gandhi in India and Martin Luther King in the US used non-violent means to overcome the odds.


- (SSIG Gatway, issn 1832-9781 November 2007)

  •  JUST Commentary, Vol.2, No.9, Sept. 2002, p.1.

  •  Justin Huggler in The Independence, Oct. 5, 2002.

Sudanow is the longest serving English speaking magazine in the Sudan. It is chartarized by its high quality professional journalism, focusing on political, social, economic, cultural and sport developments in the Sudan. Sudanow provides in depth analysis of these developments by academia, highly ...


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