Find information and resources for the research and interdisciplinary study of terrorism—acts of violence committed by a group or an individual in support of a political or ideological goal. While international law doesn’t provide a single definition of terrorism, it may involve hijackings, bombings, mass shootings, kidnappings, deployment of military weapons on civilians, and the use of chemical, biological, and radioactive weapons. Terrorism may also include acts of violence or psychological tactics carried out solely to intimidate specific groups of people.
International terrorism is committed by foreign groups across borders, and domestic terrorism is committed by groups or individuals in the same country where the terrorist acts are made.
Motivations among terror groups vary. There is political and dissent-oriented terrorism as well as religious, xenophobic or ethnocentric, state-sponsored, and environmental terrorism. Radicalization is the process of developing extreme beliefs on a specific issue. It is a tool used by terror groups as they recruit new members and gain support for their ideologies.
Any religion’s beliefs can be twisted by individuals or groups who seek to commit acts of terror. For example, Islamist terrorists hold beliefs that are not in line or supported by the standard teachings of Islam and are strongly opposed by the worldwide Islamic community. Extremist views and warped forms of religious fundamentalism have also led to acts of terror among Christian and Hindu religious groups.
Political terror acts may be driven by separatist ideologies. One example of separatism involves the Spanish region of Catalonia, where some Catalan separatists have used bombings to promote their extreme political views not held by all Catalonians.
Ecoterrorism seeks to protect the environment through acts of sabotage designed to interfere with or stop activities that harm nature or animal life. To date, no human lives have been lost due to ecoterrorism.
Cyberterrorism is the use of computer systems and information technology to cause harm and panic by taking control of major systems and creating panic and even loss of life. Potential targets of cyber terrorists may range from air traffic control systems and nuclear energy stations to hospitals and health care facilities, public utilities, and stock markets. The increased use of internet systems due to the COVID-19 pandemic has provided opportunities for terror groups to commit crimes and take advantage of heightened fears and a weakened economy.
Social media has become a recruiting tool for terror groups. Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and YouTube have pledged to monitor individuals and groups that use their platforms to promote radical views and spread propaganda. These companies founded the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism in 2017 to aid in preventing the spread of extremist content online.
Students and researchers of terrorism who want to analyze terror data may be interested in the Global Terrorism Database, maintained by the University of Maryland. Political scientists, military advisers, and other individuals researching terrorism seek to understand why terror acts occur and how to prevent them.