Four Features of Terrorist Organizations

(Amrit Pal Singh ‘Amrit’)

There is no universally accepted definition of terrorism. The UN Member States still have no agreed-upon definition of terrorism. For political reasons, one state’s ‘terrorist’ is considered a ‘freedom fighter’ by another state. This disagreement on such a grave issue is a main hindrance to effective international counter-terrorism actions.

An unbeaten international counter-terrorism action can be taken only when majority of countries are agreed upon a universally accepted definition of terrorism. If there is violence in any country, there are a few countries supporting the government of that country, and a few countries supporting rebel militant-groups. It means that for a few countries, the government of that country is terrorizing its own people and for others it is the rebel group which is a terrorist outfit.

While different governments for various political reasons are busy debating the definition of terrorism, thousands of innocent people are constantly being killed by various terrorist-groups in different parts of the world.

For most of people, terrorist activities include threatening, conspiring or attempting to commit acts of violence (with or without the use of any weapon) on any person or community, in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, ethnic, or ideological. Such acts of violence include killing of people; to hijack airplanes, boats, buses or other vehicles; to destroy buildings and business etc.

Terrorism has four characteristic features: (1) the threat or use of violence; (2) a political/religious/ethnic/ideological objective; the wish to change the status quo; (3) the aim to spread fear by committing spectacular public acts; (4) the planned targeting of civilians.

If we identify terrorism by these four distinctive features, we can with no trouble reach the conclusion which organizations are terrorist outfits. A person could be a freedom-fighter (of his country) and a terrorist at the same time. It simply means he is trying to get freedom by the means of terrorism. It is good to be a freedom fighter, but it is very bad to be a terrorist. A freedom fighter militant attacks armed men of the system. On the other hand, a terrorist attacks even unarmed innocent civilians as well. To fight for freedom is everybody’s right, but using terrorism to achieve any goal is evil.

If above mentioned four characteristic features are found in any organization, it should be declared a terrorist group.