‘Old’ and ‘New’ terrorism: the changing face of terror

‘Old’ and ‘New’ terrorism: the changing face of terror


The concept of terrorism is one of the most controversial terms in international relations and the political arena (Koufa, 2001:8). The problem of defining the term ‘terrorism’ is well recognized and has been examined widely (Malik, 2001:881-893; Dedeoglu, 2003:81-110; Schmid, 2004:197-221; Ganor, 2002:287-304).Since it is associated with violence in the context of political goals, it is not only difficult to define terrorism but also to distinguish it from other similar forms of crime and guerrilla warfare. Also, the well-known phrase ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’, is often used to emphasize the problem of inferring a moral ruling when classifying a particular act as ‘terrorism’. If one relates with the victim of the attack, then it is conceived as terrorism, but if one can relate with the attacker it is not (Jenkins, 1980:10).A definition that is extensively recognized is still lacking. Some scholars such as Walter Laqueur even reason that “a comprehensive definition of terrorism…does not exist nor will it be found in the foreseeable future” (1977:5).Others have writhed on in their quest for an all-encompassing explanation (Simon, 1994:29; Schmid & Jongman, 1988:28; Weinberg et al, 2004:786).

Whatever explanation of terrorism one might embrace, numerous government analysts, politicians and scholars assert that ‘terrorism’ has changed since the mid-1990s into an integrally new form with new features. They have enunciated the conception of ‘new terrorism’, which includes different actors, aims, tactics, actions and motivations, in contrast to the ‘old’ or ‘traditional’ conception of terrorism employed in the mid-20th century (Laqueur, 1999; Lesser et al, 1999; Aubrey, 2004). Since the 9/11, this ‘new’ type of terrorism has greatly gained in eminence and without uncertainty has become a dominant issue throughout the world. Prior to 9/11, some of the most famed terrorism specialists such as Laqueur, Carter, Deutch and Zelikow argued for the being of a ‘new terrorism’ and insinuated the concepts ‘postmodern’ (Laqueur, 1996:24-36)and ‘catastrophic’ (Carter et al, 1999:80-94) terrorism. Since then, Laqueur suggests “there has been a radical transformation, if not a revolution, in the character of terrorism” (1999:4).Bruce Hoffman opines that the ‘new terrorist’ “represents a very different and potentially far more lethal threat than the more familiar ‘traditional’ terrorist groups” (1998:200).

The aim of this paper is not to contest the instituted physiognomies of terrorism today, but to argue that numerous trends fundamental to ‘new terrorism’ can be ascertained in terrorism years ago, establishing that there is not a plausible distinction between ‘old’ and ‘new’ terrorism. The paper will firstly begin with some of the features of the distinct types of more ‘old terrorism’. Subsequently, it will reflect some of the characteristics that have been accredited to ‘new terrorism’. The next section interrogates the supposed, nearly, dichotomous association between ‘new’ and ‘old’ terrorism, through an analysis of terrorist motives, tactics, and organizational structures and global characteristic of terrorism, upholding that there is far less ‘new’ that meets the eye. The final section summarises the key findings and derives tentative conclusions.


Terrorism as a mode of political ferocity is by no means a brand new phenomenon. One of the earliest known groups quoted in the writings are the ‘Sicarii’, a Zealot religious group, anti the Roman decree in Palestine between AD 66-73 (Waldmann 1998:99-103).During the Middle Ages, a religious sect of Nizari and Ismailis called ‘Assassins’ writhed opposite the empire of Saladin, and in the 16th century small ‘terrorist’ groups in Albania and other regions battled the militaries of the Ottoman Empire. The word ‘terror’ was first used in 1795 as a strategy to defend the friable government of the French Republic from counter-revolutionaries (Sinclair, 2003; Anderson & Sloan, 2003; Carr, 2002). From around the mid-19th century to World War I anarchists and revolutionaries used bombings and assassinations as recurrent weapons in their brawl against autocracy. After World War II, terrorism became an imperative part of the anti-colonial struggles. As Wilkinson states, this has an important connotation as it has been “the only clear cases in contemporary history where sub-state groups using terror as their main weapon were able to attain their long-term political objectives, i.e., the departure of the colonial power and instituting of a form of government preferred by the insurgents” (1992:230).Although, it is arguable that to what level terrorism underwrote to de-colonisation, it without qualm did result in the retreat of the colonial powers combined with a range of other reasons.

Many scholars have contended that the phase between the late 1960s and 1980s is discernable by ‘old terrorism’, which can be coarsely divided into different forms of terrorism such as right and left wing as well as ethno-national separatist terrorism. However, in reality several of these ‘traditional’ terrorist organizations were a mixture of these different types with precise features, it is argued that they all had some common characteristics (Enders & Sandler, 2000:310).For one, they are classified to have primarily secular motivations and a rational political cause for their acts of terrorism (Ramakrishna & Tan, 2002:6).For example, left-wing terrorist groups intended to use violence to politicise the working class masses and get them to upsurge against the capitalist system. While ethno-nationalist terrorist sought either independence for their ethnic faction, in the form of a partition of their terrain from another country, the formation of their own sovereign nation state, or the union with another state. Even where requests were difficult to meet, such as the creation of an ethno-national homeland or the reunification of a divided country, in many situations there seemed to be a scope for dialogue or negotiation (Guelke, 1998:52-70).Therefore, their precise wants were often rationally negotiable. For example, when they desired money in exchange for the freeing of hostages in a hijacking or the freedom of certain jailed comrades.

Related to this, it is supposed that violence by ‘traditional terrorists’, in broad, was “targeted and proportionate in strength and scope to the practical political objectives being trailed” (Simon & Benjamin, 2000:65).Thus, by maintaining the level of casualties low, terrorists “preserved their eligibility for a place at the bargaining table and, ultimately, a role in successor governments” (Simon & Benjamin, 2000:66).‘Old terrorism’ was seen to be discriminate, with terrorist groups choosing their targets very prudently (Horchem, 1986:213). Targeted attacks were usually directed at well-defined highly symbolic objects of the authority they contested. This could include government officials, members of the aristocracy, leading politicians, banking or military sector or other symbolic targets like government buildings. They tried to use their acts as a means of propaganda to enhance their popular support (Laqueur, 2003:99).Terrorists wanted utmost publicity for their actions, playing for an audience and diffuse their ideological lesson. Brian Jenkins distinctively notes that “terrorism is theatre” and that terrorist attacks were often manoeuvred for the media (1975:16).An incident was nearly always trailed by a communique taking glory for the act, laying out desires, or elucidating why it was carried out against that precise target. The precision violence was generally committed with conventional strategies such as machine guns, hand-held guns, as well as bombs. They exhibited little appeal to non-conventional weapons such as weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and new tactics (Hirschmann, 2002:39).In general, the ‘old’ terrorists tried not to root innocent fatalities as this would distance the populace and go against their goal of provoking a popular uprising. In some cases they even conveyed grief for the accidental demise of someone in the attack.

A further widely recognised attribute of ‘old terrorism’ is the relationship with state sponsorship or support (Kidder, 1986).This clandestine connection of states with terrorists groups varied broadly with often only little certifiable data proving an association. It was seen as an inexpensive way of striking and damaging another country without instigating a full-scale war. Within the Cold War structure, terrorists often became substitutions for both middle powers and superpowers (Combs, 2000:66-86). Finally, it is highlighted that ‘old terrorism’ has a clear hierarchical organisation with justly well-defined control and command structures. However, it is impossible to evidently delineate the different layers. James Fraser contends that ‘old terrorism’ is organised like a pyramid, with the headship, who regulate the overall policy and plans, at the top. This is ensued by a larger layer of active terrorists who carry out the strikes and are often experts in certain conducts such as assassination, surveillance or bomb-making. On the subsequent level there are the active supporters who stream intelligence, supplies, weapons, communications, safe houses and transportation. The bottom layer have the passive supporters who approve with the objectives of the terrorist organisation and diffuse their ideas and convey their emotional support (2001:17). Thus, state sponsorship and hierarchical structure have been associated with ‘old terrorism’.


Though it is problematic to say when and where ‘new terrorism’ precisely started, many point to the mid-1990s, and the bombing of the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York city in the 1993 as well as the sarin gas attack by the Aum Shinrikyo cult at the Tokyo underground in 1995 (Simon and Benjamin, 2000:59). It is said that ‘new terrorism’ has a diverse set of new characteristics in contrast to the ‘old terrorism’ discussed above.

Many patrons of the concept of ‘new terrorism’ observe the eminence of religion, essentially radical Islam, as one of its key features (Juergensmeyer, 2000:332).Whereas ‘old terrorism’ was largely secular in its inspiration and orientation, terrorism related to religious fanaticism is on the rise. As per Nadine Gurr and Benjamin Cole, only 2 out of 64 international terrorist organisations in 1980 could be categorized as religious. This number has climbed sharply to 25 out of 58 by 1995 (2000:28-29).Bruce Hoffman supposes that this religious impetus is the outlining characteristic of ‘new terrorism’ which creates “radically different value systems, mechanisms of legitimisation and justification, concepts of morality, and world view” (1998:87).Related to the religious drive and obscurely defined political demands, many in the ‘new terrorism’ supporters indicate that another of the key features of ‘new terrorism’ is the rising willingness to use excessive indiscriminate ferocity to advance their cause (Laqueur, 1999:81; Laqueur, 2003:9). Hoffman, for example, underlines that these groups have caused 60% of all causalities while only being responsible for 1/4th of the terrorist acts (1995:271-284).It has been contended that “for the religious terrorist, violence is a divine duty…executed in direct response to some theological demand…and justified by scripture” (Hoffman, 1998:20).As Audrey Cronin notes, religious terrorists perceive their brawl as good against evil, therefore brutalizing their victims and considering non-members of their group to be apostates or infidels (2002/2003:41).As a result unselective violence may not be only ethically tolerable, but quantity to a necessary and righteous progression of their religious reason in contrast to selected targeting by ‘old terrorists’.

Religious terrorists are oftentimes their own expanse, not perturbed about estranging their followers with their acts of devastation, and holding themselves liable only to God (Hoffman, 1995:273).For comparable reasons ‘new terrorists’ do not always avow and sometimes even repudiate responsibility for their acts (Whine, 2002:4).They are not willing to engage in any sort of negotiation. “Today’s terrorists don’t want a seat at the table, they want to destroy the table and everyone sitting at it” (Morgan, 2004:30-31).Moreover, Walter Enders and Todd Sandler highlight that ‘new terrorists’ are a lot more disposed to give their own life while orchestrating a terrorist act, as martyrdom is seen as a mode of attaining heaven (2000:311). Whereas most acts by ‘old terrorists’ covered of a getaway plan, ‘new terrorists’ seem keener to indulge in precarious and more convoluted acts.

The danger of mass destruction at the hands of terrorists is a vital part of the concept of ‘new terrorism’. Many theorists suppose that due to their drive to use intemperate violence, the ‘new terrorists’ are expected to try to obtain and use biological, radiological, chemical and nuclear WMDs (Stern, 2003:158-160, Hoffman, 1998:197).With the fall of the Soviet Union procuring material which could be used for producing WMDs or even purchasing a complete WMD has become easier and doesn’t require the cooperation of a state sponsor anymore (Falkenrath et al, 1998:167-169; Gurr & Cole, 2000:12).Another of the features of ‘new’ terrorism is specifically this intrinsic paucity of state backers. Some consider that the willingness to use extreme violence displays that ‘new terrorists’ don’t have a state sponsor or organisation to guard, so they see no cause to bound their violence as they do not fear a riposte (Tucker, 2001:3).Therefore, the financing of ‘new terrorism’ is not built on money obtained from state sponsors, but on other illegal means such as video piracy, credit card fraud, and drug trafficking, as well as legal business investments, donations from charities, wealthy individuals and diaspora (Raphaeli, 2003:59-62).In addition to this, ‘new terrorists’ are viewed as primarily amateurs that function on a part time basis and have not dropped out of society completely. The new amateur terrorists only come together to execute their act and then disperse. They principally do not receive logistical support or training from state sponsors but depend on the information on the internet and the network of supporters (Tsfati & Weimann, 2002:317).Though ‘new terrorists’ might be part-time amateurs they display a greater degree of operational and technological capability. They use a huge range of communication equipment including satellite and mobile phones as well as web-sites and email to communicate with other terrorist groups, plot their subsequent terrorist acts, recruitment, do fund-raising, disinformation, data mining, and publicize and spread their message around the world (O’Brien, 2003:192-93).Furthermore, ‘new terrorism’ also utilizes the surge in intercontinental flight connections and the incompetent immigration and customs control in many countries to move around the world (Wilkinson, 1992:232).

Finally, one of the most accentuated characteristics of ‘new terrorism’ is the less hierarchical and loose networked organisational structure. Some authors suppose that the amateur terrorist is an indicator of a new network structure that is abetted by the advent of new advanced telecommunications technology. Every group within this network becomes rather autonomous but is still connected by progressive communication and their common aim. They thus become a lot more flexible and can react and adapt more simply to altered situations. Nonetheless, members do communicate with their headship, groups can, to a certain level, function self-sufficiently (Gunaratna, 2002:52-75).Simon and Benjamin denote to this as a blend of “a ‘hub and spoke’ structure (where nodes communicate with the centre) with a ‘wheel’ structure (where nodes in the network communicate with each other without reference to the centre)” (2000:70).Arquilla, Ronfeldt and Zanini observe that terrorist headship is derived from a “set of principle that can set boundaries and provide guidelines for decisions and actions so that members do not have to resort to a hierarchy – they know what they have to do”. The authors define the organizational structure that may “sometimes appear acephalous (headless), and at the other times polycephalous (Hydra-headed)” (Arquilla et al, 1999:51).This form of incorporated structure is a lot more challenging to detect and pervade than a more ‘traditional’ hierarchical structure. It is far more robust because each cell can continue to function even if they lose the headship of the organisation.


Many writers such as Copeland (2001), Duyvesteyn (2004) and Tucker (2001) qualm the cogency of the term ‘new terrorism’ and some make comparisons between antecedents in history and recent terrorist acts. For instance John Gray observes the parallels between today’s terrorism executed by Al Qaeda and Russian anarchist terrorists in the late 19th century (2002:50).Niall Ferguson also notes some of the similarity of the two, including the political religion of their ideologies, the transnational nature of both sets of terrorists who oftentimes planned attacks and lived abroad, as well as the likeness of political economic situation in the world at the end of the 19th and 20th century (2001:115-141).Probing the individual features of ‘new terrorism’ in more depth does brings about questions about the legitimacy of the concept.

a) Motives: Religious or Political?

As mentioned above, advocates of the ‘new terrorism’ concept contend that the impetuses of terrorists are altering and indicate the progress of religious fundamentalism. Bruce Hoffman states that “the religious imperative for terrorism is the most imperative characteristic of terrorist activity today” (1998:87).Historically, religious terrorism is by no means a new occurrence. David Rapaport states that from the 1st century zealots to the 13th century assassins and even up to the 19th century and the emergence of political aims such as national, anarchism and Marxism, “religion provided the only acceptable justification for terror” (1984:659).Therefore, this is not so much a new feature but more a cyclic return to former and maybe forgotten impetuses for terrorism, “with echoes of the behaviour of ‘sacred’ terrorists such as the Zealots-Sicarii clearly apparent in the terrorist activities of organizations such as Al Qaeda and its associated groups” (Cronin, 2002/2003:38). In addition to this fact, one should note that many ‘old’ terrorist organisations also had close ties with and were partly driven by religion (Hoffman, 1998/1999:13-14). The most flagrant examples being the IRA with its primarily catholic association, the Ulster Volunteer Force or Protestant Ulster Freedom Fighters, in Algeria the principally Muslim FLN, in Cyprus the EOKA which was inspired partly by the Orthodox Greek Church and the terrorist group Irgun, that was Jewish.

In relation to this, it is imperative to identify that although the acts of Islamist terrorist groups are religiously driven they still bear a certain political agenda. When probing the goals and demands of Al Qaeda’s (Neumann, 2009:42-44) or other ‘new terrorists’ linked with them, it becomes obvious that many of them represent clear political targets. For example, the spread of political Islam, the creation of a worldwide pan-Islamic Caliphate, the overthrow of the existing governments in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the withdrawal of foreign influence from the holy lands and the riddance of Israel (Jacquard, 2001:329-333).In reality it is very hard, if not impossible, to distinguish between political and religious motives. “Were the Jewish terrorists in British Palestine fighting for religion or against colonialismDo the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) want their own homeland because they are Hindus in a Muslim nation or because they are Tamils in a Sinhalese country?” (Quillen, 2002:288).Furthermore, Chris Quillen perceives that ascribing religious motives to individual terrorist strikes is subjective and open to analysis. He mentions the instance of the Oklahoma City bombing which one might construe as an act inspired by Timothy McVeigh’s dedication to the Christian Identity movement or as a retort of a political terrorist to oppose the bloody federal raids at Ruby Ridge and Waco and gun control measures (2002:287). Thus contrasting between ‘new’ and ‘old’ terrorism based on political or religious motives seems to be distorted.

b) Tactics:

Now, the paper discusses the number of casualties, media attention and the importance of public opinion, proliferation of technology and the internet, use of WMDs and nuclear terrorism, and state sponsorship to further bring out the presumed disjunction created between ‘new’ and ‘old’ terrorism.

Proponents of the concept of ‘new terrorism’ have claimed that terrorists have turned more lethal and disposed to use unlimited force to source large numbers of fatalities indiscriminately. In their opinion, ‘traditional’ terrorist were more controlled in their use of ferocity and the amount of dead they intended to produce (Laqueur, 2001:71-82).However, one could reason, that indiscriminate mass casualty strikes have long been a feature of terrorism. Examples of ‘old terrorists’ causing many casualties include the concurrent truck bombings of French and US barracks in Lebanon in 1983, which slayed a total of 367 people, the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, which killed 270, and the bombing of an Air India flight in 1985 by Sikh terrorists which took the life of 329 (Pettiford & Harding, 2003:106-146).It is true that none of these can equate to the fatalities produced by the 9/11 attacks, however, the term ‘new terrorism’ was issued long before 2001. When probing the data on international terrorism occurrences, one finds that while the total of terrorist incidences has generally dropped from the mid-1980s, the number of casualties per incident has risen since the 1980s (MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base, 2005). Considering that ‘new terrorism’ is supposed to have started in the 1990s, this rise of casualties might not be directly related to the phenomenon of ‘new terrorism’ (Duyvesteyn, 2004:448). One might be able to contend that the rise of fatalities is partly due to better technology (Enders and Sandler, 2000:311). Explosives, remote control devices and timing have been significantly bettered and must have an effect on the numbers of fatalities.

Furthermore, it is imperative to note that governments have constantly adjusted to terrorist practices such as hostage taking, kidnapping, assassinations, hijacking and sabotage by securing embassies, providing security at airports, training specialist commando troops, guarding targets likely to be kidnapped and sharing intelligence with other states. In reaction to this, terrorists have attuned their approaches since the 1980s by placing more stress on hit and run tactics like coordinated bombing. While it is becoming increasingly tough for terrorists to get near to their traditional targets they have to find other means of commandeering the media’s interest. Using more remarkable coordinated violent strategies is one way of attaining greater media attention (Wilkinson, 2000:174-186).Some writers such as Thomas Copeland assert that “they do not need to make public statements taking credit for an attack because their constituency is already aware of the actors and their cause” (2001:101).Nevertheless, they may aim at an internal audience, several of the tape and video recordings of Osama bin Laden indicate his interest in remaining in the public eye (Spencer, 2006:17). Thus, it seems that ‘new terrorists’ are still intent in getting notice and credit of their cause.

Academics like Ray Takeyh (2001) contend that public opinion does still play a crucial role in ‘new terrorism’. An example can be gotten in the Al-Jama Al-Islamiyya strike on the Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor, which took the life of 58 tourists and 4 Egyptians in 1997. The attack was extensively denounced not only by western governments but also by many radical Islamists who saw the attack as marring their foundation. The support for Al-Jama Al-Islamiyya dropped significantly in Egypt as a result of the attack (Takeyh, 2001:97-102).This is mainly true when one considers the terrorists political schema mentioned above, such as the establishing of an Islamic state, which will confine terrorists as they have to be cautious not to alienate their sympathisers and supporters by use of excessive violence. Although, they view their violence as legitimised by God they are still reliant on some public support for finance and recruitment (Tucker, 2001:6).The proclamation by Brian Jenkins that “terrorism is theatre” (1975:16), regarded by many propositioning the concept of ‘new terrorism’ as invalid, still operates to some level. It is hard to think of a more dramatic and symbolically theatrical strike than the attacks of 9/11. Terrorists still want many people viewing, and one has to apprehend that the more synchronized, larger and dramatic the attack, the larger the audience is going to be. Therefore, the rising level of causalities can be seen as an on-going process (Munkler, 2002:187), which doesn’t essentially denote a unique feature characterizing the concept of ‘new terrorism’.

Many have also reasoned, that the accessibility of information to terrorists on the internet as well as the proliferation of technology useful are dangerous new trends which have backed the emergence of ‘new terrorism’ (Hoffman, 1997).However, the obtainability of information is debatably nothing new. Advice on bomb-making and terrorist strategies has been accessible in handbook and newsletters since at least the turn of the century (Gearson, 2002:15). One of the most well-known is the Anarchist Cookbook printed during the 1960s.

Furthermore, the conceivable employment of WMDs as a feature of ‘new terrorism’ is contentious. The instance of the sarin gas attack by Aum Shinirikyo on the underground in Tokyo in 1995 is oftentimes used to make the association between WMDs and ‘new terrorism’. However, there is proof that there have been attempts and plans by terrorists to use WMD for numerous decades. For example, in Europe the discovery of considerable quantities of organophosphorous compounds and botulinal toxin, used to create nerve gas, in safe houses in Germany and France belonging to the Red Army Faction (RAF) in the 1980s (Barnaby, 2002:58-59).In addition, the LTTE and the PKK, both cases of ‘old terrorists’, are supposed to have used chemical weapons. In 1992, the PKK poisoned water tanks with a lethal dose of cyanide of the Turkish air force close to Istanbul, and in 1990, the LTTE struck with chlorine gas a Sri Lankan military camp (Cameron, 2004:81).Hoffman, while referring to the RAND – St. Andrew’s University Chronology of International Terrorist Incidents, observes that since 1968, 60terrorist occurrences involved attempts or plans to use WMDs (1998:198).

Apart from chemical and biological WMDs, the danger of nuclear terrorism has also been related to the conception of ‘new terrorism’ as was said earlier on in the paper. So far there have been no strikes with nuclear WMDs by terrorists and the utmost overwhelming terrorist attacks have engaged conventional explosives, bombs and most eminently box cutters. Authors like David Claridge contend that authorities have portentously magnified the threat of terrorists using WMDs to an alarming level wasting huge extents of resources (1999:144-148).Therefore, one should be aware of the danger of centring on “what-ifs” (Jenkins, 1999:x).Yet, it should also be noted that there have been many attacks on nuclear power stations during the 1970s and 1980s, though not like blasting a purpose built nuclear bomb. One of the first happened in 1973 when a left-wing Argentinean group commando entered the construction site of the Atucha atomic power station north of Buenos Aires. In 1976, bombs were flung at an atomic power plant in Britanny, France but the nuclear reactor was not harmed. During the subsequent years, ETA lead many attacks against the Lemoniz nuclear power station near Bilbao in Spain (Laqueur, 1999:72).Nevertheless, it was not established whether these groups intended at instigating a nuclear contamination or explosion, these events show that even ‘old terrorists’ were disposed to cross the nuclear line (Spencer, 2006:20). The same can be said about suicide terrorism which is often comprised in the account of the fanatical nature of ‘new terrorism’ and repeatedly linked with Islamic fundamentalism. However, Schweitzer (2001)notes that the LTTE since 1983 have involved in more terrorist suicide attacks than all other terrorist organisations together (168 out of 270 from 1980 to 2000). Even preceding this, during the Middle Ages, the use of daggers at close range by the Assassins, exhibited “a willingness to die in pursuit of their mission” (Gearson, 2002:14). It therefore seems that the threat of WMDs and suicide terrorism have existed during the period of ‘old terrorism’ and are not distinctly defining features of ‘new terrorism’.

One of the other opinions stated above is that ‘new terrorists’ have converted to autonomous non-state actors. Some claim that due to the prospects of globalisation terrorists today have easily branched out their incomes via other illegal means (Copeland, 2001:99).Others believe that the example of Al Qaeda procuring training camps, bases and sanctuary in Afghanistan displays that state connections are still pertinent (Freedman, 2002:38).Following the tumble of the Taliban in Afghanistan, proof of state sponsorship of terrorism is more hard to find. However, apart from the renowned ‘axis of evil’ branded by President Bush, some analysts remain persuaded that there are surreptitious links or associations between terrorism and some states such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia (Strohl, 2003:89).So far, corroborating or refuting these associations remains difficult. Furthermore, the question of what institutes state sponsorship remains unanswered. Supporting terrorists factions in the form of weapons, training, money or bases for function and existence seems to easily characterize as sponsoring terrorism.

c) Organisational Structure and Global Characteristic of Terrorism:

One of the main differences posited by the supporters of ‘new terrorism’ between ‘new’ and ‘old’ terrorists is their type of organisation. Whereas ‘old terrorism’ was structured along hierarchical lines with a command structure that is clear and strong, ‘new terrorism’ is seen as more feebly organised, a loose network and without a strong command construct. However, the network structure perceived in ‘new terrorism’ is actually not a new occurrence in terrorism and the newness of the loose network structure linked with ‘new terrorism’ is contentious. For instance, more than a century ago the movement by anarchist, liable for a number of high profile strikes against heads of state and often denoted to as Black International or Anarchist, operational mainly in France and Russia, ensued a parallel strategy of violence carried out by largely unconnected cells of like-minded radicals, loosely networked (Hoffman, 2001:426).Diverse forms of network assemblies can be also seen in ‘old’ terrorist organisations. For example, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) can be perceived as an umbrella cluster where the principal faction, Fatah, did not have a monopoly of power. The distinct factions within the PLO where justly independent and had diverse policies and strategies (Cobban, 1981:140).At the same time one could count Hezbollah as an umbrella establishment of radical Shiite groups, where the relationship amongst members is erratic and doesn’t follow strict lines of control (Ranstorp, 1994:304).Again, others indicate that network structures also subsisted in left-wing revolutionary groups (Tucker, 2001:4) such as the RAF where 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation of terrorists’ didn’t actually form a hierarchical structure but rather a network with parallel common objectives.

In the similar fashion as there are network organizations in ‘old terrorism’, there exist clear features in ‘new terrorist’ groups such as Al Qaeda of hierarchical command constructs. They do hold a clear leadership, functioning units piloting the attacks, also the “expertise units directly beneath the top headship level” who are liable for concerns such as finances, recruitment, procurement and public relations (Mayntz, 2004:11-12).This further blurs the boundary so created between ‘old’ and ‘new’ terrorism based on the form of organization. At the same time terrorist organisations have diverse types of members counting core members or professional terrorists, part-time terrorists or amateurs, who also lead a normal life outside of the organisation, as well as less closely linked followers (Spencer, 2006:24). These diverse types of members exist in both ‘new’ and ‘old’ terrorism to a mutable grade.

The new global or international feature of terrorism is also contentious. Even though, there are clearly diverse types of international cooperation and action, Albert J. Bergesen and Omar Lizardo emphasize that “while the current period is known as one of ‘global terrorism’, there are clear grounds for viewing the anarchist period as one that also had international features” since during that time as well “terrorism arose in diverse parts of the world and convoluted crossing national borders for several attacks” (2004:45).They point to numerous examples such as the murder of the prime minister of Spain in 1892 by the Italian Angiolillo, the deadly stabbing of Empress Elizabeth of Austria in 1898 by the Italian Luigi Luccheni and the killing of the Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand in 1914 by the Bosnian Serb Princip. Throughout history, terrorist have gotten backing from foreign rulers (Rapoport, 1984:673) or wealthy individuals from other countries.

It is well recognized that international collaboration subsisted between many of the ‘traditional’ terrorist organisations such as the Red Brigades, Action Directe, RAF, PLO, IRA and PFLP. Whilst this primarily took the form of extending a safe-haven abroad or joint training, there are also instances of international teamwork in direct terrorist attacks. A Palestinian organization, in 1977, hijacked an airplane, which landed in Somalia and demanded to the government of Germany for the freedom of RAF comrades from German prison. In the consequent raiding of the airline by the GSG9 Special Forces many of the Palestinian captors were slayed. Some terrorists of German origin from the Movement 2 June, the Revolutionary Cells and the RAF took part in main Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) manoeuvres and operations masterminded by Carlos the Jackal (Ilich Ramirez Sanchez) on board of the PFLP. These attacks comprised the capture of the OPEC headquarter in Vienna in 1975, the strived bombing of an El-Al flight in Paris and the strived hijacking of an El Al flight in Nairobi in January 1975, as well as the capture of an Air France flight to Uganda in June 1976 (Karmon, 1999:71-94).Although one might contend that this type of cooperation is not precisely the same kind of collaboration seen in terrorism today. It does weaken the dispute of a ‘new’ global or international terrorism, as most literature propositioning the term does not distinguish amongst forms of international cooperation.


To summarize, this paper tried to argue that there is not a plausible distinction between ‘old’ and ‘new’ terrorism. In so doing, the paper sought to highlight, some of the features of the diverse forms of ‘old terrorism’. Next, the paper focused on the characteristics that have been attributed to ‘new terrorism’. Lastly, the paper examined the relationship between ‘new’ and ‘old’ terrorism, through an analysis of terrorist tactics, motives, and organizational structures and characteristic of terrorism, corroborating that a credible dissimilarity between ‘new’ and ‘old’ terrorism does not really exist, and that the phenomenon we are facing today reminds us of an old wine in a new bottle.

As this paper elucidated, there are several significant continuousness between the ‘new’ and ‘old’ terrorism, which primarily question the difference that is inferred by the use of the two terms. Continuance exists in transnational links, territorial focus, and network structures, which feature both the old forms of terrorism and the new. The overlap between significant aims that the terrorist organisations set themselves also institutes continuity. Religious, ideological, and political themes strongly overlap, making clear goal-oriented distinctions problematic, if not impossible. Continuity further subsists in the rise in number and scale of victims, which has been taking place over a number of years and is not just a new occurrence. The use of WMDs might be a hazard in the future, and we must be well conscious of this, but it does not form an intrinsic feature of the ‘new terrorism’. The ‘new terrorists’ do not vary essentially from their lineages in the type of weaponry they use. Surprise, publicity and provocation are what the terrorists are trying to seek continuum exists here as well. State support or sponsorship is still part of present day terrorism, though it might be lesser due to financial motives, take a slightly varied form and be less obvious. Finally, even though networks have grown in eminence, network and hierarchical organisational constructs are found in both ‘new’ and ‘old’ terrorism.

Without uncertainty, terrorism has progressed and altered over time, as groups learn from their own involvements and those of others and largely due to procedures linked with globalization such as progresses in communications, aperture to weapons and explosives, and unhindered individual mobility. Evolution does not validate the term ‘new terrorism’, making artificial divisions, with perpetual rise and fall of many diverse aspects of terrorisms in an ever evolutionary and progressive world. In sum, a closer view of the organizational structures, methods and objectives of what is said to be ‘new’ and ‘old’ terrorism discloses many similarities rather than fixed differences. It cannot really be said that there are two major sorts of terrorism.

As a final thought, one must consider the association between several of the features of ‘new terrorism’ previously discussed and the present counterterrorism measures planned and applied since 9/11. Several of the policies can be straightaway credited to some of the supposed characteristics of ‘new terrorism’, intensifying the ability of terrorists to inflict genuine mass destruction or wreak widespread casualties. For example, the annexation of Iraq, that was considered to have WMDs. With ‘new terrorism’ being employed to shield several new counterterrorism measures, it is vital to carry out a longitudinal study to evade the risk of missing where the real hazard lies, with a proper historical and structured exploration, that integrates several variables that are crucial for the understanding of the occurrence, among others, the actors, the instruments they use, their organizational structure, the effects they manage to achieve, and the measures that are taken against them.


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