WHAT IS TERRORISM?
Terrorism is the use of force or violence against persons or
property in violation of the criminal laws of the United States for
purposes of intimidation, coercion or ransom. Terrorists often use
threats to create fear among the public, to try to convince citizens
that their government is powerless to prevent terrorism, and to get
immediate publicity for their causes.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) categorizes
terrorism in the United States as one of two types--domestic terrorism
or international terrorism.
Domestic terrorism involves groups or individuals whose
terrorist activities are directed at elements of our government or
population without foreign direction.
International terrorism involves groups or individuals whose
terrorist activities are foreign-based and/or directed by countries or
groups outside the United States or whose activities transcend national
BIOLOGICAL AND CHEMICAL WEAPONS
Biological agents are infectious microbes or toxins used to
produce illness or death in people, animals or plants. Biological
agents can be dispersed as aerosols or airborne particles. Terrorists
may use biological agents to contaminate food or water because they are
extremely difficult to detect. Chemical agents kill or incapacitate
people, destroy livestock or ravage crops. Some chemical agents are
odorless and tasteless and are difficult to detect. They can have an
immediate effect (a few seconds to a few minutes) or a delayed effect
(several hours to several days).
Biological and chemical weapons have been used primarily to
terrorize an unprotected civilian population and not as a weapon of
war. This is because of fear of retaliation and the likelihood that the
agent would contaminate the battlefield for a long period of time. The
Persian Gulf War in 1991 and other confrontations in the Middle East
were causes for concern in the United States regarding the possibility
of chemical or biological warfare. While no incidents occurred, there
remains a concern that such weapons could be involved in an accident or
be used by terrorists. More information on Bioterrorism preparedness
and response is available online from the Department of Health and
Human Services Center for Disease Control.
FACTS ABOUT TERRORISM (Prior to September 11, 2001)
- On February 26, 1993, a bombing in the parking garage of the World
Trade Center in New York City resulted in the deaths of five people and
thousands of injuries. The bomb left a crater 200 by 100 feet wide and
five stories deep. The World Trade Center was the second largest
building in the world and houses 100,000 workers and visitors each day.
- The Department of Defense estimates that as many as 26 nations
may possess chemical agents and/or weapons and an additional 12 may be
seeking to develop them.
- The Central Intelligence Agency reports that at least ten
countries are believed to possess or be conducting research on
biological agents for weaponization.
- Before the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and the Pentagon,
most terrorist incidents in the United States have been bombing
attacks, involving detonated and undetonated explosive devices, tear
gas and pipe and fire bombs.
- The effects of terrorism can vary significantly from loss of
life and injuries to property damage and disruptions in services such
as electricity, water supply, public transportation and communications.
- One way governments attempt to reduce our vulnerability to
terrorist incidents is by increasing security at airports and other
public facilities. The U.S. government also works with other countries
to limit the sources of support for terrorism
TERRORISM IN THE UNITED STATES
- In the United States, most terrorist incidents have involved small
extremist groups who use terrorism to achieve a designated objective.
Local, State and Federal law enforcement officials monitor suspected
terrorist groups and try to prevent or protect against a suspected
attack. Additionally, the U.S. government works with other countries to
limit the sources of support for terrorism.
- A terrorist attack can take several forms, depending on the
technological means available to the terrorist, the nature of the
political issue motivating the attack, and the points of weakness of
the terrorist's target. Bombings have been the most frequently used
terrorist method in the United States. Other possibilities include an
attack at transportation facilities, an attack against utilities or
other public services or an incident involving chemical or biological
- Terrorist incidents in this country prior to the September 11,
2001 attack have included bombings of the World Trade Center in New
York City, the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. and
Mobil Oil corporate headquarters in New York City.
Last Updated March 9, 2005