Combating Terrorism

Combating Terrorism


Dr. Ali S. Awadh Asseri

(Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon)

    The Narodnaya Volya (NV) was the one that first put Pisacane’s thesis into practice. They were a Russian populist group that was formed in 1878 to oppose the Tsarist regime. The group’s most famous deed, the assassination of Alexander II, also effectively sealed their fate by incurring the full wrath of the Tsarist regime. Unlike most other terrorist groups, the NV went to great lengths to avoid ‘innocent’ deaths, carefully choosing their targets, and often compromising operations rather than causing what would today be termed ‘collateral damage’. The NV’s actions inspired radicals elsewhere. Anarchist terrorist groups were particularly enamoured by the Russian populists. Nationalist groups such as those in Ireland and the Balkans adopted terrorism as a means to achieve their desired ends. As the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, terrorist attacks were carried out at such divergent places as India, Japan and the Ottoman Empire. Like Europe, terrorism arrived in the United States before the twentieth century. Not only were the anarchists active in the United States throughout the 1880s, the country’s civil war had also witnessed acts deserving of the name and committed by both sides. The formation of the Ku Klux Klan also followed to fight the Reconstruction.[1]

      State-sponsored terrorism had started to manifest itself long before the outbreak of the First World War in Europe. As an early indication, many officials in the Serbian government and military were reported to be involved in supporting, training and arming various Balkan groups that were active prior to the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo. The act was carried out by an activist of a group called the ‘Young Bosnians’ which is credited with setting in motion a chain of events leading to the war itself.[2]

     Similarly, the Bulgarian government was responsible for the survival of the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization that was used against Yugoslavia as well as against domestic enemies. Political assassinations, deserving to be dubbed terrorism, dominated the 1930s. This led to proposal at the League of Nations for conventions to prevent and punish terrorism as well as the establishment of an International Criminal Court. None of these proposals could materialize as they were overshadowed by events leading to the advent of the Second World War. In the inter-war years, state terrorism came to be associated with the oppressive measures taken by some totalitarian, most notably in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Stalinist Russia. More recently, governments, such as Israel, have continually resort to using the tool to subdue opposition, both within as well as beyond their territories.[3]

      Bruce Hoffman argues that ‘such usages are generally termed ‘terror’ in order to distinguish that phenomenon from ‘terrorism’ which is understood to be violence committed by non-state entities.[4] However, not everyone agrees that terrorism should be considered a non-governmental undertaking. Jessica Sterns insists that, in deliberately bombarding civilians as a means of attacking enemy morale, states have indeed resorted to terrorism. Such instances not only include the Allied strategic bombing campaigns of the Second World War, but also the US dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended the Pacific phase of the conflict.[5]

(To be continued)


[1] Jessica Stern, The Ultimate Terrorists (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), pp. 16-17.

[2] Hoffman, op. cit., pp. 20-23.

[3] Weinberg, op. cit., p. 26.

[4] Ibid., p. 25.

[5] Stern, p. 14.