Armed Hostilities

Terrorism Evolution from 1972 to 2016


Terrorism has evolved over time from being a domestic threat to an intractable global concern. Globally, no country is immune to the heinous acts of terror meted out on innocent people by a minority group, who are hell-bent on advancing their ideologies through unorthodox means. Due to the extent of loss of human lives and vandalism of both private and public property, countries across the world have developed counter-terrorism strategies and are always on high terrorist alert.

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Governments have devised advanced technology gadgets for screening at airports and border points, not forgetting increased vigilance of citizens via surveillance cameras, and tapping of phone calls and email conversations. Despite the several techniques, which governments have employed to curb terror, these strategies only ameliorate but do not eliminate terrorism. The war on terrorism is far from over and requires continual concerted worldwide efforts.

Thus, the essay highlighted the evolution of terrorism over the years from 1972 to 2016 by examining attacks on sporting events, commercial airliners and trains, recruitment of women, domestic terrorism, use of mobile phone technology and the internet, bio- and cyber-terrorism and gender-based violence.


The thought of terrorism is appalling due to the negative impact it has had on humanity. Terrorism, aside from destroying property, has claimed many innocent lives in many countries. Terrorists engage in horrific activities due to a number of reasons, including religious and political bigotries, to cause revolutions of poor social and government systems, and in some cases, to satisfy personal predilections. The driving force behind terrorism is to instill fear among people so that extremists can advance ideologies that only bode well with a minority of the populace. In this perspective, this essay gives a chronology of some of the major terror acts that depict how this global threat has been gradually changing.

Targeting Sporting Events

In 1972, eight gun-wielding members of the Palestinian terrorist group ‘Black September’ kidnapped and later massacred eleven Israeli athletes at the Berlin Olympic Games (Spaaij, 2016). They did this to have 234 prisoners jailed in Israel, and four members of the Red Army incarcerated in Germany released. Israel retaliated by bombing Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) zones in Syria and Lebanon, causing deaths of over 200 people.

These killings were a manifestation of the magnitude of political intolerance between the nations of Israel and Palestine. This act left an indelible stain on a country that had initially exterminated Jews and put Israel and Germany at loggerheads. The Munich killings marked the beginning of terrorism in sports and changed the modalities that go into organizing and preparing global sporting events. The Palestinians exported a regional conflict across international borders into the country that had nothing to do with their feud with Israelis.

Attack on the Military

The early 1980s saw terrorists start targeting military bases and property as opposed to civilians. On 23 October 1983, extremists bombarded the US marine barracks in Beirut to compel the United States to remove troops from Lebanon (Weiner, 2015). A similar attack on the US military base reoccurred on 31 December 2009, when Al Ka Dau, permeated a US base in Afghanistan and exploded a suicide vest, annihilating 8 members of the Central Intelligence Agency and 241 marines.

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Earlier on, in 2000, Al Qaeda had shelled the USS Cole, a naval vessel that had stopped to refuel in the Arabian Peninsula. This attack was reminiscent of the first terrorist attack on a US warship in 1987. The 2000 event claimed 17 lives while injuring 39 others. The attack on the military shows the conviction of jihadists to perpetuate their course.

Assault on airliners

The mid to late 1980s recorded the downing of many commercial flights. The bombings of Air India and Pan Am flights in 1985 and 1988 respectively noted an upcoming trend targeting commercial airliners. The 1988 explosion of the Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie Scotland caused the death of many people (Thomas, 2015). The terrorists, later on, professed that the attack was a sign of the hatred for America. The attack on airplanes was a wake-up call to tighten aviation security and led to the adoption of counterterrorism methods. Airports use metal detectors to screen passengers and luggage, something that has heightened their security. The counter-terrorism measures have proven to be effective, as they have reduced the number of terrorist activities involving aircraft.

Involvement of Women

Since time immemorial, terrorism has always been male-dominated; however, this trend has changed. Women have taken a cue from men and joined the fray of global terrorism, especially in war-torn areas (Davis, 2013). Davis avers that terrorism has taken a new twist, with women joining terrorist organizations, and increasingly being involved in jihadist activities. A woman by the name Dhanu strapped explosives to herself that she later exploded, killing her and the prime minister of India, Rajiv Ghandi, in 1991 (Cruise, 2016).

Currently, many women have joined terrorist groups and have become suicide bombers. Years later, the International Police has implicated several women in global terrorist activities. For stance, Samantha Lethwaite alias, the ‘black widow’ is a notorious woman who has links with the Somali terrorist group, the Al-Shabaab.

Domestic Terrorism

Terrorists are not always foreign nationals as on 19 April 1995, the Oklahoma City bombings symbolized a new type of perpetrators of horror. Timothy McVeigh, an American, committed a felony by loading explosives onto a truck and exploding them before a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people (Ward & Pilat, 2016).

He was dissatisfied with the government, and this was how he protested. The attack heralded the dawn of domestic terrorism, acknowledged by former President Bill Clinton when he said that the enemies share the US borders and religious affiliations. McVeigh was neither an outsider nor a Muslim, and his execution in 2001 was the US’s penal code stance on punishing terrorist acts. He used a different type of explosive, which is fertilizer mixed with fuel that he made after indoctrinating himself by reading a book, ‘The Turner Diaries.’ Though the government adopted stringent counter-terrorism strategies, it did not prevent it from suffering subsequent acts of terror.

Hijackings and Crashing

In September 2001, Al-Qaeda militants hijacked American airliners and crashed them into the twin towers. The attack was the biggest terror attack on US soil since the Oklahoma City bombing, leaving the survivors traumatized many years post-attack (Triantafyllou, North, Zartman & Roediger, 2015). The event marked a new technique of terror, which entailed targeting public transportation systems, hijacking airplanes, and crashing them into buildings.

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These techniques deviate from the conventional methods of using explosives or demanding for ransom. The act provoked the United States to embark on a military excursion in Afghanistan, with the mission to seize the terror group’s ultimate leader, Osama Bin Laden, which eventually led to his capture and death in 2011. The planning that led to the attacks revealed a high level of organization and networking. The theme behind the attacks was to coerce the US to remove its troops from Saudi Arabia.


The year 2001 marked a revolution of terrorism by the release of highly pathogenic biological agents. The dissemination of anthrax spores in the United States in 2001 by terrorists ushered in the era of a new kind of threat, the bioterrorism. The postal anthrax spores claimed 5 lives and infected 17 people, and Al Qaeda has long expressed interest in procuring the deadly biological agents, let alone manufacturing them (Taylor, Margaritis, Nasir, Borrion, & Lai, 2013).

The increase in biotechnological knowledge and disparity in biomedical laboratory security increase the prospects of terrorist outfits getting hold of biological weapons. The possibility of such an eventuality underscores the need to devise strategies for curbing bioterrorism. Possible strategies include the development of effective and fast biosensors to detect deadly biological agents that anarchists have leaked.

Mobile Phone Technology

The 2002 and 2004 explosions in Bali and Spain, respectively, saw the adoption of technology in terrorism (Bieda & Halawi, 2015). In both bombings, Muslim radicals used synchronized cell phone alarms to detonate bombs. The Spain attacks confirmed terrorists’ foray into targeting public transportation systems. Police investigations reveal that the terrorists conducted reconnaissance prior to the attacks, and even established a base from which they stocked explosives.

The money used to perpetrate this horror was proceeds from drug trafficking, which the terrorists exchanged for explosives stolen from a mine by Spaniard criminal gangs. This shows a network of criminal gangs and money generated through illegal dealings as opposed to previous cases where the Al-Qaeda terror group were the sponsors of terror. Interrogation of arrested terrorists by the police further showed that a majority of them had a jihadist ideology, which the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 inspired.

Use of the Internet

The advent of the Internet led to increased communication and connectivity among people. Terrorists have embraced the Internet to perpetuate their extremism on a global scale (Bogdanoski, Risteski, & Bogdanoski, 2015).

Al Qaeda uses the Internet in a number of ways, such as online recruitment, propaganda, sourcing for information, acquiring funds, and coordinating attacks. Islamic States of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) also use the Internet for they have taken to social media to recruit members and spread propaganda through Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. ISIS videos of beheadings and other forms of executions have earned them worldwide attention (Bieda & Halawi, 2015). The airing of Al Qaeda and ISIS’s violent videos and the media’s over-coverage of their horrific activities have contributed to their popularity besides increasing the size of the target population they aim to radicalize, and ultimately recruit.

Re-targeting of Sporting Events

The 2013 Boston explosions are a recurrence of tact employed by the jihadists. Targeting sporting events by terrorists is not a new development, as evidenced by the Munich massacre (Spaaij, 2016). However, the detonation of explosives by domestic tourists during a marathon was new. The perpetrators were brothers, who the police apprehended within a short time, after a statewide manhunt. This gesture was suggestive of the effective counter-terrorism methods in place even during sporting events, albeit they did not prevent the explosions. Later on, the brothers stated that the Islamic jihadists had indoctrinated them online, a confirmation of jihadists’ heavy reliance on the Internet to propagate mayhem.

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Gender-based Violence

The 2014 kidnapping of 260 girls of Chibok Secondary School by the Boko Haram was the first time jihadists were abducting women in large numbers. The abduction attracted attention to an evolving area of modern terrorism and gender-based violence (Zenn & Pearson, 2014). Prior to the Boko Haram abductions, gender-related violence in terrorism was an area that people had overlooked, despite being rampant.

Boko Haram’s raping and impregnating of the schoolchildren traumatized them and forced members of the feminist movement to bring it to the fore as a change of tactic by terrorists. Mutilation and infliction of long-term psychological instability on schoolchildren by terrorists were a gesture the world had not seen on such a grand scale before. Students represent yet another change of terrorists’ target population.

Raid on Journalism Facility

The January 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks indicated that terrorists sometimes target people they perceive as vulnerable. The terrorists interpreted the cartoons representing Prophet Mohammed as libel. Two terrorists armed with guns infiltrated the satirical magazine’s editorial room and shot the staff, killing 17 people and injuring 22 in France (Ben-Ezra, Leshem, & Goodwin, 2015). These attacks shook the whole world resulting in the global observance of a minute of silence for the slain journalists. Although terrorists normally kidnap journalists, the invasion of the newspaper room was a break from the norm. Nevertheless, the assault on journalists sees a continuation of intolerance towards Westerners and their beliefs.

Cyber Terrorism

Jihadists’ knowledge and prowess on the Internet and computing technology have raised terrorism to a completely new level (Bogdanoski, Risteski, & Bogdanoski, 2015). The escalating cases of cyber terrorism indicate the evolution of terrorist groups that people thought had been suppressed through military strikes (Bieda & Halawi, 2015). The Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) have attempted to hack the United States’ computers that control the country’s electricity grid.

Additionally, ISIL proponents have continued to post photos and video footage of cockpits and embarked on discussions about how they aspire to sneak explosives onto airplanes and blow them up. Though the ISIL and Al Qaeda have not succeeded in infiltrating the United States’ intelligence, electricity, and database servers, cybersecurity experts should treat cyber terrorism as an imminent threat and seal all loopholes.


Terrorism has undergone fundamental transformations from mere kidnappings for ransom to killings for revenge reasons. Additionally, the target for terrorists has changed from innocent civilians to public figures and soldiers. Modern terrorists also target trains, airplanes, military camps, sea vessels, and conventional public buildings. Terrorism is no longer a preserve for males for women who have increasingly been involved in extremism.

The mode of highlighting victories and recruiting new members is not majorly via videotapes but through social media such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. The driving force behind the terror attacks varies, but the bottom line is that all terrorists advance their selfish agendas by using fear. These changes in tactics display the randomness and dynamic nature of terrorism. Dynamism has made it very difficult to predict the type or nature of the next act of terror. As terror is indiscriminate and unpredictable, all countries are always alert.


Ben-Ezra, M., Leshem, E., & Goodwin, R. (2015). In the wake of national trauma: Psychological reactions following the Charlie Hebdo terror attack. American Journal of Psychiatry, 172(8), 795-796.

Bieda, D., & Halawi, L. (2015). Cyberspace: A venue for terrorism. Issues in Information Systems, 16(3), 33-43.

Bogdanoski, M., Risteski, A., & Bogdanoski, M. (2015). Steganography in support of the global Terrorism. Information and Communication Security, 42(1), 15-28.

Cruise, R. (2016). Enough with the stereotypes: Representation of women in terrorist organizations. Social Science Quarterly, 97(1), 33-43.

Davis, J. (2013). Evolution of the global jihad: Female suicide bombers in Iraq. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 36(4), 279-291.

Spaaij, R. (2016). Terrorism and security at the Olympics: Empirical trends and evolving research agendas. The International Journal of the History of Sport, 1-18.

Taylor, J., Margaritis, D., Nasir, Z, Borrion, H., & Lai, H. (2013). The role of protection measures and their interaction in determining building vulnerability and resilience to bioterrorism. Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefense, 4(1), 123-136.

Thomas, M. (2015). Flying lessons: Malaysia and other airlines avoiding Pan Am’s final destination. Strategic direction, 31(8), 26-28.

Triantafyllou, D., North, C., Zartman, A., & Roedigler, H. (2015). A Deese-Roediger-McDermott study of trauma memory among employees of New York City companies affected by the September Ii, 2001, attacks. Annals of clinical psychiatry, 27(3), 165-174.

Ward, J., & Pilat, S. (2016). Terror, Trauma, Memory: Reflections on the Oklahoma City bombing- An introduction. Social Science Quarterly, 97 (1), 1-8.

Weiner, J. (2015). The war on American diplomacy: ISIS, Al Qaeda and Taliban’s sustained attacks on peaceful missions abroad. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 3(1), 487-450.

Zenn, J., & Pearson, L. (2014). Women, gender, and the evolving tactics of Boko Haram. Journal of Terrorism Research, 5(1), 1-17.

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