Terrorism is the use or threat of violence to create fear and alarm. Terrorists murder and kidnap people, detonate bombs, hijack airplanes, set fires, and commit other serious crimes. The goals of terrorists, however, differ from those of ordinary criminals. Most criminals want money or some other form of personal gain. Most terrorists commit crimes to support political and religious causes. The attacks of September 11 exemplify the extreme extents one will go to further their cause.
Terrorist acts are committed for various reasons. Some individuals and groups that use terrorism support a particular political philosophy. Others represent minority groups seeking liberation from governments in power. Dictators and totalitarian governments also use violence to frighten or eliminate their opponents. Most terrorist groups are small. They believe that these threatening or violent measures are the best way to gain publicity and rally support for their cause. .
Generally, terrorists attack people who oppose their cause or objects that symbolize such opposition. Common victims of kidnappings and assassinations include diplomats, business executives, political leaders, police, and judges. Terrorists also attack churches, mosques, and synagogues, as well as oil refineries and government offices. At other times, terrorists choose any target certain to attract media coverage. Some terrorists hijack airplanes. Then they hold the passengers hostage and make demands to further their cause. They threaten to kill the hostages if their demands are not met. Some terrorism involves the intentional release of toxic chemicals, poisons, germs, or other harmful substances. Bombings make up about half of all terrorist acts. .
Terrorism may cross national boundaries. A quarrel in one nation may produce terrorist attacks in several other countries. Some governments secretly support certain terrorist groups by providing weapons, training, and money for attacks in other countries.