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The Gruesome History of International Terrorist Attacks

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The history of international terrorist attacks is, as you can imagine, horrific and spine-chilling. And even though the number of deaths from terrorist attacks is going down, they’re still a constant threat.

Today, we’re going to take a look at the history of international terrorist attacks, talk about the motivation behind them, and break down the biggest acts in history.

The Definition of Terrorism

Terrorism can come in many different shapes and forms, and have various causes and motivations. But the end game is always pretty much the same — bring harm to others.

Defining terrorism exactly is a bit difficult because there are about 109 total accepted definitions of the term. But a widely accepted one comes from Michael Walzer, political philosopher, who says that it’s the deliberate act of killing innocent people. The acts are usually at random, and they’re done to spread fear and force political, religious, or racial agendas.

Understanding Types of Terrorism

Just as there’s no one single definition of terrorism, its types will also vary depending on the political systems, the country, as well as the time in history. But today, we’re going to look at the four types that are more common than others, and that appear the most often.

Political vs. Non-Political

As we said earlier, terrorists will often attack so that they can further some political cause. They can also do it to try and force a government’s hand to comply with their agendas.

On the other side of the spectrum, non-political terrorism isn’t aimed at political purposes. Instead, its end goal is to have individual or collective gain.


A quasi-terrorist is someone who will use methods similar to terrorism, but their main purpose isn’t to induce terror. However, they usually have the same end-result.

A good example is someone robbing a bank, and taking hostages in the process. So even though their main goal might not have been to cause harm or create fear, their actions still lead to the same result.

State Terrorism

Structural or state terrorism refers to terrorist acts that governments carry out in an effort to pursue political objectives. The nations that use fear and oppression to control their population reach terrorist proportions.

The Motivation Behind Terrorist Acts

To understand the history of international terrorist attacks, we first need to talk about the things that motivated the attacks. Even though there are countless possible causes, most terrorist choose to attack for the following reasons:

  1. Intimidate a group of people
  2. Get attention or support for a specific political cause
  3. Force a government to agree to demands
  4. Directly or indirectly inspire others to join a cause

Often, terrorist acts won’t come and go in waves, or just specific periods of time. That’s because the actors all have different motivations, which usually come down to:

  • Socialism
  • Nationalism
  • Religious extremism
  • Exclusions

None of these things tend to have a chronological order, where one of these motivators would die out, and another would take its place. They can work together in parallel, happen at the same time, and overlap one another.

History of International Terrorist Attacks

The Dark History of International Terrorist Attacks

Now, let’s take a look at some of the biggest, most horrific terrorist attacks that happened in the last 25 years. All of these acts have had huge death tolls and left countless people injured.

1995 Tokyo Subway Sarin Attack

Aum Shinrikyo (now Aleph), an infamous Japanese cult, carried out the Tokyo Subway Sarin attack. In it, 13 people died, and over 6,000 others reported injuries, including temporary loss of vision.

During rush hour, the group had carried out five coordinated attacks, in which they released sarin, a nerve gas, on three lines of the Tokyo Metro. To this day, some of the survivors of the attack report injuries, and many say that they suffer from posttraumatic stress response (PTSR).

2001 September 11 Attacks

The attack on the World Trade Center is the deadliest terrorist attack in US history. Al Qaeda, a terrorist organization led by Osama bin Laden, financed the attack as a way to retaliate for America’s support of Israel.

In the attack, over 3,000 people lost their lives, including office workers, police officers, paramedics, and firefighters. The September 11 attacks led the then-president George W. Bush to create the Department of Homeland Security.

2008 Christmas Massacres

Between December 24th and 27th, the Lord’s Resistance Army, which is a rebel group from Uganda, attacked several villages in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The total death toll was over 620, according to the Human Rights Watch.

Not only that but because of the attacks, more than 35,000 people were forced to flee and abandon their homes.

2014 Camp Speicher Massacre

In one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in the world, the Camp Speicher Massacre, the total number of deaths remains unknown after seven years. As the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) took over Mosul, they set their sights on the Speicher military training camp.

At that time, more than 10,000 cadets were stationed at the facility, and around 1,700 were executed by ISIL. However, to this day, more than 400 cadets are missing, and no one knows anything about their whereabouts.

2019 Sri Lanka Easter Bombings

Members of a local militant Islamist group, National Thowheeth Jama’ath, coordinated bomb attacks, which claimed the lives of over 269 people. They targeted three churches, as well as three luxury hotels in Colombo, and took their own lives in the process.

The bombings would have been even more devastating, but police officers manage to uncover more bombs at the country’s main airport. They also heightened security there, and all around the capital in the days following the attack.

To Sum Up

The history of international attacks is, unfortunately, a long and terrifying one. Even with the latest technology advancements and task forces, they’re still going on around the world. In fact, it’s never been easier than now to radicalize people and recruit them to join a twisted cause.

With that said, the future isn’t nearly as bleak as it may seem. Together, with law enforcement professionals, EP agents are helping break these dangerous trends for a better, and safer future.

If you’d like to join the cause, we can help you get started. Sign up for our newsletter, and get updates on all the latest happening in the industry.

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