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Disciplines > Warfare > Strategies > Terrorism

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Terrorists work on the principle of causing maximum fear through contained action. They emerge from nowhere and may kill men, women and children indiscriminately, often with scant regard for their own lives. They may use guns, though explosives or even chemical weapons can provide for greater impact in a short period.

They typically work through their own code of values whereby they feel justified in the harm they cause to innocent bystanders.

One of the most feared forms of terrorist act is the suicide bomber who sacrifices their own life to kill many others and spread fear.

Terrorists often have fairly narrow aims, but these are often unacceptable to the existing government, for example when they seek religious domination or the replace of an ethnic group in a given tract of land.

Terrorists often work in autonomous cells that are aligned with overall strategy through initial training or indirect messages.


Terrorism is often a strategy of choice in asymmetric war, where the weaker side seeks to create maximum impact with a relatively small force.

When the purpose is terror, the killing of innocent civilians deliberately serves this end as it causes all other civilians to fear for their lives and hence pressure the government to submit to the terrorist's demands. Random attacks make their occurrence more difficult to predict and hence more worrying.

The very notion of suicide bombing is totally alien to most people and hence more terrifying than other forms of attack. The consequent thought is if they will do this, how can we get them to give in? For most people the threat of annihilation is enough to encourage submission, but if they willingly self-annihilate, what now?

So why do terrorists put themselves in such danger or commit suicide? One reason is that conversion methods are used to effectively brainwash them, for example framing martyrdom as a short-cut to heaven. Working in small cells supports this. Their home communities may also lionize them as heroes and the families of those who die in the cause get special support (thus one form of personal martyrdom is to sacrifice oneself so one's family get support).

One of the reasons for working in cells is that the leaders of the organization are protected, for example should a cell member be captured and forced to name people. In this way, terrorist leaders can walk in public without being known.


One of the earliest known uses of terrorism is believed to be when the original Ismaili Muslim 'assassins' randomly killed members of the Abbasid ruling group, typically infiltrating their household staff to get close the the leader.

Perhaps the most successful terrorist act was the destruction of the New York twin towers on 9/11/01. This single act drew America into Middle-Eastern conflict which led to the radicalization of many young Moslems whilst costing the demonized America billions of dollars.


In argument attack innocent bystanders and make bold sacrifices that make the other side wonder what you will not do to achieve your goals.

See also

Guerilla war, Sacrifice in war, Provocation in war

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