Terrorism And Lethality

Although the total volume of terrorist incidents world-wide has declined in the

1990s, the proportion of persons killed in terrorist incidents has steadily
risen. For example, according to the RAND-St Andrews University Chronology of

International Terrorism,5 a record 484 international terrorist incidents were
recorded in 1991, the year of the Gulf War, followed by 343 incidents in 1992,

360 in 1993, 353 in 1994, falling to 278 incidents in 1995 (the last calendar
year for which complete statistics are available).6 However, while terrorists
were becoming less active, they were nonetheless becoming more lethal. For
example, at least one person was killed in 29 percent of terrorist incidents in

1995: the highest percentage of fatalities to incidents recorded in the

Chronology since 1968--and an increase of two percent over the previous year's
record figure.7 In the United States this trend was most clearly reflected in

1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Since
the turn of the century, fewer than a dozen of all the terrorist incidents
committed world-wide have killed more than a 100 people. The 168 persons
confirmed dead at the Murrah Building ranks sixth on the list of most fatalities
caused this centuryin a single terrorist incident--domestic or international.8

The reasons for terrorism's increasing lethality are complex and variegated, but
can generally be summed up as follows: The growth in the number of terrorist
groups motivated by a religious imperative; The proliferation of
"amateurs" involved in terrorist acts; and, The increasing
sophistication and operational competence of "professional"
terrorists. Religious Terrorism The increase of terrorism motivated by a
religious imperative neatly encapsulates the confluence of new adversaries,
motivations and rationales affecting terrorist patterns today. Admittedly, the
connection between religion and terrorism is not new.9 However, while religion
and terrorism do share a long history, in recent decades this form particular
variant has largely been overshadowed by ethnic- and nationalist-separatist or
ideologically-motivated terrorism. Indeed, none of the 11 identifiable terrorist
groups10 active in 1968 (the year credited with marking the advent of modern,
international terrorism) could be classified as "religious."11 Not
until 1980 in fact--as a result of the repercussions from the revolution in Iran
the year before--do the first "modern" religious terrorist groups
appear:12 but they amount to only two of the 64 groups active that year. Twelve
years later, however, the number of religious terrorist groups has increased
nearly six-fold, representing a quarter (11 of 48) of the terrorist
organisations who carried out attacks in 1992. Significantly, this trend has not
only continued, but has actually accelerated. By 1994, a third (16) of the 49
identifiable terrorist groups could be classified as religious in character
and/or motivation. Last year their number increased yet again, no to account for
nearly half (26 or 46 percent) of the 56 known terrorist groups active in 1995.

The implications of terrorism motivated by a religious imperative for higher
levels of lethality is evidenced by the violent record of various Shi'a Islamic
groups during the 1980s. For example, although these organisations committed
only eight percent of all recorded international terrorist incidents between

1982 and 1989, they were nonetheless responsible for nearly 30 percent of the
total number of deaths during that time period.13 Indeed, some of the most
significant terrorist acts of the past 18 months, for example, have all had some
religious element present.14 Even more disturbing is that in some instances the
perpetrators' aims have gone beyond the establishment of some theocracy amenable
to their specific deity,15 but have embraced mystical, almost transcendental,
and divinely-inspired imperatives16 or a vehemently anti-government form of
"populism" reflecting far-fetched conspiracy notions based on a
volatile mixture of seditious, racial and religious dicta.17 Religious
terrorism18 tends to be more lethal than secular terrorism because of the
radically different value systems, mechanisms of legitimisation and
justification, concepts of morality, and Manichean world views that directly
affect the "holy terrorists'" motivation. For the religious terrorist,
violence first and foremost is a sacramental act or divine duty: executed in
direct response to some theological demand or imperative and justified by
scripture. Religion, therefore functions as a legitimising force: specifically
sanctioning wide scale violence against an almost open-ended category of
opponents (e.g., all peoples who are not members of the religious terrorists'
religion or cult). This explains why clerical sanction is so important for
religious terrorists19 and why religious figures are often required to
"bless" (e.g., approve) terrorist operations before they are executed.
"Amateur" Terrorists The proliferation of "amateurs"
involved in terrorist acts has also contributed to terrorism's increasing
lethality. In the past, terrorism was not just a matter of having the will and
motivation to act, but of