The birth of state-sponsored terrorism

Hassan Tahsin

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As a result of the recent Boston Marathon bombing, the worst attack on American soil since the disaster of 11 September 2001, the term “global terrorism” is once again being talked about in the international arena. Several world leaders have used this term and in so doing have helped to form global public opinion. But the real cause for the spread of terrorism remains unknown along with the reasons why governments seem unable to put an end to this global scourge.

Before examining the cause of the spread of terrorism, we should first define it. It can be summed up as follows; “terrorism is the use or threat of violence in its various forms, such as assassination, torture, kidnapping and destruction with the ulterior motive of realizing specific political goals by using coercion to make the enemy succumb to one’s desires and dictates.” In other words, terrorism is the use of force to apply pressure on governments or agencies that do not agree with the ideologies or interests of terrorist groups.

This form of terrorism emerged in Russia and Western Europe in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Eventually, several kings and heads of state were assassinated. The spark that started World War I was the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The assassination by a Serb nationalist occurred while Ferdinand was visiting the city of Sarajevo in the Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The spread of terrorism

Such terrorism also appeared in the United States with the Ku Klux Klan in 1866. The basic goal of this group was to advocate for white supremacy and nationalism and put an end to the black community.

In the middle of the 20th century, this type of terrorism was practiced by Zionists who unleashed a reign of terror with the objective of setting the stage for the formation of a Jewish state on Palestinian land. This terrorism included the massacre of innocent Palestinian villagers by armed Jewish gangs, the liquidation of Palestinian leaders and even the murder of Westerners who opposed the Zionist movement’s presence in Palestine.

Major political ideologies do not recognize terrorism as a way to realize their goals. However, liberation movements and revolutionary groups felt that they were involved in an armed struggle against colonialism and occupation, and they, therefore, endorsed terrorism as a legitimate way to achieve independence.

The morphing concept of terrorism

In the 1970s, the concept of terrorism changed further. It was misused to serve the interests of governments against legitimate revolutionary movements. These governments termed any anti-government move as an act of terror. This eventually led to labeling even the struggle for freedom or the resistance to an occupation force as a terrorist act. In other words, the term was misused to serve vested interests.

Liquidating leaders will not be helpful in eliminating terrorist groups. This will only result in the emergence of leaders from the second and third ranks of the group

Hassan Tahsin

This aberration in the meaning and definition of terrorism prompted many governments to take advantage of terrorist groups or organized criminal gangs by supporting them to carry out some of their secret missions. This was evident in the case of several governments which relied on terror groups during the Cold War. Subsequently, terrorism became a profession with those perpetrating acts of terror eager to serve those who gave them the most money.

This resulted in the spread of terrorism from a limited area to a wider global canvas. Eventually, those governments which were mentors of terrorist groups were no longer able to control them. The Arab Strategic Report, published in Egypt in early 1999, gave an unbiased view of the developments that took place in the operation of terror groups in 1998 and their projected situation in 1999. According to the report, the best examples of the role that governments play in acts of terror were the blasts that targeted the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on August 7 1998. It was a fatal blow to the policies pursued by the U.S. administration in those days. A militant group, raised by the U.S. itself, was behind these two attacks.

The U.S. administration wanted to benefit from Afghanistan to realize its goals, such as controlling the oil and mineral wealth in Central Asia and foiling Iran’s plan to set up an oil and natural gas pipeline that would reach to Pakistan from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan. At the same time, the U.S. administration wanted to take advantage of the geopolitical position of Afghanistan so as to lay siege to Iran and isolate it on military, political and economic fronts. Such moves by the U.S. to serve its own interests have dashed its hopes of having a dominant presence in the region.

The global terrorism that the world is talking about now was originally the creation of some governments. If there is a real will to stamp out terrorism, it is essential to have full control over all terrorist groups and to stop funding them. If that is done, then the infrastructure of these groups will be dismantled. Liquidating leaders will not be helpful in eliminating terrorist groups. This will only result in the emergence of leaders from the second and third ranks of the group which will allow the group to remain intact. Most terrorist groups have an excellent organizational setup because of the government funding that they have received. This is why this type of terrorism can rightly be called state-sponsored terrorism.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on May 2, 2013.


Hassan Tahsin is a veteran Egyptian writer and a regular contributor to pan-Arab newspapers, including the Saudi Gazette. His writing focuses on Middle East conflicts. Tahsin’s political analysis particularly centers on Arab-Israeli relations on a regional level, and Egypt’s domestic and foreign policies, including ties with the Western world. Tahsin can be reached at htahsin-8@hotmail.com.

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