Excerpts from "The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism: Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why?". A Report Prepared under an Interagency Agreement by the Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, September 1999. Author: Rex A. Hudson, Editor: Marilyn Majeska, Project Managers: Andrea M. Savada, Helen C. Metz. Available online at www.lcweb. loc.gov/rr/frd/

About the report: "The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism" was commissioned in January 1999 by the National Intelligence Council. The report was delivered in September 1999. The report summarizes literature written by experts on terrorism, inside and outside government.

Two years before 11 Sept. 2001 this report noted that...
"Suicide bomber(s) belonging to al-Qaida's Martyrdom Battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives...into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or the White House.....Whatever form an attack may take, bin Laden will most likely retaliate in a spectacular way for the cruise missile attack against his Afghan camp in August 1998." Go to this quote in context

Go to How Terrorism Ends

From the PREFACE

The purpose of this study is to focus attention on the types of individuals and groups that are prone to terrorism in an effort to help improve U.S. counterterrorist methods and policies.

From New Types of Post-Cold War Terrorists

 In the 1970s and 1980s, it was commonly assumed that terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) would be counterproductive because such an act would be widely condemned. "Terrorists want a lot of people watching, not a lot of people dead," Brian Jenkins opined. Jenkins's premise was based on the assumption that terrorist behavior is normative, and that if they exceeded certain constraints and employed WMD they would completely alienate themselves from the public and possibly provoke swift and harsh retaliation. This assumption does seem to apply to certain secular terrorist groups….

 Trends in terrorism over the past three decades, however, have contradicted the conventional thinking that terrorists are averse to using WMD. It has become increasingly evident that the assumption does not apply to religious terrorist groups or millenarian cults….

 … New breeds of increasingly dangerous religious terrorists emerged in the 1990s. The most dangerous type is the Islamic fundamentalist. A case in point is Ramzi Yousef, who brought together a loosely organized, ad hoc group, the so-called Liberation Army, apparently for the sole purpose of carrying out the WTC operation on February 26, 1993. Moreover, by acting independently the small self-contained cell led by Yousef prevented authorities from linking it to an established terrorist organization, such as its suspected coordinating group,Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida, or a possible state sponsor.

From THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE TERRORIST: The Terrorist as Suicidal Fanatic

 [Should we understand terrorists as nutcases or fanatics?] The terrorist as fanatic, emphasizes the terrorist's rational qualities and views the terrorist as a cool, logical planning individual whose rewards are ideological and political, rather than financial. This approach takes into account that terrorists are often well educated and capable of sophisticated, albeit highly biased, rhetoric and political analysis…

Suicide Terrorists

 Deliberate self-destruction, when the terrorist's death is necessary in order to detonate a bomb or avoid capture, is not a common feature of terrorism in most countries, although it happens occasionally with Islamic fundamentalist terrorists in the Middle East and Tamil terrorists in Sri Lanka and southern India….

 Prior to mid-1985, there were 11 suicide attacks against international targets in the Middle East using vehicle bombs. Three well-known cases were the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut on April 18, 1983, which killed 63 people, and the separate bombings of the U.S. Marine barracks and the French military headquarters in Lebanon on October 23, 1983, which killed 241 U.S. Marines and 58 French paratroopers, respectively. The first instance, however, was the bombing of Israel's military headquarters in Tyre, in which 141 people were killed. Inspired by these suicide attacks in Lebanon and his closer ties with Iran and Hizballah, Abu Nidal launched "suicide squads" in his attacks against the Rome and Vienna airports in late December 1985, in which an escape route was not planned.

….To Western observers, the acts of suicide terrorism by adherents of Islam and Hinduism may be attributable to fanaticism or mental illness or both. From the perspective of the Islamic movement, however, such acts of self-destruction have a cultural and religious context, the historical origins of which can be seen in the behavior of religious sects associated with the Shi'ite movement, notably the Assassins. Similarly, the suicide campaign of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) in the 1993-94 period involved young Palestinian terrorists, who, acting on individual initiative, attacked Israelis in crowded places, using home-made improvised weapons such as knives and axes. Such attacks were suicidal because escape was not part of the attacker's plan. These attacks were, at least in part, motivated by revenge.

According to scholars of Muslim culture, so-called suicide bombings, however, are seen by Islamists and Tamils alike as instances of martyrdom, and should be understood as such. The Arabic term used is istishad, a religious term meaning to give one's life in the name of Allah, as opposed to intihar, which refers to suicide resulting from personal distress. The latter form of suicide is not condoned in Islamic teachings.

 ….Ramzi Yousef's plot to blow up the WTC might have killed an estimated 50,000 people had his team not made a minor error in the placement of the bomb. In any case, [this act in Manhattan seems] an ominous foretaste of the WMD terrorism to come in the first decade of the new millennium….


...[A] terrorist will look, dress, and behave like a normal person, such as a university student, until he or she executes the assigned mission. Therefore, considering that this physical and behavioral description of the terrorist could describe almost any normal young person, terrorist profiling based on personality, physical, or sociological traits would not appear to be particularly useful.

 If terrorists cannot be detected by personality or physical traits, are there other early warning indicators that could alert security personnel? The most important indicator would be having intelligence information on the individual, such as a "watch list," a description, and a photo, or at least a threat made by a terrorist group. Even a watch-list is not fool-proof, however, as demonstrated by the case of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, who, despite having peculiar features and despite being on a terrorist watch-list, passed through U.S. Customs unhindered.

From New Forms of Terrorist-Threat Scenarios

 The number of international terrorist incidents has declined in the 1990s, but the potential threat posed by terrorists has increased. The increased threat level, in the form of terrorist actions aimed at achieving a larger scale of destruction than the conventional attacks of the previous three decades of terrorism, was dramatically demonstrated with the bombing of the WTC. The WTC bombing illustrated how terrorists with technological sophistication are increasingly being recruited to carry out lethal terrorist bombing attacks. The WTC bombing may also have been a harbinger of more destructive attacks of international terrorism in the United States.

 Although there are not too many examples, if any, of guerrilla groups dispatching commandos to carry out a terrorist operation in the United States, the mindsets of four groups discussed herein--two guerrilla/terrorist groups, a terrorist group, and a terrorist cult--are such that these groups pose particularly dangerous actual or potential terrorist threats to U.S. security interests. The two guerrilla/terrorist groups are the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) and Hizballah, the terrorist group is al-Qaida, and the terrorist cult is Aum Shinrikyo.

 The LTTE is not known to have engaged in anti-U.S. terrorism to date, but its suicide commandos have already assassinated a prime minister of India, a president of Sri Lanka, and a former prime minister of Sri Lanka….There is little protection against the LTTE's trademark weapon: a belt-bomb suicide commando.

 Hizballah is likewise quite dangerous. Except for its ongoing terrorist war against Israel, however, it appears to be reactive, often carrying out terrorist attacks for what it perceives to be Western military, cultural, or political threats to the establishment of an Iranian-style Islamic republic in Lebanon.

 The threat to U.S. interests posed by Islamic fundamentalist terrorists in particular was underscored by al-Qaida's bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998. With those two devastating bombings, Osama bin Laden resurfaced as a potent terrorist threat to U.S. interests worldwide. Bin Laden is the prototype of a new breed of terrorist--the private entrepreneur who puts modern enterprise at the service of a global terrorist network…..

 The leaders of any of these groupsPrabhakaran, bin Laden, and Asaharacould become paranoid, desperate, or simply vengeful enough to order their suicide devotees to employ the belt-bomb technique against the leader of the Western World. Iranian intelligence leaders could order Hizballah to attack the U.S. leadership in retaliation for some future U.S. or Israeli action….Nor does bin Laden need a logical reason, for he believes that he has a mandate from Allah to punish the "Great Satan."….

If Iran's mullahs or Iraq's Saddam Hussein decide to use terrorists to attack the continental United States, they would likely turn to bin Laden's al-Qaida. Al-Qaida is among the Islamic groups recruiting increasingly skilled professionals, such as computer and communications technicians, engineers, pharmacists, and physicists, as well as Ukrainian chemists and biologists, Iraqi chemical weapons experts, and others capable of helping to develop WMD. Al-Qaida poses the most serious terrorist threat to U.S. security interests, for al-Qaida's well-trained terrorists are actively engaged in a terrorist jihad against U.S. interests worldwide….

Al-Qaida's expected retaliation for the U.S. cruise missile attack against al-Qaida's training facilities in Afghanistan on August 20, 1998, could take several forms of terrorist attack in the nation's capital. Al-Qaida could detonate a Chechen-type building-buster bomb at a federal building. Suicide bomber(s) belonging to al-Qaida's Martyrdom Battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives (C-4 and semtex) into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or the White House. Ramzi Yousef had planned to do this against the CIA headquarters. In addition, both al-Qaida and Yousef were linked to a plot to assassinate President Clinton during his visit to the Philippines in early 1995. Following the August 1998 cruise missile attack, at least one Islamic religious leader called for Clinton's assassination, and another stated that "the time is not far off" for when the White House will be destroyed by a nuclear bomb. A horrendous scenario consonant with al-Qaida's mindset would be its use of a nuclear suitcase bomb against any number of targets in the nation's capital. Bin Laden allegedly has already purchased a number of nuclear suitcase bombs from the Chechen Mafia. Al-Qaida's retaliation, however, is more likely to take the lower-risk form of bombing one or more U.S. airliners with time-bombs. Yousef was planning simultaneous bombings of 11 U.S. airliners prior to his capture. Whatever form an attack may take, bin Laden will most likely retaliate in a spectacular way for the cruise missile attack against his Afghan camp in August 1998.