While no single definition of terrorism is available, the FBI uses the following definitions in its annual report (Terrorism in the United States, 1999, Washington, D.C., 2001):
- Domestic terrorism involves groups or individuals who are based and operating entirely within the United States and Puerto Rico without foreign direction. Their acts are directed at elements of the U.S. government or population.
- International terrorism is the unlawful use of force or violence by a group or individual with some connection to a foreign power, or whose acts cross international boundaries. Their aim is to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment of these to achieve a political or social objective.
From 1980 to 1999 (the latest date for which the FBI had information) the FBI recorded 327 incidents, or suspected incidents of terrorism in the United States, that killed 205 people and injured 2,037. Of the 327 incidents,
Arson, bombing, and attempted bombing investigations by type of church, January 1, 1995–August 15, 2000
239 were attributed to domestic terrorists and 88 were international. During the same time period, 130 planned acts of terrorism were prevented by U.S. law enforcement agencies. Of those, 88 were planned by domestic groups or individuals and 47 by international groups or individuals.
According to the FBI, while the overall number of terrorist incidents declined from 1990 to 1999 when compared to the previous ten years, the attacks resulted in greater destruction and numbers of casualties. Of the 60 terrorist attacks between 1990 and 1999, 182 people were killed and nearly 2,000 were injured. By comparison, from 1980 to 1989, there were more than four times as many attacks (267), but the death toll was only 23, with 105 injuries.
Incidents of Domestic Terrorism
On April 19, 1995, one of the most deadly acts of domestic terrorism occurred in Oklahoma City when a two-ton truck bomb exploded just outside the Alfred P. Murrah federal building, killing 168 people and injuring 518. Because a day-care center was in the building very near the site of the explosion, many of the victims were children. Federal authorities later arrested Timothy McVeigh for the crime. McVeigh, who was rumored to be associated with an anti-government militia group, was convicted and executed in 2001.
While the toll in lives and property damage was much lower than in the Oklahoma City bombing, the Olympic Games bombing of 1996 created international alarm. In July of 1996, during the Olympic Summer Games in Atlanta, a nail-packed pipe bomb exploded in a large common area. One person was killed and more than 100 injured. Authorities believed the perpetrator may have been affiliated with a so-called Christian Identity group, many of whom see the Olympic Games as part of a satanic New World Order.
Shortly after the attack, suspicion centered on a security guard at Centennial Park, where the blast occurred. He was later cleared and given an official apology. In May of 1998 the FBI added Eric Robert Rudolph to its Top Ten Most Wanted list, seeking him for questioning about the Olympics bombing and two others that followed. Rudolph was also charged with bombing the New Woman All Women Health Care Center (Birmingham, Alabama) in January of 1998. In that blast, an off-duty police officer was killed and a nurse was seriously injured. Rudolph eluded authorities for five years, but was captured in Murphy, North Carolina, on May 31, 2003.
In January of 1998 Theodore Kaczynski was sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole for his actions as the "Unabomber." Over a 17-year period
Arson, bombing, and attempted bombing investigations by status of investigation, January 1, 1995–August 15, 2000
Kaczynski committed 16 bombings in several states. Although he claimed the bombings (usually letter bombs) were directed against the federal government, the victims were generally not directly related to government. Three people were killed and 23 persons injured in the attacks. The manhunt for Kaczynski was one of the longest, most difficult cases in U.S. history, involving hundreds of federal and state law enforcement agents.
Kaczynski was not apprehended until his 56-page "manifesto" was published in The New York Times and The Washington Post newspapers. His brother, David, read the document and recognized the words as his brother's. Contacting the FBI, David shared his fears that his brother Theodore was the Unabomber. This tip led to the subsequent capture of Theodore, who later pleaded guilty at his trial and received a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
On September 25, 2001, a letter postmarked September 20 from St. Petersburg, Florida, containing a white powdery substance, was handled by an assistant to NBC News anchorman Tom Brokaw. After complaining of a rash, the assistant consulted a physician and tested positive for exposure to the anthrax bacterium (bacillus anthracis), an infectious agent which, if inhaled into the lungs, can lead to death. Over the next two months, envelopes testing positive for anthrax were received by various news organizations in the United States and by government offices, including the offices of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and of New York Governor George Pataki. As a result of exposure to anthrax sent via the U.S. mail, five people died, including two postal workers who handled letters carrying the anthrax spores. Hundreds more who were exposed were placed on antibiotics as a preventative measure. Despite an intensive investigation by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, no arrests in the case had been made as of May 2004.
In a spree that began on May 3, 2002, 18 pipe bombs were found in rural mailboxes in Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, and Texas, injuring five people. Four days after the first bomb exploded, the FBI arrested 21-year-old college student Luke J. Helder in connection with the bombings. Helder was charged by federal prosecutors in Iowa with using an explosive device to maliciously destroy property affecting interstate commerce and with using a destructive device to commit a crime of violence, punishable by up to life imprisonment. The pipe bombs, some of which did not detonate, were accompanied by letters warning of excessive government control over individual behavior.
On February 3, 2004, traces of ricin, a white powdery poison that can be deadly if inhaled or ingested, were found on a letter-opening machine in the mailroom of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. All three Senate office buildings were quickly closed, and about 50 Senate workers were put under quarantine; they also took precautionary decontamination showers. No illnesses were reported in the incident. The FBI subsequently reported that in November of 2003 a letter containing ricin, mailed from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and addressed to the White House, was intercepted at a mail sorting facility in the Washington area. The letter was signed "Fallen Angel." The same name appeared in an October, 2003, letter left at the Greenville, South Carolina, post office. This letter contained a metal vial filled with ricin. The two letters complained about recent trucking regulations requiring additional rest for interstate drivers. The FBI was investigating to see if the three incidents were related.
Since the late 1970s some extremist environmental and animal rights groups have turned increasingly to criminal violence to promote their ideas and attack their perceived enemies. Eco-terrorism is the name given to these fringe actions. The FBI has defined eco-terrorism as "the use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against innocent victims or property by an environmentally-oriented,
Racial makeup of subjects arrested for church arsons and bombings, January 1, 1995–August 15, 2000
subnational group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a symbolic nature." Corporate and university research laboratories, furriers, fast food restaurants, real estate developers, automobile dealers, logging companies, and medical-supply firms have been among their most frequent targets. Most prominent among these eco-terrorists have been the underground Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the related Animal Liberation Front (ALF), which have committed some 600 criminal acts since 1996, according to the FBI. Their actions—including arson, vandalism, and bombings—resulted in some $43 million in damages between 1996 and 2002, while in 2003 alone, eco-terrorist damage estimates attributed to ELF and ALF surpassed $50 million. The FBI reports that there have been over $200 million in damages from all eco-terrorist incidents since the late 1980s.
The most damaging practice of the Earth Liberation Front has been arson using incendiary devices equipped with timing mechanisms. On October 19, 1998, ELF burned eight structures at a Vail, Colorado, ski resort, which resulted in $12 million in damages. In August 2002 the group burned a U.S. Forest Service Station in Irvine, Pennsylvania, resulting in over $700,000 in damage and the loss of valuable research files. In the most destructive act of eco-terrorism in U.S. history, ELF burned down a newly-built San Diego, California, 5-story apartment complex in August 2003, causing some $50 million in damage. The following month, they burned four San Diego homes under construction for an estimated $1 million in damages. In addition, the group has vandalized sport utility vehicle (SUV) dealerships in Pennsylvania, California, and New Mexico, resulting in over $2.5 million in damages.
The Animal Liberation Front has also taken credit for a number of violent acts across the country, ranging from vandalism to arson. In November of 1997, ALF staged an arson attack on a Bureau of Land Management wild horse corral in Burns, OR, destroying the complex and causing $450,000 in damages. In June of 1998 another arson attack occurred at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Damage Control Building near Olympia, Washington, causing over $2 million in damages. ALF has also taken responsibility for the firebombing of a McDonald's restaurant in Tucson, AZ, on September 11, 2001, that caused some $500,000 in damages. In a statement made before the U.S. Senate in May of 2001, FBI director Louis J. Freeh labeled the Animal Liberation Front "one of the most active extremist elements in the United States."
Other animal rights groups using violence to promote their ideas include the Animal Liberation Brigade—Revolutionary Cells, which set off two small bombs at the
Subjects arrested for church arsons and bombings by age and gender, January 1, 1995–August 15, 2000
Emeryville, California, headquarters of the Chiron Corp., a biotechnology company, in August of 2003. On September 26, 2003, the same group set off a bomb at Shaklee Corp. in Pleasanton, California.
Incidents of International Terrorism
In 1993 the World Trade Center in New York, a symbol of American financial wealth and power, was the target of international terrorists, who detonated a bomb in the subterranean parking garage, killing six people and injuring 1,000. On September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center's two 110-story office towers were once again the target of a Muslim terrorist group. At 7:59 A.M., American Airlines Flight 11 departed Logan International Airport in Boston bound for Los Angeles. Forty-six minutes later, at 8:45 A.M., the aircraft, diverted by hijackers, crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. At 9:02 A.M., United Airlines Flight 175, also bound for Los Angeles from Boston and also diverted by hijackers, crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Both towers collapsed shortly thereafter, killing not only thousands of office workers and facility personnel trapped inside, but more than 300 firefighters and rescue workers helping to evacuate them.
By 9:45 A.M., two more domestic airlines had been commandeered by hijackers and crashed. American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon, a symbol of American military power, killing over 100 people who were in that section of the building at the time. United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in a field on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the result of an attempt by some passengers to wrestle control of the aircraft from the hijackers. There were no survivors on any of the flights. The 19 hijackers were associated with the al-Qaeda group. Al-Qaeda's leader, Osama Bin Laden, went into hiding after the United States launched attacks on al-Qaeda's bases in Afghanistan in October, 2001.
The September 11 attacks were the worst acts of international terrorism on U.S. soil in the history of the United States. When the official cleanup and recovery efforts ended with a final ceremony on May 30, 2002, the New York City Office of Emergency Management gave the final tolls for the destruction caused by the attacks in that city. Of the 2,823 people killed in the World Trade Center, only 1,102 victims had been identified. An estimated 3.1 million hours of labor were spent on cleanup and 108,342 truckloads, over 1.8 million tons, of debris had been removed.
In addition to all those killed in New York, 64 passengers and crew from Flight 77 and 125 military and civilian personnel from the Pentagon were killed. All 44 passengers
and crew on Flight 93 also died in the crash. The total death toll from the September 11 attacks was 3,056 people, including citizens of 78 different countries.
Approximately 3,370 people were killed in international terrorist attacks in 2001, the highest annual death toll from terrorism ever recorded. In addition to those killed or injured in the September 11 attacks, eight U.S. citizens were killed and 15 were wounded in other international terrorist attacks in 2001.
The casualties inflicted in 2001 far outnumbered those of 2000 or any previous year. In 2000, 409 people were killed worldwide in acts of international terrorism, including only 23 U.S. citizens, of whom 17 were U.S. Navy sailors. The sailors were killed in an attack on the USS Cole in the port of Aden, Yemen, on October 12, 2000. Other U.S. fatalities in 2000 included Carlos Caceres, an aid worker killed by a militia-led mob in West Timor, and Kurt Erich Schork, a journalist killed when rebels in Sierra Leone shot down a U.N. helicopter.
According to the U.S. State Department, in 2002 there were a total of 199 international terrorist attacks, a decrease from the 355 such attacks recorded in 2001. The number of casualties as the result of these attacks decreased. In 2002, 30 U.S. citizens were killed as the result of international terrorist attacks. The number of anti-U.S. attacks in 2002 was 77, a decrease of 65 percent from 2001's total of 219.
One of the most widely reported murders of a U.S. citizen by international terrorists happened early in 2002. On January 23, 2002, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was abducted in Pakistan while on his way to interview a Muslim fundamentalist leader. A month later the FBI confirmed that it had received a videotape containing "indisputable" confirmation that Pearl, 38, had been killed by his captors. Pearl's killing resulted in the arrest of several people believed to have been involved with the crime, including the alleged ringleader of the group, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who had ties to radical Muslim extremist groups in the region. Pearl's wife, Mariane, who was pregnant at the time of his abduction, gave birth to their son in May 2002.
Aftermath of the Attacks
As a result of the September 11 attacks, the Office of Homeland Security was established by Presidential Executive Order to coordinate federal, state, and local anti-terrorism efforts. Governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania was appointed to head the Office, the focus of which is on the detection and prevention of future terrorist attacks, as well as incident management and response and recovery in the event of an attack. In addition, the Homeland Security Council was established to advise the President on all aspects of homeland security. Council members include the Vice President and Attorney General of the United States as well as Secretaries of Defense, Health and Human Services, Transportation, and the Treasury.
On March 12, 2002, the Office of Homeland Security implemented a system of Threat Conditions as a way of providing uniform advisories of possible terrorist threats. The five threat-conditions range from Low (a low risk of terrorist attack) to Severe (a severe risk of terrorist attacks that may necessitate the closing of government offices and the deployment of emergency personnel). Intermediate threat conditions are Guarded (general risk of terrorist attacks), Elevated (significant risk of terrorist attacks), and High (high risk of terrorist attacks).