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Terrorism 101

Introduction to Terrorism

This module is limited to discussion of terrorist activity by American citizens or foreign nationals residing in the United States. Information on your vulnerability to terrorist attack while traveling abroad and what you can do to protect yourself is found in the Antiterrorism and Force Protection and Risks During Foreign Travel modules.

The global militant jihadist movement -- including but not limited to al-Qaida -- presents a major terrorist threat to the United States. It encompasses a variety of organizations, groups, and sometimes ad hoc units or cells that act under a common ideological umbrella of radical interpretations of Islamic scripture. Other collective terms used to describe these groups include radical Islam, Islamists, and Salafi Jihadists. The term "militant jihadist" is used in this document to clearly distinguish between forms of Islam that are linked with terrorism and the great majority that are nonviolent.

Militant jihadists are not the only terrorist threat that we face. Right-wing militias, anti-government "Patriot" groups, eco-terrorists, animal rights extremists, and right-to-life extremists have all been motivated by political goals to commit arson, set off bombs, and murder people. The bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City by right-wing extremists in 1995 killed 186 people, and 75 other right-wing extremist terrorist plots in the United States have been documented since that time. 1.

The section on the Jihadist Terrorist Threat discusses the militant jihadist ideology and the constraints on al-Qaida capabilities as a result of American and allied counterterrorism measures. The last couple years have shown fewer terrorist actions originated and planned from abroad but a significant increase in terrorism planned and executed by American citizens or legal residents of the United States. This is covered in Homegrown Jihadi Terrorists. Some insight into how and why these people become terrorists is provided in The Radicalization Process. Did you know that most American Muslims have no Arab heritage, and most Americans of Arab origin are not Muslims? Learn more about this in Avoid the Muslim Stereotypes.

Other Violent Extremist Movements discusses American right-wing and left-wing extremist movements and the line is drawn between freedom of expression and behavior that is incompatible with possession of a U.S. Government security clearance. The requirements for Reporting Terrorist Indicators apply to these domestic groups as well as to terrorist acts by militant jihadists. It identifies observable indicators of preparations or support for terrorist activity. Hotline Numbers provides instructions and phone numbers that have been set up by many agencies to facilitate reporting, without fear of reprisal, known or suspected instances of serious security breaches, fraud, or other infractions.

Two sections explore lessons learned from previous jihadist cases. Lessons from Ali Mohamed Case tells the fascinating story of one of the first militant jihadists sent to operate in the United States, back in 1985. It illustrates the difficulty that the FBI and CIA have in determining the bona fides of a so-called agent or informant. Lessons from Other Cases illustrates the various ways American citizens become militant Islamic jihadists.