Terrorism is among the most used violent practices in the 20th and 19th centuries for both political and ideological or religious purposes.

Terrorism can be characterized as a type of violence that is practiced against innocent victims in order to promote some cause or perception of the world, whether personal or collective, that is, shared by a group, faction, etc.

We know that, throughout the 20th century and, above all, in the 21st century, terrorist actions have had and are having a great impact in various regions of the world. They are practiced by the most varied agents. But before moving on to the analysis of these agents, let us see how and under what circumstances the expression “terrorism” was born.

→ Origin of the term terrorism

The word terrorism first appeared in Letters on a Regicide Peace by Irish philosopher Edmund Burke. In this writing, Burke criticizes the period of the French Revolution known as “Terror”, that is, the period in which the Jacobins were in power – from 1792 to 1794. Burke classifies as “terrorists” the persecutions and guillotine death sentences carried out to carried out by the Jacobins at this stage.

However, over time, the term “terrorism” began to spread to other countries and to be used in other situations, such as guerrilla or irregular warfare.

→ Terrorism and Irregular War

The guerrilla originated, as we know it today, in Spain (it was called guerrilla), in the early nineteenth century, when the Iberian Peninsula was invaded by Napoleonic troops. The Spanish resistance to Napoleon took place in an unsystematic way, that is, without conventional military resources and strategies. On the contrary, it was carried out in an irregular manner, including ambushes, attacks with improvised weapons, sabotage, kidnappings, etc.

This type of tactic would later be widely used in several other countries by groups of different ideological orientations, from communists and anarchists to nationalists and separatists. However, the difference is that these groups started to include in their actions attacks on innocent victims, that is, outside the field of irregular warfare.

→ Revolutionary Terrorism and Separatist Nationalist Terrorism

At the end of the 19th century, terrorist action by individuals linked to anarchist ideology was common in some regions of Europe. One of the most notorious examples is that of Frenchman François Claudius Köenigstein, known as Ravachol, who exploded a bomb in the home of France’s public prosecutor, M. Bulot, on March 27, 1892.

Similarly, many communist groups in the transition from the 19th to the 20th century, especially the Bolsheviks, who would make the Revolution in Russia in 1917, used guerrilla and terrorism methods. In the decades that followed, especially after World War II, many revolutionary communist foci that used the same methods appeared. Among them, we can mention the FARC-EP, in Colombia, the Red Army Fraction, in Germany, and the ALN (Ação Libertadora Nacional) in Brazil.

In the 20th century, there was the nationalist and separatist variation of terrorism as well. An emblematic case was that of the Serbian group Mão Negra, whose member Gravilo Princip assassinated the archduke of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Francisco Ferdinando, in 1914, a fact that ended up triggering the First World War. Other groups make up this type of terrorism, such as the ETA (Basque Homeland and Liberty) in Spain and the IRA (Irish Republican Army) in Ireland.

→ The particular case of Islamic terrorism

The case of Islamic terrorism is a little more complex to approach. This is because there were, and still are, groups that are closer to nationalist terrorism than to terrorism with a typically religious foundation. This is the case of the PLO (Organization for the Liberation of Palestine) and its derivatives: Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Black September, in the second half of the 20th century.

On the other hand, at the end of the 20th century and in the 21st century, terrorist groups emerged in the Middle East that really base their actions on the religious premises of Islam, such as jihad (spiritual combat, holy war) and sharia (Islamic law derived from Koran). These groups target all those who do not fit their interpretation of these religious premises. The most impactful groups representing this directive are al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

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