Characteristics of Political Terrorism
1. Political terrorism involves an overall, overarching moral
philosophy that is used to justify acts of terrorism, while
criminal terrorism generally involves personal greed and
selfishness. This is a very important point. There is a
moral justification for the use of political terrorism, an
ends justifies the means notion because we are going to
yield a better overall social state. There is no such
reasoning in the criminal terrorist.
2. Political terrorism can involve activities to obtain money,
but those dollars are used for political ends. Generally
speaking, criminal terrorism has an economic basis.
3. Political terrorists' targets tend to be almost
indiscriminate and unpredictable. Usually no one person is
particularly the target, therefore no one is safe. Criminal
terrorists targets on the other hand tend to be more logical
- a bank, an armored car - and the targets tend to be
specific people, the bank official, the driver of the car.
4. Political terrorists desire to create a long term atmosphere
of fear, coercion and intimidation in the community.
Criminal terrorists want to create a short term fear - scare
the banker, get the money and get out of there.
5. Political terroristic acts tend to be more savage - almost a
shotgun philosophy - car bombs, nail bombs, double bombs all
resulting in mass murder. The criminal terrorist tends to
be more oriented to a specific target. Blow up this bank,
hijack this plane.
6. Neither political terrorism nor criminal terrorism abide by
any rules or conventions of war.
7. Often political terrorists are willing to die for the cause,
while seldom do we see criminal terrorists planning on
8. Political terrorism differs from criminal terrorism in that
political terrorism usually involves efforts to influence an
audience. Generally speaking, the criminal terrorist does
not want a big audience.
Paul Wilkinson, Terrorism and the Liberal State, London:
Macmillan, l986. (Wilk.394 h/b)