The unprecedented reach and threat of terrorist networks constitutes a new danger to states and and requires innovative counterterrorism efforts.

"September 11th was an attack on the very idea of a free, inclusive, and civil society.  It was a direct assualt on the founding principles of the United Nations itself."

-Rudolph Giuliani, Mayor, New York City

Terrorism as Nationalism

Czar Alexander II known as ’The Liberator’ lying in state in March 1881. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Russian Czar Alexander II assassinated

Scholars trace the roots of modern terror to the Russian revolutionary group, Narodnaya Volya (The People’s Will). To achieve political change in Russia, Narodnaya Volya established itself as a clandestine, cellular organization and launched a terror campaign against the ruling autocracy. They murdered numerous government officials and on March 1, 1881, succeeded in assassinating Czar Alexander II.

An artist’s rendition shows the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and his wife, Czech Countess Sophie Chotek in 1914. (AP Photo)

Archduke Ferdinand assassinated

On June 29, 1914, Gavrilo Princip, a young Serbian nationalist, assassinated Archduke of Austria and heir presumptive Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. Princip was supported by the Black Hand, a secret organization of Serbian army officers dedicated to separating from Austrian rule. Although the overt connections between the Serbian government and the perpetrators of this event remain in question today, the assassination sparked a downward spiral of interstate conflict in Europe that eventually became World War I.

The bodies of British officers killed by the Irish Republican Army are taken back to England for burial on November 25, 1920. (FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Bloody Sunday in Dublin

In the midst of the Irish War of Independence (1920-1921), Michael Collins, leader of the Irish Republican Army, ordered the killing of eleven Englishmen believed to be spying for British intelligence. Their murder and the reprisals by British forces on November 21, 1920 marked the day as Bloody Sunday. Following the assassinations, British soldiers cordoned off a soccer stadium in Dublin and searched the men inside for weapons. In the chaos that resulted, British forces opened fire on civilians as they attempted to flee, killing fourteen.

A general view of the delegates sitting at a League of Nations Conference around Sept 10, 1930 in Geneva, Switzerland. (AP Photo)

League of Nations drafts counterterror convention

In 1937, the League of Nations drafted the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of Terrorism. The convention, though it never entered into force, would have mandated that states refrain from supporting terrorism and work toward punishing and preventing such acts. It also included a draft definition of terrorism: "criminal acts directed against a state and intended or calculated to create a state of terror in the minds of particular persons, or a group of persons or the general public."

The aftermath of the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, headquarters of the British Secretariat and military command on July 26, 1946. (Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Irgun blows up King David Hotel

On July 22, 1946, the Irgun Zvia Le’umi (National Military Organization), a Jewish militant group aiming to gain independence in Palestine, blew up the King David Hotel, killing ninety-one people. The hotel housed the military and political headquarters of the British Mandate of Palestine, and twenty-eight British were among the dead. The Irgun staged attacks on government targets, including immigration buildings and offices of land registry, as well as against Palestinians. International pressure and the failure of their military forces to contain the violence in the region ultimately led to the British withdrawal from Palestine and an independent Israeli state was declared in 1948.

The bodies of Count Folke Bernadotte of Sweden, United Nations Mediator to Palestine, and French Colonel Andre Serot, lie in state in the YMCA Building, Jerusalem, Sept. 17, 1948. (AP Photo/Staff/Pringle)

UN mediator killed in Palestine

On September 17, 1948, Count Folke Bernadotte, a Swedish diplomat and serving United Nations mediator for the conflict in Palestine, was assassinated by members of the Stern Gang, a Jewish radical group. As his car approached a checkpoint, militants dressed as Israeli soldiers ambushed, spraying his convoy with bullets and killing Bernadotte along with the chief UN observer. At the time, Bernadotte was negotiating a long-term peace plan, the conditions of which—including the status of Jerusalem—had provoked the Stern Gang.

Puerto Rican nationalists on March 1, 1954, in custody after shooting five Congressmen. (George Skadding/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Puerto Rican nationalists strike Washington, DC

On March 1, 1954, four Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire in the chambers of the U.S. House of Representatives while it was in session. After firing some thirty shots and unfurling a Puerto Rican flag, the assailants were subdued and arrested. Five congressmen were wounded. The attack followed a similar episode four years earlier, when another group of Puerto Rican nationalists assaulted Blair House—a building adjacent to the White House used to house foreign dignitaries—in an attempt to assassinate President Harry Truman.

French tanks patrol a North African road near Blida, Algeria, on Nov. 4, 1954 seeking Guerrilla bands hidden in the hills after starting a nationalist uprising. (AP Photo)

Algerian War

Following the declaration of open revolt in 1954, the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN), an Algerian nationalist organization, began launching urban guerilla tactics against French rule in Algeria. Epitomized by the Battle of Algiers, FLN tactics included bombings and assassinations targeting military personnel and European civilians, mostly within Algeria, but within France as well. Stated FLN strategy included drawing awareness to its cause from the international community. French tactics to stop the bombings, including cordoning off Arab neighborhoods, were subverted by the FLN’s underground networks. Harsh French counterterror techniques fostered feelings of solidarity among Algerian Arabs toward the nationalist movement.

Agustinds Efstathios climbs up the Mountainside from his Eoka hideout on March 3, 1957. (AP Photo)

Greek Cypriots launch attacks

On April 1, 1955, Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston (EOKA, the National Organization of Cypriot Fighters) launched a campaign of violence against British rule of Cyprus. The series of bombings—which caused more casualties among the civilian population than among the targeted British forces—led to increased tension between the Greek and Turkish groups on the island. The 1959 Zurich-London pact brought independence to the island a year later, but violence would reemerge with the EOKA-B group, which sought to bring Cyprus under Greek rule.

Shown in 1961, Antulio Ramirez Ortiz, American citizen and native of Puerto Rico, seized an American airliner over Florida and forced it to fly him to Cuba. (AP Photo)

First hijacking of a U.S. passenger plane

On May 1, 1961, the Puerto Rican-born electrician Antulio Ramirez Ortiz held at gunpoint the captain of a National Airlines flight bound for Key West, Florida. Ramirez demanded that the plane be diverted to Havana, Cuba. Hijackings of commercial planes to circumvent the U.S. travel ban to Cuba or to protest U.S.-Cuban policy would grow more common during the 1960s; in 1968 alone, more than thirty attempts were made.

Nelson Mandela in London in 1961. (API/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

African National Congress campaign begins

Formed in 1912, the African National Congress (ANC) was initially a peaceful organization advocating for the end of oppressive British rule in South Africa, and later apartheid.

In 1961, in response to a deadly clash a year earlier between protestors and police at a security checkpoint known as the Sharpeville Massacre, the ANC established a military wing named Umkhonto we Sizwe or Spear of the Nation. For eighteen months, the Spear of the Nation targeted around two hundred government facilities. The military wing dissolved in 1964 following a crackdown on its membership; the ANC became a legitimate political party in 1990 and has since renounced violence.

A poster from the French Organization of the Secret Army against General de Gaulle’s policy in Algeria. (STF/AFP/Getty Images)

OAS attack French president

On August 22, 1962, the Organisation de l’Armée Secrète (OAS) or Organization of the Secret Army, ambushed French president Charles de Gaulle’s motorcade. The president survived without injury, but OAS staged ten more attempts on his life over the next two years. Earlier in the year, the group had bombed the French foreign ministry building, killing one and injuring thirteen.

Throughout the early 1960s, the group launched a campaign of violence aimed at ensuring French rule over Algeria. Led by a former French general, Raoul Salan, the group targeted both the French government—which was planning to give Algeria independence—and independence-seeking Algerians.

Shown on August 3, 1961 in El Paso, Texas, USA, police officers, border patrolmen, and FBI converge on a Continental Airlines 707. (Rolls Press/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

First international convention against terrorism

World leaders met in Tokyo in 1963 to adopt the first international counterterrorism convention. The Convention on Offenses and Certain Other Acts Committed On Board Aircraft, also known as the Tokyo Convention, authorizes flight crew to take measures to ensure the safety of the aircraft and those on board international flights. The treaty also provides measures to ensure the safe return of the plane and those on board to their country of origin. Entering into force in 1969, the convention now has 185 state parties.

Students show their support for the Front De Liberation Du Quebec by raising fists and shouting FLQ slogans in Montreal Arena, Oct. 16, 1970.

Qubec separatists strike

Growing from popular separatist sentiment in Quebec in the 1960s, the Front du Liberation du Quebec (FLQ) launched a series of attacks against government, military, and infrastructure targets. When FLQ members kidnapped the British trade commissioner and the Quebec minister of labor and immigration, later killing the minister, the government of Canada invoked the War Measures Act, granting emergency powers to police forces. The perpetrators of the kidnapping were captured, but 1971 saw another spate of bombings. FLQ forces remained active until 1972, when declining popular support led to increased arrests among their membership.

Soldiers of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), take part in a military parade in San Vicente del Caguan, Caqueta, Colombia, on February 7, 2001.

Birth of Colombian rebel groups

The 1960s saw the birth of two major rebel groups in Colombia, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). In 1963, students, Catholic radicals, and left-wing intellectuals hoping to emulate Fidel Castro's communist revolution in Cuba founded the ELN. FARC, a group motivated by Marxist-Leninist ideology and formed in 1965, brought together communist militants and peasant self-defense groups.

The two groups espoused similar goals and tactics, to represent the rural poor against Colombia's wealthy elite and oppose U.S. influence in the country. FARC remains Colombia's largest and best-equipped rebel group, facilitating operations through cocaine production and the drug trade. The group is renowned for ransom kidnappings, extortion, and murder.

Horst Soehnlein, Thorwald Proll, Andreas Baader, and Gudrun Ensslin, from left to right, are pictured during the opening of the department store arsonist trial in Frankfurt am Main, West Germany, October 14, 1968. (AP Photo/Peter Hillebrecht)

The Baader-Meinhof Gang/Red Army Faction

The Baader-Meinhof Gang was a band of young, middle-class, Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries from West Germany intent on revolting against what they saw as a fascist state. Led by Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, the gang—also known as the Red Army Faction (RAF)—engaged in international campaigns of arson, robbery, hijacking, kidnapping, and bombing that in total claimed the lives of thirty-six people.

In 1968, Andreas Baader and some of his associates set fire to two department stores in Frankfurt-am-Main in protest of the Vietnam War. Two days after the arson they were caught, jailed, and, through a judicial loophole, released in 1969.

On May 11, 1972, the Baader-Meinhof Gang bombed the U.S. Army barracks in Frankfurt, killing one. Two weeks later, on May 24, the gang detonated bombs outside an officer’s club at a U.S. Army headquarters, killing three and injuring five others. Baader, Meinhof, and a handful of others were soon arrested and given life sentences. The core members of the group committed suicide while incarcerated, Ulrike Meinhof in 1976 and Andreas Baader in 1977.

The tail of the hijacked Pan American jet after the plane was blown up by Palestinian commandos on September 7, 1970. (AP Photo)

PFLP terrorize the skies

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a Palestinian nationalist group motivated by Marxist ideology, perfected the tactic of airline hijacking. In its early years, the PFLP worked in conjunction with the Palestinian Liberation Organization against Israel and to secure the release of Palestinians held by foreign governments.

In July 1968, believing that Israeli Ambassador to the United States Yitzhak Rabin was a passenger, the PLFP hijacked their first airliner, an El Al flight from Rome to Tel Aviv. Although Rabin was not on board, the group held passengers and crew members in Algiers for nearly forty days until Israel agreed to release Palestinian prisoners. Some experts consider this hijacking a precursor to the era of modern international terrorism.

In September 1970, the coordinated hijacking of three airliners by the PLFP marked the beginning of a brief and bloody civil war, known as Black September, between the Jordanian army and Palestinian guerillas. Fearful of the development of a Palestinian uprising in his kingdom following the hijackings, King Hussein of Jordan directed his military to fight the militants and the Syrian forces that had come to their aid. Hussein and his army severely damaged the Syrian army units and drove the PLFP and Palestinian Liberation Organization out of Jordan and into Lebanon.

The INTERPOL logo pictured at the headquarters in 2004. 

INTERPOL adopts a counterterrorism role

Starting in 1970 with a resolution aimed at combating criminal acts against civilian aviation, INTERPOL-the world's foremost law enforcement coordination body-began to tackle terrorism. Throughout the 1970s, INTERPOL expanded its role, addressing the taking of hostages and organized terrorist groups. In 1985, the body developed a sub directorate for Public Safety and Terrorism, and in 1998 adopted a Declaration Against Terrorism.

Since 9/11, INTERPOL has passed many counterterrorism resolutions and helps facilitate international cooperation in response to and in prevention of terrorist acts.

General view taken December 12, 1969 of devastated hall of Milan's National Agricultural Bank after an explosion occured in a third-floor waiting room.

The Red Brigades and Italy's "Years of Lead"

From the late 1960s through the 1980s, Italy suffered from political and social upheaval, highlighted by a surge in domestic armed violence. These Years of Lead, as they came to be known, were characterized by bombings, kidnappings, and murders by both left- and right-wing paramilitary groups. Among these groups were the Red Brigades, a left-wing separatist group led by Benator Curcio and Margherita Caghol.

United Nations General Asembly photographed in 1971.

International treaties adress hijacking

In response to the rising incidence of airline hijackings, the United Nations developed the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft in 1970. The convention requires state parties to outlaw and penalize such acts, and cooperate in international efforts to prosecute hijackers. This was followed in 1971 by Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation or Montreal Treaty, which added the criminalization of sabotage and other acts against planes while not in the air to previous treaties. Along with the 1963 Tokyo Convention, these were the first of what are now sixteen international conventions against terrorist actions, all passed under the auspices of the United Nations and open to all UN member states.

The United Nations flag photographed in 2000.

UN Security Council first addresses terrorism

Citing concern over the endangerment of civilians in a spate of contemporary airliner hijackings, the UN Security Council addressed terrorism for the first time. UN Security Council Resolution 286 called upon member states to "take all possible legal steps to prevent further hijackings or any other interference with international civil air travel." It also requested the release of all passengers and crews currently held against their will as a result of a hijacking. The resolution was adopted on September 9, 1970 without a vote.

A worker prepares the flags of the Organization of American States (OAS) outside a press conference on May 30, 2008 in Medellin, Colombia. (Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images)

OAS adopts first regional convention to counter terror

In 1971, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) approved the Convention to Prevent and Punish Acts of Terrorism Taking the Form of Crimes Against Person and Related Extortion that are of International Significance. Passed with a vote of thirteen to one, with two abstentions, the thirteen-article convention defined terrorism as a criminal act. The convention emphasized each state’s responsibility to not only prevent terrorism but also prosecute people and organizations guilty of conducting it. The convention represented the first counterterror treaty by a regional organization.

Sympathizers to the thirteen persons killed in confrontations between British troops and Londonderry, Ireland residents hold a thirteen-minute silent vigil in Chicago’s Civic Center plaza, on Feb. 5, 1972. (Edward Kitch/AP)

Northern Ireland's "Bloody Sunday"

A civil rights march in Derry, Northern Ireland on Sunday, January 30, 1972, ended in violence when British paratroopers fired on a crowd of civilians, killing fourteen. The original investigation by the British government found that the marchers had been armed and responsible for inciting the violence. Published in 2010, a second investigation known as the Saville inquiry cleared the victims of any wrongdoing.

In response to this event, more than 30,000 marched on the British embassy in Dublin, ultimately burning it to the ground. On February 22, 1972, the Official IRA (OIRA)—a militant subsect of the original Irish Republican Army group—bombed the barracks of the parachute regiment involved, killing seven civilians. Reprisals continued, and in April 1972, the OIRA detonated twenty-four bombs across towns and cities in Northern Ireland.

Dawn of Terror

Two west German policemen get into position on the roof of the building where armed Palestinian terrorists are holding Israel’s Olympic team members hostage. Munich, Sep. 5, 1972. (AP Photo)

Munich Olympics kidnapping

On September 5, 1972, members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) attacked a dormitory holding Israeli athletes in the Munich Olympic village. Killing two and taking the other nine as hostages, the PLO demanded the release of 236 Palestinian and five other terrorists, including high-level members of the West German Red Army Faction, being held in Israeli and German jails. A deal was negotiated, but, as the terrorists and hostages were boarding helicopters headed toward a German air base and eventual safe haven in an Arab country, a botched rescue attempt by the German police resulted in the deaths of all the hostages and terrorists and one German policeman. Televised live, the incident brought global attention to international terrorism.

A scene of devastation in Madrid after ETA members assassinated Spanish Prime Minister Luis Carrero Blanco by bombing his car, on December 20, 1973. 

Basque separatists strike Spain

Seeking an independent homeland in the Basque region of northern Spain, the separatist group Euzkadi Ta Askatsuna (Basque Fatherland and Liberty) (ETA) spread fear in Spain through kidnappings, robberies, and assassinations. In December 1973, ETA detonated explosives under a car carrying Prime Minister Adam Luis Carrerro Blanco, killing him as well as members of his staff.

As a wing of the Basque Nationalist Party, ETA created political front organizations to contest local elections and garnered financial support through extortion and taxes. ETA's leaders also maintained close ties with members of the Irish Republican Army and the Algerian Armed Islamic Group, trading tactics and assisting one another with training.

The United Nations Security Council meets in Panama on March 21, 1973.

Convention addressing the targeting of diplomats

In 1973, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Internationally Protected Persons was adopted by the United Nations. The treaty requires state parties to criminalize the kidnapping, murder, attack, or threat on an internationally protected person. It defines protected persons as "a head of state, minister for foreign affairs, representative or official of a state or international organization who is entitled to special protection in a foreign state, and his or her family." The treaty entered into force in 1977 and currently has 172 state parties.

Another treaty, the International Convention against the Taking of Hostages, passed in 1979, defines hostage-taking and requires states to criminalize and penalize the taking of hostages for political purposes. It currently has 167 state parties.

Smoke billows from the Pan American jet set on fire by Palestinian guerrillas, Dec. 17, 1973. (AP Photo)

Terror at Rome's airport

On December 17, 1973, a group of unidentified Palestinian militants opened fire on passengers boarding Pan Am flight 110 at Rome International airport before it departed for Beirut. Some passengers escaped, but twenty-nine were killed, including four Moroccan officials and fourteen American employees of the Arabian-American Oil Company. From the Pan Am plane the attackers took five hostages and moved to a Lufthansa jet, killing an Italian customs agent in the process. Demanding the release of two Arab terrorists, they flew to Athens, then to Damascus, where they refueled, and onward to Kuwait, where they landed and were awarded safe passage in return for the release of the remaining hostages.

Peruvian police officers present the suspected Japanese Red Army guerrilla rebel Kazue Yoshimura, suspected for the 1974 attack on the French Embassy in the Hague. (STR/Courtesy Reuters)

Japanese Red Army takes hostages in The Hague

The communist radicals of the Japanese Red Army (JRA) stormed the French Embassy in The Hague and held ten hostages, including the ambassador at gunpoint. Following negotiations, the JRA perpetrators agreed to free the hostages in exchange for the release of a jailed JRA member, $300,000, and the use of a plane. Eventually, the hostage-takers sought refuge in Syria, though they were forced to relinquish the ransom money. The Japanese Red Army was removed from the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organization List in 2001.

Undated file of "Carlos The Jackal", who was sentenced to life in prison in 1997. (AP Photo/French Police)

Carlos the Jackal takes hostages

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Iliac Ramirez Sanchez, known to the world as Carlos the Jackal, was responsible for the murder of more than eighty people. On December 21, 1975, he took nearly sixty civilians, including eleven oil ministers, hostage at the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) meeting in Vienna. Affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Carlos and his associates demanded that an anti-Israeli statement be broadcast over the radio. His demands met, Sanchez took the hostages onto a jet provided by Austrian authorities, later releasing them and escaping after landing in Algiers, Algeria. Carlos the Jackal was captured by French police in 1994 in Khartoum, Sudan. Currently serving a life sentence in a French prison, Ramirez Sanchez again went on trial for his complicity in four bombings taking place in France in the 1980s, and was found guilty with a minimum sentence of eighteen years in prison.

FLNC Corsican separatist movement in Ajaccio, France in January 1983. (Pierre Perrin/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Rise of Corsican nationalist group

Seeking autonomy from France through armed struggle, Corsican separatists formed the Front de Liberation Nationale de la Corse (FLNC) in 1976. In addition to independence, the militants also demanded the return of any Corsican prisoners held in mainland France. Renowned early on for bombing public buildings representative of French authority, the FLNC shifted its strategy abroad in the 1980s, increasing its attacks on mainland France.

Leader of Tamil rebel group Liberation Tigers, Velupillai Prabakaran, sitting flanked by two Indian guards below picture of Che Guevera on August 1, 1987. (Sandro Tucci/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Birth of the Tamil Tigers

In 1976, Velupillai Prabhakaran founded the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as the Tamil Tigers, as a secessionist political group seeking an independent state in northeast Sri Lanka for ethnic Tamils. In 1983, LTTE members staged their first violent attack, targeting a Sri Lankan Army transport. Thirteen soldiers were killed, causing an outbreak of anti-Tamil sentiment and demonstrations.

A 1976 photo dated in Tel Aviv shows a hostage being carried by Israeli soldiers after being held for a week at the airport of Entebbe in Uganda during the highjack of an Air France plane. (AFP/Getty Images)

Baader-Meinhof and PLFP hijack Air France jet

A joint effort by the Baader-Meinhof Gang and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) led to the hijacking of an Air France jet bound for Tel Aviv, Israel. The militants forced the airliner to land in Entebbe, Uganda, holding nearly three hundred passengers hostage. The group released the nonIsraeli hostages, but it took a raid by Israeli special forces to rescue the rest—all the terrorists were killed, along with three passengers and one Israeli soldier.

The bullet-riddled body of Italian Premier Aldo Moro was found on May 9, 1978, fifty-five days after Moro was kidnapped in a Red Brigade ambush in central Rome. (AP Photo)

Red Brigades kidnap Aldo Moro

In March 1978, the Red Brigades ambushed the caravan of former Italian prime minister and leader of the Christian Democrats Aldo Moro, capturing him and killing five of his security guards. The militants, hoping to secure the release of a number of their imprisoned associates, held Moro hostage for nearly two months. Italian officials refused to negotiate for his release and were unable to take action before his body was found in the trunk of a car parked in the center of downtown Rome.

In 1981, the Red Brigades took U.S. Army Brigadier General James Dozier hostage. He was held for forty-two days before an elite Italian security force rescued him. Although still operational after Dozier’s release, the group suffered from internal schisms and a crackdown by Italian forces that led to the imprisonment of many of the group’s members.

Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi faces the media in 1999 amid signs of a possible breakthrough in the Lockerbie dispute. (Mona Sharaf/Courtesy Reuters)

State sponsors of terrorism list

In 1979, the U.S. Department of State designated five countries as state sponsors of terrorism: Libya, Iraq, Syria, South Yemen, and Pakistan. The resulting sanctions included "restrictions on foreign assistance; a ban on defense exports and sales; certain controls over exports of dual use items; and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions." The state sponsors of terrorism list today includes four countries—Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria. Libya, an original member of the list sanctioned for its role in the Lockerbie bombing and support of other acts of terror, was removed after Libyan president Muammar Al-Qaddafi admitted official responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and paid $2.7 billion in compensation to the victims’ families.

Demonstrators burn an American flag, Nov. 9, 1979, atop the wall of the U.S. Embassy where students have been holding American hostages since Nov. 4, 1979. (AP Photo)

Iran hostage crisis

Demonstrating against the U.S. government and its backing of the recently deposed Shah, hundreds of Iranian students and militants, stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iran, taking dozens of American hostages. The students, supported by Iranian political and religious leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, refused to release the hostages until the United States extradited the Shah so that he could stand trial in Iran. U.S. President Jimmy Carter ordered and then aborted a covert rescue mission known as Operation Eagle Claw after eight U.S. servicemen died in mechanical helicopter failures while trying to reach the hostages. In total, the militant students held fifty-two American civilians hostage for 444 days before their eventual release on January 1, 1981. The hostage crisis effectively ended any diplomatic relationship between the United States and Iran, and the U.S. government has continued to accuse the Iranian government of supporting terrorism—including the Lebanese group Hezbollah.

Mecca’s Great Mosque burns in Saudi Arabia after being attacked by several hundred armed men hostile to the Saudi government in November, 1979. (AFP/Getty Images)

Seizure of Mecca's Grand Mosque

Dissatisfied with the treatment of religion by the Saudi royal family and the population of Saudi Arabia at large, five hundred armed Islamic dissidents seized the holiest place of worship in the Muslim world, the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

The rebels, led by Juhayman al-Otaibi, claimed that the mehdi (redeemer) had arrived in the form of another one of the group’s leaders, Mohammad ibn Abdullah al-Qahtani. More than two hundred were killed in the crossfire and hundreds more, who were visiting the holy site during the hajj—the annual pilgrimage to Mecca—were held hostage inside the mosque until Saudi forces took control two weeks later. Al-Otaibi and sixty-two of the other occupiers were publicly beheaded for their crimes.

Two members of the German federal border police patrol railway tracks in front of a nuclear power plant in 1995.

Convention calls for protection of nuclear sites

Passed in 1980, the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material provides a legal framework to ensure that nuclear materials are not diverted from legitimate use. Requiring states to protect their nuclear material if in transit, the convention does not address domestic passage, although a draft amendment proposed in 2005 would extend the convention to these circumstances.

Securing nuclear weapons-related materials has become a primary goal of the international community as terror networks have stated their intent to acquire-and use-weapons of mass destruction. The convention currently has 142 state parties.

Bodies of Kashmiri militants killed by Indian security forces while trying infiltrate from Pakistan in 1990.

Growth of militancy in Kashmir

Tensions in Kashmir date to 1947, when two new states, India and Pakistan, were created out of Britain's colonial holdings. Since the partition, India and Pakistan have fought two wars, the first in 1947 and the second in 1965. In addition, violence by nonstate actors, including third parties fighting for the independence of the region, has continued ever since. The U.S. State Department lists three Islamist groups active in Kashmir as foreign terrorist organizations: Harakat ul-Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Lashkar-e-Taiba. At least fifty thousand people have died in political violence in Kashmir since 1989.

File photo of Shining Path guerrrilla leader Abimael Guzman, seen in a jail after his capture in Peru, on September 24, 1992. 

Start of the Shining Path in Peru

Peru in the 1980s witnessed the birth of a small communist revolutionary group led by Abimael Guzman, a philosophy professor. Guzman and his followers—known as Partido Comunista del Peru-Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path)&-motivated by Mao and Marx, united to form a guerilla army that opposed Peru's democratic government. The group initially targeted local authorities, later expanding its range to the wealthy civilians.

In May 1980, the group staged its first violent attack, setting fire to polling places on the eve of the presidential election. Throughout the 1980s, the Peruvian government fought a costly war against Shining Path, which was temporarily subdued with the arrest of Guzman. More recently, Shining Path has turned toward drug trafficking. According to a government-backed Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, Shining Path attacks killed as many eleven thousand civilians, though it is estimated that as many as seventy thousand were killed overall in fighting between the Peruvian government and Shining Path.

Pope John Paul II lies injured in his jeep in St. Peter’s Square after being shot by Turkish gunman on May 13, 1981. (STR New/ Courtesy Reuters)

Pope John Paul II survives attack

On May 13, 1981, Pope John Paul II was injured in an assassination attempt staged by a young Turkish man named Mehmet Ali Agca. Four bullets struck the Pope as he traveled in a procession in St. Peter’s Square. An Italian parliamentary commission would later find that Agca—who never offered a reason for his attack—was given the order to do so by Soviet intelligence.

Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat salutes troops moments before he was assassinated by extremists hiding in a truck in the military parade on October 6, 1981. (Bill Foley/AP)

Sadat assassination

Members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), an Islamist organization with spiritual backing from the Blind Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, assassinated Egyptian president Anwar al-Sadat on October 6, 1981. Dressed as soldiers, they gained access to the president’s reviewing stand at a military parade, shooting Sadat and others before being arrested.

The operation was a reaction to Sadat’s peace agreement with Israel and a series of secular reforms enacted by the Egyptian government. Seeing both as inconsistent with their Islamist views, they sought to overthrow the government after the assassination and prompt a popular uprising. While the plot for an Islamic revolution in Egypt fizzled, the Blind Sheikh would later be linked to the first World Trade Center bombing attempt in 1993 and other efforts to destabilize the Egyptian government. One of EIJ’s leaders—Ayman al Zawahiri—would later become Osama bin Laden’s successor, following that group’s integration with al-Qaeda.

Hooded guerrillas of the Corsican National Liberation Front hold rocket-propelled grenades during a clandestine press conference on October 6, 1981. (STR New/Courtesy Reuters)

FLNC increases attacks on France

In 1980 alone, the Front de Liberation Nationale de la Corse (FLNC) claimed responsibility for more than 375 attacks around Corsica. In the following years, their operations spread to mainland Europe. On a single August night in 1982, the group assaulted ninety-nine government targets around France—including banks, post offices, and the former Military College in Paris.

In 1988, the FLNC and French authorities signed a truce, bringing an end to most of the violence. Still, remaining militants—those unhappy with the compact—splintered from their moderate counterparts and formed small violent factions that continued to wage attacks well into the twenty-first century.

Jeremy Levin, center, the kidnapped U.S. reporter who said he escaped from eleven months of captivity in Lebanon, is embraced by his wife Lucille (back to camera) and other family members at arrival at Frankfurt’s air base in 1985. (Kurt Strumpf/AP)

Kidnapping crisis in Beirut

During the ten year period from 1982 to 1992, thirty Western hostages were taken by Islamic extremists in Beirut, Lebanon. Among the many captives was the president of American University in Lebanon, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency station chief, and a U.S. military officer. The latter, Lieutenant Colonel William Higgins, was captured in 1988 as a part of a UN peacekeeping mission. Higgins was tortured and ultimately killed by his captors. With many officials linking the Iranian-supported Hezbollah group to the kidnappings, the Reagan administration eventually developed a plan to free the hostages through attempting to covertly sell arms to Iran that it needed for its ongoing war with Iraq. The scandal that ensued is popularly referred to as the Iran-Contra affair.

Rescue workers are shown carrying the body of a victim of the bomb blast at the American Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, on April 18, 1983. (Jamal/AP)

Beirut embassy and military base bombing

Following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which had been aimed at rooting out members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, U.S. and French troops under the Multinational Force deployed to Beirut to stabilize the country. On October 23, 1983, two car bombs exploded at French and U.S. marine barracks, killing some 241 American military personnel and fifty-eight French troops. Earlier that year, another car bomb had killed sixty-three people when it destroyed the U.S. embassy in Beirut.

The terrorist group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the embassy attack, and Shia terrorists—possibly Hezbollah in its developing stages—were found responsible for the barracks bombings. Both attacks represented the anti-American influence of Iran in Lebanon. As a direct result of these attacks, U.S. forces withdrew from Lebanon in early 1984. Hezbollah would later be named as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department in 1997.

India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, lies in state at the Teen Murti House in the Indian capital in New Delhi on Nov. 1, 1984. (Jim Bourdier/AP)

Indira Gandhi assassinated

Indira Gandhi, prime minister of India and daughter of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was killed by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984. Tensions between Sikhs and Hindus had grown in the days before her assassination—the prime minister had ordered troops to quell Sikh separatists at their holiest shrine earlier that year. Riots and violence between Sikhs and Hindus following her assassination led to thousands of deaths. Her son, Rajiv, sworn in to replace her as prime minister following her death, was also assassinated—killed by a Tamil Tiger suicide bomb attack on May 21, 1991.

One of the three hijackers of EgyptAir flight 648 appears at the open doorway at Luqa airport in Valletta, Malta on November 24, 1985. (Pardi/AP)

Abu Nidal strikes European ticket counters

Hoping to derail peace negotiations between the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel, the splinter Abu Nidal group—led by Sabri al-Banna, known as Abu Nidal (father of the struggle)—launched a violent international campaign against Western, Palestinian, and Israeli targets. In 1985, after a failed attempt to hijack a Pan Am flight out of Karachi, Pakistan, that left twenty-two dead, Abu Nidal members simultaneously attacked U.S. and Israeli airport counters in Rome and Vienna, killing eighteen and wounding more than one hundred.

The group separated from Fatah al-Islam, the organization led by Yasser Arafat, in 1973. Following this, al-Banna based his operations in Baghdad, under the regime of Saddam Hussein, and later in Syria. Al-Banna was found dead in Iraq in 2002, an alleged suicide.

Two hooded Shiite Muslim men, who were identified as the original hijackers of the TWA jet seized on a flight from Athens to Rome on July 14, 1985, hold a news conference at the Beirut airport’s transit terminal on July 30, 1985. (AP Photo)

Hijacking of TWA flight number 847

Trans World Airlines (TWA) Flight 847, an international flight departing from Athens and headed for Rome, was hijacked on June 14, 1985. The perpetrators of the attack, Lebanese extremists linked to Hezbollah, held the plane as well as over one hundred passengers captive for three days. Many of the hostages reported being beaten and tortured by the hijackers. Robert Stethem, a U.S. Navy diver, was tortured, executed, and his body dumped on an airport runway in Beirut. After repeated zigzag flights to and from Beirut, most of the remaining hostages on the plane were released. Many suspect the release of several prominent Shia prisoners from Israel played a role in defusing the crisis, although Israel claimed the prisoners were scheduled for release prior to the hijacking.

Recovery operations were in progress at the Haulbowling naval base near Cork, Ireland, June 23, 1985, following the Air India Boeing 747 crash off the Irish coast which killed all 329 people on board. (AP Photo/John Redman)

Air India bombings

Air India flight 182, flying from Montreal to Delhi, exploded in mid-air over Ireland on June 23, 1985, killing all 331 passengers. The same day, luggage to be placed on an Air India flight exploded while being handled by airport crews in Japan. Sikh separatists were suspected of the attack, but a twenty-year Canadian investigation failed to reveal the full extent of responsibility.

The luxury Italian cruise liner Achille Lauro pictured on Oct. 11, 1985 at Port Ford, off Port Said, Egypt.  (AP Photo)

Hijacking on the high seas

In October 1985, members of the Palestinian Liberation Front operating out of Tunisia hijacked a cruise ship sailing from Egypt to Israel named the Achille Lauro. Demanding the release of fifty Palestinians imprisoned in Israel, they took more than five hundred hostages. During the attack, an American, Leon Klinghoffer, was killed and thrown overboard. Egypt negotiated a deal, but as the attackers were being flown from Egypt, U.S. planes intercepted them, forcing them to land in Italy. The United States demanded custody, but the Italians refused, later trying the four hijackers.

The Achille Lauro incident was one of the first major acts of terrorism at sea and the lack of coordination of an international response, including the standoff between Italian and U.S. troops, led to calls for an agreement on a coordinated response to terrorism at sea. This resulted in the adoption of the Convention on the Suppression of Unlawful Acts at Sea in 1988, which explicitly criminalized acts of terrorism at sea, established which states had a right to respond to terrorism, and set forth actions to be taken by those states. The convention entered into force in 1992 and continues to be used in conjunction with the Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea to fight international piracy and terrorism.

Oliver North shown before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Capital Hill on Dec. 18, 1986 in Washington. (AP/J.Scott Applewhite)

Iran-Contra affair

Hoping to secure the release of American hostages being held in Lebanon by radical Shiite terrorists affiliated with Iran, the U.S. National Security Council secretly sold antitank and antiaircraft missiles to Iran. The sales violated both the policy of not negotiating with terrorists and the arms embargo that had been placed on the country. Further complicating the situation, information surfaced that money from Iran’s weapons purchases was used to support the Contras, a counterrevolutionary force battling the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. As a result of the deal, two hostages were released, but relations with Iran did not improve.

Destroyed cars are seen after an ETA car bomb attack in Madrid, Spain, July 14, 1986, killing eight Civil Guards. (AP Photo)

ETA increases its attacks

In the late 1980s, Euzkadi Ta Askatsuna (Basque Fatherland and Liberty) (ETA) increased the intensity of its attacks, embarking on a campaign of car bombings against civilians and military personnel throughout Spain. In one of the worst attacks, ETA militants detonated a bomb in a supermarket in Barcelona, killing more than twenty civilians, many of which were children. ETA leaders publicly apologized for the act, but many of their supporters abandoned them as a result.

North Korean agent Kim Hyon enters court in 1989. Kim was sentenced to death for the bombing of a South Korean airliner and the death of 115 people. (Liu Heung Shing/AP)

Bombing of Korean Airline Flight 858

In November 1987, agents of North Korea bombed Korean Airline Flight 858. The explosion killed all 115 passengers and crew. Though one of the culprits committed suicide, the other was convicted and sentenced to death. In her testimony, she directly implicated the North Korean government and Kim Jong-Il, contributing to the nation’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. North Korea retained this status until 2008.

Osama bin Laden sits with his adviser Ayman al-Zawahri, an Egyptian linked to the al-Qaeda network, during an interview with Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir. (Hamid Mir/Editor/Ausaf Newspaper for Daily Dawn/Courtesy Reuters)

Formation of al-Qaeda

After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, thousands of young Muslim men flocked to the region to join the anti-Soviet jihad. Among them were Osama bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi, and the radical Egyptian doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri. From Pakistan, bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, and their cohorts set up a network that provided arms, fighters, and financial support to the Afghan jihad. This influx of Arab financial support and fighters became a prominent influence on the course of the war, an influence which still lingers in Afghanistan and Pakistan today. (The United States armed and funded several fundamentalist mujahadeen leaders, most notably with Stinger antiaircraft missiles.) Out of this network the organization that became known as al-Qaeda, or "the base," was founded in 1988. This group of mujahadeen would follow the call of jihad to Bosnia, Chechnya, and Kashmir in the following decade.

Pakistani army honor guards carry the coffin containing the remains of late President Muhammad Zia ul-Haq on August 19, 1988. The coffin of U.S. Ambassador Arnold Raphael follows that of Zia ul-Haq. (AP Photo)

Pakistani president and U.S. ambassador slain

Pakistani president Zia ul-Haq and the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan were killed when the plane carrying them crashed in Bahawalpu, Pakistan. The summary report of a joint investigation following the crash concluded that the event was most likely caused by "a criminal act or sabotage." A responsible party has not since been established, although Pakistan believed it to be a Soviet reprisal for their efforts in arming the ongoing insurgency in Afghanistan.

Libyan suspects of the 1988 Pan American airways Lockerbie bombing Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi (L) and Al Amin Khalifa Fhima (R). (Ho old/Courtesy Reuters)

Libya's sponsorship of terror

In December 1988, Pan American Airlines flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 people on board. In 1991, two Libyan intelligence agents were indicted in the United States and Scotland, and the following year the UN Security Council imposed sanctions against Libya. Libyan president Muammar al-Qaddafi would later admit official responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and paid $2.7 billion in compensation to victim’s families, leading to the lifting of U.S. and international sanctions.

In 1986, Libya was implicated in the bombing of a West German nightclub that killed three U.S. servicemen. The U.S. response, a bombing raid of Tripoli dubbed Operation El Dorado Canyon, was criticized by many countries, including some U.S. allies.

Hong Kong Chief Secretary speaks at a plenary meeting by the Financial Action Task Force in 2002. (Bobby Yip BY/JD/Courtesy Reuters)

Financial Action Task Force established

In operation since 1989, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) was originally developed as an international mechanism to combat money laundering. Although not legally binding, FATF offered forty recommendations to help member countries better counter money laundering through law enforcement and financial system regulation.

Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, FATF adopted an additional nine recommendations aimed at tackling terrorist financing. The body, enforcing these recommendations through the "naming and shaming" of noncooperative countries, is considered influential in shutting down terrorist access to the formal financial sector.

The UN Security Council discusses sanctions imposed on Libya following the bombing of Pan American Flight 103 and the French Air Transport Union (UTA) Airlines Flight 772 in March of 1998. (Milton Grant/UN Photo)

The United Nations decade of sanctions

Acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted fifteen sanctions against state sponsors of terrorism between 1990 and 2000.

In response to the 1988 bombing of Pan American flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and the 1989 bombing of a French flight over Nigeria, the UNSC imposed sanctions on Libya in 1992. These were suspended in 1999 after Libyan authorities handed over two suspects of the Pan American bombing for trial. In 2003, the UN formally lifted the sanctions in 2003, when Libya agreed to pay reparations to the families of the victims and admit responsibility for the attacks.

In 1996, after the government of Sudan failed to hand over persons involved in an assassination attempt on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the UNSC adopted Resolution 1054, imposing sanctions on the country. Throughout the 1990s, Sudan aided local insurgencies and provided refuge for terrorists—including Osama bin Laden. In 2001, after the country ejected radical groups from within its borders, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1372, lifting sanctions against the country.

Supporters of late Indian Rajiv Gandhi follow his coffin during the funeral procession in New Delhi on May 24, 1991. (Carl Ho/Courtesy Reuters)

Tamil Tigers launch targeted attacks

Often using women and children assailants, the Liberation Tigers of Tamel Eelam’s (LTTE) elite Black Tiger unit used suicide bombing throughout the 1990s. In 1991, a LTTE suicide bomber assassinated Rajiv Gandhi, the Indian prime minister, and in 1993 another killed Ranashignhe Pemadasa, the president of Sri Lanka. After decades of violence and more than 75,000 deaths, the civil war between the minority Tamils and the Sri Lankan Army ended in 2009. LTTE’s leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, was killed in the final standoff.

Bomb-damaged area of the financial center in London is seen is this file photograph from 1993. (Andre Camara/ Courtesy Reuters)

Ten Downing Street mortar attack

In an attempt on the prime minister and British cabinet members’ lives, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) staged one of its boldest attacks, firing mortar rounds at 10 Downing Street from a roofless van hundreds of yards away. The rounds fell harmlessly in the surrounding area and those targeted were escorted safely from danger, but the attack was one of the last direct offensives of the IRA on British leadership.

The IRA would again use mortars against London’s Heathrow Airport in 1994, succeeding in shutting down the terminal but not causing significant damage. The year before, an IRA car bomb exploded in London’s financial center, killing one and wounding forty-four.

In Khartoum in 1995, Sudanese Islamic leader Hassan al-Turabi, stands next to Lt. Gen. Omar el-Bashir during a rally in support of el-Bashir’s regime. (AP Photo)

Al-Qaeda in Sudan

From 1992 to 1996, bin Laden and al-Qaeda were based in Sudan, where the Islamist regime of Hassan al-Turabi had come to power. Exiled from Saudi Arabia, where he was considered a growing nuisance, bin Laden arrived with money and influence, establishing multiple businesses, a construction firm, and buying multiple farms to be used as terrorist training camps. Sudan provided a convenient base of operations, and al-Turabi’s National Islamic Front allowed ideological support and physical sanctuary as well. In 1995, an assassination attempt against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was traced to Sudanese intelligence working with al-Qaeda members, including al-Zawahiri. The United Nations imposed sanctions and the United States increased pressure on the Sudanese regime to expel bin Laden, which it did in 1996.

The Spread of Terror

Policemen escort alleged Pakistani militants belonging to Lashkar-e-Taiba to a police station in a suburb outside Bombay, November 23, 2000. (STR Old/Courtesy Reuters)

Lashkar-e-Taiba formed

Active in Kashmir since 1993, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which translates as "Army of the Pure," is the military branch of Markaz-ud-Dawa-wal-Irshad, a Pakistani Islamist organization, and it is aligned with the Taliban. Along with the creation of an Islamic state in South Asia, the LeT’s agenda includes liberation of all Muslims in India. The group has declared that the United States, Israel, and India are all adversaries of Islam.

LeT is renowned for its attacks on Indian troops and civilian targets, primarily in the Jammu and Kashmir territories. More recently, the group has expanded its range. In 2000, LeT militants attacked Indian Army barracks in Delhi, killing three. A Pakistani investigation found that the group was responsible for the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008 that killed 166 people, and has also increased attacks in Afghanistan.

Police and injured workers flee from the World Trade Center on February 26, 1993 after a blast ripped through the world’s second-tallest office complex, killing two people and injuring 150. (Mark Cardwell/Courtesy Reuters)

First World Trade Center bombing

Aiming to bring down the World Trade Towers, Ramzi Yousef, a Kuwaiti engineer, detonated a car bomb in the parking structure under the World Trade Center. The explosion caused considerable damage to the structure of the building, but killed only six and injured around one thousand. The attack, however, did set the precedent for large-scale international terror against the United States based on its foreign policy in the Middle East. Yousef, in a letter to the New York Times after the attacks, demanded that the United States cut aid and relations with Israel and stop interfering in Middle Eastern affairs. Although not acting on behalf of an established terrorist organization, Yousef did receive support and guidance from Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, also known as the Blind Sheikh, an influential Egyptian cleric living in New York who used religious authority to legitimize and promote attacks against the United States. Yousef escaped to Pakistan, where for two years he continued to plot against the United States.

Some of the fourteen defendants accused of involvment in an alleged plot to kill former U.S. President George Bush in Kuwait’s state security court on the third day of their trial. (Stephanie McGehee/Courtesy Reuters)

Attempt on President Bush's life

Then-president George H.W. Bush was targeted by a seventeen member assassination squad with apparent ties to Iraqi intelligence services when he visited Kuwait in April 1993. Although the actual attack failed to materialize, Kuwaiti authorities arrested many of the plotters and discovered a car bomb that was to be used in the attempt. A subsequent investigation by the U.S. government found enough evidence to link the Iraqi government to the attempt. Taking the plot as state sponsorship of terrorism and a direct threat to U.S. sovereignty, the Clinton administration authorized a series of twenty-three Tomahawk missile strikes against an Iraqi intelligence command-and-control center in Baghdad.

Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman leaves a Brooklyn mosque as he surrenders to federal authorities in 1993. (Mike Segar/Courtesy Reuters)

Plot to bomb the Hudson River tunnels fails

Nearly a dozen terror suspects were arrested in the summer of 1993 for conspiring to attack New York City landmarks. Followers of the Blind Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, the militants planned to bomb the federal offices housing the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the George Washington Bridge, the United Nations, and the two tunnels that traverse the Hudson river. In addition to these targets, the militants plotted to assassinate Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and acting UN secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali. An FBI informant had infiltrated the group, and in 1995 the men were convicted and sent to prison.

Phillippine police examine evidence that Ramzi Yousef was the terrorist who plotted to kill Pope John Paul. (Romeo Ranoco/Courtesy Reuters)

Bojinka conspiracy

A plot to blow up twelve U.S. airliners over the Pacific and assassinate the Pope ended on February 7, 1995 with the arrest of Ramzi Yousef, the man responsible for the first World Trade Center bombing, in Pakistan. In the two years since he had fled the United States, Yousef had honed his demolitions skills, developing and testing bombs that would take down 747 style airliners in midflight. His plans were exposed, however, after a fire in an apartment in Manila that served as his bomb-making lab drew the attention of local and U.S. authorities. Not knowing when the bombs would be used, the Federal Aviation Administration heightened security measures on flights between Asia and the U.S. West Coast. Only after Yousef’s arrest and months without incident did security restrictions ease.

Subway passengers are taken on stretchers from ambulances outside a Tokyo hospital after falling victim of the nerve gas attack on a subway on March 20, 1995. (Chiaki Tsukumo/AP)

Sarin gas attack on Japanese subway

In one of the most prominent attempts to use chemical agents in a terrorist attack, members of the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo released sarin gas at five subway stations on the morning of March 20, 1995. The gas killed twelve and injured thousands. The cult had previously used botulinum toxin, releasing it near the Japanese parliament and imperial palace, and anthrax. After the subway attack, Japanese authorities responded quickly, raiding cult buildings, arresting more than two hundred cult members, and removing Aum Shinrikyo’s status as a religious organization.

Timothy McVeigh, accused of the Oklahoma City bombing is escorted from the Noble County Courthouse by FBI agents. (Jim Bourg/Courtesy Reuters)

Oklahoma City bombing

In the worst act of terrorism on U.S. soil preceding the attacks of September 11, 2001, 168 people were killed when a truck bomb destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The main perpetrator, Timothy McVeigh, was arrested just hours after the explosion, and evidence from the rented truck used to carry the 4,800 pound homemade bomb was used to implicate him. McVeigh and his co-conspirator, Terry Nichols, had antigovernment motivations and sought retribution for how federal authorities had handled the 1993 incident in Waco, Texas, involving a far-right group.

Israel's Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi, second left, stands by the coffin of slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, as it lays in state outside the Knesset, Israel's Parliament in Jerusalem, May 11, 1995.

Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin

On November 4, 1995, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was shot and killed as he spoke at a peace rally attended by 100,000 people. The assassin, Yigal Amir, was a right-wing Orthodox Jew opposed to the prospect of peace with Palestine. He allegedly also targeted Shimon Peres, the Israeli foreign minister, also in attendance.

Security personnel examine debris in Riyadh on November 13, 1995 after two explosions, possibly from car bombs, exploded, killing at least six people and wounding sixty officials said.

Riyadh bombings

Two explosions, including at least one car bomb, targeting an U.S. National Guard training center in Riyadh killed five Americans, one foreigner, and injured around sixty. Two little-known terrorist groups originally claimed responsibility, but Osama bin Laden later claimed that he had a hand in the attack, though that has never been confirmed. It proved to be one of the first in a series of bombings that would target Westerners in Saudi Arabia and seek to disrupt the Saudi government for its ties with the United States.

Osama bin Laden speaks at a news conference in Afghanistan in this May 26, 1998 file photo. (STR/Courtesy Reuters)

Osama bin Laden fatwa declares war on the United States

Delineating transgressions of the "Zionist-Crusader alliance," specifically the occupation of two holy places (the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia during the first Iraq war), Osama bin Laden declared war against the United States. He cited this "far" enemy as responsible for the division and corruption of the Middle East, insisting that its influence be removed from the region before uprooting the "near" enemy, local national leaders, and establishing an Islamic state.

Later, in 1998, bin Laden would issue a second fatwa, this time declaring jihad against the United States. He extended a mandate to the Muslim world, making jihad an individual responsibility for Muslims "to kill the Americans and their allies—civilians and military—is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim." The release of this statement preceded the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

Theodore Kaczynski is led into federal court where he was charged with a single federal weapons violation on April 4, 1996. (STR New/Courtesy Reuters)

Unabomber arrested

On April 4, 1996, U.S. federal agents raided a cabin in rural Montana and arrested Theodore Kaczynski, the man known as the Unabomber, who over a period of seventeen years killed three and wounded twenty-three more with bombs sent through the mail. Kaczynski targeted scientists, technology professionals, and airline employees. His final bomb in 1995 killed the head of the California Forestry Association. In 1995, he sent a lengthy manifesto espousing his views on the corrosive effects new technology had on society to the New York Times and Washington Post, with a promise to stop the bombings if the document was published. The writings were recognized by his brother, who notified authorities, leading to his eventual arrest.

An Israeli policeman in front of a wrecked bus after an explosion ripped it apart on February 2, 1996. (STR New/Courtesy Reuters)

Hamas bombings derail Oslo II talks

A series of suicide bombings on buses in Israeli carried out by the terrorist organizations Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad aimed to shift political leadership in Israel and derail the ongoing Oslo II peace negotiations ahead of the May 1996 elections. The bombings caused significant tumult in Israel, where the perceived need for enhanced security is largely attributed to vaulting Benjamin Netanyahu, the conservative Likud candidate, over Shimon Peres, the successor of Yitzhak Rabin and an advocate of continuing the peace process.

U.S. and Saudi investigators work into the night searching for clues outside the apartment building destroyed by a bomb at the Khobar Towers housing complex for U.S. military personnel in Dhahran June 27, 1996. (Greg Bos/Courtesy Reuters)

Khobar Towers bombing

A massive truck bomb exploded at the Khobar Towers compound in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing nineteen of the U.S. servicemen stationed there. The attack was traced to the Iranian-backed Shia terrorist group Hezbollah, and thirteen Saudi and Lebanese members of that organization were indicted in the United States for their role in the attacks in 2001. Later, the 9/11 Commission would state that bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network may have had a hand in perpetrating the attack. The commission’s report revealed that al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, respectively Sunni and Shia groups, may have had greater cooperation during the 1990s than previously believed.

Peruvian President Fujimori states his firm stand against capitulating to the demands of rebels who seized the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Lima as the standoff continues, December 21, 1996.(STR New/Courtesy Reuters)

Tupac Amaru seizes Japanese hostages

The Tupac Amaru, a group of Cuban-inspired Peruvian leftists seeking to rid imperialist influence in the country, seized the embassy of Japan, holding seventy-two Japanese hostages for four months. The situation ended when Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori directed an armed intervention, which killed all the terrorists and freed all but one hostage. Following the resolution of the hostage crisis in 1996, the group failed to regain operability.

A group of Saudi officials survey the damage done to an apartment building for U.S. military personnel at the Khobar Towers housing complex in Dhahran June 27, 1997. (Greg Bos/Courtesy Reuters)

Terrorist bombing convention

Following a push by the United States for an international response to the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings was adopted under UN auspices. Following the framework of previous international counterterrorism conventions, the Terrorist Bombing Convention calls on countries to criminalize and prosecute or extradite offenders in cases of the placement or discharge of an explosive device in a public place, government facility, or place of infrastructure. It provides for universal jurisdiction, allowing countries to prosecute individuals who attack their holdings—like embassies or military installments—overseas. The convention currently has 164 state parties.

A woman lights a candle in front of the Luxor temple in 1997 where 58 foreign tourists were killed by militants. (Aladin Abdel Naby/Courtesy Reuters)

Luxor massacre

Sixty-two people, mostly foreign tourists visiting archeological sites in Luxor, southern Egypt, were murdered when members of the Jamaat al-Islamiyya, an Egyptian Islamist group aiming to impair the government and weaken tourism revenues, opened fire at the Queen Hapshetsuts temple.

Likely to have been trained at one of Osama Bin Laden’s camps, the six militants, dressed as security personnel and armed with pistols, knives and machetes, specifically targeted the tourists. Although the terrorists were successful in severely damaging Egypt’s tourism industry, their violent tactics eroded support among their base—severely limiting the terrorist’s ability to raise funds.

A newspaper billboard on the Falls Road, west Belfast, reports the expected agreement in the peace talks April 10, 1998. (Crispin Rodwell/Courtesy Reuters)

Good Friday Agreement

Also known as the Belfast Agreement, the Good Friday Agreement notionally signaled the end of the Troubles, a period of violence in Ireland going back to the 1960s. The accord allowed for a government in Northern Ireland run by an elected assembly independent of the Republic of Ireland, overseen by an executive committee comprised of both Unionists and Nationalists. Among its many provisions, the accord set up a human rights commission and created a plan to decommission paramilitary groups. Further, the agreement modified the Constitution of Ireland to effectively end the Irish Republic’s territorial claim to Northern Ireland. Sporadic violence has occurred since the Good Friday Agreement, but the accord, which came into force in December 1999, has brought peace to the region and is internationally hailed as a success.

An injured man is removed from the wreckage after a bomb went off in Nairobi August 7, 1998.(Geoge Mulala/Courtesy Reuters)

Kenya and Tanzania embassy bombings

Following Osama bin Laden’s fatwa against the United States, two operations struck U.S. embassies in East Africa. Within ten minutes of each other on the morning of August 7, 1998, two cars laden with explosives crashed through the gates of the embassies in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, killing eleven and 213 people respectively and injuring thousands. Twelve Americans were counted among the dead.

Osama bin Laden was placed on the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Ten Most Wanted list following the attack. In response, President Clinton stated that the United States would embark upon a "long, ongoing struggle between freedom and fanaticism, between the rule of law and terrorism." The retaliation, known as Operation Infinite Reach, involved a series of cruise missile strikes against camps in Afghanistan and an alleged chemical factory in Khartoum, Sudan. These failed to significantly weaken bin Laden’s network. The Clinton administration would later draw criticism for not effectively removing the threat from bin Laden when the opportunity presented itself.

Antonio Maria Costa, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and Habibullah Qaderi, Afghan Counter-Narcotics Minister, hold a news conference in Kabul September 2, 2006. (Ahmad Masood/Courtesy Reuters)

UN develops Terrorism Prevention Brach

In 1999, the United Nations developed its first non-sanctions body dedicated to counterterrorism—the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s Terrorism Prevention Branch (TPB). The TPB provides technical and legal assistance regarding ratification of counterterrorism conventions and eventually in support of UN Security Council Resolution 1373 implementation. To facilitate this, it sends evaluation teams to countries that request assistance. The body also provides research support, including maintenance of a terror incidences database.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime also operates within counterterror frameworks through its anti money laundering efforts and its work to recognize the link between transnational crime—including drug trafficking—and terrorism.

The UN Security Council votes at the UN on Oct. 15, 1999, to give Afghanistan’s Taliban Islamic movement one more month to deliver Osama bin Laden to the United States or another able country for trial. (Eskinder Debebe/AP Photo/UN Photo)

UN sanctions the Taliban

After failing to meet demands from the United Nations to give up wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden to the United States for his role in the East Africa embassy bombings, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) voted unanimously to sanction the Taliban, the Islamic government ruling Afghanistan at the time.

UNSC Resolution 1267 froze international Taliban assets and banned the Afghan national airline from flying internationally. The resolution also established the 1267 Committee, charged with maintaining a "consolidated list" of individuals and entities associated with two groups to be sanctioned. UNSC Resolution 1333 of 2000 broadened this sanctions regime to cover al-Qaeda as well.

A general view of the fifty-fourth session of the General Assembly on September 20, 1999. (Susan Markisz/UN Photo)

Convention on terrorist financing

In December 1999, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism. The convention requires state parties to adopt all measures feasible to detect, freeze, and seize any funds allocated for purposes of terrorism. It also requires states to criminalize acts of financial support for terrorist operations. The convention was the first of its kind to address the money streams that allow terrorist networks to operate, but it did not go into operation until after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Militiamen carrying machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades pass the hijacked Indian Airlines Airbus. (Muzammil Pasha/Courtesy Reuters)

Kashmiri militants hijack Indian airliner

On December 24, 1999, five Kashmiri militants hijacked an Indian Airlines flight bound for Delhi. They then briefly touched down in Pakistan and in Dubai—where they released twenty-seven hostages along with the body of a victim—before landing in Kandahar, Afghanistan. After eight days, India agreed to release three Kashmiri prisoners in exchange for the safe return of all the hostages. Although the five hijackers were never apprehended, three men who had provided them with weapons and fraudulent passports were put on trial in 2008 and sentenced to life in prison by an Indian court. Ahmed Omar Saaed Sheikh, one of the released prisoners, continued to engage in terrorist activities and played an integral role in the 2002 kidnap and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl.

Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga gestures a few weeks after a woman suicide bomber wounded her eye in an assassination attempt in December, 1999. (Reuters Photographer/ Courtesy Reuters)

Suicide bombings wound Sri Lankan president

On December 18, three days before the presidential elections, a suicide bomber attempted to assassinate Sri Lankan president Chandrika Kumaratunga as she spoke at a rally. Assumed to be the work of the Tamil Tigers, the bombing killed fourteen and injured more than one hundred civilians. President Kumaratunga was injured in the attack when shrapnel from the blast struck her eye.

An Israeli border policeman and a Palestinian scream at each other as the Palestinian is refused entry to the al-Aqsa mosque. (Amit Shabi/Courtesy Reuters)

Al Aqsa Intifada

After Ariel Sharon, then leader of the opposition Likud party, visited the Temple Mount—location of the Al Aqsa Mosque—in Jerusalem, a series of reactionary Palestinian demonstrations devolved into a period of tension and open violence. The conflict, known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada or Second Intifada, was characterized by the use of suicide bombings by Palestinian organizations. Groups like Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and the Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade openly used the tactic against Israeli military and civilian targets throughout the conflict. In response, the Israeli government built a security barrier between the West Bank and Israel, greatly reducing the incidence of suicide bombing attacks.

The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Cole is towed away from the port city of Aden, Yemen, into open sea by the Military Sealift Command ocean-going tug USNS Catawba on October 29, 2000. (Sgt. Don L. DM/U.S. Marine Corps/Courtesy Reuters)

USS Cole bombing

Seventeen U.S. sailors were killed and thirty-nine injured when a small explosives-laden boat collided with the USS Cole, a destroyer harbored in the port of Aden, Yemen. The blast did not sink the ship, but did cause considerable damage to the hull. The attack was a continuation of a plot by a Yemeni cell of al-Qaeda that a year earlier had attempted to sink USS The Sullivans. The plot to attack The Sullivans failed due to the weight of the explosives on board, which sank the terrorist vessel. These attacks coincided with other plots surrounding the millennium, reflecting al-Qaeda’s growing operational capabilities.

A Colombian policeman after a battle against FARC in Dabeiba that killed fifty-four Colombian soldiers and police in Oct. 2000. (STR old/ Courtesy Reuters)

FARC raid on Dabeiba

On October 18, 2000, the Colombian terrorist organization, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) raided the central Colombian town of Dabeiba. The attack murdered fifty-four Colombian policeman and armed servicemen. The Colombian military launched a counteroffensive and regained control of Dabeiba, but one Black Hawk helicopter crashed during the hostilities and all twenty-two soldiers on board died.

In November, 2002, Doctor Amir Aziz tells reporters he was questioned by FBI agents about helping al-Qaeda network make chemical and nuclear weapons. (Mohsin Raza/Courtesy Reuters)

Al-Qaeda makes overtures to Pakistani nuclear scientists

In the summer of 2001, Osama bin Laden reportedly sought the expertise of two Pakistani nuclear scientists, at least one of whom had ideological sympathies with al-Qaeda. According to U.S. officials, the scientists provided some advice on how to build a nuclear weapon. Although specific instances of outreach by al-Qaeda to acquire weapons of mass destruction are debated, the group has long stated its intent to use them if possible.

Abu Sayyaf Muslim rebels show off their assault rifles in a remote Filipino village in April 2000. (STR old/Courtesy Reuters)

Abu Sayyaf's kidnapping spree

Continuing a streak of kidnappings begun the year before at a Malaysian diving resort, the Abu Sayyaf group kidnapped twenty tourists, including three Americans, at a resort in the Philippines. Demanding ransom payments, they decapitated one of the American hostages, holding the others until June 2002 when a Filipino commando force launched a rescue operation.

Currently engaged in a struggle with the Filipino government, Abu Sayyaf aims to establish a separate Islamic state for the country’s Muslim minority. Since 2001, the group has launched multiple attacks, kidnapping foreigners and targeting government officials.

A New Global Response

Hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 flies toward the World Trade Center twin towers shortly before slamming into the south tower in New York City September 11, 2001. (Sean Adair/Courtesy Reuters)

Al-Qaeda attacks on the United States

On the morning of September 11, 2001, nineteen members of al-Qaeda hijacked four commercial airliners in the northeast United States. Two were flown into the World Trade Center towers in New York City, which subsequently collapsed. A third was flown into the Pentagon, causing substantial damage to one of its sides; the fourth was downed by its passengers in a field in Pennsylvania, killing all aboard but none on the ground. Nearly three thousand were killed in the attacks, marking it as the single most destructive incident of terrorism on U.S. soil.

Foreign minsters gathered at a high-level meeting on counterterrorism in the Security Council at the United Nations vote on a antiterrorism declaration in New York on January 20, 2003.

Passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1373

In response to the attacks of September 11, 2001, the UN Security Council also unanimously adopted Resolution 1373, requiring all UN member states to take measures to combat terrorism -- which it declared a danger to international peace and security. Focusing on the role of states that harbor terrorists, it demands that states prohibit active and passive support of terrorism, bans the use of their territory as safe havens for terrorists, and prevents the movement of terrorists between states. It implores states to freeze known terrorist funding routes, criminalizes the act of funding terrorist organizations, and prohibits citizens from in any way financing terrorism. The resolution also calls on member states to coordinate their efforts, more effectively exchange information, and accede to the related counterterror conventions and protocols.

To facilitate this, Resolution 1373 established the Counterterrorism Committee (CTC). The CTC, made up of all fifteen members of the UN Security Council, is tasked with assessing states' counterterror efforts, evaluating their capacity building needs, and harmonizing with donors to provide technical and financial assistance. In 2004, to assist the CTC, the Counterterrorism Executive Directorate was established by UN Security Council Resolution 1535 to better provide technical assistance to member countries in need.

U.S. President George W. Bush, flanked by Secretary of State Colin Powell (L) and Treasury Secretary Paul O' Neill (R), announced new actions to combat the financing of terror groups.

"War on Terror" begins

Shortly after the September 11 attacks, President George W. Bush announced the U.S. response, stating that the following conflict "will not take place in a single battle, but in a series of decisive actions against terrorist organizations and those who harbor and support them." The first step of this Global War on Terror, as the Bush administration called it, was a series of bombing raids and eventual special forces operations against the Taliban, the ruling party in Afghanistan that had harbored al-Qaeda. Along with the eventual invasion of Afghanistan, the war on terror developed a de-facto international normative counterterror framework. Targeting not only terrorist networks but the states that supported them, the threat of U.S. military action resulted in increased support for global counterterror efforts.

Trace amounts of anthrax have been found in the office mailrooms of two more U.S. senators, likely from cross-contamination with a pair of earlier letters to Capitol Hill. (FBI Handout/Courtesy Reuters)

Anthrax attacks in the United States

On October 15, 2006, letters containing the biological agent anthrax arrived at the offices of two U.S. senators and two media outlets. Five people were killed and twenty-three rendered ill after coming in contact with anthrax spores—among them postal service workers and those who interacted with cross-contaminated mail. Originally suspected to be the continued work of Islamic radicals, the anthrax attack was later tracked back to a worker at Fort Detrick, Maryland, an Army biodefense lab where the agent was stored. Although the Federal Bureau of Investigation gathered only circumstantial evidence on the suspect, Bruce Ivins, he later committed suicide and the case was closed.

Richard Reid, accused of trying to blow up an aircraft with explosives in his shoes, shown in a December 2001 police photograph. (Plymouth County Jail Handout/Courtesy Reuters)

Shoe bombing attempt

Richard Reid, a British citizen who converted to Islam while in prison and had ties to al-Qaeda, attempted to ignite explosives hidden in his shoes and take down American Airlines flight 63 on December 22, 2001. Although the plot failed and the plane landed safely, it brought up new concerns about airline security and represented a continued threat from al-Qaeda-linked operatives.

Rioters loot goods from a store as another shop burns after being set alight in Ahmedabad late March 21, 2002 as fresh outbreaks of religious violence hit western India. (STR New/ Courtesy Reuters)

Gujarat violence

Religious violence gripped the Indian state of Gujarat in early 2002 following a train car fire that killed fifty-eight Hindus in Godhra. Numerous investigations into the incident led to several conclusions on the source of the fire, but the true nature of the incident remains uncertain. Widespread religious violence in the region followed the train tragedy, claiming the lives of more than one thousand Muslims and several hundred Hindus. Many accused Narendra Modi, Gujarat’s chief minister, of provoking retribution by bringing the Hindu victims’ bodies into the capital for a day of mourning, where the mood was already tense. Others blamed police for participating in the abuse of Muslims. A Special Investigation Team report leaked in 2011 reinforced claims that Modi and several police commissioners were complicit during the riots, but all parties still insist they acted correctly in their response to a difficult situation.

Indonesian forensic police walk through a destroyed building at the site of a bomb blast in Kuta beach on the resort island of Bali October 13, 2002. (Darren Whiteside/Courtesy Reuters)

Bali nightclub bombing

Jemaah Islamiyah, a radical Islamic terrorist group based in Indonesia with alleged links to al-Qaeda, was responsible for a bombing that claimed the lives of 202 people. The bombing, which targeted a nightclub frequented by Western tourists on the island of Bali, led to the arrest of thirty-three suspects. The Indonesian government was praised for having effectively cracked down on the organization. However a series of 2009 suicide bombings possibly linked to the group that targeted Western hotels and ongoing widespread violence in 2012 suggests that the insurgency is growing more violent. The group also has a presence in other Southeast Asian countries, launching operations against targets in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Singapore.

An unidentified Russian negotiator raises his arms Thursday, Oct. 24, 2002, as he leaves the theater seized by armed Chechens in downtown Moscow. (Sergei Grits/AP Photo)

Chechens seize Moscow theater

After forty Chechen militants seized a theater in Moscow, 117 people died, the majority from a gas that Russian security forces used while attempting to retake the building. The siege, which lasted over two days, involved some 750 hostages before Russian police intervened. Following the attack, Russian president Vladimir Putin stated that "Russia will respond with measures that are adequate to the threat to the Russian Federation, striking on all the places where the terrorists themselves, the organizers of these crimes and their ideological and financial inspirers are."

Chechens are a minority ethnic group in the North Caucasus region of Russia. Separatist factions have been fighting for the region’s independence from Russian authority since the end of the Soviet Union—a conflict that has involved two wars and countless other acts of violence.

Rescue workers carry an injured bomb blast victim outside UN offices in the Hydra district of Algiers December 11, 2007. (Louafi Larbi/Courtesy Reuters)

Offshoots of al-Qaeda appear

Following the attacks of September 11 and the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, several al-Qaeda affiliates emerged in the Middle East. In 2004 a group calling itself al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia emerged at the forefront of the anti-U.S. insurgency in Iraq. In addition to killing hundreds of people in Iraq, the group carried out coordinated suicide bomb attacks against three hotels in Amman, Jordan, in November 2005. In Algeria, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) officially joined forces with al-Qaeda, and in early 2007 renamed itself al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. In December 2007, the group bombed a UN building and several other targets in Algiers, killing dozens. The Yemeni branch of the group, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, has recently sponsored or launched operations against the United States including the 2009 Christmas Day bombing and 2010 cargo package scare.

Nuclear scientist Khan speaks to media after being freed by a Pakistani court. (Mian Khursheed/Courtesy Reuters)

AQ Khan network discovered

In late 2003, it was discovered that Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan had for more than a decade been supplying nuclear technology and expertise to Iran, North Korea, and Libya. The extent and sophistication of Khan’s activities raised the specter of terrorist groups acquiring weapons of mass destruction (WMD) on the nuclear black market. Partly in response, in 2004 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1540, requiring UN member states to take steps to prevent nonstate actors from acquiring WMD. The following year, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted an International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism—the first antiterrorism convention since 9/11.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is shown during his arrest on March 1, 2003. (Courtesy U.S.News World Report/Courtesy Reuters)

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed arrested

On March 1, 2003, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—one of the key planners of the September 11 attacks—was arrested in Pakistan. As one of the most prominent terrorist figures in U.S. custody, his treatment and presence at the prison at Guantanamo Bay has drawn international scrutiny. In December 2008, Mohammed sent a letter to a military judge to plead guilty, sparking continuing controversy over whether his trial should take place at a military tribunal or as a civilian in the United States.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (R) and Foreign Minister of Cyprus George Iakovou (L) during a Proliferation Security Initiative signing ceremony in Washington, D.C., July 25, 2005. (Yuri Gripas/Courtesy Reuters)

Proliferation Security Initiative established

The Proliferation Security Initiative, a multilateral effort to combat the illicit trafficking of nuclear materials that may lead to terrorist acts by nonstate actors, was launched by President George W. Bush on May 31, 2003. Now with ninety-eight participating members, the initiative promotes interdiction of illegal nuclear weapons-related material by national governments, the sharing of best practices, and capacity building. However, the initiative does not grant legal authority on interdiction beyond what is already established by international law.

Participants of the of the enlarged dialogue meeting at the G8 summit sit at the discussion table at the G8 summit in Evian, France on June 1, 2003.

G8 creates Counterterrorism Action Group

At the 2003 Summit in Evian, France, the Group of Eight (G8) created the Counterterrorism Action Group (CTAG) to provide multilateral assistance for counterterror efforts. The primary focus of the CTAG is providing donor assistance for counterterrorist financing; bolstering port, maritime, and aviation security; and enhancing police and law enforcement capabilities. Since its inception, its agenda has included working with the Financial Action Task Force, International Civil Aviation Organization, and the UN’s counterterror bodies. However, its positive contribution to global efforts has been hampered by lack of interest and legitimacy problems in the countries of the global South.

A suicide attacker set off a truck bomb on August 19, 2003, outside a Baghdad, Iraq, hotel housing the UN headquarters. (STR New/Courtesy Reuters)

UN compound in Baghdad bombed

On August 19, 2003, a United Nations compound in Baghdad was the target of a truck bomb attack that killed the UN special representative to Iraq, Sergio Veira de Mello, and over twenty others. The bombing also wounded more than one hundred. Although a group calling itself the Armed Vanguards of the Second Mohammad Army claimed responsibility for the attack, it is believed that Ansar al-Islam, an al-Qaeda-linked group, undertook the operation.

In the days after, the UN Security Council issued a statement, condemning the attack and stating its determination to continue its mission in the face of the threat.

Russian special forces troops free a school while soldiers stormed a building seized by heavily armed masked men and women in the town of Beslan in the province of North Ossetia near Chechnya, on September 3, 2004.  (STR New/Courtesy Reuters)

Beslan school massacre

Hundreds of adults and students were killed after a school in Russia’s North Ossetia region was taken hostage by Chechen radicals. Thirty-two militants entered the school on September 1, taking hostages and releasing a set of demands related to Russia’s conflict over Chechnya. Of the 1,200 hostages, 331 people were eventually killed. Although the progression of events remains unclear, it is likely that most died after Russian forces entered the school on September 3.

Other operations by Chechen groups that year included an attack on a Moscow metro train and the alleged hijacking of two airplanes. The February underground suicide attack killed forty-one and the near simultaneous hijackings in August killed ninety passengers and crew.

An Egyptian sits next to a destroyed jewellery shop in the Sinai beach resort of Dahab, Egypt, April 25, 2006. (Alexandra Winkler/Courtesy Reuters)

Sinai bombings

Three bombings over two years in popular Red Sea resort towns in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula resulted in the deaths of more than 120. Targeting the cities of Sharm el-Sheikh, Dahab, and Taba, each of the attacks took place on or around national holidays, the last on Sinai Liberation Day. The explosions were linked to domestic terrorist groups and individuals based on the peninsula, possibly Bedouins from the north, and aimed at scaring away tourism and disrupting the regime of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

Victims of Madrid’s train bombing are helped immediately following a bomb blast at Madrid’s Atocha station, March 11, 2004. (Pablo Torres Guerrero/El Pais/Courtesy Reuters)

Madrid train bombings

One hundred and ninety-one people were killed on the morning of March 11, 2004 when ten bombs exploded on four commuter trains in Madrid, Spain. Close to 1,700 people were injured in the attacks and three other bombs were found by police and disposed of. Spanish authorities originally thought the attack to be the work of Basque separatists, but later found a van with bomb-making materials and Koranic verses. Al-Qaeda later claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Seven of the main suspects in the case committed group suicide in the following weeks, killing a Spanish policeman in the process. Another twenty-one suspects, many of them Moroccan, were convicted in Spanish courts. The bombings influenced the withdrawal of Spanish troops from the coalition in Iraq and caused domestic political turmoil in Spain. The case brought increased attention to the radicalization of Muslim populations in Europe and what has come to be known as homegrown terror.

Fire-fighters wearing protective gear take part in an antiterrorism drill against possible attacks from North Korea in Seoul November 3, 2009. (Choi Bu-Seok/Courtesy Reuters)

Nuclear terror convention

The September 11 attacks and Osama bin Laden’s stated desire to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction led to the adoption of the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism in 2005. The treaty requires state parties to adopt measures to protect their nuclear-weapon-related materials and facilities in accordance with International Atomic Energy Agency regulations, as well as criminalize the act or support of nuclear terrorism. The convention currently has seventy-one state parties.

European Union flags fly outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels June 15, 2005. (Thierry Roge/Courtesy Reuters)

European Union adopts counterterrorism strategy

In the wake of two major terror attacks on the continent, the European Union developed a counterterrorism strategy geared toward "combat[ting] terrorism globally while respecting human rights, and make Europe safer, allowing its citizens to live in an area of freedom, security and justice." The strategy operates on four pillars—prevent, protect, pursue, and respond—on the national, European, and international levels. Highlighted in the document are counter radicalization and other efforts to stop the incitement and spread of terrorism within the continent, as well as coordination among member states and EU bodies such as EUROPOL and EUROJUST on matters of law enforcement and immigration.

A Lebanese woman mourns the assassination of late prime minister Rafik al-Hariri during a protest in a Beirut street on February 15, 2005. (Sharif Karim/Courtesy Reuters)

Lebanese prime minister killed

On February 14, 2005, Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri and nine others were killed when a car bomb destroyed his motorcade. Anti-Syria demonstrations following the attack resulted in that country’s forces leaving Lebanon for the first time in twenty-nine years. The assassination prompted the launch of a UN investigation, which implicated Syrian leadership. Following the investigation, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1636, which called for sanctions against those involved in the assassination. A tribunal set up by the United Nations to prosecute those responsible for Hariri’s death indicted members of the terrorist group Hezbollah. The assassination mirrored that of a previous Lebanese prime minister, Bashir Gemayel, who was killed by a large car bomb on July 20, 1982.

The wreckage of a bus is seen near Russell Square in London, July 7, 2005. (Mike Finn-Kelcey/Courtesy Reuters)

London 7/7 attacks

On the morning of July 7, 2005, four suicide bombers detonated their explosives in London—three in the Underground and one on a double decker bus. The blasts caused fifty-two deaths, and an additional 770 people were injured. Two of the bombers—all of whom were British citizens or residents—had spent considerable time in Pakistan, where they possibly received training. A previously unknown group claiming ties to al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack, citing the presence of British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan as their justification.

Four other suicide bombers attempted to launch a similar attack on underground trains and buses in London. However, their explosives failed to detonate and they were all placed under custody.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan (R) meets Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf (L) on the second day of the 2005 World Summit where world leaders united to condemn terrorism. (Jeff Zelevansky/Courtesy Reuters)

Growing international consensus on counterterrorism

At the September 2005 UN World Summit, the UN General Assembly agreed to a statement condemning terrorism "in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever, and for whatever purposes." The summit’s outcome document, which failed to define terrorism, also called for redoubled action toward a comprehensive convention on counterterrorism. Although this did not emerge, the next year, the General Assembly unanimously adopted the Global Counterterrorism Strategy, pulling together the existing international counterterrorism conventions under a single framework. The strategy’s four-pillar plan of action focuses on addressing conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, preventing and combating terrorism, building state capacity and bolstering the UN’s counterterrorism role, and ensuring respect for human rights in counterterrorism efforts.

To implement the Global Counterterrorism Strategy, the UN established the Counterterrorism Implementation Task Force—assigned with coordinating the activities of the twenty-four UN agencies involved.

U.S. President George W. Bush delivers remarks in June 2007 on the war in Iraq. (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters)

Bombing of Shiite mosque incites Iraqi sectarian violence

A group of al-Qaeda insurgents, dressed as Iraqi special forces, bombed the al-Askari Mosque in Samarra. Although no deaths occurred directly from the blast, the destruction of one of Shiite Islam’s most important mosques set off widespread sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites.

More than 2,500 Iraqi civilians died in February 2006 alone, and by the end of the year the country was at risk of civil war.

After Iraqi deaths peaked at 3,700 in October 2006, President Bush announced that an additional 21,500 U.S. troops would be deployed in 2007 as part of the so-called surge to stabilize the sectarian violence dividing the country. General David Petraeus assumed control of military operations in Iraq, and the United States began its new strategy of counterinsurgency. This strategy sought to marginalize al-Qaeda by building better relationships with the Iraqi people and minimizing civilian casualties. A progress report presented by General Petraeus in September 2007 showed the surge had been effective in decreasing both insurgent attacks and civilian deaths.

A policeman patrols outside Heathrow airport in London August 11, 2006. (Alessia Pierdomenico/Courtesy Reuters)

Foiled airliner attempt

Twenty-four men were arrested by British authorities on August 9, 2006, in advance of implementing a plot to destroy ten transatlantic airliners. Additional arrests were made in Pakistan, but the attempt was never concretely linked to al-Qaeda. The plan involved using beverage containers to conceal liquid chemicals capable of exploding once combined, and resulted in new security rules for passengers on aircraft.

Localization of Terror

Militants of al Shabaab train with weapons on a street in the outskirts of Mogadishu, November 4, 2008. (Feisal Omar/Courtesy Reuters)

Rise of al-Shabaab

Initially considered an insurgent group fighting to gain power in Somalia and establish a radical Islamic regime, al-Shabab’s shift to an international terrorist organization has drawn global concern. The group allegedly has ties to al-Qaeda, increasingly uses foreign fighters in its operations, and has drawn both funds and recruits from the United States. Its operations have expanded beyond the Somali border, most recently during the summer of 2010, when the group claimed responsibility for a bombing in Uganda that claimed the lives of seventy-four people.

Al-Shabaab leadership claimed that more attacks would follow if Uganda continued to support African Union peacekeeping forces in Somalia. The group struck again in August 2010, killing thirty-three in an attack on a hotel in Mogadishu.

The body of a bomb blast victim is covered outside the constitutional court building in Algiers December 11, 2007. (STR New/Courtesy Reuters)

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

An offshoot of al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), committed a series of bombings in Algeria throughout 2007, raising concern that the country might again dissolve into civil war. The bombings, a mix of suicide operations, booby traps, and car bombs, targeted the country’s prime minister, coast guard officers, police stations, and civilians. The terrorist group, previously known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, is a holdover from the country’s previous internal conflict which began in the early 1990s and killed 200,000 Algerians. Before 2007, Algeria had succeeded in containing Islamist militancy, but AQIM is now the most active terrorist group in North Africa.

The Taj Mahal hotel is seen engulfed in smoke during a gun battle in Mumbai, November 29, 2008.  (Arko Datta/Courtesy Reuters)

Mumbai attacks

In November 2008, nearly two hundred people were killed in a coordinated attack on several buildings and landmarks in Mumbai. The government of Pakistan first denied any Pakistanis were involved, but in early 2009 acknowledged that the attack had been planned and carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamic terrorist group based in Pakistan. Indian and Pakistani authorities began prosecuting numerous members with connections to the attacks. The arrest in the autumn of 2009 of David Headley, a Pakistani American with ties to Lashkar-e-Taiba and Pakistani intelligence and military officers, fueled Indian accusations of Pakistan’s role in the attacks and a failure to heed warning signs by the United States. India-Pakistan relations on the issue continue to be a source of tension.

A supporter of religious and political party Jamaat-e-Islami flashes the victory sign in front of an image of drone, during a rally against drone attacks in Karachi in June 2011. (Athar Hussain/ Courtesy Reuters)

Obama escalates drone war

The United States military and intelligence services began using unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, in an offensive capacity shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Their use has been expanded under the Obama administration, and now more pilots are being trained to fly drones than to fly traditional manned aircraft. Drone strikes against terrorist targets have had some success; in June 2010, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, al-Qaeda’s number three in command, was killed by a drone strike along the Pakistani border with Afghanistan. The strikes, however, most notably those run by the CIA over Pakistan and Yemen, have garnered criticism for their infringement on national sovereignty, their legal status as extrajudicial killings, and collateral damage that includes the death of innocent civilians.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC in September 2010. (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters)

Homegrown terror in the United States

A number of instances in 2009 and 2010 of increased militancy among U.S. citizens—either directly connected or influenced by foreign terrorist organizations and leadership—caused U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to cite homegrown terror’s rise as a growing threat to national security. A spate of young men from Minneapolis left the country starting in 2007 to join Al-Shabaab, a Somali terror group with ties to al-Qaeda. In December 2009, five men from Virginia were arrested in Pakistan on the suspicion that they left the United States to be trained as militants.

A rudimentary car bomb was found parked in Times Square on May 1, 2010, and dismantled before it could cause harm. The attempt was traced to Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized American from Pakistan, who was later caught in the airport while attempting to flee to Dubai. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attempt, and a number of their members were arrested in Pakistan in connection with the plot.

People stand for prayers during a candle light vigil on the Fort Hood Army Post in Texas on November 6, 2009. (Jessica Rinaldi/Courtesy Reuters)

Army base shooting

On November 5, 2009, Nidal Malik Hasan, a major in the U.S. Army, killed thirteen people and wounded nearly thirty more in a shooting at an Army base in Fort Hood, Texas. As military and civilian police forces responded to the attack, Hasan was shot four times and paralyzed. The assailant, an Army psychiatrist, was linked to Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric in Yemen. Al-Awlaki was also linked to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian militant who tried to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day the same year.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is shown in this booking photograph released by the U.S. Marshals Service December 28, 2009. (US Marshals Service Handout/Courtesy Reuters)

Christmas Day bombing attempt

On Christmas Day, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to ignite explosives sewn into his underwear during a Northwest Airlines flight en route to Detroit. The attempt failed to cause injuries or structural damage to the plane, which later landed safely. In custody, Abdulmutallab reported that he received training and assistance from terrorists in Yemen with ties to al-Qaeda. The bombing attempt has drawn attention to Yemen, where a weak government, an unguarded border with Saudi Arabia, and rugged terrain have allowed an al-Qaeda offshoot, known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to flourish.

Security officers check the baggage of a passenger at Sanaa International Airport on November 4, 2010.

Cargo plane explosive scare

Bombs disguised as printer cartridges and stowed on international flights, both cargo and passenger, were discovered on inspection in Britain and the United Arab Emirates on October 29, 2010. The packages were labeled to be delivered in the United States, but the bombs were set to explode in mid-air. The attempt set off an international response, both in ensuring the safety of other flights, and tracking down those responsible. In addition to bilateral investigations between the United States and other countries involved, INTERPOL helped coordinate the dissemination of information in the immediate wake of the scare.

Cars are destroyed in a bomb blast along a road in Abuja October 1, 2010.

Blasts rock Nigerian capital

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) claimed responsibility for explosions in Abuja, Nigeria, that killed twelve and hurt another fifty. The attacks came during the country's fiftieth anniversary celebrations. MEND, operating from the rugged and oil-rich Niger Delta region, objects to the degradation of the region's resources, and the uneven distribution of oil industry wealth. The group demands the withdrawal of government troops from the region, and half of the region's oil revenue. Other operations include kidnappings and the tapping and destruction of oil pipelines.

An undated file photo shows two pouches which the Georgian Interior ministry says contain enriched uranium in Tbilisi that was attempted to be smuggled in 2007. (Ho New/Courtesy Reuters)

Georgia releases details of nuclear smuggling attempt

Georgia released the details of an attempt by two Armenian men to smuggle weapons-grade uranium into the country. They had been caught in March trying to sell the material to an undercover agent posing as a representative of an Islamic extremist group. Although the amount intercepted in the sting was small, the two smugglers—a physicist and businessman—claimed that they could produce more. The developments have stressed the issue of unsecured nuclear material, and its trade on the black market, but also represent a success for the fight against the trafficking of such goods. The United States has recently provided $50 million to Georgia to bolster these efforts.

Headlines about the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, in Lahore May 3, 2011. (Mohsin Raza/Courtesy Reuters)

Death of Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden, planner of the 9/11 attacks and leader of al-Qaeda, was killed by U.S. special forces on a raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 1, 2011. Announcing the death of the world’s most wanted terrorist in a press conference, President Barack Obama stated that "his death does not mark the end of our effort. There’s no doubt that al-Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must—and we will—remain vigilant at home and abroad." Following the announcement, it was unclear what effect the death of bin Laden would have on al-Qaeda’s operations, and some prognosticated retribution attacks on his behalf. Later that month, the Taliban did launch such a reprisal attack, killing eighty at a Pakistani military training facility.

On June 16, 2011, Ayman al-Zawahiri was announced as the successor to Osama bin Laden and new leader of al-Qaeda via a message on the terrorist network’s website.

Mahant Mandal displays a passport photograph of his brother Kishan, who was killed in one of the three blasts that took place, as his body burns on a funeral pyre at a Hindu crematorium in Mumbai July 14, 2011. (STR New/Courtesy Reuters)

Mumbai targeted again

On July 13, 2011, three bombs exploded in Mumbai, India killing seventeen and wounding more than one hundred people. As the latest in a series of terrorist attacks in Mumbai, including the deadly November 2008 coordinated bombing, the Times of India characterized the overall atmosphere in Mumbai as a "macabre dance of death." The latest bombings were carried out using improvised explosive devices programmed to explode simultaneously within the city. Despite immediately launching an investigation in the aftermath of the bombings, Indian officials did not publicly opine whether a transnational group like Lashkar-e-Taiba or a domestic extremist organization had carried out the attacks.

Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric linked to al Qaeda’s Yemen-based wing, gives a religious lecture in an unknown location in this still image taken from video released by Intelwire.com on September 30, 2011. (Handout/Courtesy Reuters)

Anwar al-Awlaki killed in Yemen

On September 30, 2011, radical Islamist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by a U.S. drone and jet strike, ending a two year manhunt. Awlaki was considered an important figure in the al-Qaeda offshoot group, al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, and was believed to be instrumental in orchestrating attempted attacks on American soil. Awlaki held dual Yemeni-American citizenship and was the first U.S. citizen to be placed on the CIA’s list to kill or capture, prompting questions over the legality of killings outside declared theaters of war. Nevertheless, President Barack Obama stated Awlaki’s death marked "another significant milestone in the broader effort to defeat al-Qaeda and its affiliates."

Manssor Arbabsiar in a 1996 Texas Sheriff’s Office photograph. Arbabsiar was arrested on September 29, 2011 and accused of participating in an Iran-backed plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States.(Handout/Courtesy Reuters)

Foiled Iranian plot on U.S. soil

On October 11, 2011, the United States announced that it had uncovered and successfully prevented an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, DC. The U.S. attorney general, Eric Holder, described that the suspects had planned to pay a member of a Mexican drug cartel to carry out the attack, and unknowingly informed an undercover agent from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Holder added that the attack was "conceived" by the Quds Force, a special unit of Iranian Revolutionary Guards corps.

The ruins of Living Faith Church, burnt down by members of Boko Haram in the New Jerusalem area of Damaturu, Nigeria (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

Boko Haram targets Nigeria

On November 4, 2011, gunmen and militants from the Nigeria-based radical group Boko Haram killed sixty-three people and wounded hundreds of others in the country’s northeastern states of Yobe and Borno. The group is intensifying attacks on strategic targets, and in August 2011, the group claimed responsibility for an attack on the United Nations headquarters in Abuja that killed twenty-five people. According to Human Rights Watch, the group has killed more than 250 people in the first weeks of 2012 and at least 900 people since 2009.

Boko Haram was founded in 2002, committed to mitigating Western influence in the region and establishing an Islamic state in Nigeria. It has frequently targeted government and security establishments, which it views as sources of rampant corruption and other illegitimate activity like the abusive use of force. U.S. officials have recently claimed that Boko Haram may have ties to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al-Shabaab (a Somalian offshoot of al-Qaeda). As a result, the United States has offered anti-terror assistance to the Nigerian government.

In June 2012, the U.S. State Department designated three members of the group as international terrorists, and there is increasing support in Congress and the Justice Department to name Boko Haram a foreign terrorist organization. However, some experts counter that the violence is solely aimed at national targets and "does not include international jihadist themes."

A county booking photo of Jose Padilla, who was captured by U.S. authorities in June 2002 on suspicion of carrying out reconnaissance for al-Qaeda. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

New U.S. Terrorist Detention Law

On December 31, 2011, U.S. president Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (PDF), which budgeted funds for U.S. defense and contained controversial provisions for the treatment of suspected terrorists. The bill codifies the executive branch’s authority to indefinitely detain al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects—and requires military custody for those individuals, though the president is permitted to waive this requirement. This provision exempted U.S. citizens, but many analysts point out that the impact of congressional legislation is largely dependent on interpretation. Such analysts also point out that the bill may increase the likelihood that U.S. citizens will be held indefinitely without trial as enemy combatants, as was done with Jose Padilla in 2001. The bill also blocks the use of federal funds to transfer detainees in Guantanamo to the United States, preventing the decade-old detention facility from being closed.

Mustafa al Hawsawi appears at his arraignment as an accused 9/11 co-conspirator in a courtroom sketch.(Janet Hamlin/Courtesy Reuters)

Guantanamo trial by military commission

The trial by military commission of the alleged plotters behind the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks finally began in May 2012 in Guantanamo Bay. They face 2,976 counts of murder and terrorism, and potentially the death penalty. The long-delayed and highly controversial trial has drawn international attention due to the controversy surrounding Guantanamo Bay and the debate over whether to try the suspects in military or civilian courts. Human rights groups have argued that the secrecy of military commissions will "make it impossible to defend them."

The Bush administration originally sought to try the suspects under military commissions, but because the commissions allowed hearsay evidence and coerced testimony—as well as contradicted standards in the Geneva Convention—they were delayed by legal challenges. In 2009, the U.S. Congress passed legislation including a "higher bar to hearsay evidence and a prohibition against using statements made during cruel or degrading treatment." The Obama administration now argues that these changes have legitimized the trials, which are being conducted in military commissions.

An exterior view of the Standard Chartered headquarters is seen in London.

Global banking giants accused of aiding terrorists

A July 2012 report by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations accused global banking giant HSBC of failing to prevent terrorists and rogue regimes from using its services. The numerous charges included accusations such as processing almost twenty-five thousand transactions of over $19 billion, without disclosing the money's link to Iran. HSBC apologized and set aside $2 billion to cover potential fines or settlement costs. Less than a month later, on August 13, the New York Department of Financial Services threatened to revoke the license of the British bank, Standard Chartered, for conspiring with Iran to hide $250 billion  in transactions despite U.S. sanctions against Iran. After originally denying the charges, Standard Chartered settled the case with regulators for $340 million.

Relatives mourn over the coffin of a victim killed in an attack in Bulgaria, during a ceremony near Tel Aviv.

Bulgaria suicide bombing kills five Israeli citizens

Five Israeli tourists were killed in a suicide bombing attack in Bulgaria on July 18, 2012. Immediate intelligence assessments indicated that the bombing was conducted by Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group, with Iranian guidance. A senior American official stated that the attack was in retaliation for the alleged Israeli assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists. Israeli officials maintain that the bombing was part of a wave of terrorist attacks on Israeli targets in various countries—the Bulgaria bombing was the ninth plot pinned on Iran this year.

U.S. Air Force handout image of a Predator drone.

Escalating drone strikes campaign in Pakistan

Days before the reopening of critical NATO supply routes into Afghanistan following the eight-month-long standoff between the United States and Pakistan, a U.S. drone killed eight suspected militants in a northwestern tribal region of Pakistan. Since drone strikes were first authorized by the Bush administration nearly ten years ago following the 9/11 attacks, targeted killings have become a central element of the U.S. counterterrorism strategy. After the Obama administration escalated the pace of drone strikes in Pakistan in 2009, targeted killings have been carried out against at least two thousand suspected militants and over four hundred civilian deaths.

Despite the strikes' effectiveness at dismantling the leadership of al-Qaeda, they have raised legal and moral questions for the Obama administration. Notably, the air strikes are widely opposed in Pakistan as a breach of sovereignty and have significantly complicated the country's relationship with the United States.

The U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, is seen in flames on September 11, 2012 (Esam al-Fetori/Courtesy Reuters).

U.S. diplomatic mission attacked in Libya

On September 11, 2012, Islamic militants overtook the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing the U.S. ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, and three members of the U.S. diplomatic corps. Although specifics about and motive for the attack remain murky, it is believed that the militants were affiliated with al-Qaeda. In her remarks condemning the attacks, U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton reaffirmed, "A free and stable Libya is still in America's interest and security, and we will not turn our back on that, nor will we rest until those responsible for those attacks are found and brought to justice."

An Afghan policeman jumps over debris as he investigates at the site of a blast outside the Indian embassy in Kabul in October 2009 (Ahmad Mahsood/Courtesy Reuters).

United States labels Haqqani network a terrorist group

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed the order to designate the Haqqani network, widely regarded by military leaders as one of the most resilient enemy networks, as a terrorist group. This Taliban-affiliated group has carried out attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including on the U.S. Embassy, NATO’s headquarters, and a five-star hotel in Kabul. This designation had been in discussion for two years; there were concerns that targeting the group would worsen already tenuous relations with Pakistan, which was long suspected of supporting Haqqani through its intelligence agency. Admiral Mike Mullen previously called the Haqqani network a “veritable arm” of the ISI, and a report from the London School of Economics strongly suggested that support for the Taliban was official policy.

Two months later, the UN sanctions committee issued an arms embargo and asset freeze against the Haqqani terrorist network.

A fighter from Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra runs with his weapon as their base is shelled in Raqqa province, eastern Syria, March 14, 2013. (Hamid Khatib/ Courtesy Reuters).

Al-Nusra Front listed as terrorist group

The al-Nusra Front, an Islamic militant rebel group spearheading the Free Syrian Army’s campaign against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, was listed as a terrorist organization by the United States in December 2012 and by Australia in March 2013. While fighting the oppressive Assad regime, al-Nusra Front have been linked to al-Qaeda, have a history of suicide attacks and bombings, and have been complicit in human rights violations, including the use of violence against citizens.

French soldiers take up positions outside Markala, Mali (Joe Penney/Courtesy Reuters).

French intervention in Mali

In January 2013, with Islamic jihadist forces rapidly gaining ground against the Malian army, French president Francois Hollande made the decision to intervene to stop rebels, including the Islamic Tuareg group Ansar Dine, from seizing control of the state, instituting harsh sharia law throughout the country, and creating a terrorist safe haven. The decision was unanimously backed by the UN Security Council following the initial intervention. Furthermore, an African-led mission was called to immediately assist the French and Malian troops, through UN Security Council resolution 2085; this resolution was passed in December 2012 and originally allowed for a three thousand-strong African-led mission to intervene in Mali later in 2013 in the absence of any negotiated solution.

Algerian soldiers stand near damaged cars used by Islamist militants during a siege earlier this month near the Tiguentourine Gas Plant in Amenas (Louafi Larbi/Courtesy Reuters).

Al-Mulathameen hostage crisis

On January 16, al-Mulathameen, an al-Qaeda breakaway militant Islamist group led by Mokthar Belmokthar, kidnapped over thirty foreigners from an Amenas gas plant in Algeria. This attack was the latest in a series of criminal activities carried out by Belmokthar as means to raise capital for al-Mulathameen’s militant activities. On January 17, the Algerian government raided the gas plant facility, in a failed operation which resulted in the death of thirty-seven foreign hostages. The crisis ended on January 19 with a final Algerian military attack on the facility.

A U.S. Marine with Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1 pushes an RQ-7B Shadow UAV.(U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Eric D. Warren/Courtesy Reuters).

Leaked white paper shows U.S. government justifying killing of Americans

On February 5, 2013, NBC News published a Department of Justice confidential white paper detailing the legal framework that would allow the U.S. government to carry out "a lethal operation directed against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qaeda or an associated force." The white paper was written in the context of U.S. drone strikes in the U.S. counterterrorism campaign, but has raised questions of the legality of targeting citizens, human rights, the right to trial, and the effectiveness of safeguards on executive power.

Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) President Kadre Desire Ouedraogo of Burkina Faso delivers a speech on February 28, 2013.(Thierry Gouegnon/ Courtesy Reuters).

ECOWAS implements new counterterrorism strategy

On February 28, 2013, the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) adopted a new Counterterrorism Strategy and Implementation Plan in the Political Declaration on a Common Position Against Terrorism, at its forty-second ordinary session in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast. The inclusive process, which involved international and regional experts, civil society groups, and state actors, began in 2009. The declaration provides a common definition for terrorism and the strategy aims to eradicate terrorist activity in West Africa through a coordinated regional framework for counterterrorist action.

Runners continue to run towards the end of the Boston Marathon as an explosion erupts near the finish line of the race. (Dan Lampariello/ Courtesy Reuters).

Boston Marathon Bombings

On April 15, 2013, two pressure cooker bombs exploded thirteen seconds apart near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and gruesomely injuring an additional 264—many of whom had to have limbs amputated. The attacks were allegedly carried out by Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, brothers of Chechen origin who immigrated to the United States in 2002 and later became radicalized.

In the days following the blast, images were released by the FBI naming the brothers as suspects. On April 19, 2013, the two men killed an MIT police officer and engaged police in a shootout during which Tamerlan was killed, but Dzhokhar escaped. Boston was put under lockdown while an unprecedented manhunt took place and that evening Dzhokhar was found hiding in a boat on a trailer in Watertown, Massachusetts. Injured, he was arrested and taken to hospital where he admitted to carrying out the attacks in the name of radical Islam and claimed he and his brother were planning to carry out attacks in Times Square in New York. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was charged with the use of a weapon of mass destruction and one count of malicious destruction of property resulting in death. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters walk on the way to their new base in northern Iraq May 14, 2013(Azad Lashkari/ Courtesy Reuters).

PKK guerilla fighters withdraw from Turkey

On May 8, 2013, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)—designated as a terrorist group by the United States and European Union—began a historic withdrawal of its troops from Turkey to Northern Kurdish controlled Iraq, ending nearly thirty years of conflict with the Turkish government, which has cost over forty thousand lives. Abdullah Ocalan, the incarcerated leader of the PKK, declared a cease-fire in March 2013 after engaging in secret talks with the Turkish government, and agreed to withdraw guerrilla fighters from the Turkish territory. The withdrawal will take place over the course of approximately four months and the PKK troops will remain armed, despite Turkish leader Erdogan’s call for disarmament, citing fear of a repeat of a 1999 incident during which Turkish military attacked withdrawing PKK troops.

A flag left in memory of British soldier Lee Rigby hangs outside an army barracks near the scene of his killing in Woolwich, southeast London June 3, 2013 (Luke MacGregor / Courtesy Reuters).

Woolwich terror attack

On May 22, 2013, two men attacked and killed a British soldier, Lee Rigby, claiming to be Islamic jihadists. The men, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, hit Rigby with their car before mutilating his body with knives and meat cleavers; both attackers were shot on sight by police officers, after appealing to the onlooking crowd to video and photograph them with Rigby’s body, while making references to radical Islam. In the days following, Adebowale was charged with Rigby’s murder and Adebolajo will stand trial once released from hospital. In the wake of the attack, the British government has announced that it will set up a terrorism task force to “look at whether new powers and laws are needed to clamp down on religious leaders and organizations who promote extremist messages and who target potential recruits in jails, schools and mosques.”

Issue Brief

Scope of the Challenge

September 11, 2001, shocked the international system, changing global perspectives on both the threat of terrorism and the tools required to prevent it. Although multilateral instruments against terrorism have existed since the 1960s, the unprecedented reach and potential of terrorist networks such as al-Qaeda and its affiliates constitute a new danger that challenges standing tools and institutions. Despite the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May 2011, the world is still—a decade after September 11—looking for an effective way to respond to the global terrorist threat.

In recent years, terrorist networks have evolved, moving away from a dependency on state sponsorship; many of the most dangerous groups and individuals now operate as nonstate actors. Taking advantage of porous borders and interconnected international systems—finance, communications, and transit—terrorist groups can reach every corner of the globe. While some remain focused on local or national political dynamics, others seek to affect global change.

At the forefront of this trend is al-Qaeda. From its base in the borderlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the al-Qaeda network has spread widely, establishing branches or affiliates elsewhere, including in North Africa, Yemen, and Southeast Asia. Driven by an extreme Salafi ideology—characterized by opposition to Western influence and the goal of creating a global Islamic caliphate—al-Qaeda operatives have killed thousands—from Madrid to Bali to Baghdad. What is more, the group’s alluring ideology extends its reach, prompting some individuals outside its direct command to take violent action. The threat from al-Qaeda has proven global, multifaceted, and difficult to track and contain. It continues to pose the most prominent terrorist threat.

Other groups, however, have also emerged, and operate, with their own distinct goals, outside traditional networks and hotspots. Europe and the United States are not immune from terrorism within their borders. This global diffusion of the threat requires a comprehensive response that provides solutions on national, regional, and international levels—and addresses not only the methods but also the factors that can contribute to the spread of terrorism.

Since September 11, generating such a comprehensive response has proven difficult. The United Nations, the world’s foremost multilateral body, has made strides in developing legal and normative means to combat terrorism, yet member states’ perceptions of the threat of terrorism remain uneven. Measures taken outside the United Nations—the Proliferation Security Initiative, the Financial Action Task Force, and others—provide encouraging frameworks, but many are nonbinding and voluntary.

Overall, the international counterterrorism regime continues to suffer from three main weaknesses. First, lack of a universal agreement over what constitutes terrorism weakens efforts to formulate a concerted global response. Second, multilateral action suffers from inadequate compliance and enforcement of existing instruments. Third, although counterradicalization and deradicalization initiatives have gained some attention over the last five years, progress is lacking, particularly in states with limited resources and expertise.

Strengths & Weaknesses

Overall Assessment

Overall assessment: Unprecedented attention, yet insufficient and uncoordinated

Multilateral cooperation on terrorism benefited from the renewed energy and urgency that followed the September 11 attacks on the United States and its interests, and subsequent attacks in Europe, Russia, Africa, the Middle East and around Asia. Over the past decade, the international community has developed instruments and created new initiatives to address the threat of terrorist attacks. Despite increased attention, however, several glaring gaps remain. These include divergent views on the legitimacy and authority of counterterrorism bodies and inadequate compliance and enforcement of standing tools. Targeting nonstate actors that can easily cross borders and operate in civilian areas also poses an enormous challenge.

Today’s counterterrorism regime lacks a central global body dedicated to terrorist prevention and response. The landscape for counterterrorism activity thus lacks coherence. It is multilayered—ranging from legally binding instruments and strategic guidelines, to multilateral institutions and regional frameworks. Within the United Nations (UN) alone are more than thirty agencies conducting relevant work on the issue; in the United States, sixteen departments and agencies do so. Too often, these various elements are uncoordinated and even competing (PDF).

The United Nations has helped rally international efforts for counterterrorism. It now oversees sixteen conventions that target different aspects of terrorism, including terrorist financing, hijacking, acquiring weapons of mass destruction, and hostage taking, to name a few. However, threat perceptions differ (PDF) as some UN member states perceive terrorism as a lesser priority in light of other challenges like HIV/AIDS or crime, while the U.S. Justice Department continues to rank terrorism as its highest priority a decade after the 9/11 attacks. These differences continue to obstruct efforts to build a comprehensive treaty that would unite all aspects of counterterrorism under one legal umbrella.

The UN Security Council (UNSC) has strengthened the international legal foundation for counterterrorism efforts by issuing numerous binding resolutions. To oversee the implementation of the bedrock counterterrorism resolutions created after September 11, the UNSC established the Counterterrorism Committee (CTC), and later the CTC Executive Directorate (CTED). The CTC, composed of all fifteen UNSC members, is tasked with assessing states’ efforts to implement relevant resolutions, evaluating gaps in state capacity, and facilitating donor coordination for technical and financial counterterrorism assistance. The CTED works to strengthen and better coordinate implementation of UNSC resolutions, as well as to conduct country assessments and facilitate technical assistance from donor countries. Both bodies, however, have uneven support across the UN membership. Some countries, notably those from the global South, have considered the CTC illegitimate, given its direct mandate from the UNSC, not to mention out of touch with countries it is responsible for assisting and with donor countries that are not on the Security Council. Moreover, many UN member states simply give low priority to the counterterrorism agenda. Accordingly, countries, particularly in Africa, have not met (PDF) their obligations to report to the CTC or otherwise take major steps to implement UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1373.

Another UN Security Council body, the 1540 Committee, oversees the implementation of UNSCR 1540, which legally obligates member states to prevent nonstate actors from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. The 1540 Committee is assisted (PDF) by an expert group that examines member state implementation of the resolution.

UN-sponsored sanctions have been effective in addressing state sponsorship of terrorism, notably Libya and Sudan, but less so against nonstate actors, like al-Qaeda and the Taliban since their removal from power. Over the last decade terrorist groups evolved to rely less on a centrally led network and adopted a more horizontal, nebulous, bottom up structure, increasing the difficulty of tracking and preventing terrorist acts. Pursuant to UNSCR 1267, the Al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee and Monitoring Team were created to implement and enforce this and subsequent resolutions. The committee kept a consolidated list of individuals and entities subject to sanctions, until 2011, when the UNSC voted to separate the al-Qaeda and Taliban lists. However, some critics argue that the list’s "name and shame" tactic has had negligible impact given the lack of regular updates and the expansion of the list, making it an inflexible mechanism in the face of the diffusion of al-Qaeda’s hierarchy. Others have pointed to the lack of provisions for legal due process. A resolution adopted in June 2011 allows for an ombudsman to receive delisting requests, a positive development that, nonetheless, does little to compensate for the lack of an effective appeals mechanism.

Except for the UNSC’s role in resolutions imposing sanctions, nobody is responsible for ensuring that member states meet their commitments under UN terrorism conventions or resolutions. Although the CTC and CTED monitor states’ progress in implementing bedrock UNSC resolutions, they have no mandate to penalize countries and have never referred a case to the UNSC.

In an effort to increase the legitimacy and add coherence to the UN’s efforts, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted in 2006 the Global Counterterrorism Strategy (GCT). Although the GCT provides an important normative and operational foundation for counterterrorism work at the UN, a report (PDF) by the Center on Global Counterterrorism Cooperation released ahead of the 2010 review conference notes that the strategy’s potential to "provide for collaborative, holistic counterterrorism efforts is either unknown or largely overlooked beyond New York, Geneva, and Vienna." That is, it has earned little attention or traction even among most UN member states.

The main onus of implementing the GCT is with member states, but its institutional operation is supported by the Counterterrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF)—a partnership of bodies created by UN secretary-general Kofi Annan in 2005, which now includes more than thirty UN entities plus INTERPOL, to streamline and coordinate counterterrorism efforts within the UN. In addition, the CTITF has nine working groups that focus on specific elements of the UN counterterrorism work, such as countering terrorist use of the Internet and integrating human rights concerns. Because the CTITF is composed of representatives from different agencies within the UN system, each agency’s mandates and priorities often take precedence, undermining the goals and effectiveness of the task force. Therefore, despite being created to help coordinate, coherence remains elusive.

Beyond the UN, other multilateral and regional bodies and initiatives have also ramped up their efforts to address terrorism in response to September 11. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the Group of Eight (G8) Counterterrorism Action Group (CTAG), for example, were created and operate independently, with varying degrees of success. The FATF—created in 1989 to combat money laundering and tasked with countering terrorist financing following September 11—has resulted in countries cleaning up their financing practices to quell or limit terrorist financing within their borders. The CTAG’s efforts, however, have suffered from a lack of direction and declining motivation among member states. To fill this gap, the United States has convened the Global Counterterrorism Forum, which will launch in September 2011, and, according to the G8’s Deauville Declaration, strengthen "the international consensus in the fight against terrorism, creating new opportunities of cooperation and furthering the implementation of the UN Global Counterterrorism Strategy."

A number of regional organizations, such as the European Union (EU), African Union, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, have delivered formal statements outlining their shared commitment to counterterrorism. Although the EU has followed up on its statements with a robust counterterrorism framework, incorporating law enforcement and judicial apparatuses like the EU judicial cooperation unit, EUROJUST and the EU’s police force, EUROPOL, other regional institutions lack capacity, funding (PDF), and political will to aggressively pursue counterterrorism strategies. Additionally, these organizations too often work in isolation from UN programs.

Despite the progress made through new bodies and agreements—notably the creation of the GCT and the ability of international bodies such as the International Monetary Fund and the CTC to audit and take stock (PDF) of national counterterrorism capabilities—several significant weaknesses are apparent in the global counterterror regime. First is the normative deadlock on the definition of terrorism. Terrorism, especially after the divisive political environment fostered by the U.S.-led global war on terror, continues to mean different things to different states, with strong divergence of both capacity and political will along global North-South lines. In addition, the UNSC’s promotion of legal and law enforcement measures to combat terror have been perceived as overemphasizing security, resulting in intense criticism by the Group of Seventy-Seven. The GCT somewhat redresses this with its emphasis on protecting human rights and on root causes of terrorism, but it is, in the end, only a strategy and not legally binding.

Second, multilateral response suffers from inadequate compliance and enforcement of standing instruments. To date, only eight UN member states have become parties to all sixteen treaties and even ratification of these instruments is no guarantee of enforcement. This is a marked improvement from the pre-September 11 era, but there is ample room for greater participation. In particular, monitoring and enforcement of terrorist financing commitments remain uneven because countries lack governance capacity, do not prioritize the terrorist threat, or both. The effort to safeguard nuclear material remains an equally difficult challenge that, despite the efforts and initiatives of concerned states, continues to suffer from a global concerted effort. Existing instruments, such as the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, lack robust participation.

Third, despite the attention terrorist prevention has gained over the last five years, efforts are still inadequate. Recognition of the importance of root causes and counter radicalization strategies are nascent. The GCT has helped draw some attention to these issues particularly in Pillar I, which focuses on "conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism," but huge gaps remain in implementation. Terrorist groups have evolved to rely less on state support, which severely hinders efforts to fight them. To date, the efforts of the international community to help countries build their counterterrorism capacity have also been inadequate. In particular, countries that need counterterrorism assistance the most, such as Pakistan—a hotbed of terrorism, host to a nuclear arsenal, and a major base of al-Qaeda—rely on bilateral arrangements rather than multilateral aid structures.

Establishing Counterterrorism Norms

Establishing counterterrorism norms: Some progress, but still inadequate

Progress toward building a normative framework for terrorism since September 11 has been considerable, but significant problems remain. Primarily, no international legal definition of terrorism has been agreed upon. And although United Nations (UN) documents provide operational definitions or interpretations of customary international law, and existing conventions against terrorism do provide a universal legal regime against terrorism, none is comprehensive. The UN General Assembly (UNGA) has not reached consensus on a definition of terrorism that would be adhered to by all countries. In turn, differences over the definition have been a major factor in the failure to pass a Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism (PDF), which criminalizes all forms of international terrorism. Negotiations of the Comprehensive Convention are deadlocked after nearly a dozen years of discussion among legal experts at the UN.

Today’s global counterterrorism framework includes sixteen UN conventions and protocols, a multitude of Security Council resolutions, the UN Global Counterterrorism Strategy, and a collection of regional instruments. The sixteen conventions and protocols overseen by the United Nations constitute the normative and legal backbone of global counterterror efforts. Before September 11, however, only two states (PDF) were party to what were then twelve existing international conventions requiring states to prohibit and punish specific terrorist activities and cooperate in international enforcement efforts.

Following September 11, the UN Security Council (UNSC), particularly through its Counterterrorism Committee, pressed for greater participation. As a result, in the first two years after the September 11, ratification of the conventions for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings and the Suppression of Financing of Terrorism increased significantly. Success related to the other conventions, however, was only modest. Today, eight countries have ratified the sixteen conventions and protocols, but too often state parties are not the most significant counterterrorism actors. Adherence is particularly low for two protocols related to maritime navigation, the numbers of state parties to which are as low as fifteen and nineteen. Moreover, many of the treaties are themselves inadequate. Too often they address issues independently of the broader counterterrorism struggle, suffer from weak language (for instance, containing saving clauses that limit the definitions of terrorist activity) or omit terrorism from the very title of the treaty.

The day after the September 11 attacks, both the UNSC and UNGA adopted unanimous resolutions condemning the acts of terrorism and urging all states to bring the perpetrators, organizers, and sponsors of the attacks to justice. UNSC Resolution (UNSCR) 1368 was particularly significant because it linked the right to self-defense as enshrined in Article 51 of the UN Charter with the response to international terrorism. The UNSC also passed UNSCR 1373, requiring member states to criminalize terrorism and its financing, and providing guidelines for enhanced cooperation on law enforcement and intelligence sharing. Although UNSCR 1373 provides the foundational requirements to international counterterrorism efforts, some countries complain that it oversteps the legislative authority of the UNSC by imposing its will on member states.

The UN Security Council’s actions on counterterrorism are often hastily established in response to specific crises. Following UNSCR 1373, and subsequent to the Beslan school bombing in the Russian Federation and the London underground and bus bombings, the UNSC issued UNSCRs 1566 and 1624, which also represent important normative developments. The former provides an operational definition for terrorism, and the latter calls on states to legally prohibit incitement for terrorist acts.

In parallel with the UN Security Council’s work, then UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and UNGA championed and supported a global strategy for counterterrorism. In part fueled by concerns over the UNSC’s overemphasis on the legal and law enforcement aspects of counterterrorism, and on the UNSC’s encroaching legislative authority, UNGA unanimously passed the UN Global Counterterrorism Strategy in 2006 and reaffirmed support for it in September 2008 and 2010. The strategy pulls together existing UN norms and activities into a single document and serves as a comprehensive guide based on four pillars: addressing conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, preventing and combating terrorism, building state capacity and bolstering the UN’s counterterrorism role, and ensuring respect for and the protection of human rights in counterterrorism efforts.

In essence, the GCT presents a roadmap for global counterterrorism work. However, though the strategy reiterated the commitments of the 2005 UN World Summit to condemn terrorism "in all its forms and manifestations," it still did not answer the call for a global legal treaty on terrorism—a priority of the World Summit that went unfulfilled.

At its heart, the lack of a legal definition of terrorism hinders progress on a comprehensive treaty. A high-level panel organized by the former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan noted that "a lack of agreement on a clear and well-known definition undermines the normative regulatory and moral stance against terrorism and has strained the image of the United Nations." Differing opinions on self-determination, the right to resistance, and the use of violence by state militaries—particularly in the context of the Israel-Palestine and the India-Kashmir conflicts remain divisive issues. Today, negotiations to develop a comprehensive treaty on terrorism continue to be deadlocked, and an April 2011 meeting (PDF) only highlighted entrenched differences on these issues.

As an alternative to global fora, regional organizations are playing an increasingly important role (PDF) in developing norms, and provide a more tailored response to local threats and conditions. Following September 11, various regional organizations created new legal mechanisms to fight terror. Still, their value is uneven (PDF). Successful examples include the Organization of American States, which has fostered consensus among its member states and spurred training workshops—subsequently linking those efforts to the global fight through cooperation (PDF) with UN bodies. The most recent legal mechanism of the European Union, the 2005 EU Counterterrorism Strategy, offers a four-pillared plan to combat terrorism.

It has been difficult, however, for other regional organizations to follow suit. Diverse memberships present competing priorities, and limited capacity—as in the case of the African Union (PDF)—can hinder effectiveness. Others bodies, like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, lack the necessary political cohesion and organizational structure to gain regional consensus, and instead rely on the varied efforts of member states.

Combating Terrorist Financing

Combating terrorist financing: Major strides to disincentivize terrorist financing, but weakly addresses underground channels

Overall, the international community has responded to the terrorist threat with broad cooperation to track and cut off funding. Experts commend a variety of counterterrorism financing (CTF) initiatives for significantly hobbling terrorist groups by restricting access to legitimate financial channels. Nevertheless, monitoring and enforcement of commitments remain spotty because some countries lack political will or governance capacity, particularly when dealing with nonstate actors. Moreover, terrorists increasingly resort to informal methods of financial support that are more difficult to curtail.

September 11 proved a critical catalyst for global efforts to cut off terrorist financing. Within weeks of the attacks, United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1373 mandated United Nations (UN) member states to criminalize and suppress terrorist financing. The Al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee, originally established in the wake of the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania under UNSCR 1267, also redoubled efforts to identify al-Qaeda and Taliban affiliates under auspices of UNSCR 1390. The Financial Action Task Force set international standards for CTF and outlined a path for global action to counterterrorism financing in October 2003. Furthermore, over the next two years, 132 nations signed the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Financing, which only four countries had signed before September 11.

These instruments provide common norms for the international community, but experts question (PDF) their effectiveness. Corresponding preventive counterterrorism measures, enforcement mandates and monitoring capabilities exist, but their real power is limited. Furthermore, as the post–September 11 momentum wanes, garnering international support to update and strengthen CTF grows more difficult. For example, Security Council UNSCR 1267 requires UN member states to freeze funds and enforce a travel ban against entities and individuals known to be associated with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Yet, a fierce controversy over a lack of transparency in the nomination of individuals to this consolidated list, and the inability of individuals to challenge their status as Taliban or al-Qaeda associates, significantly weakened its potency. European nations in particular protested that the European Convention on Human Rights dictates that individuals are entitled to due process and procedural protections before having their assets frozen as directed by UNSCR 1267. As such, in 2007, only eight names were added to the list, and significant assets have not been frozen since 2004. Other commonly cited problems with the Consolidated List include a large number of listed individuals and organizations lacking basic address information, the continued existence of deceased individuals on the list, and the lack of fundamental information related to entities associated with al-Qaeda.

Another UN body, the Counterterrorism Implementation Task Force —a coordinating arm for UN’s counterterrorism work—established a working group, Tackling the Financing of Terrorism. The group provided a series of recommendations to help countries bolster their CTF efforts. Furthermore, institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, have incorporated these recommendations into their work plans. However, the working group has been largely inactive since it released a report in 2009.

The Financial Action Task Force—an intergovernmental body of thirty-six members originally established by the Group of Seven in 1989—also responded swiftly to the events of September 11 in October 2001. It added eight special recommendations (PDF) on CTF to its forty recommendations on anti-money laundering and a ninth in 2005. These measures became the global yardstick for states’ commitment to CTF. Although FATF lacked sanctions or legal power, it published a catalog of Non-Cooperative Countries or Territories (NCCT) that would encourage large-scale divestment from the territory and generate international shame. The threat of landing on this blacklist compelled (PDF) many states to upgrade domestic legislation, ratify international CTF conventions, and pledge to monitor financial transactions. After satisfactory progress, FATF removed the last country from its list in 2006. FATF continues to maintain a list of states that weakly implement or refuse to implement its recommendations, but assignment to this newer list has not carried the potency of the original NCCT list. Furthermore, in February 2012, FATF revised its recommendations to create a stronger framework that addresses the new and temperamental threats to the international financial system. Most importantly, the revised recommendations have combined the counterterrorist financing measures with the anti-money laundering controls. The combination of the two will better address terrorist financing, and its growing link to corruption and transnational crime.

An offshoot of FATF, the Middle East and North Africa FATF (MENAFATF) has also been praised (PDF) for promoting CTF in the Gulf Region. For instance, MENAFATF achieved unprecedented success during a 2006 assessment of Syria’s CTF because the nation was more willing to cooperate with a regional organization. The success of MENAFATF is also notable given the weakness of other regional level organizations, particularly regarding matters of international security, in North Africa and the Middle East.

FATF’s ninth special recommendation directs states to establish a Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) to track cash flows, but the extent of cross-border transactions necessitates deep international coordination. One international initiative that FIUs apply to join, the Egmont Group, seeks to systematize secure information and personnel exchanges between its 120 member FIUs.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank also endeavor to monitor and support implementation of FATF recommendations. They release country reports on compliance with international CTF regimes and hold CTF workshops. In 2009, the IMF launched an international fund to underwrite costs of building institutions that track and prosecute financing of criminal activities, including terrorism. The fund currently has a budget of $25 million, which is a paltry amount in comparison to the global sum of CTF expenditures.

Despite success in mitigating the risks in formal financial systems, policing finances in informal channels is an increasingly daunting task. Hawala systems, cash couriers, and donations to charity diverted to fund terrorism are nearly impossible to track. Furthermore, terrorists have adapted to circumvent official financial channels, and operate as nonstate actors in contrast to the pre-9/11 era when most groups relied on state sponsorship. Evidence (PDF) indicates that terrorists increasingly resort to intellectual property crime (such as selling pirated DVDs), extortion, kidnapping, and drug trafficking to raise revenue. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that up to 60 percent of foreign terrorist organizations may be involved in trafficking. Hezbollah, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia are all known to be involved in the global drug trade—from overseeing production in Afghanistan to enforcing trade routes in West Africa to facilitating ties with criminal groups in South America.

To address this growing nexus between crime and terrorism, UNSCR 1456 explicitly instructs that terrorists must be prevented from harnessing criminal acts, but the resolution fails to provide any means to achieve this goal. The UN Office of Drugs and Crime administers the Global Program against Money-Laundering, Proceeds of Crime and the Financing of Terrorism (GPML). A February 2011 evaluation (PDF) evaluation of GPML noted the general success but also the limited reach and funding of the program, highlighting the particular effectiveness of a mentoring program, which stations CTF experts in developing nations to advise governments as they collect financial intelligence and prosecute illicit activities.

Stemming the Threat of WMD Terrorism

Stemming the threat of WMD terrorism: Inadequate deterrent for nonstate actors

Terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD)—nuclear, chemical, biological, and radiological weapons—is one of the most dangerous threats to contemporary global security. An attack with WMD could be catastrophic; if detonated in a major city, a nuclear weapon could instantly kill hundreds of thousands of people and leave a circle of destruction extending at least three-quarters of a mile from ground zero. Even a more contained attack would trigger widespread hysteria and grave economic consequences. Consequently, preventing terrorist use of WMD is a priority of the international counterterrorism regime. Despite the expansion of nonproliferation norms and mechanisms, as well as the great difficulty of obtaining a usable WMD, several avenues remain for nonstate actors to acquire WMDs: state proliferation, purchase, illicit technology transfer, or theft.

UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540 is the backbone of the international regime to prevent acts of terrorism using WMDs. The resolution prohibits member states from helping nonstate actors "develop, acquire, manufacture, possess, transport, transfer, or use" nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, and requires national controls for stocks and shipments. The 1540 Committee documents progress toward implementation and matches capacity-building requests with donors. The 1540 framework has received some criticism for mandating legislation through the UN Security Council instead of creating an international treaty. Some critics also argue that UNSCR 1540 lacks effective integration with arms control and nonproliferation agreements outside the UN system and that it fails to adequately define standards for the "appropriate effective" security measures it requires of states.

Although much remains to be done, the committee’s 2008 report indicated that UNSCR 1540 resulted in more countries setting legal frameworks and enforcement provisions for issues ranging from acquisition to the use of WMDs. The resolution has also led to a spike of ratifications to relevant international treaties. In April 2011, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1977, extending the 1540 Committee’s mandate for ten years, signaling confidence in its effectiveness.

Multilateral cooperation to limit nuclear weapons proliferation, specifically, has benefited from increasing attention over the past ten years. The broadest and most prominent mechanism, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), is enforced by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and regulates the transfer of nuclear materials to nonnuclear weapon states, reducing the overall geographic spread of nuclear weapons. Although the NPT is the main treaty for controlling nuclear armaments, it lacks the participation of major proliferators, including North Korea, India, and Pakistan, and does not address proliferation to nonstate actors.

In addition to the NPT, the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (Nuclear Terrorism Convention) created in 2005, criminalizes the use and intent to commit or support nuclear terror by nonstate actors. However, the treaty lacks robust participation and consistent state capacity to effectively implement the mandated legal nonproliferation structure.

At a more informal level, the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI)—led by the United States—aims to facilitate the interdiction of suspected shipments of WMD and related technology on land, sea, and air. Established in 2003, PSI involves more than ninety countries, but does not grant any legal authority for ship-boarding or interdiction beyond the UN Law of the Sea treaty and various bilateral agreements. Several nuclear weapons states do not participate in PSI, including some of the worst known proliferators, such as Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan. India and China, which also do not participate in PSI, have questioned the legality of its interdictions. Other ad hoc disarmament efforts are also gaining ground: in December 2010, for example, the United States assisted Ukraine in shipping 110 pounds of highly enriched uranium to Russia.

Just as important as containing nuclear proliferation is securing nuclear materials from theft or illegal transfer. UN Security Council Resolution 1887 requires the safeguarding of all nuclear materials by 2013, a goal complemented by the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit. Meeting this four-year deadline is a priority of the Obama administration, which has successfully cleaned out (PDF) thousands of kilograms of nuclear materials from twenty sites around the world since announcing its nuclear material "lockdown strategy" in April 2009. At the treaty level, the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material regulates international transport of nuclear material.

Along with Russia, the United States has also developed initiatives that aim to further guard nuclear material. Largely focusing on the former Soviet states, the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) facilitate capacity-building and intelligence efforts to bolster security at nuclear sites, prevent nuclear smuggling, and ensure the responsible use of nuclear technology. GTRI, along with the nongovernmental Nuclear Threat Initiative, has been highly successful in securing nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union. The United States has pledged $10 billion over ten years to a parallel initiative, the Group of Eight’s Global Partnership against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction.

States have also begun taking measures to prevent the use of nuclear weapons if they are acquired. The Container Security Initiative (CSI) is a U.S. program that aims to inspect potentially threatening containers before they enter the United States and the Second Line of Defense program enhances foreign countries’ nuclear material detection capabilities. The CSI also includes financial disincentives for nonparticipation, providing an innovative model of incentives-based counterterror initiatives. However, despite heightened border security efforts, recent smuggling attempts, such as the November 2010 arrests of two Armenians smuggling uranium through Georgia, highlight the continued threat and need for international vigilance.

Beyond nuclear terrorism, radiological attacks—the use of a nonnuclear explosion or device to spread harmful radiation—present an attractive option for terrorists. With so many sources of radiological material around the world, too little monitoring, and inadequate detection capability, preventing radiological terrorism is virtually impossible. The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration has made some efforts to secure radiological materials in the United States and abroad but, as it stands, most existing mechanisms to address radiological threats focus on response rather than prevention. The IAEA’s International Basic Safety Standards for Protection against Ionizing Radiation and the Safety of Radiation Sources, and the Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources and International Action Plan (PDF) develop preparedness and response measures to a nuclear or radiological emergency. The World Health Organization’s Radiation Emergency Medical Preparedness and Assistance Network coordinates interagency and international response to radiation emergencies, specializing in monitoring and treatment of radiation-related medical conditions.

Chemical and biological terrorism are the only types of WMD attacks that have already occurred, and have caused fewer casualties (PDF) than nuclear attacks, as evidenced by the 1995 Aum Shinrikyo sarin attack on the Tokyo subway, which killed twelve, and the 2001 anthrax scare in the United States, which killed five. Biological attacks, however, have the potential to cause large-scale casualties, and both biological and chemical weapons can cause widespread panic and have vast economic costs.

Presently, no global forum comprehensively addresses chemical and biological agents. The Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention regulate production of—and, indirectly, terrorist access to—materials that could be weaponized, but do not address the threat of nonstate actors. The Global Health Security Initiative helps strengthen global preparedness for biological threats and the World Health Organization’s Global Outbreak and Response Network offers early warning of unusual disease events. Furthermore, the United States has developed a National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats and a first-of-its-kind National Health Security Strategy. Yet the majority of these programs focus on emergency response to a biological or chemical attack rather than prevention.

Fighting Terrorism while Respecting Human Rights

Fighting terrorism while respecting human rights: Some progress, but underemphasized in post-September constructs

Promoting and protecting human rights while pursuing counterterrorism efforts continues to be a significant challenge. The international community has made some strides in reconsidering some controversial approaches enacted during the U.S.-led global war on terror, but concerns remain over how to protect populations and pursue terrorist suspects yet respect civil liberties.

Early after the September 11 attacks, counterterrorism efforts in the United Nations (UN) were undertaken primarily by the UN Security Council (UNSC), with limited consultation of the wider UN membership, human rights bodies, and norms—including the established corpus of human rights and humanitarian law.

The primary framework, Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1373, obliges countries to implement legal measures to combat terrorism, yet fails to establish limits on what these new laws should entail. Human rights were not mentioned in UNSCR 1373 beyond a reference regarding refugee status. Responding in part to the requirements of that resolution and pressure from the United States, a number of states reacted by introducing new or special counterterrorism legislation—often very quickly and with limited legislative or public debate.

Critics contend that the United States and its allies adopted counterterrorism measures that not only contravened but also undercut and weakened the standing of international human rights law. The list of resulting human rights irregularities highlighted by such critics, as well as the UN special rapporteur on issues of human rights and counterterrorism, includes enhanced interrogation and torture, extraordinary rendition, "ghost prisons," deviance from the normal judicial system and due process, and—at the forefront—indefinite detention at the U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Furthermore, some governments took the mandate of UNSCR 1373 as an opportunity to squash internal dissent. Under the alleged auspices of counterterrorism, China brutally repressed Uighur Muslims, Russia cracked down on Chechen separatists, and the Uzbek government targeted (PDF) its political opposition.

A recent report (PDF) compiled by the UN Counterterrorism Committee—tasked with overseeing implementation of UNSCR 1373—noted that with regard to human rights, "in virtually all regions there remain significant concerns that the counterterrorism measures... do not comply with those states’ obligations under international law." The report went on to address continuing concerns of torture, detention practices, misuse of emergency laws, and extrajudicial executions.

Some, however, argue that these pursuits of UNSCR 1373 were essential to freedom from fear, ensuring the safety of populations from an impending terrorist attack purposefully and indiscriminately targeting civilians. Because of the nature of the threat, information elicited in "enhanced interrogation" or permanent detention of potentially dangerous individuals could be justified by the "necessity of thwarting the next attack, particularly when such a threat might be imminent." Supporters add that the legislative role of UNSCR 1373 is necessary to tackle the global scope and transnational nature of the terrorist threats.

Another UN counterterrorist tool, UNSCR 1267, and its committee—responsible for enforcing sanctions on individuals associated with the Taliban and al-Qaeda—drew criticism for lacking adequate due process provisions. Some individuals were mistakenly listed and discovered their assets frozen and travel barred. Many also found that there was no UN mechanism to reevaluate their case. In response to this criticism, the UN passed a resolution expanding the role of the committee’s ombudsperson, whose office now has the power to independently recommend delisting of individuals or groups.

But, beginning in 2003, some corrective action began to ensure that human rights considerations were included in counterterrorism efforts. UNSCR 1456 affirmed that "states must ensure that any measure taken to combat terrorism comply with all their obligations under international law in particular international human rights, refugee, and humanitarian law." Such language has since been included in all UNSC counterterror resolutions, creating a legal buffer against human rights abuses. The UN General Assembly’s Global Counterterrorism Strategy, adopted in 2006, went further by establishing "measures to ensure respect for human rights" as one of its four main pillars—recognizing the protection of human rights and promotion of counterterrorism as complementary pursuits. The strategy promotes an unprecedented but much-needed common approach, striving to develop cohesion across all relevant UN bodies—particularly the Counterterrorism Committee (CTC) and Counterterrorism Executive Directorate (CTED)—as well as among the entirety of member states. The UN General Assembly has since spearheaded efforts for greater integration. In support of the GCT, the Counterterrorism Implementation Task Force operates a working group on protecting human rights.

Although in practice more a counterweight than a vehicle for an integrated approach, the Human Rights Council (HRC) and Office of the High Commission for Human Rights regularly promote awareness of civil liberties issues in counterterror pursuits, supporting a special rapporteur on human rights and counterterror as well as addressing such issues in the HRC’s universal periodic review process.

The UN Security Council has also begun to make small adjustments, including steps to overhaul the much maligned 1267 Committee—improving its due process procedures and appointing an ombudsperson to facilitate delisting requests. In June 2011, the ombudsperson was granted the right to recommend removal from the list, and UNSC members would have to vote unanimously to overrule their removal. Also, the key mechanisms for fostering implementation of UNSC Resolution 1373—the CTC and the CTED —have begun to address human rights on an ad hoc basis, including information exchange between CTED and UN human rights bodies and appointment of a human rights expert to the CTED.

Yet, on an institutional level, much more needs to be done. The role of the UN General Assembly is limited by its inability to pass binding resolutions. Comprehensive recognition and integration of human rights concerns by the Security Council continues to be a limited priority. Although certain UN mechanisms exist to monitor member state adherence to human rights standards, they are selective and lack enforcement capabilities. More remains to be done to more fully integrate human rights considerations into the UN’s counterterrorism-related efforts as well as to reverse the legacy of their initial omission. A report released by the special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism in 2010, recommended scrapping the foundational Security Council counterterror resolutions—1373 and 1624—and starting over with a comprehensive version that better integrates human rights.

The reluctance of some states to incorporate the human rights agenda overshadows the emerging consensus among UN member states that human rights are a fundamental part of counterterrorism. The European Union’s counterterrorism strategy, released in 2005, highlights such concerns in its mission statement—to "combat terrorism globally while respecting human rights." Likewise, the 2011 U.S. National Strategy for Counterterrorism included respect for human rights as a "U.S. core value" and listed adherence to it as the first of four core principles guiding U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Many of the critics of policies implemented during the War on Terror have noted that they may have assisted the recruitment and propaganda of terrorist groups. Reflecting this, the United States has closed its ghost prisons and outlawed torture practices. But, with the continued operation of Guantanamo Bay and other controversial measures, the U.S. and its allies have yet to emerge from the lingering fallout of post-September 11 constructs. For example, the United States passed a law (PDF) in December 2011 that gave the U.S. military jurisdiction over the investigation and prosecution of terror suspects, and codified indefinite detention for suspected terrorists.

Developing Effective Terrorism Prevention Strategies

Developing effective terrorism prevention strategies: Weak implementation, but some progress

Terrorism prevention efforts have gained much-needed attention over the last ten years, but policies and programs still suffer from uneven implementation and application of resources. Multilateral initiatives bolster state capacity to build institutions and programs that strengthen a range of activities, from policing to counterradicalization programs. Yet, in an era of nonstate sponsored terrorism, countries continue to struggle to control terrorist threats within their borders.

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC)— in conjunction with the international counterterrorism conventions—provides the normative foundation and mandate for states to adopt legislation criminalizing acts of terrorism and terrorist financing. Two UNSC bodies, the Counterterrorism Committee (CTC) and Counterterrorism Executive Directorate (CTED) monitor (PDF) member state implementation of UNSC Resolution (UNSCR) 1373 and help facilitate capacity-building aimed at enhancing state’s implementation by matching donors and imperiled states. To date, the CTC and CTED have matched providers of technical assistance—including the United States, Algeria, Turkey, and Bangladesh—with countries requiring assistance on forty-two instances.

Yet, despite these efforts, a large number of countries, including many developing nations, continue to struggle to implement basic legal mechanisms to prevent terror. The CTC and CTED cannot directly provide resources, instead relying on the formation of bilateral assistance relationships, and strain to reach out (PDF) to member states in need. Some countries in the global South have proved hesitant accept assistance associated with the Security Council’s counterterror agenda, and dispute the legislative authority of the fifteen-member body. Most detrimentally, the CTC and CTED have no enforcement capacity, making them unable to reprimand countries that are lagging behind on implementation.

Mechanisms outside the UN Security Council have added little to date. The UN Office of Drug and Crime’s Terrorism Prevention Branch supports national implementation of UN conventions, but is hampered by limited scope and funding. The Group of Eight’s Counterterrorism Action Group, a parallel initiative, suffers from weak momentum [PDF], and no longer factors into the G8’s annual summit outcome documents.

Effectively developing a legal architecture for counterterrorism through robust law enforcement, intelligence, internal security, judicial capacities, and counterradicalization programs further challenges many states. In this realm, bilateral efforts have been particularly critical to building effective institutions and training personnel, especially for countries deemed at risk. Countries like Egypt, Pakistan, Yemen, Indonesia, and Malaysia receive millions of dollars each year to bolster their criminal justice and intelligence capabilities. In 2009, the U.S. Department of Defense spent [PDF] $300 million on such assistance, more than 40 percent [PDF] going to Pakistan, Lebanon, and Yemen; and in 2008, the U.S. Department of State, through its Antiterrorism Assistance Program, distributed $140 million. The United Kingdom, European Union, Australia, and Japan offer similar programs. However, rising tensions between the United States and Pakistan have led many in Washington to reconsider the vast amounts of aid being provided to Pakistan to combat terrorism.

At the multilateral level, operational assistance is undertaken by UN bodies such as the World Customs Organization, International Civil Aviation Organization, and International Maritime Organization, which provide technical advice and training to improve border controls and port and airport security. INTERPOL and the UN Security Council also promote coordination and information sharing among national law enforcement agencies.

Successful ad hoc security partnerships have also emerged to strengthen state operational capacity to prevent terrorism. Notable initiatives like the Jakarta Center for Law Enforcement Cooperation and the Southeast Asia Regional Counterterrorism Center offer countries the opportunity to train together, share best practices, and coordinate operations. U.S.-led programs in North Africa—the Pan Sahel Initiative and its successor, the Trans-Sahara Counterterror Partnership—provide military training alongside governance instruction and civil society development. The ad hoc security partnerships described, though novel, have limited funding and commitment.

International assistance for terrorism prevention operations, however, is scattershot. Instead of a comprehensive approach to bolstering capacity across a range of countries, efforts tend to pick and choose current hotspots, potentially neglecting future areas of concern. Moreover, many analysts find bilateral capacity-building arrangements too security-minded, with military and law enforcement concerns trumping those of good governance and relevant development programming. Critics also point out that there is little oversight and monitoring of how funds are actually used by recipient governments, restricting the overall impact.

Beyond legislation and institution-building, some experts point to the need to address underdevelopment, governance issues, and political extremism or radicalization—the so-called root causes of violent ideologies that justify terrorism. In attempting to address these issues, counterradicalization (addressing the perceived grievances and challenging the narrative that underpins terror, as well as dealing with the broader conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism) and deradicalization (reforming and reintegrating those associated with terrorism back into society) programs have gained popularity over the past five years at the national level. Several countries have launched initiatives that include increasing educational opportunities for youth, fostering inter-religious dialogue and online outreach, education about religious moderation, and community-building.

Because these programs are still so new, however, their success remains untested. Although major proponents like Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Yemen report high success rates with deradicalization programs (Saudi Arabia boasts an 80 to 90 percent success rate), statistics are very difficult to verify (PDF), often inflated, and recidivism remains a major challenge, along with the difficulty of exporting programs to other countries with different cultural norms and resource bases. Counterradicalization success is even harder to quantify. A UN report (PDF) on radicalization and violent extremism that leads to terrorism noted that states "are entering relatively unknown territory" with these approaches. Although a problem in Europe, and to a lesser extent in the United States, containing the rise of domestic extremism in diaspora and select communities remains a challenge.

U.S. and International Terrorism Policy Issues


Since September 11, the United States has been the world’s foremost proponent of and most active contributor to global counterterrorism efforts. At home, it faces a growing tide of radicalization among domestic diaspora populations. Abroad, al-Qaeda and its offshoots, adaptive and resilient nonstate actors, continue to threaten international peace and security. The United States must decide what counterterror mechanisms provide the best chance of disrupting those networks. It must also decide what to do with the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay—an issue that has domestic and international ramifications.

Global counterterrorism body

Should the international community develop a global counterterrorism body?

Yes : Proponents note [PDF] that, without a strong mechanism for monitoring and enforcing standing counterterrorism norms and laws, the international regime for combating terrorism will remain fragmented. The current efforts and outcomes of the UN Counterterrorism Committee (CTC), Counterterrorism Executive Directorate (CTED), Global Counterterrorism Strategy, and Group of Eight all bring something to the table, but fail to add up to a comprehensive regime. With a global counterterror body, the actions of uncooperative states could be addressed and capacity-building efforts—currently scattered across bilateral and multilateral relationships—could be brought under a single structure. If based outside the UN Security Council, such an organization could alleviate some of the tensions between the global North and South by encouraging a comprehensive and coordinated approach that places emphasis on values shared equally among member states, including security aspects, socioeconomic factors, and the human rights agenda. Furthermore, a counterterrorism body with a broad framework and global legitimacy would likely cultivate progress toward a parallel, comprehensive convention and definition of terrorism. The U.S.-led Global Counterterrorism Forum, launching in September 2011 and including states from the global North and South, is a first step toward improved international cooperation.

No : A central international counterterrorism body would not enable a more effective multilateral approach. At the most basic—and practical level—the mandate and design of the institution would be subject to political bickering, something that could take years to resolve—as has been the case for the Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism. Indeed, without an internationally accepted definition of terrorism, a global counterterror body would be just as misguided and disputed as current efforts. Furthermore, central global bodies (other than the World Trade Organization) are generally unable to enforce international commitments, and therefore would not add any value to the global counterterrorism regime. In other areas, the existing counterterrorism bodies of the UN Security Council—CTC and CTED—already provide the role of a "friendly facilitator" [PDF], by monitoring and reporting on national counterterrorism strategies, and matching donors and recipients where needed. The international community could consider strengthening their resources, which are vastly inadequate.

Finally, counterterrorism efforts will primarily remain in the domain of national governments. A new counterterrorism body, unless developed under the purview of the UN Security Council, is unlikely to have the legally binding mandate to force action among states, and issues of political will and state capacity would likely continue to hamper global efforts.

Role of the G8

Should the Group of Eight redouble its counterterrorism efforts?

Yes : The Group of Eight’s (G8) counterterrorism initiatives—mainly the Counterterrorism Action Group (CTAG), the Roma-Lyon Group, and the Secure and Facilitated International Travel Initiative (SAFTI)—add much to the international counterterrorism regime, offering the most promising multilateral efforts outside of the United Nations (UN). In particular, CTAG is vital to global implementation of Security Council Resolution 1373, and the work of the Counterterrorism Executive Directorate, leveraging the unparalleled resources of the G8 to facilitate capacity-building in at-risk states. The Roma-Lyon Group promotes law enforcement cooperation among those most involved in global counterterror efforts. With the newly announced (PDF) Global Counterterrorism Forum, the G8 will seek to strengthen the international consensus around counterterrorism by including countries from the global North and South, provide an additional venue for cooperation, and further the UN Global Counterterrorism Strategy. When at peak operability, the G8’s initiatives added substance to the international counterterror regime, both inside and outside the group. Rejuvenating and increasing the resources of these efforts would boost terrorism prevention in both member states and the world at large.

No : The G8’s counterterror initiatives currently suffer from declining commitment and momentum for reasons that would be difficult to overcome in a renewed effort. Institutionally, G8 efforts lack continuity because of the group’s structure and rotating presidency. The restricted membership of the G8 limits outreach, and has curtailed the group’s legitimacy in the global South—vital partners in global counterterror efforts —thereby undercutting outreach efforts like the Global Counterterrorism Forum . Even within the G8 membership, political interest and support is faltering. Furthermore, the gains to date have been narrow in scope. SAFTI has produced meaningful progress on travel document security, but the measure of CTAG’s contribution to global implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1373 is questionable. The cooperation among law enforcement agencies provided by the Roma-Lyon Group is not a broad enough platform for promoting global terror prevention strategies. Putting more resources into these channels would be of little value when unrestricted bilateral approaches with nonmember states offer a more direct avenue to capacity-building, and law enforcement and intelligence relationships.

Furthermore, the influence of the G8 on the global stage has been usurped by the up-and-coming and more inclusive Group of Twenty (G20). Although the G20 has yet to seriously address terrorism, its expanding mandate may soon cover security issues.

Drone strikes

Should the United States continue to use drone strikes?

Yes : Proponents contend that drone strikes represent the best option for addressing ungoverned areas and otherwise unreachable terrorist safe havens. The United States can little afford to do nothing in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) of Pakistan, where al-Qaeda, the Haqqani network, and Taliban leadership are known to hide. Additionally, drone strikes provide geographic flexibility, allowing targeted attacks in Somalia and Yemen, where the United States would not otherwise have operational capabilities. Indeed, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Leon Panetta has noted that using drones "is the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al-Qaeda leadership." The only practical alternative—Pakistani military offensives—may cause more collateral damage than drone strikes. Although some have criticized the legality of such strikes, U.S. Department of State legal adviser Harold Koh has said that "U.S. targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war."

No : Opponents of the U.S. drone strike policy fall into five camps. The first contends that the tactic does not reduce terrorism but instead increases it. Polling (PDF) shows that the strikes are wildly unpopular in the FATA and Pakistan at large—isolating the population and potentially creating more terrorists than they kill. Lethal incidents of friendly fire, such as those that occurred in November 2011 when twenty-four Pakistani soldiers were killed by a U.S. airstrike, further antagonize Pakistan’s citizens and government. The second group believes that targeting only leadership does not effectively dismantle terrorist organizations. The United States has killed multiple terrorists thought to be "number three" in al-Qaeda’s leadership, to little noticeable effect in the group’s operational capability. The third cohort says that the practice is a violation of international law, citing Pakistani sentiment that the strikes are a violation of their sovereignty and a United Nations report that states (PDF) that it is dangerous to set a precedent of allowing remotely controlled targeted killings. The fourth camp argues that drone strikes are just a substitute for developing a real strategy to deal with the operation of terrorist networks in ungoverned areas. A final argument has arisen in the wake of a Special Forces operation that led to the death of Osama bin Laden. Many point to this success and note that, by using a targeted operation instead of a drone strike, the United States was able to minimize collateral casualties and destruction, and positively identify the body of the terrorist.

Deradicalization versus counterterrorism

Should the United States prioritize preventive deradicalization and counterterror initiatives?

Yes : Proponents of deradicalization and counterradicalization initiatives note [PDF] that effectively combating the spread of extremism will require targeting popular support and stopping the growth of radical ideologies at their core. As such, the United States should encourage programs that offer a more moderate alternative to those at risk for terrorist recruitment, and work to address the conditions that sustain terrorist networks. In the 2010 National Security Strategy, President Obama suggests accomplishing this necessary objective through a "whole of government approach." Backers of this strategy argue that the United States has lost the messaging war with violent extremists and must take steps to develop [PDF] a counter narrative. The United States should also aim to get terrorists to quit, and reform captured terrorists, by improving deradicalization programs. Efforts to build foreign counterterrorism capacity, such as the State Department’s Antiterrorism Assistance Program, are cost-effective measures that help address extremism before it arrives on U.S. shores.

No : Opponents of this strategy argue that capturing and killing terrorists, heading off terrorist plots with law enforcement, and defending infrastructure against attack, have been tangibly successful strategies. Deradicalization and preventive counterterror programs, in contrast, are less practical uses of U.S. resources. Some nations with deradicalization and counterradicalization programs are not entirely reliable—Yemen (PDF), for instance, has released extremists from its rehabilitation programs that have gone on to lead terrorist operations. Furthermore, government-led initiatives may not be as effective as programs led by victims of terrorism or former terrorists.

Bilateralism or global institutions

Should the United States prioritize bilateral counterterror relationships over the efforts of global institutions?

Yes : Proponents argue that bilateral agreements allow the United States and its allies to more directly pressure foreign partners, instead of relying on global norms that lack enforcement. These agreements help foreign countries modernize their counterterrorism tools, tying aid levels to standards of performance and transparency. Bilateral partnerships take advantage of successful counterterror efforts in countries such as Indonesia and Algeria, and provide a cost-effective way to quell the spread of extremism locally, regionally, and internationally. Through training and funding, the United States can develop bilateral solutions to its national security concerns and avoid direct military measures. The efforts of global institutions to combat terrorism are hampered by political wavering, and the weak mandates of assorted—not comprehensive—conventions and resolutions.

No : Some argue (PDF) that global institutions are the best way to address terrorism at large, even if they are not particularly effective at addressing individual terrorist groups. Ending terrorism requires addressing the environments and mindsets that promote extremism over generations. Only a global institution can affect such change over time, developing social, normative, and legal solutions to the litany of conditions related to the spread of terrorism. Furthermore, the legitimacy and nonmilitary nature of the United Nation’s counterterror mechanisms avoid further radicalization.

Prosecute terrorists in U.S. federal courts or military commissions

Should the United States prosecute terrorists in U.S. federal courts rather than military commissions?

Yes : Proponents of this policy note the ideological advantages of moving trials to federal courts. Advocates contend that trying terrorists in military tribunals elevates them to status of warrior— an undeserving moniker—and that trying them in civilian courts lowers their prestige and projects a more confident United States. Those who support civilian trials for terrorists also argue that the military system is conducive to harsh interrogation techniques and unfair treatment and that a lack of transparency leads to questionable verdicts—handing extremists a global propaganda victory and recruitment tool. On the other hand, civilian courts are speedy, transparent, and dispense firm justice. Proponents add that potential legal barriers to doing so—that a detainee’s right to a speedy trial may have been violated, and any subsequent civilian trial would be dismissed—have been ruled against in the U.S. District Court. Furthermore, domestic courts have proven efficient and capable of safely trying accused terrorists, as demonstrated by the conviction of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab for his attempt to blow up an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009.

No : Opponents of this policy believe that suspected terrorists should not be given the legal rights of U.S. citizens. Furthermore, by limiting hearsay evidence, not allowing statements made under torture, and protecting confidential documents, military commissions strike the correct balance between ensuring the rights of the accused and guaranteeing national security—a balance that would be otherwise lost in a public trial. Opponents further posit that evidence rules in civilian courts are too limited, and as a result, terrorism cases run the risk of being thrown out, further endangering the public by releasing dangerous individuals.

Guantanamo Bay

Should the United States close the prison at Guantanamo Bay?

Yes : The prison at Guantanamo Bay, some argue, has done irreparable damage to the United States’ international standing with regard to the rule of law, human rights, and counterterror efforts. Critics of the prison’s operation cite violations of due process and greater civil liberties that go against the U.S. constitution, American values, and obligations to international human rights and humanitarian law. Furthermore, this negative attention has led Guantanamo Bay to become a lightning rod for anti-Western sentiment and a recruiting tool for terrorist networks. As long as the prison remains open, the United States will not be able to restore its reputation (PDF) in the era following the global war on terror. Closing the prison will boost U.S. global leadership and make it a more effective player in global efforts to combat terrorism. Congress should allow the Guantanamo prisoners to be tried through the domestic criminal system, which has ultimately proven capable of delivering justice in terrorism cases without compromising national security.

No : Proponents of keeping Guantanamo Bay open cite its continued usefulness to national security and the lack of viable alternatives. Guantanamo Bay holds dangerous individuals, the fate of whom would be uncertain if the prison were to be closed. Debate continues over alternate venues for trying and holding Guantanamo detainees, and some—most notably those who pose the greatest danger or cannot be tried due to evidentiary limitations—will need to be held indefinitely somewhere. Returning detainees to foreign countries for trial or release would likely result in further violations of human rights, or resurfacedsecurity concerns. Furthermore, closing Guantanamo Bay will not be a panacea for the reputation of the United States abroad. The continued operation of detention facilities, like those at Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan, and other counterterrorism pursuits will sustain a negative image of the United States in some parts of the world.

Recent Developments

Nigerian groups added to terrorist blacklist

December 2013

On December 18, 2103, the U.S. State Department added the al-Qaeda affiliated Boko Haram and Ansaru militant groups of Nigeria to its designated list of foreign terrorist organizations. Under this designation, U.S. companies and individuals are banned from all business and financial transactions with the two groups, and any assets in the United States will be frozen. Both groups have been linked to violent and deadly attacks against military personal and civilians, as well as maintaining ties to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al-Shabab in Somalia.

New terrorism prevention fund

September 2013

During the 4th ministerial meeting of the Global Counterterrorism Forum on September 27, 2013, the United States and Turkey announced the creation of a Global Fund for Community Engagement and Resilience. The fund will be the “first-ever public-private global fund to support local, grass-roots efforts to counter violent extremism in all of its forms and manifestations.” The fund is anticipated to raise more than $200 million in the decade after its establishment to support nongovernmental institutions, civil society groups, or local government bodies with a focus on countering violent extremism at the community-level.

EU names Hezbollah terrorist group

July 2013

On July 22, 2013, the European Union designated the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist group on its terrorism blacklist. The Lebanese Shiite military group has been involved in sending fighters to the civil conflict in Syria and was linked to a deadly bus bombing in Bulgaria, prompting the EU’s decision. This designation may lead to the freezing of any assets Hezbollah's military wing may have in Europe. 

Last Shining Path leader sentenced to life in prison

June 2013

On June 7, 2013, Florindo Flores, the last remaining original leader of the Shining Path guerilla insurgent group, was found guilty of terrorism, drug trafficking and money laundering, and sentenced to life in prison and a fine of $183 million. Flores, who went by the title Comrade Artemio, was found guilty of ordering the execution of a number of civilians, police and soldiers. The Shining Path attempted to overthrow the government in Peru in the 1980s and 1990s, and have since become involved in illegal drug trafficking. The group is designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S., the European Union, Canada, and Peru.

NSA spying scandal

June 2013

On June 6, 2013, the Guardian published classified information on the National Security Agency (NSA)’s PRISM program, revealing the collection of phone records of hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens by the U.S. government. PRISM, a counterterrorism system set up by the NSA in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, is an intelligence system used to collect and examine data for anti-terrorism purposes. However, the published information, leaked by Edward Snowden a former contractor of the CIA, exposed the extent to which this program was used to collect data from private U.S. citizens. The data collection extended beyond the United States to private citizens around the world, including personal communications of international leaders ranging from the personal cell phone of German chancellor Angela Merkel to Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, inspiring outrage around the world. The revelations diminished trust in the U.S. government and the legitimacy of its global counterterrorism operations and could thus jeopardize future intelligence cooperation that is vital for fighting terrorism.

PKK withdrawal from Turkey

May 2013

On May 8, 2013, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)—designated as a terrorist group by the United States and European Union—began a historic withdrawal of its troops from Turkey, ending nearly thirty years of conflict with the Turkish government, which has cost over forty thousand lives. Abdullah Ocalan, the incarcerated leader of the PKK, declared a cease-fire in March 2013 after engaging in secret talks with the Turkish government, and called for his troops to withdraw from Turkey to the PKK training camps in Kurdish controlled Northern Iraq.

Boston marathon bombing

April 2013

On April 15, 2013, two pressure cooker bombs exploded thirteen seconds apart near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and gruesomely injuring an additional 264—many of whom had to have limbs amputated. The attacks were allegedly carried out by Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, brothers of Chechen origin who immigrated to the United States in 2002 and later became radicalized. In the days following the blast, Tamerlan was killed in a shootout with the police and later Dzhokhar was found hiding in a boat on a trailer in Watertown, Massachusetts. He admitted to carrying out the attacks in the name of radical Islam and claimed he and his brother were planning to carry out attacks in Times Square in New York. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was charged with the use of a weapon of mass destruction and one count of malicious destruction of property resulting in death. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

Leak shows U.S. government justifying killing of Americans

March 2013

On February 5, 2013, NBC News published a Department of Justice confidential white paper detailing the legal framework that would allow the U.S. government to carry out "a lethal operation directed against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qaeda or an associated force." The white paper was written in the context of U.S. drone strikes in the U.S. counterterrorism campaign, but has raised questions of the legality of targeting citizens, human rights, the right to trial, and the effectiveness of safeguards on executive power.

Options for Strengthening the Global Counterterrorism Regime


U.S. and international action are needed to ensure the success of global counterterrorism efforts. These recommendations reflect the views of Stewart M. Patrick, director of the International Institutions and Global Governance program, Mark Lagon, Council on Foreign Relations’ adjunct senior fellow for human rights, Micah Zenko, Council on Foreign Relations’ fellow on conflict prevention, as well as those that authors Bruce Jones, Carlos Pascual, and Stephen John Stedman cite in Power and Responsibility (Brookings Institution Press, 2009).

Build capacity

Build capacity in developing countries.

Cultivating the ability of underdeveloped nations to combat terrorism within their borders is critical because domestic institutions are best attuned to specific domestic challenges, and nations are often reluctant to allow international bodies to encroach on their sovereignty. The Organization for Economic Development (OECD) nations provide the lion’s share of support for building national capacity, but most major donors currently provide development or military assistance. The United States and other UN Security Council (UNSC) members should seek to raise awareness for nonmilitary security funding that often falls into this gap between development and military spending but is essential to global counterterrorism efforts. Additionally, United Nations member states should push to bolster the Counterterrorism Committee (CTC) established by UNSCR 1373. The CTC has not demonstrated a willingness, as a subsidiary body composed of all sitting Security Council members, to refer cases of noncompliance. Moreover, it lacks adequate financing to conduct visits, and expert personnel to effectively implement its mission to detect deficits in counterterrorism capacity and match resources with needs.

Technology and Law Enforcement

Support international technological cooperation and law enforcement.

In the wake of September 11 and counterterror efforts since then, INTERPOL has built an international database that allows member states to maintain a list of global terrorism suspects and share counterterrorism intelligence. However, underdeveloped states are unable to use and contribute to the system. The United States should seek to strengthen the capacity of nonmembers so that they can be integrated into the system. Furthermore, the United States and other Group of Eight (G8) members should establish a permanent body to monitor implementation of the law-enforcement and border-security standards recommended by the G8’s Roma-Lyons (R/L) panel of experts. The emerging Global Counterterrorism Forum, announced by the G8 at the Deauville summit but slated to include nearly thirty global partners, may fill this role.

Strengthen nuclear security

Build nuclear security norms and improve monitoring . 

Although a basic global governance framework for nuclear security is in place, it lacks adequately clear standards and effective means of monitoring compliance. The United States should advocate translating UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540 into concrete and legally binding requirements for nuclear security. UNSCR 1540 mandates that all states take "appropriate effective" nuclear security measures, but the term appropriate effective is not defined. The United States should propose that it be interpreted as adequate to defend against demonstrated threats from terrorists and criminals, and then build international consensus around this definition. Moreover, the international community should collaborate to develop mechanisms for ensuring that states are following through on multilateral commitments to nuclear security without compromising requisite secrecy—as through reporting, peer review, and International Atomic Energy Agency inspections.

Link human rights and counterterrorism

Link the fight against terrorism with the protection of human rights . 

United Nations members should initiate efforts in the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council to establish that acts of terrorism represent gross violations of human rights, because they undermine the right to life, freedom from fear, and civilian immunity from deadly force. Similarly, in its policy positions and negotiations within the UN Security Council (UNSC), the United States and other UNSC member states can play a leadership role to deepen this norm and thereby strengthen the legitimacy of human rights laws in counterterror efforts. This would allow nations to more effectively engender broader cooperation to fight both terrorism and counterterror policies that violate human rights law.

In addition, the United States and other UNSC members should simultaneously work to accelerate the evolving consensus that the Security Council can and should involve itself in human rights, particularly when it is linked to global peace and security. UNSC Resolution 1973 authorizing the use of force in Libya and the developing norm of "responsibility to protect" exemplify such UNSC action that considers human rights in the context of counterterrorism. Similarly, the Security Council should seek to diminish the legitimacy of coercive force used by states against minorities under the pretext of counterterrorism.

Fortify compliance and enforcement

Leverage institutions and political pressure to strengthen compliance.

United Nations (UN) members can address enforcement gaps in two specific ways. First, they need to integrate monitoring of enforcement into the scope of Counterterrorism Executive Directorate responsibilities. Currently, CTED’s mandate is limited to ensuring that states have enacted appropriate legislation and institutions. Second, the United States and other UN member states could create a body to investigate member state compliance with international counterterror policies. Published reports after these investigations would give more weight to the biannual mandatory review of the UN Global Counterterrorism Strategy. Additionally, as demonstrated by the success of the Financial Action Task Force’s published list of noncompliant countries, countries can be motivated to improve their counterterror regimes by global recognition of their noncompliance and subsequent political pressure.

Core Documents



For more information, including membership; mandate; gaps and weaknesses; implementation, compliance and enforcement; and U.S. policy stance, download the full report. 

League of Nations Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of Terrorism (1937)

Would have mandated that states refrain from supporting terrorism, criminalize and punish the act of terrorism, as well as regulate tools of terrorism such as arms and fraudulent passports. Defined terrorism as "criminal acts directed against a state and intended or calculated to create a state of terror in the minds of particular persons, or a group of persons, or the general public."

Convention on Offenses and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft (Tokyo Convention) (1963)

Calls on states to develop jurisdiction over acts that "may or do jeopardize the safety of the aircraft or of persons or property therein." Empowers the aircraft commander and crew to take measures to ensure the safety of, and maintain order aboard, the aircraft during the commission or lead up to an offense.

Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft (Hague Convention) (1970)

Charges states with criminalizing attempts to "unlawfully, by force or threat thereof, or by any other form of intimidation, seize, or exercise control" of an aircraft.

Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation (Montreal Convention) (1971)

Expands on offenses delineated in Tokyo and Hague conventions. Charges state parties with criminalizing the following acts: a) violence that threatens the safety of an aircraft or those onboard; b) destruction or damage to an aircraft when in flight; c) destruction or damage to an aircraft when being serviced; d) destruction or damage to aircraft navigation facilities; and e) conveying false information that may threaten the safety of a flight.

Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence at Airports Serving International Civil Aviation, Supplementary to the Montreal Convention (Airport Protocol) (1988)

Extends offenses under Montreal Convention to acts at an airport serving international aviation.

Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Internationally Protected Persons (1973)

Requires state parties to criminalize the kidnapping, murder, attack, or threat on an internationally protected person. Internationally protected person defined as "a head of state, minister for foreign affairs, representative or official of a state or international organization who is entitled to special protection in a foreign state, and his or her family."

International Convention against the Taking of Hostages (Hostage Convention) (1979)

Defines hostage-taking and requires states to criminalize and penalize the taking of hostages for political purposes. States must take all measures to secure the release of hostages held on their territory and prosecute or extradite offenders. Notes that hostage-taking is a "manifestation of international terrorism."

Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (Nuclear Materials Convention) (1980)

Provides legal framework to ensure that nuclear materials are not diverted from legitimate use for illicit purposes. Requires states to protect nuclear materials in international transit. A 2005 amendment would extend the convention’s requirements to cover civilian nuclear materials in domestic storage and transport, and criminalize sabotage against nuclear facilities. Established a framework for cooperation between states to recover stolen nuclear materials.

Amendments to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (2005)

Extends the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (1980) to require protection of civilian stockpiles.

Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (Maritime Convention) (1988)

Charges state parties with criminalizing the following acts: a) seizing control of a ship by force or intimidation; b) violence against persons on board a ship if it threatens the safety of the vessel; c) destroying or damaging a ship; d) placing a device on a ship to destroy or damage it; e) destroying or damaging maritime navigational facilities; f) conveying false information that may threaten the safety of a ship.

Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf (1988)

Extends the Maritime Convention to acts committed on a fixed platform—an artificial island or an oil platform.

Protocol to the Protocol on Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf (2005)

Builds on the Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf. Specifies in greater detail which acts targeting fixed platforms located on the continental shelf are considered unlawful and subject to the original protocol’s jurisdiction.

Protocol to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (2005)

Modifies the Maritime Convention to commit states to criminalize use of a ship to facilitate a terrorist act, transport by ship of materials related to terrorism, or transport of terrorists.

Convention on the Marking of Plastic Explosives for the Purpose of Detection (1991)

Designed to control and limit the use of unmarked and undetectable plastic explosives. State parties must prohibit and prevent the manufacture of unmarked explosives, and ensure that all existing plastic explosives are destroyed, consumed, or marked within three years. For military explosives, fifteen years. UN response to Lockerbie bombings (1988).

International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (1997)

Charges states with criminalizing the delivery, placement, discharge, or detonation of an explosive or other device in a public area, government facility, public transportation system, or infrastructure node with the intent to cause either a) death and injury or b) destruction resulting in economic loss.

International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (1999)

Charges states with criminalizing the direct or indirect collection or provision of funds with the intent of supporting an act delineated in previous international counterterrorism conventions or otherwise intending to "cause death or serious bodily injury... to intimidate a population or to compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act." Further directs states to freeze and seize funds to be used for the commission of such acts or proceeds resulting from such acts.

International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005)

Charges states with criminalizing the following acts: a) unlawful possession of radioactive material or a device with intent to cause injury, death, or substantial damage; b) use of radioactive material or a device, or use or damage to a nuclear facility with intent to cause injury, death, or substantial damage, or to compel a person, state or individual organization. Further tasks states with cooperating among parties to prevent such acts from occurring and ensure the security of confiscated radioactive materials in accordance with International Atomic Energy Agency standards.

2005 World Summit Outcome Document (2005)

Condemns acts of terrorism "in all its forms and manifestations." Pushes for the creation of a comprehensive counterterrorism treaty.

European Union Counterterrorism Strategy (2005)

Offers four pillars—prevent, protect, pursue, and respond—for cooperation among states and internationally: Prevent radicalization and recruitment (PDF), address conditions conducive to terrorism, police and monitor conflict zones, and develop moderate dialogue. Protect key infrastructure; bolster border and transportation security; and strengthen visa systems. Pursue and disrupt terrorism and its support and financing through law enforcement cooperation, information sharing, and freezing assets. Respond by sharing information and resources, assessing capabilities to react, and compensating victims.

UN General Assembly Global Counterterrorism Strategy (2006)

Plan of action offering fifty steps and recommendations under four pillars: addressing the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism; preventing and combatting terrorism; building states’ capacity to prevent and combat terrorism and strengthening the role of the UN system in this regard; ensuring respect for human rights. Addresses root causes as well as operational enforcement measures. State parties commit to taking action to prevent terrorism, to consider acceding to existing counterterror conventions, and implementing all UN Security Council stipulations pertaining to terrorism.

UN Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism (In drafting stages)

Would legally define terrorism and terrorist acts. Would bring together existing counterterror frameworks in a binding, comprehensive document

UN Resolutions



For more information, including membership; mandate; gaps and weaknesses; implementation, compliance and enforcement; and U.S. policy stance, download the full report. 

United Nations Security Council Resolution 286 (1970)

Appeals for the release of all hostages taken in hijackings on international flights. Requests states to enact legal measures to prevent hijackings. First UN Security Council resolution to address terrorism.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 579 (1985)

Condemns acts of hostage-taking and calls for the release of all hostages. Calls on states to take measures to resolve instances of hostage-taking on their territory and to ratify International Convention against the Taking of Hostages.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 635 (1989)

Tasks the International Civil Aviation Organization, along with other international organizations, to establish an international regime for the marking of plastic explosives.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 731 (1992)

Condemns the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 and the subsequent loss of life. Orders Libya to cooperate in the investigation and extradite suspects in the bombing, halt its support for terrorism and compensate the victims of the attack. Led to UN Security Council Resolution 748 to take action against Libya.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 748 (1992)

Establishes sanctions on Libya following that country’s failure to respond to the demands of UN Security Council Resolution 731, which required Libya to cooperation in the investigation of the Lockerbie bombing. Calls on the Libyan government to cease support of terrorist activities.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 883 (1993)

Citing Libya’s continued failure to abide by UN Security Council resolutions 731 and 748, calls on member states to freeze funds associated with the Libyan government. Calls for the closing of all Libyan airline offices and an embargo on materials to maintain airplanes. Also stopped sale of oil-industry related equipment.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1054 (1996)

Demands that Sudan extradite the individuals implicated in the 1995 assassination attempt on Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and cease its support of terrorist activities.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1192 (1998)

Demands Libyan compliance with UN Security Council Resolutions resolutions 748 and 883. Declares support for the trial of two Lockerbie bombing suspects in a Scottish court based in the Netherlands. Calls on Libyan government to cooperate in the trial.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1198 (1998)

Condemns August 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Calls on states to actively cooperate in the investigation of the bombings, and for states to develop practical measures to prevention, prosecution, and punishment of terrorist acts.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267 (1999)

Calls for Taliban to cease support and harboring of terrorists and extradite Osama bin Laden to a country where he has been indicted. Imposes travel ban and economic sanctions on the Taliban and associated entities and individuals. UN Security Council Resolution 1333 broadened the sanctions regime to cover al-Qaeda as well.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1269 (1999)

Condemns "all acts, methods, and practices of terrorism as criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, in all their forms and manifestations." Calls on states to ratify counterterrorism conventions.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1333 (2000)

Reiterates demands made in UN Security Council Resolution 1267 for the Taliban to cease support of terrorism and extradite Osama bin Laden. Imposes a weapons ban on the Taliban, calls for states to freeze financial assets of Osama bin Laden and those associated with him.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1368 (2001)

"Condemns in the strongest terms the horrifying terrorist attacks which took place on 11 September 2001 in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania and regards such acts, like any act of international terrorism, as a threat to international peace and security."

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373 (2001)

Establishes a global counterterrorism framework. Obliges member states to criminalize financial and other assistance for terrorist activities; deny financial support and safe havens for terrorists; and share information about groups planning terrorist attacks. Calls on states to ratify the then thirteen conventions on terrorism.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1377 (2001)

Recognizing that states will need assistance in implementing the stipulations of UN Security Council Resolution 1373, recommends they apprise the UN Counterterrorism Committee (CTC) of their needs. Suggests the CTC explore best practices, capacity assistance programs, and cooperation with multilateral, regional, and subregional organizations.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1438 (2002)

Condemns 2002 bombing of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia. Urges states to work together and in implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1373 to investigate and prosecute those responsible.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1440 (2002)

Condemns 2002 hostage-taking in Moscow, Russia. Urges states to work together and in implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1373 to investigate and prosecute those responsible.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1450 (2002)

Condemns 2002 bombing of a hotel in Kikambala, Kenya, and the destruction of an Israeli airliner leaving Mombassa, Kenya. Urges states to work together and in implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1373 to investigate and prosecute those responsible.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1456 (2003)

Declaratory statement reiterating the need for international commitment to address terrorism. Result of a high level meeting of the UN Security Council. Requires for the first time that national counterterror legislation and other measures be in accordance with international human rights law.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1465 (2003)

Condemns February 2003 bombing in Bogota, Colombia. Urges states to work together and in implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1373 to investigate and prosecute those responsible.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1506 (2003)

Lifts sanctions on Libya imposed by UN Security Council resolutions 748 and 883.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1516 (2003)

Condemns November 2003 bombing in Istanbul, Turkey. Urges states to work together and in implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1373 to investigate and prosecute those responsible.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1530 (2004)

Condemns March 2004 attacks in Madrid, Spain "perpetrated by the terrorist group ETA." Urges states to work together and in implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1373 to investigate and prosecute those responsible.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1535 (2004)

Divides the UN Counterterrorism Committee (CTC) into the Plenary (composed by the members of the Security Council) and the Bureau. Bureau to be assisted by the CTC Executive Directorate (CTED)—established by UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR)1535—with the mandate of monitoring UNSCR 1373.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 (2004)

Requires member states to pass national legislation to prohibit transfer of weapons of mass destruction-related material to nonstate actors, and to prohibit financial or other assistance.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1566 (2004)

Calls on member states to cooperate on adopting a comprehensive international terrorism convention. Further calls for member states to implement the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 1373, adopt the standing counterterror conventions, and cooperate with regional organizations. Offers a working list of terrorist acts. Is UN response to the massacre of Russian school children in Beslan.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1611 (2005)

Condemns July 2005 bombings in London, United Kingdom. Urges states to work together and in implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1373 to investigate and prosecute those responsible.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1617 (2005)

Expands the definition of those who can be considered as associates of al-Qaeda under UN Security Council Resolution 1267 sanctions regime to: a)participants in the financing, planning, or perpetration with, under the name of, on behalf of, or in support of al-Qaeda; b)supplying, selling, or transferring arms to al-Qaeda; and c)recruiting for al-Qaeda.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1624 (2005)

Calls on states to pass legislation criminalizing incitement to commit acts of terror; to deny safe haven to individuals suspected of inciting terrorism; and to expand international efforts to "enhance dialogue and broaden understanding among civilizations."

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1730 (2006)

Establishes a hub within UN secretariat for receiving de-listing requests with regard to UN Security Council Resolution 1267 and the consolidated list of individuals and entities associated with al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1904 (2009)

Establishes an ombudsperson to facilitate delisting requests regarding UN Security Council Resolution 1267 and the consolidated list. Sets a six-month period for requests to be resolved. Removes the focal point established in UN Security Council Resolution 1730 from this responsibility.

Regional Core Documents



For more information, including membership; mandate; gaps and weaknesses; implementation, compliance and enforcement; and U.S. policy stance, download the full report. 

Organization of American States Convention to Prevent and Punish Acts of Terrorism Taking the Form of Crimes Against Persons and Related Extortion that are of International Significance (1971)

Charges state parties to take all measures necessary to "prevent and punish acts of terrorism, especially kidnapping, murder, and other assaults against the life... of those persons to whom the state has the duty according to international law to give special protection, as well as extortion in connection with those crimes."

European Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism (1977)

Charges state parties with criminalizing acts of terrorism as defined by the Hague Convention and the Montreal Convention, in addition to the following acts: a) offenses against internationally protected persons; b) kidnapping, hostage-taking, or serious unlawful detention; and c) offenses using a bomb, grenade, rocket, automatic firearm, letter or parcel bomb.

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Regional Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism (1987)

Calls for states to "take effective measures to ensure that perpetrators of terroristic acts do not escape prosecution and punishment." States to establish jurisdiction over acts established in the Hague Convention, Montreal Convention, and Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Internationally Protected Persons, in addition to the following acts: murder, manslaughter, assault, kidnapping, taking hostages, and offenses related to firearms, weapons, explosives, and dangerous substances as means of indiscriminate violence.

Arab Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism (1998)

Prohibits state parties from organizing, financing, or committing terrorist acts. Calls on states to prevent use of their territories for terrorist purposes and suppress perpetrators through legal means. Defines terrorism as "any act or threat of violence, whatever its motives or purposes... seeking to sow panic among people, causing fear by harming them, or placing their lives, liberty or security in danger." Prohibits state parties from organizing, financing, or committing acts of terrorism. Outlines measures for the prevention and suppression of terror.

Organization of African Unity (OAU) Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism (Algiers Convention) (1999)

Charges state parties with criminalizing acts of terror within the state and from being planned within the state. Defines terrorism as "a violation of the criminal laws...which may endanger the life, physical integrity or freedom of, or cause serious injury or death to, any person, any number or group of persons or causes or may cause damage to public or private property, natural resources, environmental or cultural heritage." Prohibits state parties from engaging in the support, financing, organizing, incitement, or committing of terrorist acts.

Treaty on Cooperation among States Members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in Combating Terrorism (1999)

Commits state parties to prevent, uncover, halt, and investigate acts of terrorism. Terrorism is defined as: acts a) of violence or the threat of violence; b) that destroy or threaten to destroy property as to endanger lives; c) that harm property in order to danger society; d) that threaten the life of public figures; or e) that attack internationally protected individuals. Also addresses "technological terrorism," including the use of weapons of mass destruction.

Convention of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) on Combating International Terrorism (1999)

Commits that state parties will not execute or participate in organizing, financing, supporting, or instigating terrorism. Defines terrorism as acts or threats of violence meant to imperil people, destroy public property, or endanger a national resource, international facilities, or disrupt the stability, unity, or territorial integrity of any state. Charges states with implementing preventive and combative measures against terrorism, including prohibiting the use of their territory for planning and other terrorist purposes, and arresting and prosecuting perpetrators of terrorism. Notes that Islamic law condemns violence.

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Declaration on Joint Action to Counter Terrorism (2001)

Condemns attacks of September 11, 2001. Calls on state parties to strengthen national counterterrorism measures, bolster cooperation among states, facilitate information exchange, and enhance regional capacity-building programs.

Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism, and Extremism (2001)

Calls for state parties to cooperate, as well as develop national mechanisms, in prevention, search, and suppression of terrorist acts. Terrorism defined as deeds aimed at causing civilian deaths or causes material damage with the purpose of intimidation of the population, breaching public security, or coercing the government. Also offers parallel definitions of separatism and extremism. Calls for a regional counterterrorism structure.

Organization of American States (OAS) Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism (2002)

Charges state parties with developing a legal framework to prevent, combat, and eradicate terrorist financing; seize and confiscate funds derived from terrorist purposes; and stop money laundering practices. Further commits states to cooperate in matters of law enforcement and border enforcement.

Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) Convention against Terrorism (2004)

Charges state parties with coordinating efforts to prevent, combat, and suppress terrorism, its support, and its financing. Tasks states with developing jurisdiction over terrorist offenses. Defines a terrorist act as a threat or violent act aimed at terrorizing or imperiling people; endangering the environment, public or private property, or the environment; or attacking a national resource. Calls for a combined database to facilitate the suppression of terrorism. Outlines capacity-building, legal assistance, extradition, and information sharing procedures for cooperation among states.

Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism (2005)

Calls on state parties to cooperate through information exchange, improving physical protection of people and facilities, and development of emergency planning. Charges state parties to develop legal measures criminalizing the incitement to commit a terrorist offense, recruitment, and training for terrorism.

Council of Europe Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure, and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime and on the Financing of Terrorism (2005)

Commits state parties to adopt national legislation to investigate, confiscate, and freeze funds that finance acts of terrorism as well as the proceeds from criminal acts. Calls on states to establish financial intelligence units.

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Convention on Counterterrorism (2007)

Commits state parties to cooperate in efforts to prevent terrorist acts, the financing of terrorism, and the transit of terrorists among states. Calls for capacity building and mutual technical assistance, increased information sharing, and development of capabilities to deal with weapons of mass destruction. Also provides for sharing of best practices on rehabilitation, mutual legal assistance, and extradition.




For more information, including membership; mandate; gaps and weaknesses; implementation, compliance and enforcement; and U.S. policy stance, download the full report. 

International Monetary Fund (IMF) (1944) and World Bank (1944)

Assesses member state financial systems. Provides a forum for information sharing, development of standards and best practices on counterterrorist financing (CTF) and anti-money laundering (AML). Supports international AML/CTF efforts through capacity-building.

UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (1945)

Supports UN Global Counterterrorism Strategy by encouraging tolerance and cultural exchanges, including interreligious dialogue and support of the Alliance of Civilizations.

UN General Assembly (1945)

Deliberative body of United Nations. Provides general guidance and declaratory statements on international measures to combat terrorism. Sponsors adoption of counterterrorism-related international conventions, hosted the World Summit 2005, and developed the UN Global Counterterrorism Strategy.

UN Security Council (UNSC) (1946)

Primary UN decision-making body charged with maintenance of international peace and security. Implements economic sanctions. Oversees counterterrorism-related committees.

1267 Committee (al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee) (1999)

Enforcing sanctions regime on the Taliban and al-Qaeda established by UN Security Council Resolution 1267 and UN Security Council Resolution 1333. 136 associates of the Taliban, 255 associates of al-Qaeda, and 95 associated entities of al-Qaeda on the "consolidated list" to be targeted by sanctions.

UN Counterterrorism Committee (CTC) (2001)

Monitors UN member states’ compliance with UN Security Council Resolutions 1373 and 1624 on establishing a national counterterrorism framework and criminalizing incitement to terrorism. UNSCR 1377 tasks CTC with assessing states’ counterterrorism capacity needs, and facilitating technical assistance. Bolstered by Counterterrorism Executive Directorate , created in 2005.

1540 Committee (2004)

Examines UN member state efforts in establishing domestic controls to prevent proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and their means of delivery to nonstate actors as per UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540. Also acts as a clearinghouse matching offers and requests for technical assistance. Russia has supported extending committee mandate.

1566 Working Group (2004)

Established by UN Security Council Resolution 1566; tasked with investigating means of sanctioning and bringing to justice suspected terrorists outside the Taliban and al-Qaeda and the potential for developing an international fund for compensating victims of terrorist acts.

Counterterrorism Executive Directorate (CTED) (2004)

Created to provide expert advice to UN. Counterterrorism Committee (CTC) on implementation of UN Security Council resolutions 1373 and 1624 on building national counterterrorism frameworks and criminalizing incitement to terrorism. Assesses compliance of member states and helps develop technical capacity. Mandate extended to 2013 by unanimous vote in January 2011.

International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) (1946)

UN agency on civil aviation, with mandate to safeguard international civilian aviation through developing standardized procedures. Designs security standards to deter and identify terrorist threats. Assesses level of member state implementation of these standards. Works to enhance passport security. Offers capacity-building for member states through technical assistance and personnel training.

World Health Organization (WHO) (1948)

Leading health body of United Nations. Addresses medical aspects of biological, radiological, and chemical attacks.

International Maritime Organization (IMO) (1948)

UN agency for maritime issues. Provides internationally agreed-upon regulatory regime for ship and port facilities. Also addresses piracy through conventions and technical assistance. Conducts advisory missions and trains member states on methods for ensuring maritime security. Developed new code in wake of 9/11 providing for layered port defense.

World Customs Organization (WCO) (1953)

Develops standards and procedures on customs security and prevention of money laundering and weapons, and dangerous substances trafficking. Also provides law enforcement training and capacity-building for customs infrastructure.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) (1957)

Chief implementing party for Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Assistance includes improving physical protection at facilities with nuclear weapons materials, strengthening detection capabilities at borders, and training on response to acts of nuclear and radiological terrorism. Promotes adoption of conventions related to suppressing nuclear terrorism. Cooperates with members states in response to theft and sabotage of nuclear materials.

UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) (1993)

Office of the primary human rights official in the UN system. As directed by UN General Assembly Resolution 58/187 (2003) and UN Human Rights Council 2003/68 (2003), works in the pursuit of counterterrorism to investigate human rights and to provide recommendations and assistance on better integrating human rights to member states and UN bodies.

Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (1997)

Mandated with overseeing implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which prohibits use, development, and transfer of chemical weapons. State parties pledge to destroy chemical weapons they possess. Supports nonproliferation mandate of UN Security Council Resolution 1540.

UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) (1999)

UN’s main agency in fight against transnational threats including drug trafficking, organized crime, terrorism, and human trafficking. UNODC Terrorism Prevention Branch (TPB) provides technical and legal assistance regarding ratification of counterterrorism conventions and compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1373 on establishing national counterterrorism frameworks. TPB also provides research support, including maintenance of a database of terror incidences. UNODC operates antipiracy and anti-money laundering programs.

Office of Disarmament Affairs (ODA) (1998)

Mandated to promote disarmament of nuclear, chemical, biological, and conventional weapons. Supports UN Global Counterterrorism Strategy with a database on biological crime and terrorism events. Maintains ledger of facilities and experts associated with chemical and biological weapons and related material. Assists implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1540 on nuclear nonproliferation through advocacy and capacity-building workshops.

Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights While Countering Terrorism (2005)

Established by resolution 2005/80 of the Human Rights Commission, predecessor to the Human Rights Council. Tasked with investigating human rights violations in counterterrorism pursuits. Provides recommendations and promotes dialogue on how to better integrate human rights into state implementation and UN counterterrorism bodies. Reports to HRC and UN General Assembly.

UN Counterterrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF) (2005)

Coordinates UN counterterrorism efforts to implement the 2006 Global Counterterrorism Strategy by facilitating collaboration among the thirty-one UN entities with a counterterrorism mandate.


Facilitates cooperation among member states’ law enforcement bodies. Has passed various counterterrorism resolutions regarding interference with civil aviation, Internet incitement, terrorist financing, and hostage taking. Maintains a global watch list of terrorism suspects and a communications system by which member states can access and exchange data. Provides training and capacity-building.


For more information, including membership; mandate; gaps and weaknesses; implementation, compliance and enforcement; and U.S. policy stance, download the full report. 




For more information, including membership; mandate; gaps and weaknesses; implementation, compliance and enforcement; and U.S. policy stance, download the full report. 

Financial Action Task Force (FATF) (1989)

Sets international anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing (AML/CTF) standards and monitors members’ and nonmembers’ implementation. Maintains a public list of noncooperative and high risk countries.

Cooperative Threat Reduction Program (1991)

Provides funding and assistance to states to secure and dismantle nuclear as well as chemical and biological weapons, materials, infrastructure, and delivery systems. Since 2001, has focused increasingly on preventing terrorist access to weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Egmont Group (1995)

Provides a forum for FIUs to collaborate against terrorist financing and money laundering. Strives to expand and systematize the exchange of information, best practices, and training exercises among member FIUS.

Group of Eight (G8) Lyon-Roma Anti-Crime and Terrorism Group (2001)

Develops strategies and best practices regarding counterterrorism and the fight against international crime to be passed on for national implementation. Specific areas of interest are legal systems, port and maritime security, and tools for addressing terrorist use of the Internet. Coordinating body for G8 law enforcement agencies—with some success.

Group of Eight (G8) Global Partnership Against the Spread of WMD (2002)

Members committed to nonproliferation principles agreed to at 2002 Kananaskis summmmit. Seeks to secure chemical weapons, biological research facilities, and fissile material; dismantle Russian nuclear submarines; and find jobs for scientists. G8 members pledged to raise $20 billion over ten years to assist these efforts, initially focused on Russia. Guidelines developed to standardize implementation of nonproliferation projects. Program expanded in July 2008 to address challenges in regions beyond the former Soviet Union.

Group of Eight (G8) Counterterrorism Action Group (CTAG) (2003)

Seeks to assist implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1373 by providing donor funds to countries in need of counterterrorism technical assistance. Specific target areas for funding include law enforcement, legislative assistance, and border security.

Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) (2003)

Forum to share best practices, build capacity, and refine interoperability to improve participating countries’ success in interdiction efforts aimed at combating trafficking in WMD-related material. Main focus is on intelligence-sharing and interdiction by land, sea, and air. States work to improve interoperability and communication, and build capacity through joint training and exercises.

Group of Eight (G8) Secure and Facilitated International Travel Security Initiative (SAFTI) (2004)

Collaborative effort to enhance safety and efficiency of international travel. Seeks to manage the risk posed by man-portable air defense systems. Action plan goals include risk assessment for international airports, terrorist watchlist cooperation, and advancing passport and travel document standards.

Global Threat Reduction Initiative (2004)

Removes and secures highly enriched uranium (HEU) and other radiological materials from facilities worldwide and converts research reactors from HEU to low enriched uranium (LEU). More than forty nuclear bombs’ worth of HEU removed and 755 radiological sites secured in more than forty countries, which contained more than 10 million curies—enough for an estimated 10,000 dirty bombs. Fifty-seven research reactors converted from HEU to LEU as of 2009.

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) (2006)

Aims to expand and coordinate international efforts to prevent acquisition or use of nuclear weapons or materials by terrorist groups. Seeks to improve the physical protection of nuclear materials and facilities, prevent financing of nuclear terrorism, promote information sharing and law-enforcement cooperation, and improve investigation and response capabilities. A major aim is to develop comprehensive detection architecture to monitor trafficking in nuclear material.

Group of Eight (G8) Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) (2011)

Aims to increase global policy and consensus in the area of counterterrorism. Also strives to improve implementation of the UN General Assembly Global Counterterrorism Strategy

EUROPOL (1999)

Law enforcement and criminal intelligence agency of the European Union, seeking greater coordination among EU member states in combating terrorism and other serious crimes. Facilitates information exchange, provides intelligence analysis and expertise, and operates training programs.


Judicial cooperation body among European Union member states. Facilitates mutual legal assistance, extradition requests, investigations, and prosecutions at the request of member states. Serves as hub for best practices and other information.

Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) (1997)

FATF-style regional body, tasked with implementing the FATF Anti-Money Laundering and Counterterrorist Financing (AML/CTF) recommendations, and other guidelines among member states. Facilitates cooperation with Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and Egmont Group.

Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APGML) (1997)

FATF-style regional body, tasked with implementing FATF anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing (AML/CTF) recommendations, and other guidelines among member states. Works to assess compliance, facilitate capacity-building, coordinate with global AML/CTF efforts, and research AML/CTF risks and vulnerabilities.

Eastern and Southern African Anti-Money Laundering Group (ESAAMLG) (1999)

Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body, tasked with implementing the FATF forty recommendations on anti-money laundering (AML) and nine on counterterrorist financing (CTF).Disseminates information and best practices, assesses member AML/CTF implementation, establishes regional priorities, and facilitates capacity-building among states.

Intergovernmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA) (1999)

Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body, tasked with implementing the FATF forty plus nine recommendations on anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing. Monitors implementation through mutual evaluations; facilitates mutual legal assistance; and helps maintain member state financial intelligence units. Promotes capacity-building and skills development through workshops.

Financial Action Task Force of South America Against Money Laundering (GAFISUD) (2000)

FATF-style regional body, tasked with implementing the FATF forty plus nine recommendations on anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing (AML/CTF). Monitors implementation of AML/CTF guidelines through mutual evaluations. Supports development of financial intelligence units, facilitates mutual legal assistance, and provides training.

Commonwealth of Independent States Anti-terrorism Center (CIS-ATC) (2000)

Facilitates joint counterterrorism operations of CIS member states. Produces threat assessments and tracks terrorist networks and individuals operating within the region. Also operates a "collective rapid-deployment force" to respond to terrorist threats.

Pan Sahel Initiative (2002)

Counterterrorism training program sponsored by U.S. Department of State for troops from four African countries.

Eurasian Group (EAG) (2004)

Financial Action Task Force-style regional (FSRB) body, developed at behest of Russian government to cover countries not members to other FSRB’s or to FATF. Tasked with implementing the FATF forty plus nine recommendations on anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing (AML/CTF).


Nuclear smuggling - Georgia

In March 2010, Georgian authorities interdicted eighteen grams-less than one ounce-of highly enriched uranium after two men smuggled it into the country from Armenia. Although the quantity intercepted is far short of what would be needed to build a bomb, the uranium was enriched to nearly 90 percent, which is high enough to be used in a nuclear weapon. Despite some interdiction success, nuclear smuggling in the Caucasus remains a major problem in light of pervasive corruption, easily penetrated borders, and unaccounted-for Soviet-era nuclear materials. An active nuclear black market also exists in Central Asia and Turkey.

The black market is the most likely source for the nuclear material terrorists would need to build a radioactive weapon. Moreover, evidence indicates that al-Qaeda is seeking nuclear weapons and has attempted to obtain nuclear material in the past.

Counterradicalization and deradicalization programs - Saudi Arabia

Faced with a growing terrorist threat, Saudi Arabia introduced a program to prevent individuals from radicalizing as well as to rehabilitate violent extremists and their sympathizers. This "soft" element of the Saudi counterterror strategy is known as the prevention, rehabilitation, and after-care method. Prevention programs aim to stop at-risk individuals from radicalizing in the first place through public education and social and athletic opportunities. Rehabilitation programs work with individuals who are in detention, seeking to inspire them-especially extremists-to denounce terrorism though therapy, education, and religious dialogue. After-care entails assistance to rehabilitated individuals as they reenter society; the government helps former extremists find employment, rejoin their families, and reintegrate into society.

Despite reports of high success rates with these programs, statistics are very difficult to verify and often inflated. Furthermore, recidivism remains a major challenge. Saudi Arabia is at the forefront of a move toward softer counterterrorism policies in several Middle Eastern, Southeast Asian, and European nations. Although counterradicalization programs cannot supplant security and intelligence measures, they are a complementary preventive step and can relieve pressure on overburdened detention facilities.

Kidnapping and assassinations - Colombia

For decades, a civil war has raged in Colombia as left-wing guerilla groups fight right-wing paramilitary organizations. The two most prominent groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known by its Spanish acronym, FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) are both designated as terrorist groups by the U.S. Department of State. Both FARC and ELN derive the majority of their income from the illegal drug trade in Colombia, although kidnapping has also become a lucrative business. FARC is responsible for the majority of ransom kidnappings in Colombia and generally targets wealthy Colombians, foreign tourists, and government officials. Assassination is also a major problem as terrorist groups murder officials to further political ends and affiliated drug cartels kill each other as they jockey for control over trafficking territory.

Both kidnapping and assassination are low-cost tactics terrorists often use. Since January 2010, the National Counterterrorism Center has reported 1,277 incidents of terrorist kidnapping worldwide. Assassinations are less common: only ten instances (and fourteen fatalities) were reported between April 2008 and June 2011.

Trans Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership - North Africa

The Trans Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership is an interagency counterterrorism program in Africa sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. It works with nine African countries-the Pan-Sahel Initiative countries Mauritania, Mali, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal, and the Maghreb states of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia-to provide training by U.S. special forces and civil society development by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The partnership reflects the growing prominence of Africa-particularly traditionally Muslim regions-in the global fight against violent extremism. It is also an example of the bilateral security partnerships the United States has initiated around the world to build domestic counterterrorism capacity in at-risk countries.

Biological attack: anthrax - United States

Shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, letters contaminated with anthrax spores were sent through U.S. mail to news media outlets and two Democratic U.S. senators. The anthrax attacks-which killed five and sickened seventeen-were the worst biological attacks in U.S. history and exacerbated the sense of panic pervasive after 9/11. Due to the difficulty of tracing the origins of anthrax, the investigation into the attacks lasted nearly a decade and did not officially end until February 2010.

The 2001 anthrax scare speaks to the potential for biological attacks to create widespread terror even when casualties are limited. It also demonstrates the difficulty of reliably securing biological agents, the ease of weaponizing and delivering them, and the challenge of identifying the culprit of a bioterrorist attack.

Suicide bombing: UN - Iraq

On August 19, 2003, jihadists detonated suicide bombs at the UN headquarters in Baghdad, leaving seventeen dead and about one hundred wounded. Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN secretary-general special representative for Iraq, was among those killed in the attack, for which al-Qaeda operative Abu Musab Zarqawi claimed responsibility. After the American invasion, as civil war escalated and al-Qaeda became more entrenched in Iraq, the number of suicide attacks grew dramatically: 2005, 2006, and 2007 were the most murderous years, the number of deaths from both suicide attacks and vehicle bombings rising to twenty-one per day in 2007. This number has since decreased to an average of 6.3 deaths per day in 2011-still higher than in 2004-but suicide bombing remains a concern for stability in Iraq.

Suicide bombing is a common terrorist tactic and not confined geographically; recent attacks have occurred in Afghanistan, Algeria, Burma, Indonesia, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Yemen. In 2010, 265 suicide terrorist attacks were made globally.



Max Boot, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies

Jared Cohen, Adjunct Senior Fellow

Richard A. Falkenrath, Shelby Cullom and Kathryn W. Davis Adjunct Senior Fellow for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security

Ed Husain, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies

Michael Levi, David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment and Director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change

Pir Zubair Shah, Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow

Micah Zenko, Fellow for Conflict Prevention


CFR Issue Guide: "Tenth Anniversary of 9/11 Attacks


Center on Global Counterterrorism Cooperation: "An Opportunity for Renewal: Revitalizing the United Nations Counterterrorism Program


Financial Action Task Force: "Terrorist Financing


CFR Working Paper: "Seeking Nuclear Security through Greater International Coordination


CFR Task Force Report: "Terrorist Financing


CFR.org: "The Growing Role of International Institutions in Counterterrorism and Law Enforcement


Stanley Foundation: "Implementation of the UN Global Counterterrorism Strategy


National Strategy for Combating Terrorism

UN Counterterrorism Committee: "2009 Survey of the Implementation of Security Council Resolution 1373 by Member States


New York Times: "Bin Laden is Dead, Obama Says


CFR.org First Take: Terrorism Concerns After bin Laden


Bruce Hoffman, "Inside Terrorism", rev. ed., Columbia University Press, 2006.

Jane Boulden and Thomas G. Weiss, "Terrorism and the UN", Indiana University Press, 2004.

Edward Newman, Ramesh Thakur and John Tirman, "Multilateralism Under Challenge? Power, International Order, and Structural Change", United Nations University Press, 2006.

Paul Pillar, "Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy", Brookings Institution Press, 2001.

Gus Martin, "Essentials of Terrorism", Sage Publications, 2011.

Peter Romaniuk, "Multilateral Counter-Terrorism", Routledge, 2010.

Victor Comras, "Flawed Diplomacy: The United Nations and the War on Terrorism", Potomac Books, 2010.


Center on Global Counterterrorism Cooperation

Global Terrorism Database

National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism

Brookings Institution: Terrorism and al-Qaeda

National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events