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The New Face of Terrorism — From the Grand to the Mundane

Author: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
September 7, 2016
The Boston Globe


TIME FLIES, AND so, unfortunately, do terrorists. This Sunday marks the 15th anniversary of 9/11, the day when 19 young men armed with box cutters took control of four crowded commercial aircraft, flying two into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and a third into the Pentagon. A fourth aircraft never reached its destination, as the alerted passengers took matters into their own hands, overpowering the terrorists and forcing a crash landing in an open field in Pennsylvania.

Sept. 11, 2001, was unique in the sense of its scale; otherwise it was anything but. Terrorism has become commonplace. Over the last decade, there have been, on average, more than 10,000 terrorist attacks per year, causing an average of more than 15,000 deaths per year. Most of these have been in the Greater Middle East, both the biggest source and the most common venue of terrorism.

Relatively little of this terrorism has involved Americans. Over this same decade, there have been fewer than 15 terrorist attacks a year in the United States. An average of five Americans per year have died on US soil and approximately 20 per year have lost their lives worldwide.

It is in part for this reason that Vice President Joe Biden recently argued that it is important not to lose perspective. “Terrorism can cause real problems. It can undermine confidence. It can kill relatively large numbers of people. But terrorism is not an existential threat.”

Biden went on to list some of the threats he judged to be existential, including Russia, China, North Korea, Pakistan, and the danger of “loose nukes,” meaning nuclear weapons that one way or another come into the hands of terrorists.

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