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Fighting the "New" Terrorism

As the US presidential heats up, critics argue that President George W. Bush's war in Iraq has made the problem of combating terrorism worse. It is a serious charge, because the world needs a broader strategy against terrorism.

Terrorism is nothing new, nor is it a single enemy. It is a longstanding method of conflict frequently defined as deliberate attack on the innocent with the objective of spreading fear. The attacks on New York and Washington of 2001 were dramatic escalations of an age-old phenomenon. Terrorism today, however, is different from what it was in the past.

Nowadays, instruments of mass destruction are smaller, cheaper, and more readily available. Cellular phones were used as timers in the attacks in Madrid last March. Hijacking an airplane is relatively inexpensive. Finally, the information revolution provides inexpensive means of communication and organization that allow groups once restricted to local and national police jurisdictions to become global. Al Qaeda is said to have established a network in fifty or more countries.

Changes have also occurred in the motivation and organization of terrorist groups. Terrorists in the mid-20th century tended to have relatively well-defined political objectives, which were often ill-served by mass murder. Governments supported many covertly. Toward the century's end, radical groups grew on the fringes of several religions. Most numerous were the tens of thousands of young Muslims who fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, where they were trained in a wide range of techniques and many were recruited to organizations with an extreme view of the religious obligation of jihad .