Skip to main content

Terrorism--A Brief Explanation

Back to All Publications

Executive Summary

This policy brief presents a simplified explanation of terrorism. The paper uses three methods to convey a basic understanding of terrorism. The paper first explains “victim- target differentiation,” the primary method of operation used in terrorist attacks. Victim- target differentiation (the strategy of attacking people or property in order to get other people to take some kind of action) is a concept that is not always clearly understood, and is essential to the comprehension of terrorism. The use of victim-target differentiation makes terrorism more complex than most forms of political violence, and more difficult to counter.

Second, the paper explains terrorism by following and analyzing the steps of the terrorist attack. Analyzing each step shows how terrorism operates, and establishes the basis for counterterrorism efforts. The paper uses the Turner-Yamamoto Terrorism Model to illustrate the steps of the terrorist attack and show how terrorism is intended to operate. The model can also serve as a guide to comprehending terrorism and how to combat it. The model can be used to identify ways to prevent terrorist attacks, respond effectively if they occur, and reduce the use of terrorism.

The paper then uses the analysis of the terrorist attack as a way to evaluate specific incidents to determine whether or not they are acts of terrorism. Using specific examples can help put the characteristics of terrorism into perspective, and can help individuals and governments be better prepared to combat terrorism more effectively.

This policy brief was developed from the CISSM working paper, Terrorism Against Democracy. The working paper is based in part on Admiral Stansfield Turner’s course, “Terrorism & Democracy,” which he taught from 2002–2006 in response to the 9/11 attacks on September 11, 2001.

View All Publications