A terrorist is a person who engages in the systematic use of violence and intimidation for the purpose of achieving a political, religious, social or economic goal.
Terrorist acts can be carried out by individuals or groups, and are sometimes sponsored by governments as an alternative to an open declaration of war. Terrorist acts are often perpetrated against civilians in an attempt to demoralise and paralyse their perceived enemy with fear.
Terrorism has been practiced throughout history. However it is only in modern times that the word has been used to describe terrorist violence.
In the twenty first century terrorism has been associated with, for example, the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York in 2001, the bombing of tourist venues in Bali in 2002, the suicide bombings in Morocco and Saudi Arabia in 2003 and the siege of a school in Beslan, Russia in 2004.
The heat in the word comes from the different perspectives that people have in relation to certain actions.
For example, governments that support the use of violence against civilians will tend to dissociate themselves from the term “terrorist” and will instead use neutral or positive terms to describe combatants they approve of, such as freedom fighters, patriots, militants or activists.
Terrorists throughout history have argued that the use of peaceful means to resolve or advance issues has been unsuccessful and therefore the only effective options available to them to bring about justice are those that use terror. Indeed, some people considered to be terrorists, or supporters of terrorist actions at some point in their lives, have gone on to become dedicated peace activists and respected national leaders, such as Nelson Mandela and Xanana Gusmao.
10 March 2002