Terrorism is the use of force or violence against persons or property in violation
of the criminal laws of the United States for purposes of intimidation, coercion
or ransom. Terrorists often use threats to create fear among the public, to try
to convince citizens that their government is powerless to prevent terrorism, and
to get immediate publicity for their causes.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
categorizes terrorism in the United States as one of two types--domestic terrorism
or international terrorism.
- Domestic terrorism involves groups or individuals whose terrorist activities are
directed at elements of our government or population without foreign direction.
- International terrorism involves groups or individuals whose terrorist activities
are foreign-based and/or directed by countries or groups outside the United States
or whose activities transcend national boundaries.
Biological and Chemical Weapons
Biological agents are infectious microbes or toxins used to produce illness or death
in people, animals or plants. Biological agents can be dispersed as aerosols or
airborne particles. Terrorists may use biological agents to contaminate food or
water because they are extremely difficult to detect. Chemical agents kill or incapacitate
people, destroy livestock or ravage crops. Some chemical agents are odorless and
tasteless and are difficult to detect. They can have an immediate effect (a few
seconds to a few minutes) or a delayed effect (several hours to several days).
Biological and chemical weapons have been used primarily to terrorize an unprotected
civilian population and not as a weapon of war. This is because of fear of retaliation
and the likelihood that the agent would contaminate the battlefield for a long period
of time. The Persian Gulf War in 1991 and other confrontations in the Middle East
were causes for concern in the United States regarding the possibility of chemical
or biological warfare. While no incidents occurred, there remains a concern that
such weapons could be involved in an accident or be used by terrorists.
The Department of Defense estimates that as many as 26 nations may possess chemical
agents and/or weapons and an additional 12 may be seeking to develop them. The Central
Intelligence Agency reports that at least ten countries are believed to possess
or be conducting research on biological agents for weaponization. Click here to see an interactive map of countries that possess
Terrorism in the United States
In the United States, most terrorist incidents have involved small extremist groups
who use terrorism to achieve a designated objective. Local, State and Federal law
enforcement officials monitor suspected terrorist groups and try to prevent or protect
against a suspected attack. Additionally, the U.S. government works with other countries
to limit the sources of support for terrorism.
A terrorist attack can take several forms, depending on the technological means
available to the terrorist, the nature of the political issue motivating the attack,
and the points of weakness of the terrorist's target. Bombings have been the most
frequently used terrorist method in the United States. Other possibilities includes
an attack at transportation facilities, an attack against utilities or other public
services or an incident involving chemical or biological agents.
Terrorists look for visible targets where they can avoid detection before or after
an attack such as international airports, large cities, major international events,
resorts, and high-profile landmarks.
- Prepare to deal with a terrorist incident by adapting many of the same techniques
used to prepare for other crises.
- Be alert and aware of the surrounding area. The very nature of terrorism suggests
that there may be little or no warning.
- Take precautions when traveling. Be aware of conspicuous or unusual behavior. Do
not accept packages from strangers. Do not leave luggage unattended.
- Learn where emergency exits are located. Think ahead about how to evacuate a building,
subway or congested public area in a hurry. Learn where staircases are located.
- Notice your immediate surroundings. Be aware of heavy or breakable objects that
could move, fall or break in an explosion.