Changing Dynamics In Terrorism Leading Towards Nuclear Terrorism – Analysis


It is a matter of great concern that terrorist organizations could somehow acquire nuclear or radiological weapons and use them for nuclear terrorism. The technological requirements are the major obstacles in this case. It has also been affirmed that nuclear weapons are most likely out of reach for terrorists. But the radiological weapons may well be used by terrorist organizations in the future. The possibility of such attacks would bring the massive consequences.

Fortunately there have not been any acts of nuclear or radiological terrorism so far, but the attack with the chemical warfare agent Sarin in Tokyo (1995), the anthrax cases in the USA (2001) and the smuggling of radioactive material provoke challenges in the mind.

Furthermore, the attacks of 11 September 2001 clearly manifested the existence of such terrorist groups with substantial financial and human resources as well as the will to inflict the highest possible damage. The Innovative trends, with technological support, shows the changing dynamics in terrorism as a key characteristic that has given birth to the notion of nuclear terrorism as a potential threat.

Emergence of New Trends and Possibilities of Nuclear Terrorism

The earlier concept of terrorism was like assassinations, kidnappings, armed assaults, barricade, hostage incidents and hijackings and used the traditional weapons like the gun, bomb and the explosives. But with the passage of time and events of terrorism through the last decade indicate the changing dimensions in terrorism. Terrorism has become increasingly more irrational in its thinking, more fanatical in its ideological manifestations, more global in its reach, and more mass-casualty-causing in its modus operandi. So, these new trends seem to indicate increase in lethality and ruthlessness in death and destruction by usage of the innovative tactics and sophisticated weaponry.

There could be variety of motivation factors but the current events of terrorism suggest that the present world wide terrorist’s acts are religiously motivated in most cases the causes are political. Professor Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal argues that in the current international scenario, terrorists are increasingly likely to be motivated by campaigns of ethnic nationalism or religious extremism. The declaration of Al Qaeda as utmost terrorist organization by the international community also becomes the reference to this context.

So, we can say that the religious extremism and intolerance is the main motivation for the terrorist activities in contemporary era. However, the disputes giving rise and reasons to terrorism are essentially political. These emerging trends suggest that struggle for authority and power that has been occurring for a couple of decades and is likely to accelerate, because of the emergence of new global players in form of non-state actors. The worsening situation is that the enhanced strength of non-state actors and sophistications in their networks has introduced organized trends for terrorist organizations operating elsewhere.

A similar scenario has been highlighted in the context of South Asia with reference to Pakistan, as the region observed new trends such as: the first trend visible in South Asia is transnational terrorism, with groups having linkages across national borders and subscribing to an international agenda. The second trend in terms of terrorism is the local, sub national extremist groups, which are prevalent across most of the South Asian states. And the third terrorist trend prevalent in South Asia is that of state terrorism. Terrorist organizations with strong infusion of Islamic religious extremism have peculiar agendas, such as:

(1) Bringing fundamental changes in the domestic scene according to the Sharia as the only way to salvation; i.e. Islamic movements in Algeria and Egypt and Talibans in Afghanistan,

(2) Waging a holy war against powers who are perceived to be the source of all kinds of injustices and exploitation in global terms, the self-assumed messianic mission being howsoever anarchic, notwithstanding, i.e. Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda being the most prominent, and

(3) Legitimate militant struggle for political identity and freedom from oppression and illegal occupation; i.e. PLO, Kashmiri fighters and Moros etc. Maoist’s movement in India and Dalai Lama extremists’ movement in Tibet are also based on religious motivations. The Christian, Jewish and the apocalyptic Japanese cult extremists are equally infused with religious motivations and carry hateful racist and anarchic cultish agendas.

Mass killings are New Face of Terrorism

It is on the record that “there were 5431 terrorist incidents during the 1980s, claiming 4684 lives.” Terrorist attacks had scaled back in recent years, even though more casualties had occurred. The numbers of attacks had increased slightly since 1998, reaching up to 274 but the level did not get to the number realized in any of the years of the 1980s. Richard Falkenrath pointed out that mass-casualty terrorism is still an unusual occurrence.

The growing lethality of conventional terrorist attacks in the last two decades has raised the concerns that terrorist’s objective is the high rate of casualties and it is quite vivid that these trends of mass killings are the new face of terrorism and the September 2001, is an obvious episode, which illustrates that terrorists no more believe in old dictum, that terrorists want lots of people watching, rather lots of people dying.

The War on Terror has also aggravated these threatening trends in the heart and minds of the dwellers of this globe; they are more in fear than ever before. The global war on terror (GWOT) is a real war, its parameters are not limited to just one country or a state, but this war has taken the whole world into its influence of sphere. The War on Terror is in fact a reality which killed many innocent people around the world, devastated and destroyed the societies and countries like Afghanistan and Iraq. The significant fantasy of terrorists as a major trend is the acquisition of sophisticated and deadly weapons, such as the nuclear and bio-chemical weapons has become a nightmare for the global peace.

The demand of nuclear weapons by terrorists is a considerable phenomenon and motivated by variety of factors. for instance; The pursuit and use of ultimate weapons by this group can be motivated by some ‘Fatwa,’ i.e. in May 2003 Sheikh Nasir bin Hamid al-Fahd stated “the legitimacy of using weapons of mass destruction against enemies responsible for killing thousands of the faithful and against whom this kind of weapon represents the only possible means of achieving final victory, even though this could involve killing innocent Muslims too.” Furthermore, Andrea Plebani argues that:

“This fatwa could have enormous consequences: Al Qaeda and radical Islamist organizations generally, now have a sentence permitting them to carry out attacks with WMD without the fear of criticism on the ideological or theological level, especially as no explicit, well-defined opinions to the contrary have been emitted.”


From above discussion it can be concluded that these emerging trends show that terrorist capabilities, their global agenda, increased lethality in tactics, transnational setup, technological knowledge and religious motivations are being enhanced in up coming era. Terrorist groups with capabilities might pose alarming situations in acquisition of ultimate weapons. The changing trends in the lethality of individual and grouped terrorists is ominous as it may reflect a shift up in the terrorist’s threshold for inflicting pain on their target and this also suggests that today’s terrorism has become more violent and more deadly.

Muhammad Jawad Hashmi

Mr. MJ Hashmi is M.Phil in Defence and Strategic Studies. He is an Author of a book entitled as “Nuclear Terrorism in Pakistan: Myth of Reality?” His Area of interest is Nuclear Terrorism, Nuclear Safety and Security issues in Pakistan, Arms Control and Disarmament, Nuclear Non-Proliferation. He can be reached at [email protected]

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