FEMA Backgrounder: Terrorism
- Most terrorist incidents in the United States have been bombing
attacks, involving detonated and undetonated explosive devices,
tear gas and pipe and fire bombs.
- The effects of terrorism can vary significantly from loss of
life and injuries to property damage and disruptions in services
such as electricity, water supply, public transportation and communications.
- One way governments attempt to reduce our vulnerability to terrorist
incidents is by increasing security at airports and other public
facilities. The U.S. government also works with other countries
to limit the sources of support for terrorism.
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.
Bureau of Investigation (FBI) categorizes terrorism in the United
States as one of two typesdomestic terrorism or international
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
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.
FACTS ABOUT TERRORISM
- On February 29, 1993, a bombing in the parking garage of the
World Trade Center in New York City resulted in the deaths of five
people and thousands of injuries. The bomb left a crater 200 by
100 feet wide and five stories deep. The World Trade Center is the
second largest building in the world and houses 100,000 workers
and visitors each day.
- 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.
- In recent years the largest number of terrorist strikes have
occurred in the Western States and Puerto Rico. Attacks in Puerto
Rico accounted for about 60 percent of all terrorist incidents between
1983 and 1991 that occurred on United States territory.
- The Central Intelligence Agency reports that at least ten countries
are believed to possess or be conducting research on biological
agents for weaponization.
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 are 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.
- Terrorist incidents in this country have included bombings of
the World Trade Center in New York City, the United States Capitol
Building in Washington, D.C. and Mobil Oil corporate headquarters
in New York City.
Source: Federal Emergency