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Middle East Terrorism - State-sponsored Terrorism, The Function Of Terrorist Groups, Bibliography

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While terrorism has arisen in a variety of cultures and historical periods, much of the world's attention on this phenomenon in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries has centered on the Middle East. Middle Eastern terrorism emerged in Western consciousness during the 1970s, primarily through the rise of secular leftist and nationalist groups among Palestinian exiles, which targeted Israelis and their supporters both within and outside of Israel. Some (such as Yasir Arafat's Fatah movement and George Habash's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) were part of broader political movements within the umbrella of the Palestine Liberation Organization, while others (such as Abu Nidal's Fatah faction) operated outside the PLO. Palestinian nationalists were inspired in part by the success of the Algerian revolution, which used terror as a tactic to free that North African nation from French colonialism in 1962, and by the case of Israel, which won independence from Britain in 1948 in part through the efforts of terrorist groups led by future prime ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir. Without a recognized government or territory, terrorism appeared to many Palestinians to be a more realistic option than conventional or guerrilla warfare.

The rise of Palestinian terrorism was concomitant with the rise of Palestinian nationalism, where successive betrayals and defeats by Arab governments had led Palestinians to take leadership in their own national struggle. The use of such high-profile tactics as airline hijackings and embassy takeovers helped call attention to the plight of the Palestinian people, most of whom were living under Israeli military occupation or in forced exile in refugee camps in neighboring Arab states. Though such tactics led the West to belatedly recognize the Palestinians as a distinct people with national aspirations, it also gave Israel and the United States the excuse to thwart these goals on the grounds that the nationalist movement was led by terrorists.

The fratricidal Lebanese civil war (1975–1990) brought to the fore a number of ethnic-based militias that utilized terror, including the right-wing Phalangists, based in the Maronite Christian community, and—following the 1982 Israeli invasion and subsequent U.S. intervention—Shiite Islamic groups, some of which coalesced into the Hizbollah movement.

Turkey has been subjected to widespread terrorism by extreme leftist and extreme rightist groups, particularly during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Also during this period, Armenian terrorists would periodically assassinate Turkish diplomats in retaliation for the 1915 genocide and the refusal of Turkey's government to acknowledge their culpability. Kurdish nationalists, under the leadership of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), engaged in a series of terrorist attacks in Turkey through the 1990s in an effort to secure greater autonomy.

Leftist and Islamic groups used terror on a limited scale against the shah's repressive regime in Iran during the 1970s. During the early 1980s, following the shah's ouster in a largely nonviolent revolution and the subsequent consolidation of power by hardline Islamists, there was an upswing in terrorism that included assassinations of top officials of the revolutionary government.

In recent decades, the failure of secular nationalist and leftist movements in the Middle East has given rise to Islamic groupings, some of which have engaged in terrorism. Many were Arab veterans of U.S.-and Pakistani-backed mujahideen groups fighting the Communist Afghan government and its Soviet backers during the 1980s. This period saw the beginning of a tactic (which had previously been utilized primarily by Hindu Sri Lankan Tamils) where assailants, carrying explosives in a vehicle or strapped to themselves, would blow themselves up along with their targets, a phenomenon that became known as suicide bombings.

Several autocratic Arab regimes, long accused of corruption and abandonment of Islamic values, have become targets of Islamic radicals. Egypt was a hotbed of such movements throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, with terrorists targeting government officials (including President Anwar Sadat), wealthy Egyptian elites, and foreign tourists. Conservative monarchies in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain, along with their Western supporters, became targets of radical Islamists during this period as well. Algeria became the site of the most deadly acts of terrorism in the region beginning in the early 1990s, when the radical Armed Islamic Group (GIA) arose following a military coup that short-circuited scheduled national elections. During the 1990s, when the PLO's renunciation of terrorism and peace talks with Israel failed to end the occupation, Palestinian Islamic groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, later joined by a renegade Fatah faction known as the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, commenced a suicide bombing campaign against Israel.

The ouster of Saddam Hussein's regime by invading U.S. forces in 2003 has resulted in Iraq's becoming a major center of terrorism. Though most of the Iraqi resistance to the U.S. occupation has targeted occupation forces, there has also been a series of bombings against civilians by both Iraqi and foreign terrorists.

The late 1990s saw the emergence of the Islamist Al Qaeda network, led primarily by Saudi exiles such as Osama bin Laden, who have targeted a number of Arab and Western targets, particularly the United States. Chief among their grievances have been U.S. support for Arab dictatorships; the American-led sanctions, bombings, and invasion of Iraq; U.S. support for Israel; and the ongoing U.S. military presence in the heart of the Islamic world. Al Qaeda's financial resources and sophisticated organization has taken terrorism to unprecedented levels, most dramatically illustrated by the devastating September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States that killed over three thousand people.

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