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World of Terror @ National Geographic Magazine
By Walter Laqueur

Terrorism is as old as humankind. Where are the hot spots, and why is it so much more lethal today?

Read this compelling excerpt, or print the whole story.

As the new century began, an epidemic of terrorism spread panic around the globe. In world capitals, leaders fortified their security and curtailed public appearances. Ordinary citizens felt unsafe walking the streets of major cities, while the terrorists themselves were like phantoms—everywhere and nowhere at the same time, seemingly able to strike at will. Terrorism became the preoccupation of police and politicians, bankers, and business leaders. Headlines screamed out news of the latest outrage: "WASHINGTON STUNNED BY THE TRAGEDY" in one paper, "IN GREAT PERIL" in another. One horrific September terrorist attack, in the United States, sent the stock market reeling and sparked anti-immigrant sentiment. Another attack, in Madrid, plunged Spanish politics into turmoil over issues of war and peace. Politicians in the U.S. took to describing the war on terror as a struggle of good versus evil, while some religious leaders, quoting scripture, proclaimed that the end of the world was at hand.
The year was 1901.
As frightening as modern terrorism is, the bitter fear it generates would have been familiar to those alive at the turn of the 20th century. A few decades before, Russian revolutionaries had killed Tsar Alexander II with a bomb in St. Petersburg. In 1894 an Italian anarchist stabbed French president Sadi Carnot. In 1897 the Spanish prime minister was assassinated just as Cuba's drive for independence was boiling over; within a year, Spain was at war with the United States. And in 1901 William McKinley, President of the U.S., was assassinated by a 28-year-old anarchist, Leon Czolgosz. Thirteen years later, of course, a Serbian terrorist shot and killed Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria—and triggered World War I.
Obviously terrorism—defined here as the systematic use of murder, injury, and destruction, or the threat of such acts, aimed at achieving political ends—has the power to alter the course of history, as the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, last spring's train bombings in Madrid, and bloodcurdling headlines from Israel and Iraq remind us today. And with the additional threat posed by weapons of mass destruction, it does seem that humanity has crossed into a perilous new era, in which a new breed of terrorist, armed with fearsome new weapons, has acquired the means to challenge even the most powerful nations on Earth.
How did the world come to this point? What in the world has changed?

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How can the war on terror be fought effectively?  And how do you define a terrorist?

 Can the war on terror be won?  Cast your vote.

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More to Explore

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
While waving to a crowd from an open car in St. Peter's Square in May 1981, Pope John Paul II was struck by two bullets and wounded in the abdomen, arm, and hand. The would-be assassin was Mehmet Ali Agca of Turkey, who had recently escaped from jail. Despite three investigations and two trials, mystery has surrounded the assassination attempt. It was initially believed to be linked to Bulgarian and Soviet secret services as part of a communist plot to kill the pope, who had helped reduce the communist stronghold in his Polish homeland. However, at the second trial prosecutors failed to prove charges that Bulgarian secret services had hired Agca on behalf of the Soviet Union. The pope later publicly forgave and even visited Agca in prison. In June 2000, with the agreement of the pope, Agca was pardoned after serving 19 years. On his return to Turkey, Agca was rearrested and is now serving the rest of his sentence for the killing of a Turkish journalist in 1979.
—Nora Gallagher
Did You Know?

Related Links
Terrorism: An Introduction
Visit the Council on Foreign Relations website for answers to commonly asked questions about terrorism.
A Brief Chronology
Click here to see the U.S. Department of State's listing of significant terrorist incidents from 1961 to 2003.
Independent Research
Learn more about specific terrorist groups and hot spots of international terrorrism at the Center for Defense Information website.
Resources on Terrorism
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace provides a comprehensive listing of news articles, NGO research, congressional reports, and government resources on terrorism.


Cronin, Isaac. Confronting Fear: A History of Terrorrism. Thinder's Mouth Press, 2002.
Laqueur, Walter. No End to War: Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2003.
Laqueur, Walter. Voices of Terror: Manifestos, Writings and Manuals of Al Qaeda, Hamas, and other Terrorists From Around the World and Throughout the Ages. Reed Press, 2004.
Stern, Jessica. The Ultimate Terrorist. Harvard University Press, 1999.


NGS Resources
Pelton, Robert Young.  "Into the Land of Bin Laden." National Geographic Adventure (April 2004), 74-8, 82-8.
Yudes, Meghan.  "Coming to an Airport Near You."  National Geographic Traveler (March  2004), 24.
Shenk, David.  "Watching You: The World of High-Tech Surveillance."  National Geographic (November 2003), 2-29.
Newman, Rick. "Full Steam Ahead." National Geographic Traveler (January/February 2003), 11-2.
Simons, Lewis M. "Weapons of Mass Destruction." National Geographic (November 2002), 2-35.
Funk, McKenzie. "Out of Harm's Way." National Geographic Adventure (January/February 2002), 19, 21-2. 
Hawkins, Dana. "Here's Looking at You." National Geographic Traveler (March 2001), 24-5.
Alexander, Brian. "Trouble Abroad: How to Avoid Being a Victim." National Geographic Adventure (November/December 2000), 59-60.


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