by Prof. Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
In 2006, Prof. Bowen was asked this question: "define terrorism and explain how it constitutes a legitimate or illegitimate use of force. Please provide one or more real world examples about the use of terrorism to make your case." This is how he answered:
Terrorism is the deliberate creation and exploitation of fear through violence or the threat of violence in the pursuit of political change. The 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847, and the murder of U.S. Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem during that 17 day ordeal, illustrate how those who use these illegitimate tactics attempt to coerce their target audiences. Clearer understanding can reveal the central dynamics employed by militant Islamists, then and now.
Terrorism relies on both operatives to carry out its violent projects and organizers behind the scene. Both components merit attention, for complex networks of cooperation fortify the contemporary threat faced by the West. Imad Mugniyah, mastermind of the TWA 847 hijacking guided a team claiming to be a new organization, calling itself Islamic Jihad. But Mugniyah was at that time a bodyguard for Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, spiritual leader of the Lebanon-based Shi’ite terrorist group Hezbollah. Still earlier, Mugniyah had worked for an ostensibly secular, Sunni-Muslim Palestinian nationalist group, Force 17. Thus, Shi’ite and Sunni organizations – faith traditions often presented as incompatible in the Western press – worked together at the operational level more than 20 years ago.
The stated goal of the Flight 847 hijackers was to win freedom for Lebanese detainees held by Israel, and in this they were partially successful. But the coercion did not end then. Hijacker Mohammed Ali Hamadi later was convicted in Germany and jailed; but in late 2005, he was released by the Germans shortly after an abducted German national was freed by terrorists in Iraq. This case reveals that in simplifying the war on terrorism into a campaign against a single organization (e.g., Al Qaeda), the important cooperation among disparate terrorist groups can be lost.
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