Criminology and criminal justice programs were late in recognizing the relevance of terrorism to international criminology because it was thought that terrorism was completely different from crime, the province of political scientists. But it was also because the traditional approaches of criminology have remained preoccupied with root causes of crime and have been only secondarily interested in how to prevent it. The 9/11 attack demanded immediate action to make sure that nothing like it ever happened again. Applying the perspective of situational crime prevention, this chapter will demonstrate that it is possible to explain terrorism and develop a systematic way to prevent it without necessarily studying its “root causes.”
There have been many attempts to define terrorism and here are two notable examples:
Terrorism is the use or threatened use of force designed to bring about political change (Brian Jenkins, Rand Corporation).
Terrorism is the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives (FBI).
The first definition makes no mention of illegality, thus leaving open the possibility that the acts of the terrorists may be legitimate. The FBI definition states clearly that terrorism is unlawful, but of course, this leaves open the problem of “freedom fighters” acting against an unlawful government. Both of the definitions make force and violence central to a description of terrorism. While the majority of terrorist attacks are obviously violent (some are not, such as cyberterrorism), focusing on the violence itself ignores the conditions and behaviors that make for the successful completion of terrorist attacks. These are the opportunities of which terrorists take advantage.