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A Proposed Universal Medical and Public Health Definition of Terrorism

  • Jeffrey L. Arnold (a1), Per Örtenwall (a2), Marvin L. Birnbaum (a3), Knut Ole Sundnes (a4), Anil Aggrawal (a5), V. Arantharaman (a6), Abdul Wahab Al Musleh (a7), Yasufumi Asai (a8), Frederick M. Burkle (a9), Jae Myung Chung (a10), Felipe Cruz Vega (a11), Michel Debacker (a12), Francesco Della Corte (a13), Herman Delooz (a14), Garth Dickinson (a15), Timothy Hodgetts (a16), C. James Holliman (a17), Campbell MacFarlane (a18), Ulkumen Rodoplu (a19), Edita Stok (a20) and Ming-Che Tsai (a21)...


The lack of a universally applicable definition of terrorism has confounded the understanding of terrorism since the term was first coined in 18th Century France. Although a myriad of definitions of terrorism have been advanced over the years, virtually all of these definitions have been crisis-centered, frequently reflecting the political perspectives of those who seek to define it.

In this article, we deconstruct these previously used definitions of terrorism in order to reconstruct a definition of terrorism that is consequence-centered, medically relevant, and universally harmonized. A universal medical and public health definition of terrorism will facilitate clinical and scientific research, education, and communication about terrorism-related events or disasters.

We propose the following universal medical and public definition of terrorism: The intentional use of violence — real or threatened — against one or more non-combatants and/or those services essential for or protective of their health, resulting in adverse health effects in those immediately affected and their community, ranging from a loss of well-being or security to injury, illness, or death.


Corresponding author

Medical Director Yale New Haven Center for Emergency and Terrorism Preparedness, 1 Church Street, 5th floor, New Haven, CT 06510 USA, E-mail:


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