Learn About Foreign Terrorist Organizations
Broadly speaking, terrorism includes any act of violence used to intimidate, provoke, or destroy a group of people outside of war. Terrorist organizations are large groups of people dedicated to the same cause, usually either religious or political in nature, who employ terrorism as a means of furthering that cause. To be identified as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), a group must a foreign organization actively engaged in terrorist activity or a group which has participated in acts of terrorism in the past and is still capable of doing so today. Such an organization must also pose a threat to national defense or the lives of U.S. nationals.
Al-Qa’ida is one of the most well-known FTOs. The organization was created in 1988 by Usama Bin Ladin with the purpose of uniting Muslims to fight the West and defeat Israel. The original members were Arabs in Afghanistan, but the organization quickly expanded, gaining membership throughout the Middle East. The organization was responsible for the September 11, 2001, attacks on U.S. soil, as well as numerous other attack on U.S. embassies and on the citizenry of people in many other nations around the globe. Bin Laden was killed in a U.S. raid in May 2011, but the organization continues its actions under the leadership of Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Hizballah is a Lebanon-based Shia terrorist group formed in 1982, largely in response to the Israeli presence in Lebanon. The group’s primary goal is to elevate Shia militants in the Lebanese government, but it is also in active conflict with Israel and trains militants who perform terrorist attacks against Coalition forces in Iraq. The organization has cells worldwide and has been responsible for a number of terrorist acts. The UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon also indicted several members of the group for the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri.
The United States designated the Army of Islam as a FTO in 2012. The organization, based in the Gaza Strip, was founded in 2005. Mumtaz Dughmush is the leader of the group, which aims for a global jihad and actively takes part in armed Palestinian resistance. Its attacks have mostly been aimed at Israel and Egypt, but American, British, and New Zealand citizens living in the area have been attacked, as well. Along with rocket attacks on Israel and multiple attacks on Egyptian citizens, the group kidnapped two American journalists in Gaza in 2006 and one British journalist in 2007.
HAMAS, a faction of the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, was founded in 1987. The organization’s primary area of attack is Israel, with special attention payed to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and its attacks include large-scale bombings, small-arms attacks, rockets, and roadside explosives used against Israeli citizens. It demands that Israel be wiped out and that an Islamic Palestinian state be set up in its place.
The Continuity Irish Republican Army (CIRA) was formed in 1986 and is primarily based in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It is based on the tenants of the original Irish Republican Army, meaning that it uses terrorism as a means to expel the British presence from Ireland. It is a fairly small FTO, but it has been responsible for more than its fair share of terrorist activity since its creation, ranging from car bombs, kidnappings, hijackings, and assassinations.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is the military wing of the Colombian Communist Party, dating back to 1964, and is the largest and oldest Marxist terrorist group in all of Latin America. The organization’s main base of operations is Columbia, but some of its activities bleed over into neighboring countries. These activities include kidnappings, bombings, murder, and extortion. It also implements guerrilla warfare against Colombian officials and has its hands in drug trafficking. U.S. citizens in Colombia are also targets due to U.S. support of the Colombian government.
The United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) was officially formed in 1997, but it developed from various Colombian paramilitary groups that existed during the 1980s. These nationalist groups were originally created to fight against FARC, earning them the approval of the Colombian military. The organization soon got involved in drug trafficking, however, causing the Colombian government to officially break ties. Control of the drug trade is presently as strong a motive as combat against Colombian leftists. The AUC was formally disarmed in 2006, but several bands continue their terrorist activities such as kidnapping and murder even today.
Shining Path, or Sendero Luminoso, is a FTO that was founded in Peru during the late 1960s by Abimael Guzman, a former professor, and became one of the most deadly terrorist groups in the Western hemisphere over the following two decades. The organization’s primary goal is to destroy the Peruvian government and set up a communist revolutionary regime in its place, and it also acts against any supposed influence by foreign nations, including the U.S. It has used bombing campaigns, assassinations, and drug trafficking to accomplish its goals.
The Sect of Revolutionaries is a recent paramilitary group formed in Greece, and has only been on the U.S. list of FTOs since 2011. The organization’s first act of terror was against a police station in Korydallos in 2009, and it has since continued to use violence in an attempt to intimidate the Greek government. Its goals seem to include the overall destruction of the Greek economy and reputation.
The Turkish-based Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front began in 1978. It claims a strong stance against the current Turkish government, as well as the U.S. and NATO, and its main goals include the creation of a new socialist state and the abolition of F-type prisons in Turkey. Turkish military officials have been the group’s main target since the late 1980s, with foreign interests becoming a secondary target during the 1990s. As of the early 2000s, the organization’s primary method of attack has been the use of improvised explosives.
In spite of the varied interests and tactics employed by foreign terrorist organizations throughout the world, each of these organizations present a real threat to the regions they originate in. They also present a threat to the United States, especially those U.S. citizens who live or visit a region being terrorized. Moreover, while the above list defines some of the major FTO threats, there are many more to be aware of.
- Foreign Terrorist Organizations – A comprehensive list of current terrorist organizations, as designated by the U.S. Department of State.
- A Roadmap for the Foreign Terrorist Organizations List – An article on how the terrorist designation is assessed and assigned.
- Most Wanted Terrorists – The FBI list of the current most wanted terrorists.
- Terrorism – A guide put out by the U.S. Department of Treasury containing important information about the U.S. government’s sanctions concerning terrorism.