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The Psychology of Terrorism from the IRA to al-Qaeda

by Jerrold M. Post

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-1-4039-6611-7
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

A former CIA official tidily analyzes terrorist cells past and present.

While terrorism has seemingly always existed, the seizure of the Israeli Olympic Village by the radical Palestinian Black September group during the 1972 Munich Olympics marks the modern iconic moment, says Post (Psychiatry, Political Psychology and International Affairs/George Washington Univ.). The typical terrorist, he notes, is not crazy in the sense of having a psychotic disorder, but rather is intensely loyal to a collective group. This fairly scholarly breakdown divides acts of terrorism into three broad categories. National separatists carry on the acts of vengeance practiced by their forebears: Examples include Omar Rezaq of the Abu Nidal Organization and Yasir Arafat of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), Northern Ireland’s Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Basque separatists of the ETA (Basque Homeland and Liberty). Social revolutionaries are often idealistic youth rebelling against their parents’ generation, seeking social justice and embracing “the liberating influence of violence.” The Red Brigades, who kidnapped former Italian prime minister Aldo Moro in 1978; the Red Army Faction, also known as the Baader-Meinhof gang; Peru’s Shining Path, Marxists devoted to the plight of the poor; and the peasant-run FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) all fall under this heading. The final category, religious extremists “killing in the name of God,” consists of today’s most infamous terrorist cells, namely Hezbollah, Hamas and, of course, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Post is especially helpful in delineating the history of each group, leadership structure, tactics (most notably suicide bombing), media savvy and recruiting strategies. Interviews with various incarcerated terrorists offer chilling firsthand testimony to their motives and methods.

Well-presented body of knowledge likely to be helpful in understanding these violent organized groups.