Do terrorists have political or any other type of agendas that they want to achieve, or are they only interested in killing people?

For example, recently there was a suicide attack in Pakistan. Pakistan was free from attack for a few months, and now the terrorists started again when there are elections in few days, so I thought maybe the terrorists have an agenda for the attack.

  • 17
    Using violence to achieve political goals is pretty much the definition of terrorism - "the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims" is the definition that pops up when I type "terrorism" into Google.
    – user10415
    Jul 15, 2018 at 20:44
  • @EikePierstorff yes but what is the agendas that they have? Because when you look at big terrorist organisations you don't see any agendas
    – ZBT248
    Jul 15, 2018 at 20:53
  • 9
    You would need to be specific. There are hundreds or thousands of terrorist organisations, and basically each of them wants something different. Usually they helpfully put out pamphlets or run social media channels, so it should not be too hard to find out what they want. The recent bombings in Pakistan have their own wikipedia page (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/13_July_2018_Pakistan_bombings) and you can follow the links from there to learn about the organisations responsible. Note that terrorist do not usually self-identify as such.
    – user10415
    Jul 15, 2018 at 20:59
  • 3
    "Because when you look at big terrorist organisations you don't see any agendas" Where have you looked and what have you looked for? The answer depends on whom you ask. The United States definitive has an agenda: to advance the interests of the United States. Isreal has an agenda: to continue constructing "settlements" and maintain the geographic region known as "Isreal". Jul 15, 2018 at 21:09
  • 3
    There are terrorist organizations out there that have opposing views and want the exact opposite of each other so you can't generalize what their agendas are and and talk about each of them individually.
    – Joe W
    Jul 15, 2018 at 21:48

5 Answers 5


Terrorism is a tactic, not an end in itself. (Except perhaps for a few mentally disturbed individuals.) So every particular "terrorist" group will have an agenda, which could be Islamic jihad, Irish unification, wanting to stop abortion, &c. It is the agenda that defines the group: they use "terrorism" because it's what they have available. If they had armies or missiles, they'd use those instead.

  • Or perhaps an unfortunately common tactic usually obscured by excellent PR.
    – agc
    Jul 16, 2018 at 14:48

Probably all organizations that use sensationalist violence and that are called terrorists have goals or agendas. In the abstract the organizations that are called terrorists usually:

  • feel much abused by history makers.
  • wish to rid some disputed region of an onerous, and often foreign, influence or power.
  • are not as militarily strong as those they oppose.
  • believe themselves misunderstood and ridiculed by the weaponized mythology of their opposition.
  • believe their opposition guilty of crimes which deserve harsh punishment.
  • lack the means to punish those crimes in any civilized way.
  • favor sensationalist violence as their best option: lacking a way to win, they settle for making the opposition's win less valuable; while trading up their own ridiculed reputation for a frightful one.

Wikipedia defines Terrorism as:

the use of intentionally indiscriminate violence as a means to create terror among masses of people; or fear to achieve a financial, political, religious or ideological aim.

So by definition, terrorism always has an agenda behind it. That does of course not mean that people can not commit mass-murder without having an agenda. But then it's mass-murder, not terrorism. When you call a mass-murder a terrorist act, you imply that the perpetrator had an agenda.

When you follow media reports about terrorism and the reporting does not mention the terrorist's agenda, there are several possible reasons why:

  • The perpetrators have not clearly communicated their agenda, so the media is not yet sure what their goals are.
  • The media does not want to mention the agenda of the terrorists (or is not allowed to due to censorship). The reason is usually fear that some people might agree with that agenda and join the terrorist organisation. The idea is that terrorists commit terrorist acts in order to gain attention for their message. When the media repeats their message, the terrorists achieve their goal and you encourage more terror attacks. When the media is silent about their message, their message does not get heard, the terror attack doesn't accomplish anything and the terrorists stop committing attacks. But this philosophy does of course conflict with the desire of the population to get informed about what is happening in the world.
  • It's just lazy reporting.

Terrorism is generally defined as the use of violence to achieve a political goal. However, there is not a unified consensus on the definition of the term terrorism. The UN, for example, has yet to reach an official consensus.

Here is the NATO definition:

The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence, instilling fear and terror, against individuals or property in an attempt to coerce or intimidate governments or societies, or to gain control over a population, to achieve political, religious or ideological objectives.

And the United Nations Security Council definition (United Nations Security Council Resolution 1566):

criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of hostages, with the purpose to provoke a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons or particular persons, intimidate a population or compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act, which constitute offences within the scope of and as defined in the international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism, are under no circumstances justifiable by considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other similar nature.

Generally, definitions of terrorism include political, religious or ideological motives, but not all definitions. Most definitions however will include the use of violence, fear, and coercion against individuals, property, and combatants/non-combatants alike.

In all honesty, terrorism does not have a universally recognised definition, and not everyone would agree that all terrorism by definition has a political objective, however many WOULD consider this to be the case.

The best answer to this would be, generally yes they do have political objectives, but not always.

Some additional links:

European Parliament -

Why it is Not Easy For the United Nations to Define Terrorism

Terrorism Act 2000 - UK Legislation


Does terrorists have any political or any other type of agenda too that they wanna achieve in the end

Every organization has a political agenda.

or are they only interested in killing people?

Organizations, generally, do not slaughter people for sport alone, if only due to the cost (economically and politically) of carrying out such blood sport on a mass scale. No organization wants to be hated by the people. Hatred can extend multiple generations, potentially infinitely, which is a poor political strategy.

Political conflicts are driven by conquest, defense or establishment of political institutions.

The only interest group which benefits from pure blood sport are arms dealers, for profit. Thus, the question must be asked: from whom do the organizations mentioned at the original question purchase their arms and ammunition? Why have they not ran out of bullets yet? If they have ran out of bullets, from who did the organization purchase arms to restock its armory? Follow the money.

  • 2
    A terrorist organization that uses a significant amount of bullets? How 70s...
    – Thern
    Jul 16, 2018 at 6:36
  • @Thern You evidently negated to read the words arms and armory in the answer? Jul 16, 2018 at 6:39
  • You put the word armory into the context "if they have run out of bullets". Are you aware that most of today's terrorist attacks are done without arms or armory? That they are done with vans, or buses, or cars, or simple bags filled with nails and self-cooked explosives with ingredients you can buy for 100$ in any hardware store? And even if you have a terrorist like Anders Breivik who actually used a gun, he bought it himself.
    – Thern
    Jul 16, 2018 at 8:14
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    Considering how cheap some weapons are on the black market (AK47), as well as how relatively easy it is to build crude explosives (think about methane), or simply rent a van, I don't think there is a lot of money to follow. Or political institutions. Jul 16, 2018 at 8:43
  • I would suggest terrorism is what happens when people hate something so much they decide violence is the only answer but can't field effective armies, so talking about their organizations wanting to not be hated is a little unexpected. On following money; it is a hard problem that governments (and terrorists) are working on. As my favorite (fictional) terrorist said "I like dynamite and gunpowder and gasoline. Do you know what all of these things have in common? They’re cheap."
    – user9389
    Jul 16, 2018 at 17:15

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