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Britannica said this:

Terrorism, the systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population

And I got this from wikipedia:

In its broadest sense, terrorism is any act designed to cause terror

My question is, if some kind of act, which was not designed to give fear, ignites fear as a side effect, does it count as terrorism? for example, a military operation designed to destroy an organization generates a large amount of collateral damage that gives fear and insecurity to local population. Its purpose wasn't to terror, but its side effect gives terror. It is terrorism?

Another question is, if some kind of act was done in order to give terror, but it failed to achieve its purpose, does it still count as terrorism?

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The problem is, there's no single definition of terrorism.

18 U.S.C. § 2331 defines "international terrorism" and "domestic terrorism" — fbi.gov.
They both have two common characteristics:

  1. Involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
  2. Appear to be intended
    • (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
    • (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion;
    • or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping;

The remaining characteristic is location-aware, primarily within the territory jurisdiction of U.S. or outside it.

According to this definition, the answer to your question would be, terrorism is defined by purpose. More specifically, several observations:

  • collateral damage

    Military actions can be legally justified or not. This would make such action fall within the definition of (1) or not; this would probably always fall within the definition of (2.ii) because many wars are started specifically for this purpose. So, it depends.

  • if some kind of act was done in order to give terror, but it failed to achieve its purpose

    Say, an attempt of hijacking an airplane, which is failed. It is still a (1) violence, since the victims suffer, and it has (2) clear purpose. So, yes.

  • When scientists announce discovery of a dangerous virus, this may cause public fear or even panic, but the purpose is purely scientific. So, no.
    OTOH, when some group announces possession of biological weapon and threatens to use it, this counts. So, yes.
    Note that the virus may be exactly the same.

So again, there are multiple definitions, and it depends on what definition is used by authority or court who takes decision.


Further reading:

  • It might help to add a bit about actions by state approved actors (ie the military) is generally never considered terrorism, instead they are generally called operations, acts of war, war crimes, or crimes against humanity. – Ryathal Nov 19 '15 at 13:45
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    @Ryathal- it depends on what you call a state. IS is usually called a terrorist organisation but Francois Hollande called the Paris bombings an act of war. I believe that Israel refers to Palestinian attacks as terrorism, while some others would call them acts of war. – PointlessSpike Nov 20 '15 at 14:45
  • Also I would add that terrorist themselves are differenciated as good terrorists and bad terrorists; and depending on this, their actions maybe called as terrorism or "not terrorism" – Registered User Nov 22 '15 at 13:48
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    @RegisteredUser "good terrorists" may also be known as "freedom fighters". – JAB Aug 25 '17 at 18:08
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hope this helps http://www.terrorism-research.com/ there is no clear 1 meaning for terrorism, definitions are relevant. only thing that is certain that terrorism is the act of causing fear through violence,or criminal acts, causing harm to a large group. some forms are not even related to physical violence,like cyber terrorism

Eugene Kaspersky "with today's attacks, you are clueless about who did it or when they will strike again. It's not cyber-war, but cyberterrorism."[4] He also equates large-scale cyber weapons, such as the Flame Virus and NetTraveler Virus which his company discovered, to biological weapons, claiming that in an interconnected world, they have the potential to be equally destructive. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyberterrorism

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