'Transnational Terrorism' in an Age of Globalisation

Astrid-Margrete Johannessen, October 2005

'Transnational terrorism' is not a new phenomenon. The post-War epoque after 1968 has been called “the age of terrorism” (Lizardo, 2005). In this period transnational sub-state actors organised terrorist activity directed at the US. (Lizardo, 2005)
However, the Sept. 11 terrorist attack led to an increased focus upon the phenomenon. In post Sept. 11 period, transnational terrorism is a concern for nation states around the world.
Transnational terrorist groups such as Al Qa’eda is especially targeting US and countries with a strong link to US. The problem of transnational terrorism is being discussed in governments, political arenas, the media and among the general public. It is causing heavy debates, new counter- terrorist laws, controversies, political oppositions, emotional and critical responses.
Therefore, in today’s world, it is very important to look closely at the phenomenon of transnational terrorism, in order to understand how it works and how we are affected by it. Tuman (2003) discusses terrorism as a communication process. He claims that terrorism is constructed by the media and that it is important to understand the way terrorists operate in order to affect us and create fear. (Tuman, 2003) He says “mass- mediated depictions of terrorism can have a profound effect upon the way we think about and engage in discourse about terrorism.” (p.115) Bearing this in mind, this paper will focus on whether globalisation has made transnational terrorism increasingly possible. It will discuss different views on this, and examine transnational terrorists’s dependence upon globalised technologies and communications, focusing on the use of Internet.

In the post Sept. 11 period, there has been a focus on trying to explain terrorism from a global perspective. (Bergesen and Lizardo (2004)
Transnational (or global) terrorism involves more than one country and it thus seams proper to regard it according to globalisation theories such as economic globalisation and cultural globalisation. (Bergesena and Lizardo, 2004, Lizardo, 2005
The examination of transnational terrorist networks related to characteristics of globalisation, is approached on a conceptual basis in this paper.

In order to understand the term transnational terrorism it is necessary to look at the meaning of the concepts of transnational and terrorism together. Terrorism has been defined in different way by scholars, researchers and politicians. Some of the definitions are quite broad. The U.S. department of defense (DOD) defines terrorism as “the calculated use of violence or threat of violence against individuals or property, to inculcate fear, intended to coerce or to intimidate government or societies in the pursuit of goals that are political, ideological or religious.” (Tuman, p.7) Chomsky (2001, p.19) defines terrorism as “the use of coercive means aimed at populations in an effort to achieve political, religious or other aims.
Schmid is adding another important dimension in his definition by claiming that “threat- and violence- based communication processes between terrorist (organisation), victims and main targets are used to manipulate the main target”. (Tuman, p. 14) When dealing with the term terrorism, it is necessary to bear these definitions in mind.

For the purpose of this paper the concept of transnational is defined as “reaching beyond or transcending national boundaries”, or “involving or operating in several nations or nationalities”.
Kastoryano (2004) describes transnationalism as a global phenomenon. It is linked to globalisation, economic uncertainty and the development of world wide networks. (Kastoryano, 2004) Social and political transborder relations are linked to the increased mobilization and advanced communication development. (Kastoryano, 2004)

Sandier (2004) defines transnational terrorism as “incidents originating in one country and terminating in another” (p.) and also “incidents involving demands made of a nation other than the one where the incident occurs.” (p.) He says that “transnational terrorism is carried out by basically autonomous non-state actors” (p.)
Bergesen and Lizardo (2004) talks about terrorism by transnational nongovernmental groups. They define it as “the premeditated use of violence by a nonstate group to obtain a political, religious or social objective through fear or intimidation directed at a large audience.” (p. 1)
Kastoryano (2004) talks about transnationalism as a de- territorialised mode of action, charcterised by social and political transborder relations. Deleuze and Guattori defines de- territorialization as “the movement by which one leaves a territory” (Peterson, 2003) Global networks and transborder movements causes a de- territorialisation in terms of social political, economic and cultural conditions. (Kastoryano, 2004) Due to transnational terrorist networks operating on a combination of local, regional and global levels, they are clearly part of a de- territorialisation. (Kastoryano, 2004)


Transnationalism is dominated by the increase in cross- border networks which provide complex services to customers. (Castells, 2003, Jones, 2004) Also, transnational terrorists are forming a flat, decentralised and flexible network structure, motivated by a common goal. (Jones, 2004) Transnational terrorist networks do not depend on state- sponsorship, but are privately financed. (Jones, 2004)

The transnational terrorist network Al Qa’eda is “a network of networks”. (Downer, 2004) This means that they operate independently, or together with other networks. (Downer, 2004) Al Qa’eda is the first transnational terrorist network in the twenty- first century. (Jones, 2004) It has a global reach, meaning that it has recruited world wide. (Jones, 2004) Al Qa’eda is an umbrella organisation with links to twenty- four other Islamist groups around the world. (Jones, 2004) Thus, the label ‘network of networks’.

Bergesen and Lizardo (2004, p.42) claim that the “terrorist organisations shift toward a more network form” means an abandonment of the hierarchical organisation structure in favor of a less clear and decentralised structure. (Bergesen and Lizardo, 2004) The transnational terrorist group Al Qa’eda include members from different nationalities, operating from different countries. (Bergesen and Lizardo, 2004) Alltogether they have members from 46 countries and activities in 98 countries. (Jones, 2004) This network structure means that it is more difficult to identify the terrorist organisation. Due to the compact and self- contained network structure, it is difficult to detect and disrupt it. (Jones, 2004)
Sageman (2004) calls this ‘network of networks’ a ‘small world network’.
According to Sageman (2004), a small- world network differs from hierarchical networks because it can resist fragmentation due to dense interconnectivity. Sageman (2004, p.140) says that “random attacks, such as stopping terrorists arbitrarily at our borders, will not affect the networks structure”. However, hubs in a small- world network are vulnerable because they are important links in the communication process. If the hubs are destroyed, “the network breaks down into isolated, noncommunicating islands of nodes” (Sageman, 2004, p.140)
For example, due to the destruction of Al Qa’eda’s base in Afghanistan, some hubs were shut down or moved to other areas in South Asia. (Downer, 2004) This led to a decrease in their communication and co- operation capability.
Some new networks have evolved through the Internet. (Downer, 2004)
In the flexible networks system, Al Qa’eda “is just one aspect of a larger series of characteristics”. (Downer, 2004, p.?10) The Al Qa’eda centered networks have developed into a more widespread and less interdependent system. (Dawner, 2004)

Today’s world is strongly dominated by trans- boarder relations, globalised technology and communication tools.
Globalisation is characterised by an expansion of new communication and information technologies. This it has been called a ‘network society’. (Castells, 2001) Capitalism, market economy and global culture are also important concepts in the globalisation process.
Kellner (2003, p.2) says that globalisation is “a product of technological revolution and the global restructuring of capitalism in which economic, technological, political and cultural features are intertwined”.
Scruton (2002) says that globalisation “means the transfer of social, economic, political and juridical power to global organisations.” (p.127) By global organisations he means “organisations that are located in no particular sovereign jurisdiction, and governed by no particular territorial law.” (p, 127) Examples of such organisations are “multinational corporations, international courts or transnational legislatures.” (p.127) Globalisation today also includes terrorism becoming globalised. (Scruton, 2002) Thus, the increase of freedom as a result of globalisation also has the negative consequence of causing transnational terrorism.
For example, new transportation networks have made it possible for terrorists to expand bombing campaigns and reach new targets. (Jones, 2004) The use of media technologies like television and the Internet, makes it possible for transnational terrorists to spread political and ideological messages, as well as threats of bombings, thus creating fear. (Jones, 2004)


In today’s globalised world, non- state actors have an increased access to new technologies: “communication, media, arms, capital, skills and information.” (Lizardo, 2005, p.5) This access makes it possible for transnational terrorists to engage in violent activities on a global level. It allows for ‘asymmetric warfare’, defined by Downer as the use of non- traditional methods to attack unexpected targets.
Transnational terrorist networks are decentralised and hard to detect and destroy. This fact, as well as their use of complex communications and technologies makes the globalised world increasingly vulnerable to terrorism and their use of “asymmetrical warfare”. Asymmetric methods are becoming a defining feature of post- cold war conflict. (Jones, 2004)
Military theorists call it ‘idiosyncratic, asymmetric warfare’. (Deppa, 2004) It includes finding the enemy’s vulnerability and attacking it by using unconventional methods. (Deppa, 2004) It also includes the use of high- speed communications channels to inform about the success of the attack. (Deppa, 2004) Thus the use of communication technologies is an important strategy in modern ‘asymmetric idiosyncratic warfare’.
Information is used as a weapon is this type of ‘war’ , which is dominated by the use of “command, control, communications and computers”, the C4. (Deppa, 2004, p.3) Jones (2004) also talks about the C4 as an important part of the operations of virtual or networked transnational terrorist organisations. Jones (2004, p.160) says that networked terrorist groups are engaging in ‘netwar’ , that is, conflict and crime where “the protagonists are likely to consist of dispersed, small groups who communicate, coordinate and conduct their campaigns in an internetted manner without a precise central command”.
Due to transnational terrorists extensive use of media communication technology, Deppa (2004) uses the term ‘acts of mass communications’ when referring to attacks that are extensively reported on by news media, reaching large audiences.
For example, Al Qa’eda uses the global reach of CNN to communicate their messages. (Deppa, 2004)
Scholars claim that “fear of attack, rather than the attack itself, is the terrorist’s most potent weapon”. (Deppa, 2004, p.13)
Thus, their use of modern, globalised communication technologies seams to be an important aspect for both internal and external communication strategies.

Cronin (2002, p.30) says that “the current wave of international terrorism is characterised by unpredictable and unprecedented threats from non- state actors, not only is a reaction to globalisation but is facilitated by it”. It is possible to claim that globalisation processes has made it possible for terrorists to operate more effectively on a global level.
Kellner (200?) says that the Internet, global computer networks and satellite communication systems are parts of the technological revolution that characterises globalisation. Transnational terrorist networks today use these technologies.
Scruton (2002) says that “the techniques and infrastructure on which al- Qa’eda depends are the gifts of new global institutions.” (p.128) It is a paradox that transnational terrorists today use tools and technologies linked to globalisation in order to react against globalisation processes. Transnational terrorist groups like Al Qa’eda use Western enterprise and technology to fight against the Western world. (Scruton, 2002) These technologies and developments are being used in order to try to destroy the society which invented them.


Al Qa’eda uses new globalised communications tools to spread their messages. This includes “video and audio tapes, DVD’s, CD-ROM’s and the Internet”. (Downer, 2004, p.?) In 2001, they made a recruitment DVD which was made available on the Internet. They use CD-ROM disks to store information about recruitment, weapons, and operations. (Jones, 2004)
The Internet, which al- Qa’eda uses as a communication tool, was created by the US Military in 1960’s and has in the past ten years strongly contributed to the process of globalisation. Thus, the Internet as a global communication tool is closely linked to globalisation.
The Internet has been an important tool in the process of changing terrorist communications networks. (Jones, 2004)
It is used in order to communicate internally within the terrorist network, to plan and coordinate attacks and to make transactions and manipulate stocks. (Jones, 2004) The Internet has made it possible for transnational terrorists to communicate effectively cross borders and to get the information they need in order to plan and make for example bombs. (See Appendix 2) It is also an effective tool to communicate their messages and beliefs to other Islamists around the world. It has made a bond between “the individual and the virtual Muslim community”. (Sageman, 2004, p.161) Thus, the recruitment has increased as a result of globalised communication tools. Scruton (2002) says that “with Al Qa’eda, we encounter the real impact of globalisation on the Islamic revival.” (p. 127)

For Al Qa’eda, the use of Internet is an important tool in order send messages and communicate its ideology and propaganda. (Downer, 2004) It is used in order to give operational instructions and to encourage attacks on western targets. (Downer, 2004)
Thus, the Internet is used by transnational terrorists as a promotional tool in order to communicate their messages to terrorists around the world and to spread their ideologies to other Muslims who access the Internet. The Internet is difficult to control, as well as being cheep, fast and convenient. Therefore, it is an effective tool to use.
Because transnational terrorists use cyberspace when planning and conducting attacks, Jones (2004) refer to them as ‘information age terrorists’. He claims that they are a “threat to today’s information age society”. (Jones, 2004, p.131)
Information on the Internet can be used for destructive purposes by terrorists. An exampe is the web site called Google Earth which is used to navigate and see detailed satelite pictures of places around the world. (See Appendix 3) This program can help transnational terrorists to plan terrorist attacks. (Rasmussen, 2005)
Al Qa’eda also has their own web page.


Bergesen and Lizardo (2004) claims that just like the globalisation process influences cultural, political and economic aspects it also affects terrorism. Characteristics of transnational terrorism, such as the network organisational form and multinational membership and locations is similar to new global networks such as business organisations. (Bergesen and Lizardo, 2004) Regarding this, it makes sense to analyse transnational terrorism from a globalisation perspective.
When analyzing terrorism from this perspective, some scholars regard terrorism as a reaction against global forces causing cultural and economic change, especially in regard to the US as a leading force in this process, thus the anti- US terrorist attacks. (Hoffmann, 2002) Also, Lizardo (2005) claims that “an important component of modern transnational terrorist activity is that which is directed at the hegemonic power itself” (p.2)

Theorists of globalisation distinguish between globalisation from above; meaning globalisation produced by big corporations, nation states and global institutions, and globalisation from below; referring to groups that are opposing corporate globalisation. (Kellner, 2003) Kellner (200?3p?) says that transnational terrorism is “an emergent and dangerous form of globalisation from below that is attacking hegemonic global forces and institutions”.
Thus, it can be argued that globalisation causes divisions in the world; that is, conflicts and violence, including the threat of powerful terrorist networks. (Kellner, 2003) The fact that information and communication technologies that facilitate globalisation also are used in order to attack it, is an ambiguity of globalisation. (Kellner, 2003)

Baudrillard (2002) says that the 9/11 terrorist attack represented a new kind of terrorism. The terrorists used features that are strongly linked with western society: airplanes, computer networks and the media. The new form of transnational terrorism is strongly linked to global communication society. It relies on Western globalisation in order to create spectacles off terror.
Kellner (2004, p?) says “globalisation has its dark sides and produces conflicts as well as networking, interrelations and progress”. He is referring to current transnational terrorism as an intensified global conflict. It proves that “global flows of technology, goods, information, ideologies and people can have destructive as well as productive effects. (Kellner, 2003, p.8)
Globalisation produces enemies as well as participants, poverty and inequalities as well as wealth and opportunities. (Kellner, 2003) Transnational terrorist networks are examples of globalisation facilitating destruction. (Kellner, 2003)
This is the reason why Baudrillard (2002, p.?) talks about the “triumphant globalisation battling against itself.” He means that any dominate world system or hegemonic power always inherently carries the will of combat and destruction. Thus, because transnational terrorists are so connected to globalisation processes, at the same time as they are combating the super power and epicentre of globalisation; the U.S., they are representing the destruction and violence made possible by globalisation itself. (Baudrillard, 2002, Kellner, 2003)


The neo- marxist perspective is regarding transnational terrorism as a reaction to “the neo- liberal program of globalisation of trade and the trans- nationalisation of capital.” (Lizardo, 2005, p.4)
This perspective is connecting globalisation with anti- U.S. terrorism, claiming that economic globalisation leads to a capitalist system, dominated by the World Bank and the U.S., and eroding cultural diversity. (Coker, 2002) Lizardo calls the neo- marxist reaction against U.S. as the primary source of neo- liberal policies and bakers of transnational organisations a “’anti- systemic’ movement against the most dominant global power”. (p15)
Globalisation has created powerty and unequality and has contributed to the videned gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. (Kellner, 2003) Neo- marxists believe that globalisation deepens comflicts between U.S. and the Muslim world due to capitalism and U.S. as an economic power. (Chaulia, 2003) They believe that powerty and frustration lead to an increase in terrorism.
Also, scholars and experts who do not belong to the neo- marxist camp, believe that economic globalisation is a factor which is contributing to the rise of anti- US transnational terrorism.

The neo- marxist view has been critisised.
On the other hand, the neo- liberal perspective regards globalisation as spreading wealth and economic freedom. (Lizardo, 2005)
This perspective looks at globalisation in positive terms; claiming that the open global market is improving democratic institutions. (Lizardo, 2005) The problem, according to this theory, is when there is a lack of globalisation. They claim that among those who are not part of the global economic integration, the engagement in transnational terrorism against US is likely to increase. (Lizardo, 2005)

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