For over years, there has been a big debate on the correct or universal definition of terrorism. Different people and institutions have, therefore, given different definitions. According to Laqueur, terrorism is ‘the illegitimate use of force to achieve a political objective when innocent people are targeted.’ On the other hand, the U.S Department of State defines terrorism as ‘a premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.’ Furthermore, the federal Bureau of Investigation defines it as ‘the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives’ (Hoffman, 2006).
Comparing the above definitions, there exist some similarities and differences. First, there exist a close relationship between FBI’s and Liqueur’s definition, both says that, terrorism involves use of force; this shows that terrorism is a forceful act. Other than the use of force, they both give a similar objective for carrying out terrorism. The main goal is to achieve a political mileage by the terrorists. Apart from these, they both have the targeted group as civilians or innocent people. Finally, they both define terrorism as an act that is unlawful (Presnyakov & Presnyakov, 2003). The only difference in these two definitions is the issue of property being the target. Laqueur does not give this as a target in a terrorism act.
Largely, terrorists are enemy combatants who are taking the advantage of the government, which is governed by rules and regulations. Any law does not govern them and due to this asymmetry, they tend to work best in attacking their enemies (government). Basically, it is difficult to come up with a universal definition of terrorism because what one country considers to as its ‘terrorist,’ is considered as a ‘freedom fighter’ for another (Barsamian & Ahmad, 2001). I favor FBI’s definition because it gives a comprehensive meaning where, the terrorist, target and the objective of terrorism is clear. Arriving at a universal definition for terrorism is not important because a terrorist to one country is a means of political success to another. Terrorist groups can be either ‘networked or hierarchical.’ The similarity between these groups is the use of cellular organizations. These groups organize themselves into small cells where they can perform operations and ensure that they have sufficient security (Hoffman, 2006).