Terrorist: An Evolving Term

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

As with the definition of "weapons of mass destruction," the definition of terrorism has been challenged in the Boston bombing case and other recent cases.

The White House has described Dzhokar Tsarnaev as a terrorist and yet he has no known official affiliation with a terrorist organization. It is unclear if there was any coherent ideological motive the Tsarnaev brothers were apparently working alone. Does the word "terrorist" help us to understand what happened in Boston, or does the term simply serve the federal prosecutors?

Another young, American man, in a different set of circumstances, faces the same charge in federal court. Abdella Ahmad Tounisi. an 18-year-old man from Illinois, was arrested last week as he attempted to board a plane to the Middle East. Federal officials say he was on his way to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, yet the United States claims to support the Syrian opposition in the bloody war against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Then there is the case of Eric Harroun, a 30-year-old white, Christian man from Phoenix, Arizona, recently returned from fighting the rebel forces in Syria. The federal government believes Harroun conspired to use a weapon of mass destruction while fighting against Bashar al-Assad, and he too is being charged with fighting alongside a designated terrorist group.

Spencer Ackerman is a writer for Wired magazine’s national security blog Danger Room. He argues against using the term "weapon of mass destruction" as the charges against Harroun and Tsarnaev move forward.

Matthew VanDyke is an American documentary filmmaker and foreign fighter on the side of the uprising in the Libyan civil war. He was a prisoner of war in Tripoli for 6 months. He says that while his case may resemble Eric Harroun's, his work in Libya was very different from Harroun's involvement in Syria.


Spencer Ackerman and Matthew VanDyke

Produced by:

Jillian Weinberger

Comments [5]

Darren Lovelace from Monmouth OR USA

Terrorism is an act of criminal insanity targeting enough people indiscriminately to create a threat to what we value most. Our children! The terrorist greatest fear is “Truth” and the resolve of people, the resolve of nations and the courage of leaders to unify freely and in peace as one to defeat terrorists base of support.

Apr. 24 2013 01:08 AM
Charles from Seattle

The uncle said it. They are loserists.

Terrorist is as terrorist does. We were annoyed, inconvenienced, saddened, and angered, but not terrorized.
We love Boston--met my wife while working for a Boston company--will return soon to spend, support recovery, enjoy the culture and history our First City.
Viva Boston!

Of the loserists --forget them, remember Bostonian solidarity forever.

Apr. 23 2013 10:39 PM
Jeff from Mazar-e Sharif

The bureau seems more interested in the activities of four star generals than the extremists these days.

Apr. 23 2013 03:26 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

I wonder if any terrorist would call themselves "terrorist?..." I doubt it. As long as an accused terrorist will go to court, his lawyer will not call him a "terrorist," so the term will continue to evolve.

Apr. 23 2013 12:21 PM
Ed from Larchmont

What would you call it? It aims at large scale death and destruction.

Apr. 23 2013 08:09 AM

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