Terrorist attacks have become something akin to a routine these days. Every day brings the news about yet another bombing in one country or another. We are accustomed to regarding terrorism a phenomenon that originated in the East. However, the Russian terrorists were thought to be the most frightful of all at the turn of the 20th century.
“In 1977, a pressure cooker containing a homemade time bomb went off in the Moscow metro as the train was speeding along an open line between the stations Izmailovsky Park and Pervomaiskaya. The terrorist attack claimed the lives of 6 people.”
The definition of the term terrorism provided by Vladimir Dal, the author of an explanatory dictionary of current Russian published in the mid-nineteenth century, is arguably the most touching of a kind. According to him, terrorism is “intimidation by means of punishment by death, killings and all the horrors committed out of frenzy.” The last part – “all the horrors committed out of frenzy” – sounds somewhat poetic nowadays. The author of the dictionary lived in a time when the Great Russian Terror was going through its stage rehearsal phase.
The first acts of terror were committed at the dawn of civilization.
Terrorists of the ancient civilizations
In the 1st century, when Judea was under the Roman rule, some locals decided to fight the occupiers. They did not commit acts of terror against the civilians. Instead, they opted on a tactic of cruel political assassinations.
Those locals were dubbed sicarias because they normally used the sica, a short, sword-like weapon with a pointed blade and a handle. The dagger was their compact weapon of choice – it could be easily concealed under the creases of a cloak. The circumstance came in particularly handy for killers who needed to approach a victim without drawing attention. The sicarias assassinated the Romans and members of the Jewish nobility who collaborating with the Romans.
The Arabs started doing similar things in the 11th century. Members of an order of Muslim fanatics otherwise known as the “assassins” mostly killed Crusaders. They were active in Persia and Syria from about 1090 to 1272. One Rashid ad-Din as-Sinan was in charge. He was a sort of Osama bin Laden of the 12th century. Rashid ad-Din as-Sinan was known as “the Old Man of the Mountain,” set himself up as an independent Grand Master of the Assassin Order in the impregnable castle of Masyaf in Syria. The implacable and elusive assassins were said to have been taught the art of killing while being intoxicated with a hefty dose of hashish. The drug was reportedly administered in large quantities to stupefy their will.
Not unlike the modern terrorists, the Assassins were not afraid of death. Death was a gateway to heaven for them. The Mongols managed to put an end to the Assassin Order only in the 13th century by destroying castles in the mountains, the castles that provided a refuge to the “terrorists.”
In the interests of revolution
The term “terrorism” stems from the time of the French Revolution. Robespierre declared terror against the enemies of the revolution in 1793-1794. The mass executions of ideological enemies of the revolution were the main instrument of terror. “Terror is nothing less than justice, a cruel adequacy, the inevitability of retribution. It is a virtue embodied,” said Robespierre.
The new revolutionary authorities executed thousands of people during a short period of time. In the end, the effects of state-run terror backfired at its chief proponent: Robespierre was guillotined.
However, a policy of terror carried out by the state differs from terrorism.
The Mafia and local freedom fighters joined forces in Italy in the 1820s. Italy was not an independent unified state at the time. The mobsters and insurgents used terrorist tactics for launching attacks against the small monarchic regimes. They killed prison wardens, policemen, high-ranking government officials. They stormed several prisons to liberate their incarcerated comrades.
Killing for political purposes soon became a popular pastime in other countries too. For instance, there were five attempts on the life of Louis Philippe, King of France. In 1835, one of the attempts claimed the lives of 18 people.
By and large, all the “heroic” deeds committed by terrorists in Europe are overshadowed by terrorist activities authored by the Russian terrorists.
Terrorism is not a men-only club
Terrorism was a walk of life for men only or so it looked in the past. The notion has been rendered obsolete by female suicide bombers blowing themselves up in Palestine , Israel , and Chechnya. Yet women were no strangers to terrorism in earlier times. Here is the Top Five of the most notorious female terrorists: