Written by Grace Agnew


At the end of the twentieth century, the evolving nature of terrorism can be illustrated by two signature events: the hostage taking and murder of eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich and the Olympic park bombing that killed two people and injured one hundred eleven at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.

In the first incident, eight terrorist commandos from the Arab group Black September broke into the Munich Olympic Compound. The terrorists killed two Israeli coaches outright and took nine Israeli Olympic team members hostage. After a day of tense negotiations, which included a demand for the release of 200 Arab guerrillas held prisoner in Israel, all nine hostages were killed by their captors. Five of the eight terrorists were killed and three wounded.

In 1996, during evening festivities that attracted large numbers of visitors to Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park, a bomb in a knapsack exploded, killing one woman and precipitating a fatal heart attack for a Turkish cameraman. The official death and injury toll would be two dead and one hundred eleven injured. Police were notified through an anonymous phone call that the bomb existed, thirty minutes before the explosion. Although a suspect, Eric Rudolph, has been named, he has never claimed responsibility or communicated with authorities or with the media. As of August 2000, Rudolph continues to elude capture, perhaps with the assistance of people sharing his extreme religious and anti-government beliefs.

The 1972 hostage taking represents classic 20th century terrorism-focused, selective violence and terror, by an acknowledged terrorist group, with specific political demands and objectives. The 1996 Olympic bombing demonstrates the changing face of terrorism-increasingly anonymous and indiscriminately lethal, with death and disruption not just the means but the end itself. The aftermath of the bombing also demonstrates the growing phenomenon of terror perpetrated by loose coalitions of like-minded individuals. While Rudolph is suspected of acting alone, authorities believe that like-minded individuals may be helping him elude capture.

The intervening twenty four years between those two signature events brought numerous, increasingly lethal terrorist attacks--among our allies, such as the bombings and murders perpetrated by the IRA against British targets and the Aum Shinrikyo attack with sarin gas on the Tokyo subway in 1995, but also more attacks on American soil. These attacks include the lethal, destructive bombings of the World Trade Center in New York in 1993 and the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995--both of which, like the Atlanta Centennial Olympic Park bombing, brought terrorism into our own neighborhoods. The United States lost its innocence at the end of the 20th century.

At the end of the 20th century, terrorism has grown increasingly lethal but also more confusing and anonymous--a dangerous, unsettling combination. The reasons behind such violent acts as the Oklahoma City bombing and the 1997 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania are either hidden or writ uncomfortably large-nothing less than the general disruption of United States power and authority. The targets of terrorism are increasingly everyone and no one. As the century turns, American society itself has become the primary target of terrorist attack.

The break-up of the Soviet Union has played a pivotal role in shaping world events at the start of a new millennium. The immediate threat, perceived by Senators Sam Nunn (D-GA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) and addressed by the landmark Nunn-Lugar legislation, was the plethora of nuclear, biological, chemical and information warfare weapons and expertise shaken loose by the collapse of the Soviet regime. Since the Soviet Union broke apart, the world has been safer from the threat of another world war but more at risk from attacks by a range of actors using conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction--available on the black market or loosely guarded--that threaten massive casualties and in some cases, even the survival of the human species.

The collapse of the Soviet Union, with the symmetry of two super powers face to face, each waiting for the other to blink, has resulted in the blurring of boundaries and the end of 20th century beliefs written with moral certainty in black and white. Concepts that defined world order for much of the 20th century are rapidly changing or disappearing-one of the most crucial being the concepts of countries and borders themselves. Vicious terrorist attacks are being fought at the substate level as ethnic groups within countries fight to split a country or to rid the country of an ethnic population entirely.