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How Law Enforcement Agencies Define Terrorism

August 24, 2016 | Written by Dan Margolis

Since the events of 9/11, the country has been on high alert for acts of terrorism. This has led to the necessity for law enforcement agencies in Ohio and around the country to review certain aspects of a crime, whether a bombing, mass shooting, chemical attack or some other act, and decide whether or not it should be classified as a domestic or international act of terrorism.

According to the FBI, there are two defining characteristics that apply to both domestic and international terrorism. One is that the acts are conducted to impede government, influence government policies or coerce or intimidate a civilian population. The second is when state or federal law is broken by dangerous and/or violent acts.

Whether or not an act should be considered domestic or international terrorism depends on the primary jurisdiction. If the act occurs mainly on U.S. soil, it is domestic; if it involves mostly territories outside the country or crosses national borders, then it is considered international.

According to CNN, the underlying motives are the key factor in play when labeling an act. A radicalized person can commit a crime and it not be considered terrorism, depending on the intent of the crime. The number of victims does not affect what it is called either. The characteristics of the person committing the act, including the nationality, race or religion, also do not currently bear any significant weight on the ultimate classification of the act.

Law enforcement agencies must use the defining characteristics to decide what to label an event. Prior to determining if a violent act should be considered terrorism or a violent act, law enforcement agencies must take a look at the motive of the crime and decide whether or not the intent was to intimate a civilian population or somehow influence or disrupt government actions. This typically does not take long, as the person or group conducting the act leaves little room for interpretation. If the answer is yes, it is terrorism; if it is no, then it is a violent act without any ties to terrorism.

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