Mass destruction terrorism and WMD
"Terrorists want a lot of people watching, not a lot of people dead," Brian Jenkins opined. Jenkins's premise was based on the assumption that terrorist behavior is normative, and that if they exceeded certain constraints and employed WMD they would completely alienate themselves from the public and possibly provoke swift and harsh retaliation. This assumption does seem to apply to certain secular terrorist groups.
Psychologist B. J. Berkowitz describes six psychological types who would be most likely to threaten or try to use WMD: paranoids, paranoid schizophrenics, borderline mental defectives, schizophrenic types, passive-aggressive personality types, and sociopath personalities. He considers sociopaths the most likely actually to use WMD.
Nuclear terrorism expert Jessica Stern though disagrees. She believes that "Schizophrenics and sociopaths, for example, may want to commit acts of mass destruction, but they are less likely than others to succeed." She points out that large-scale dissemination of chemical, biological, or radiological agents requires a group effort, but that "Schizophrenics, in particular, often have difficulty functioning in groups...."
Stern's understanding of the WMD terrorist appears to be much more relevant than Berkowitz's earlier stereotype of the insane terrorist. It is clear from the appended case study of Shoko Asahara that he is a paranoid. Whether he is schizophrenic or sociopathic is best left to psychologists to determine. The case study of Ahmed Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the World Trade Center (WTC) bombing on February 26, 1993, does not suggest that he is schizophrenic or sociopathic. On the contrary, he appears to be a well-educated, highly intelligent Islamic terrorist.
In 1972 Berkowitz could not have been expected to foresee that religiously motivated terrorists would be prone to using WMD as a way of emulating God or for millenarian reasons. This examination of about a dozen groups that have engaged in significant acts of terrorism suggests that the groups most likely to use WMD are indeed religious groups, whether they be wealthy cults like Aum Shinrikyo or well-funded Islamic terrorist groups like al-Qaida or Hizballah.
Trends in terrorism over the past three decades have contradicted the conventional thinking that terrorists are averse to using WMD. It has become increasingly evident that the assumption does not apply to religious terrorist groups or millenarian cults.
A trend can be seen: the emergence of religious
fundamentalist and new religious groups espousing the rhetoric of mass-destruction
terrorism. In the 1990s, groups motivated by religious imperatives, such as Aum Shinrikyo,
Hizballah, and al-Qaida, have grown and proliferated. Their outlook is one that divides
the world simplistically into "them" and "us." With its sarin attack
on the Tokyo subway system on March 20, 1995, the doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo turned the
prediction of terrorists using WMD into reality.
New breeds of increasingly dangerous religious terrorists
emerged in the 1990s. The most dangerous type is the Islamic fundamentalist. A case in
point is Ramzi Yousef, who brought together a loosely organized, ad hoc group, the
so-called Liberation Army, apparently for the sole purpose of carrying out the WTC
operation on February 26, 1993. Moreover, by acting independently the small self-contained
cell led by Yousef prevented authorities from linking it to an established terrorist
organization, such as its suspected coordinating group,Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida, or a
possible state sponsor.