Not all Islamists support terrorism, but in many places, the movement has fed the growth of terrorism. Iran and Saudi Arabia have both provided financial support for terrorist organizations. For some, terrorism is connected to the concept of jihad, an Arabic word meaning “struggle.” The word is most frequently used to describe an inner struggle in God's service. However, some extremist groups, such as Islamic Jihad, have interpreted the word to mean a violent holy war to defend or spread Islam. Some jihadi extremists seek to become martyrs, or people who die for a cause, by becoming suicide bombers.

Al Qaeda and the September 11 Attacks

The best known Islamist terrorist organization is al Qaeda (ahl KY duh), which means “the Base” in Arabic. Its founder Osama bin Laden, was a wealthy Saudi businessman who joined Muslim fighters battling Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Later, he called for the overthrow of “un-Islamic” governments and the expulsion of non-Muslims from Muslim countries. Bin Laden fiercely denounced U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia.

Photo of men in turbans sitting next to shoulder fired missiles and other weapons.

The Taliban is an Islamist group that took control of Afghanistan in 1996 and was removed from power in 2001. Here, Taliban members are preparing to surrender their weapons to anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda built a global network to train and finance terrorist activities. In 1998, al Qaeda terrorists bombed U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. But the major blow came when al Qaeda struck inside the United States.

On September 11, 2001, the Al Qaeda Islamic terrorist group hijacked four commercial passenger airplanes and crashed two of them into the World Trade Center in New York City and one into the Pentagon in northern Virginia. A fourth plane, aimed at the White House, crashed into a Pennsylvania field after passengers rushed the hijackers in the cockpit. Nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks.

President George W. Bush described the events as “evil despicable acts of terror.” The swift U.S. response to the terror attacks would have far-reaching consequences in the United States and overseas.

Photo of the two towers of the world trade center emitting smoke and fire.

Smoke billowed from the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City after Islamist terrorists piloted planes into each building. Shortly afterward, the towers collapsed.

The U.S. Response to Terrorism

Al Qaeda's attack on the United States shocked the world and led governments around the world to step up efforts to stop terrorism. Since the 9-11 attacks, the United States and other nations have worked together to respond to the global threat of terrorism.


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments