Concern about international terrorism on the part of the U.S. foreign policy community was driven by two overlapping issues: the use of tactics that fell outside the accepted norms of diplomacy and armed conflict and the spillover of terrorist violence into the international domain. The latter was particularly important, since the prominence of the United States in world affairs and its involvement in many contentious areas made Americans and American interests frequent targets. Hundreds of terrorist attacks have been directed against the United States, its diplomats, and its diplomatic facilities.
Major incidents have included the kidnappings of U.S. diplomats in Latin America in the late 1960s and early 1970s; the multiple hijacking to Jordan's Dawson Field in 1970; the attack on arriving American passengers at Israel's Lod Airport in 1972; the terrorist seizure of the Saudi Arabian embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, and the subsequent murder of two American diplomats in 1973; the terrorist takeover of the U.S. consulate in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1975; the 1979 takeover of the American embassy in Tehran; the suicide bombings of the American embassy and U.S. marine barracks in Beirut in 1983; the bombing in 1983 of the American embassy in Kuwait; the kidnappings of Americans and the protracted hostage crisis in Lebanon, which lasted from 1984 to 1991; the hijackings of TWA flight 847 and of the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985; the Libyan terrorist campaign in 1986; the sabotage and crash of PanAm flight 103 in 1988; the assassination plot against former President George H. W. Bush in 1993; the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993; the suicide bombing of the American military residential facility in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in 1996; the bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998; the suicide bombing of the destroyer USS Cole in 2000; and the attacks in 2001 on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The attacks in the 1980s increasingly involved truck bombs, huge amounts of explosives on wheels, often driven by suicide drivers. These attacks manifested a fundamental change in terrorism. Traditionally, terrorists wanted a lot of people watching, not a lot of people dead. Wanton violence was seen as counterproductive. But with the replacement of ideological causes by ethnic hatreds and religious fanaticism, large-scale, indiscriminate violence became the reality. Terrorists wanted a lot of people dead. But while truck bombs increased death tolls, they could not easily push the number of victims above several hundred. The terrorist solution was multiple attacks. In 1994 terrorists plotted to sabotage twelve U.S. airliners in the Pacific, and the 1998 attacks on the American embassies in Africa as well as the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon involved multiple targets. These large-scale operations have also led to fears that terrorists will incorporate chemical, biological, or possibly even nuclear weapons in future attacks.