why attacks happen


Terrorist attacks can be a difficult topic to talk about with students, especially if they live near where a recent attack occurred. Understanding the 'why' behind the attack is important so that a larger picture can be drawn and necessary context can be established. Generally, attacks are religiously, or politically motivated, this can offer you an opportunity to discuss constructive ways of making political or governmental change with your students that do not include resorting to violent means. 

Motivations for:


    Timothy McVeigh, along with Terry Nichols, bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on April 19, 1995. The attack killed a total of 168 people and the two perpetrators were arrested. McVeigh was sentenced to death and executed while Nichols was sentenced to life in prison. Before the attack, McVeigh had been in the army, but was discharged in 1991. He developed a hatred for the United States government and these feelings were then intensified after the government stand offs in Ruby Ridge, Idaho and Waco, Texas. He began planning the attack with Nichols as well as another Army friend, Michael Fortier, in 1994.

In a series of letters, McVeigh explained his motivations for bombing the federal building

"Foremost the bombing was a retaliatory strike; a counter attack for the cumulative raids (and subsequent violence and damage) that federal agents had participated in over the preceding years (including, but not limited to, Waco). From the formation of such units as the FBI's Hostage Rescue and other assault teams amongst federal agencies during the 80s, culminating in the Waco incident, federal actions grew increasingly militaristic and violent, to the point where at Waco, our government - like the Chinese - was deploying tanks against its own citizens.”
“...what occurred in Oklahoma City was no different than what Americans rain on the heads of others all the time”

    McVeigh’s actions and motivations could be classified as anti-government or right wing terrorism. He believed that the government was corrupt and failing its citizens, so his solution was to attack the federal building in Oklahoma and thus, the government itself.



    On September 11, 2001, 19 men with links to al-Qaeda hijacked 4 planes and crashed them into the pentagon and the two world trade centers. The 4th plane was unsuccessful in reaching its target (which is still unknown), but it still crash landed with no survivors. A total of 2,977 people died that day, including the 19 hijackers. This was and still is the largest terrorist attack on U.S. soil and the country was devastated in the wake of it. The terrorist group al-Qaeda possess a strong hatred for the United States because of a number of factors including but not limited to U.S. involvement in the Middle East and its support of Israel. After the attacks, the leader of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, recorded a statement claiming responsibility for the attacks as well as explaining why they were carried out.

"We fought you because we are free ... and want to regain freedom for our nation. As you undermine our security we undermine yours,"
"Each state that does not meddle with our security has naturally guaranteed its own security."

Bin Laden, in the statements above, said these attacks were in retaliation for our involvement and in the Middle East and that they feel as though their freedom has been taken away from them by the United States. He also says that if we leave the Middle East region alone, we will no longer be in any danger from them. So essentially this attack had two motivations, pay back for the actions of the U.S. and a warning to cease those actions in the future.


Orlando Nightclub Shooting

 Omar Mateen shot and killed 49 people and injured 53 more at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando Florida on June 12th, 2016. While there is no concrete evidence that the gunman specifically targeted the nightclub specifically because it had largely gay clientele, it has been confirmed that he was supporting ISIS. He called 911 multiple times during the attack to talk with police and told them the motive behind his attack, that he had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, and praised one of the brothers that was responsible for the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings.

”You have to tell the U.S. government to stop bombing. They are killing too many children. They are killing too many women, okay,”
“Yo, the airstrike that killed Abu Wahib a few weeks ago, that’s what triggered it, okay?”

(In the second quote, Mateen was referring to a U.S. airstrike that killed a high-ranking member of ISIS.)  Mateen was carrying out this attack because the U.S. has continued to carry out bombing attacks in the Middle East to try to eliminate known ISIS members. However, he never made any homophobic comments or gave any specific reason as to why he chose the Pulse nightclub.

What Happens After:

    In the aftermath of a terrorist attack in the United States, we often see the public come together to mourn the loss of life and stand with the survivors. Over the past few decades, the U.S. has been through quite a few major attacks and each of them has shaped either policy, security protocol, public mindset, or a combination of all three.  


The attacks on 9/11 had extraordinarily significant effects on everything from airport security to the creation or restructuring of over 250 government agencies/organizations, including the Department of Homeland Security. The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) was a major addition to airports post 9/11. It was created to screen passengers and their belongings to try and prevent dangerous people or objects from getting onto a plane and jeopardizing the safety of all those on board. The Department of Homeland Security was created less than 2 weeks after 9/11 and its primary objective is to protect the U.S. from terrorist attacks and other such dangers. One of the most controversial changes in the wake of 9/11 was the creation of the USA PATRIOT Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism). This act gives the government the right to seize any tangible material from any individual, wiretap any individual, or conduct surveillance on

any individual who they suspect is involved in terrorist activity, all without a warrant. It also helps law enforcement, defense, and intelligence agencies to communicate and share information better, and made the punishments for committing terrorism harsher. There has also been a dramatic increase in the amount of hate crimes against Muslims in America after 9/11, they are 5 times more frequent than they were before the attacks.


Boston marathon bombing

    The Boston Marathon bombings were the first major terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. 3 people were killed and over 260 people were injured. This attack didn’t inspire the same amount of change 9/11 did, but it served as a solemn reminder that even with all the changes in intelligence and defense and increases in security measures, every attack can’t be predicted and prevented. The perpetrators were of Chechen descent and had a chaotic home life and the eldest brother, Tamerlan turned to radical Islam and seemed to be the driving force behind the attacks and Dzhokhar was willingly along for the ride. Tamerlan died in a police shootout and Dzhokhar was sentenced to death in mid-2015. The brothers being Muslim did not help the Islamophobia that has existed in this country since 9/11 but rather it inflamed the issue once again. The trial and sentencing was also a very big deal because the U.S. did not get the chance to bring the 19 suicide hijackers from 9/11 to justice. Massachusetts does not have the death penalty but because this was a federal case and there was so much pain in the hearts of the locals, Dzhokhar was sentenced to death.


San Bernardino

    14 people were killed and 21 injured during a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California on December 2, 2015. The perpetrators were a husband and wife team, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik. In the attack, they used guns that were all legally obtained, which has stirred up the issue of gun control in the United States. Many hold the view that easier access to guns means acts of terrorism are that much easier to perpetrate, but others think that guns need to be easily accessible to protect themselves from people like this husband and wife. In addition, both of these suspects were Muslim, which makes it an easy leap for some to blame their religion for the reason as to why they decided to carry out the attack, which then leads to more widespread islamophobia. During the investigation of the shooting, the FBI found a cell phone (iPhone) belonging to Farook and wanted to access the information on it, but Apple refused to help on the ethical grounds that this set a dangerous precedent and could have serious implications outside of this case. The FBI eventually found a way into the phone but it turns out it was just a work phone that Farook never really used that much. This case presents a huge ethical dilemma as a case like this has never come up before. Does Apple have to prioritize national security over privacy for their customers?