Terrorist attacks and attempts of terrorist attacks that were prevented in time occur recently in high frequency and all over the world. Terrorist attacks can be defined as any attack that uses arms, explosives, chemical, radiological and biological weapons on innocent civilians (Hall et al., 2002). The use of the weapons is done with the intent to produce causalities and mass destruction. Terrorist attacks are malicious and calculated acts that aim at inflicting high death tolls, social chaos, psychological deterioration, economic break-down and political turmoil (Silver & Matthew,2008). Terrorists use civilians to promote their own goals. The spread of fear, panic, hurt, death and devastation is used as leverage and a promotional tool of their political doctrine.
Terrorist attacks occur suddenly and unpredictably. A terrorist attack is a traumatic event, one which the individual has no time to psychologically or behaviorally prepare for and which produces maximum disastrous outcomes. Terrorist attacks disturb and abrupt reality as one knows it. A peaceful ordinary day suddenly becomes filled with horrifying images and death. The contrast is so drastic that it disturbs all psychological equilibrium and creates severe psychological dissonance. The unpredictability and uncontrollability of the terrorist attacks lead to extreme anxiety, stress and fright among the whole population and it lingers long after the actual attack.
In addition, terrorist attacks are comparable to warzones. Civilians are not trained for combat nor carry weapons, which can protect them. Civilians are unfamiliar with the sounds, smells and sights that are often experienced in a war zone. Knowing how to responds to gunshots, bombs, the injured, sights of limbs laying on the ground or dead bodies are not in the normal behavioral repertoire of civilians. The gruesome sights of human suffrage and destruction are incomprehensible. Exposure to such sights will therefore raise intense feelings such as anxiety, anger, panic, distress, hopelessness, powerlessness and helplessness. Because of the fact that normal living conditions will scarcely raise similar intensity of emotions to the emotions that terrorist attacks produce, one is faced with unfamiliar sensations and lack of knowledge of how to control such emotions. Many will feel unable to cope with their emotions. A sense of lack of control over the world and own psychological well-being will enhance the risk of developing psychological disorders.
Terrorism targets the whole community. Every person who passes randomly by at the time of the attack is a potential victim. Terrorists may attack a place that holds a great symbolic value or simply attack public places that are highly inhabited such as markets, restaurants or a bus station. The highly random choice of places and timing sends a clear message. No place is completely safe or protected and it can happen whenever the terrorists choose to commit their inhuman acts. Unlike soldiers who go into a battle well prepared, armed and often under planned and controlled situations, civilians are unarmed and unaware of the time that they might be exposed to battle-like conditions. The sense of helplessness, vulnerability and uncontrollability increases in each civilian with every attack. The psychological impact of each terrorist attack does not only have an effect on those who directly experienced the trauma. Each attack is experienced on an individual as well as on national levels. The impact is felt in various areas of one’s life, for example, the emotional, behavioral, psychological and even cultural aspects (Ben Yaacov & Amir, 2004).
Ben Yaacov, Y., & Amir, M. (2004). Posttraumatic symptoms and suicide risk. Personality and Individual Differences, 36, 6, 1257-1264.
Hall, M. J., Norwood, A. E., Ursano, R. J., Fullerton, C. S., & Levinson, C. J. (2002). Psychological and behavioral impacts of bioterrorism. PTSD Research Quarterly, 13, 4, fall issue.
Silver, R. C., & Matthew, R. (2008). Terrorism. In V. N. Parrillo (Ed.), Encyclopedia of social problems (Vol. 2, pp. 926–929). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.