It seems that not a day goes by as of late in which there hasn’t been some sort of act of terror. The attacks in Berlin, Nice, Stockholm, and London, are just examples of the changing face of terrorism but also the fact that it will seemingly never go away. Since 9/11, terrorists have changed their modus operandi, moving from planes to trucks to cars to knives. However, certain acts seem to not get classified as terrorism by the media and this is something that confuses a lot of people. For instance, the Bourke Street Mall attack in Melbourne, in which six people died, was described as a tragedy, rampage, and massacre. Indeed, the attacker faced murder charges rather than terror charges. James Feldkamp, and expert on counterterrorism operations, tries to explain this difference.
The Difference between Attacks According to James Feldkamp
Despite the fact that terrorism is now seemingly so commonplace, there does not exist a formal definition of what it actually is. So far, any efforts to truly define terrorism have failed. Most countries have their own definitions that are guided by domestic law. These domestic laws are wholly different but must be taken into consideration when determining whether or not a criminal offence was a terrorist act or not.
One thing that is usually seen in all countries is that there has to be a motive that is based on ideological, religious, or political beliefs. If those beliefs do not underpin the act itself, it will unlikely be classed as an act of terror. Additionally, the acts must usually intend to intimidate the public specifically. While all criminal acts cause intimidation, this is not necessarily the primary motive.
Then, there is the fact that following a violent act, legal charges of serious assault, murder, and terrorism may hold up in court. The justice system will generally choose the charge in which they are most likely to obtain a successful conviction. Hence, just because somebody is charged with murder does not necessarily mean they didn’t engage in an act of terror. Terrorism laws mean that the prosecution has to prove that a special intent or motive was present. Yet, the maximum penalty for terrorism charge is the same as that of a murder charge, being life in prison. Hence, prosecutors will often opt for the murder charge because it is more likely that they will secure that life imprisonment conviction.
Mean well, there is the element of the media. The media has to be impartial but they are also limited by reporting rules and regulations. If they label something as a terrorist act, it will become more difficult for prosecutors to lower those charges to murder or serious assault at a later stage. Hence, through their reporting, they may have endangered the outcome of the trial and even the ability of the defendant to have a fair trial.This means that the media will also often use language of lesser seriousness.