Okay, well, without going into too many details (which I'm not allowed to do anyway per standing order), I know a few things about terrorism and terrorists. This knowledge is pre-9/11. And it comes from people who have studied, in depth, and with the purpose and intent to keep our country safe and defeat terrorists worldwide. And the terrorists in the study include not only Islamic Terrorists, but Basque, Irish, Italian, Columbian, Honduran, Indonesian, Japanese, Palestinian, Greek, Egyptian, North African (Sudanese, Libyan, Moroccan) and US domestic terrorist groups.
Here it is, in a nutshell. Terrorist are political animals. As we used to joke about the Russians, terrorists don't crap in the morning unless their politics tells them it's okay. Terrorists are not interested in "freeing their brethren" or "seeing justice done" or any of that other happy horse puckey they like to spew out to the presses. Terrorists (once they've gone the route of terror) are interested in only one thing. Revolution and the overthrow of their "oppressor" government(s).
See, terrorists were once political activists. People who want to either see change or see themselves in power. And all those dreams and aspirations are quashed. Now, most people would be angry, rail against the machine, maybe try it again, or work a different vein to see if they could effect change. The terrorist is unreconcilable. The status quo (the reason their plans didn't come to fruition) is intolerable to them. There is no compromise (we'll get back to that), and they must continue their "good fight." This is the point where they change to terrorists.
At this time, they realize they will not achieve their dreams by persuasion. They also realize they will never garner enough support to directly challenge the targeted government(s). So they're willing to try a gamble. We can call it a desperate gamble, a far flung hope, a twisted mental condition. However, in the mind of the terrorist, it is the only option left available to them. They have given up their hope to be in charge, but, damnit, they'll take down the oppressive government.
This is important to understand. The terrorist has accepted (individually and as a group) that they will not survive. Sure, they might have some hope, but it no longer figures into their current operating mentality. The terrorists accept that they will not win. This is their actual compromise, "I will not be there to see it, but I will bring down those who thwarted me." And it's here where they have slight hope. In the chaos they sew, they will hope to be able to take control in the power vacuum once the government fails, before any another force can assume that roll. Yes, this is why a terrorist is called insane. This is their twisted mentality.
So, how does a terrorist, who knows they don't have the money, manpower, or populist appeal to it themselves overthrow a government? They get the population, the governed, to do it. Again, a terrorist is a political animal. The people who drive the ideology are not idiots. They are highly educated and intellectual people and they think about politics all the time. Everything to them, as it was to the Revolutionaries of the early 20th century, is political. They will use politics.
There is a basic compact between the governed and the government. We can talk about "surf and turf" all day, but these days governments are formed (for the most part) on the contract between the governed and the government that the governed will relinquish some freedoms (like, I can't kill my neighbor just because his goat wanders on my land) for the establishment of law, order, and our mutual protection.
Remember that. Law. Order. Mutual Protection. And this is what the terrorist will strike at. They will attempt to sever those bonds between the governed and the government, driving the governed to revolt against the government and violently overthrow them. Again, they are willing to die to get this revolution started, although they hold out hope that once it does, in the chaos they will be able to gather enough support to take the reigns of power at the end.
And so they kill civilians. They very people they hope will rise up. Why? Because they're making their political point that the government can no longer protect them. That strikes at the first leg of the tripod agreement. They kill those civilians with great violence, wantonness, and in such a way to create the greatest amount of disorder in society. That strikes at the second leg. And they hope the government, desperate to keep their power, responding to the outrageousness and deliberate undermining of our social processes (9/11 - they used our air travel and subverted both the minimal security protecting us there, and our preconception that all hijackers would negotiate - this, both of these, were the main reason the attacks were carried out this way, it was part of the attack) will respond by violating their own laws, the civil liberties of the citizens/subject, and react in the same barbaric tone to kill the terrorists (which they can never fully do, the result of the highly asymmetrical war). All of these are the intent and work to the plans of the terrorist.
The effects of this are what the terrorists are after (not the actual deaths of civilians, that's just lighting the fuse to the bomb). And, it's normally where their plans are foiled. Unless the targeted government takes the bait and violates their own charters, limit the rights of the people they govern, and respond outside the laws of their own nation and their treaties with others. This is when things start rolling for the terrorists.
The people are afraid (that whole terror thing). And they see their government breaking the implied compact to keep them safe, abide by the law, and not infringe further on their own rights. Fear is a tiring emotion. And when the people grow tired of fear, it will turn to anger. Only, who will they be angry with? The terrorists, or the government that violated the contract and still hasn't been able to make them safe? This is the terrorist's opportunity. It's the whole reason why they make horrific attacks, it is to get to this point. An angry populace that is looking to revenge and to take back their government.
Does this start to sound familiar, yet?
At this point the terrorists will strike again, but their attack will be slightly different. It will be designed to show the government is not as stable or as strong as the people think it is. They hope this will plant the seed that the people can re-take their government, and form a new one that will keep them safe, restore their freedoms, and live within the new confines they've made for it.
This is why terrorists should be treated as criminals and prosecuted within the law. And here, I should say, when they aren't shot in the street like rabid dogs we should try them as criminals. They are not an army. We can't fight a "war" against them. Again, this doesn't mean we shouldn't use the tools of the state to hunt them down and kill them. We shouldn't, however, give them higher status than that of common thugs. We shouldn't create special procedures for them, special courts, special rules. Our government shouldn't have changed any laws to go after them. We already can hunt them down, arrest them (if we can), and try them as murders and crooks with what we had. This regulates their attacks to only one leg of the tripod. And the more we put them away, the stronger that last leg becomes.
Those that we can't find we need to neuter or compromise. This is where the FBI has done a spectacular job in fighting domestic terrorism. They infiltrate, arrest the "masterminds" and compromise and subvert the rest. The movements are then neutered and powerless. Kill the head and the body dies. This is the difference between the FBI and Mossad. Mossad is willing to go "extra-constitutional" as we used to call it. Their focus is also to kill the body and get the head when they can. And this is why they're still fighting the same groups, and those groups have the backing of foreign governments (even though their politics don't align).
That's the basic math. Of course, in practicality it gets calculous and high sadistic statistics in the real world. Many of my friends have more recent experience with this. Is there something I missed or didn't explain well? Are there any questions? Something I glossed over because I've gone over it in my head so many times I keep forgetting the rest of you haven't been there? I'll probably write more at some point, about the particulars of certain events (in the past and recent) and how they tie in. But that's the nutshell.