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Terrorist organizations that operated throughout Western Europe throughout the 1970s and 1980s differed from the religion-driven terrorists that dominate today in significant ways. Such groups as the Red Army Faction in West Germany, Direct Action in France, the Red Brigades in Italy, and the Communist Combatant Cells in Belgium were politically-motivated organizations composed overwhelmingly of middle-class radicals who opposed capitalism, democracy, and U.S. influence and were supported by the intelligence services of the Soviet Bloc, with the KGB providing money and training. While evidence existed that these organizations were supported by the Soviet Union, it wasn’t until the end of the Cold War and the opening of the archives of the Soviet and East German intelligence services that definitive proof emerged of the Soviet Bloc’s role in terrorism. Funding for these organizations, in addition to financial support from the Soviet Union, came from kidnappings and bank robberies.
Other terrorist organizations that functioned in Europe during this period yet which had origins and causes apart from those mentioned above were the Irish Republican Army and the Basque ETA. The IRA's origins went back many decades with the growth of militant opposition among Ireland’s Catholics to the Protestant British presence in and influence over Ireland. The IRA enjoyed financial and military support from Arab nationalist regimes like that in Libya, but also financed its activities through extortion, kidnappings, bank robberies, and by contributions from supporters among the Irish American community in the United States.
The second of these organizations, the ETA (Basque Homeland and Freedom), is a separatist organization that seeks independence for the Basque ethnic group in Spain. Like the IRA, the ETA has roots that go back many decades. The ETA has been dormant since a ceasefire was declared in January 2011. Like the IRA, the ETA was largely self-funded through extortion and donations.
The terrorism that predominates today is religious-based, primarily steeped in Islamic extremism. It shares with the European terrorists of the 1970s and 1980s opposition to the U.S. role in the world, although Islamic extremists tend to focus primarily on removing the U.S. presence and influence from what is viewed by many Muslims as the Islamic Ummah, or nation, stretching from Morocco to Indonesia. It is this sense of an Islamic nation or community that, combined with Arab nationalism, vehemently rejects what Muslims consider a Western intrusion in its midst: the Jewish State of Israel. Islamic terrorist organizations, most prominently Al Qaeda, oppose what they view as U.S.-supported corrupt and repressive regimes like that which governed Egypt prior to the so-called “Arab Spring.”
Islamic terrorist organizations receive a great deal of funding from wealthy donors scattered throughout the Muslim world, especially in the Persian Gulf region. A basic tenet of Islam is charitable giving, much of which has over the years been diverted to organizations like Al Qaeda. In addition, Islamic terrorist organizations, for example, Hamas and Hezbollah, receive funding from business operations in the U.S. and Western Europe, criminal activities like cigarette smuggling, and donations from Muslims around the world. Hezbollah maintains active financial operations in the “tri-border” region of South America, where Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay meet.
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