Reading the above legal definition, was the UK's action in Iraq terrorism? (and for that matter, were the actions in Libya and Syria terrorism as well?)

The war clearly falls within all of subsection (2), was designed to influence the Iraqi government (well, remove - but that falls within influence), so 1)(b) is satisfied, and even without the ideological motive that the United States government later adopted (spreading Democracy), at the very least there was a political motive for the war, therefore 1)(c) is satisfied.

  • This is actually surprisingly interesting, because the Terrorism Act didn't specify that acts governed by the law of war are not governed by the Terrorism Act (normally, anti-terrorism stuff explicitly excludes acts of combatants in an armed conflict).
    – cpast
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 16:56

1 Answer 1


R v Gul [2013] UKSC 64

Quoting from the trial court, the judgement includes a jury question to the judge:

“Re: definition of terrorism in [section 1 of the 2000 Act], would the use of force by Coalition forces be classed as terrorism?

The judge replied:

the use of force by Coalition forces is not terrorism. They do enjoy combat immunity, they are ordered there by our government and the American government, unless they commit crimes such as torture or war crimes …

The Supreme Court noted that an ordinary language interpretation of the definition would include military activity, even if that activity is approved by the UK government.

As a matter of ordinary language, the definition would seem to cover any violence or damage to property if it is carried out with a view to influencing a government or IGO in order to advance a very wide range of causes. Thus, it would appear to extend to military or quasi-military activity aimed at bringing down a foreign government, even where that activity is approved (officially or unofficially) by the UK government.

However, an ordinary language interpretation isn't the ending point of the analysis (as demonstrated by the judge's reply which uses the principle of combat immunity). The Supreme Court left open the possibility that international law could make the definition narrower than the ordinary language interpretation, but they don't get to that question in this case.

It is neither necessary nor appropriate to express any concluded view whether the definition of “terrorism” goes that far, although it is not entirely easy to see why, at least in the absence of international law considerations, it does not.

  • Combat immunity I understand, but does that immunity extend to the political process that brought about that war? Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 11:22
  • Legislative privilege.
    – user3851
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 13:58

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