The classical terrorist in the movies is a hostage taker. This is fitting enough since all terrorism is creating a hostage situation. Including state terrorism which makes up for majority of acts of terrorism in the world.An early form of state terrorism was practiced by US cavalry regiments which would stage so called "punitive expeditions" during the Indian Wars. In them they would fall upon an Indian village killing whoever they could get their hands on. This was usually done after Indians had risen in revolt as part of which they would often massacre settlers, which provided the apparent rationale for the punitive expedition, to compel the revolting Indians to desist from rebellion.
The method was recreated by the British in an industrialised manner in the course of the Second Boer War. Here the British systematically destroyed crops, livestock and homes of the Boers then rounded up Boer women and children and drove them into overcrowded concentration camps where malnutrition and disease were rampant. There they were held hostage until the Boer men gave up and discontinued their guerrilla campaign against the British.
Germany during the Second World War embraced state terrorism on a massive scale. Possibly the most unambiguous example of it is to be found in its conduct of occupation of Serbia. Here in October 1941 in just one three day massacre in the town of Kragujevac and the surrounding villages approximately 5,000 civilians were rounded up, then killed in mass executions as a way of compelling the guerrillas attacking the German troops to cease.
It should be apparent about all of the three examples above that they are hostage situations. This is what terrorism is. Punitive measures applied collectively against civilians and the threat of there of, not as a goal in itself, but as an instrument of compulsion. Non-state terrorists usually employ terrorism as a way to compel a state to desist from occupation. States on the other hand most often employ terrorism to compel guerillas to desist from resistance to occupation.
In both cases the targeted civilian population serves as a hostage. The principle is to show that there is a gun pointed to the head of the civilians. This is done for the purpose of convincing the entity which is being pressured that it is better off giving in to whatever demands are being put forth than it would be in the case if the "hostage taker" carries out its threat of collective punishment against the civilians. So in our examples the rationale was convincing the Indian, Boer and Serbian rebels that they are better off not resisting their subjugation rather than having their populace destroyed by the occupiers.
For this reason wanton killing or genocide are not a form of terrorism. Here the destruction of the targeted itself is the goal of the perpetrators. What differentiates the murder spree that was the 1999 Columbine Massacre from the murder spree that was 1985 Rome and Vienna airport attacks is that in the former case the point of the massacre was the massacre, where in the later case the point of the massacre was to try to exert pressure on Western governments and influence the nature of their relations with Israel. One was conceived as an instrument of compulsion, the other was not.
Terrorism wether state or non-state has a mixed record in terms of bringing forth the outcome desired by the terrorist. However just like with regular hostage taking the chances of it working to the terrorist's advantage are improved the more clear cut the demands put forth are, the more open the way for the pressured to comply with them is and the farthest the terrorist appears from a wanton, crazed killer who will murder the hostages wether his demands are met or not.
It is for this reason that the US administration was insistent that the reason terrorists murdered Americans in the WTC Attacks was because they hate the fact that Americans are free. This is a way of obfuscating the motivation of the attackers, it presents them not as terrorists with certain demands who are willing to under certain conditions cease their attacks, but as mad killers for whom the attacks are the point in themselves and who can never be appeased. This way the Americans are being told that they have nothing to lose by Washington continuing with the present foreign policy course thus frustrating the terrorist's attempt to pressure the American public into demanding a change in that area. In other words it is an attempt to confuse terrorism for mindless terrorizing. But terrorism is only that terrorizing from which a 'way out' is offered by the terrorizer.
It has to be understood also that the metaphorical gun pointed at the civilians does not have to represent a literal danger upon life. Non-state terrorists will sometimes carry out terrorist acts which do not aim to kill civilians, but instead aim to disrupt their lives and affect the quality of it. This will usually be a bomb detonation preceded by a warning call, an example of which would be the IRA's 1996 Manchester bombing. Likewise a state may carry out punitive terrorising measures that stop short of killing and aim instead to only create severe hardship for the civilians for example by turning off water or electricity to a town, something the US occupation had resorted to in Iraq.
Terrorism is not made such by a loss of life but by some sort of pressure derived from an action and a threat of future action against the civilian populace. Some definitions of terrorism attempt to maintain that an act of terrorism to qualify as such has to be destructive in itself. But by this logic the cutting off of electricity to a settlement by destroying a relay station is terrorism, but not if it is done at the turn of a switch. This does not make sense. Any collective punitive measures are going to prove destructive for the quality of life of the civilian population being held hostage wether they are borne of a bomb or a pen.
The most widespread form of state terrorising that stops short of direct killing is the economic blockade. Nowadays when sanctions are imposed on a country that the Empire is displeased with mainstream critics will rush to proclaim that they have reservations about the sanctions because of indications that they will not only affect the regime but also the populace, that they will cause hardship and destitution. What they do not recognise is that those behind the implementation of such sanctions are perfectly aware of this. Today this is the purpose of economic sanctions, they are by design a form of punitive measures aimed at the general populace. An attempt of compelling the populace of the targeted country to pressure their government to capitulate before the Empire so that their previous material quality of life may be restored.
Finally terrorising has nothing to do with creation of fright and terror. A terrorist may aim to cause a feeling of terror, but this is done only to seemingly amplify his actions, to extract greater effect from them. A politically motivated hostage taker is a terrorist not because he causes people to be stricken with fright, but because he threatens to execute his hostages. A terrorist is someone who threatens to inflict harm upon the civilian population unless his demands are met. A territory subject to an economic blockade and therefore forcefully prevented from trading with the outside is being terrorized albeit a blockade as such is hardly going to fill anyone with fright. (But will fill many with the feeling of helplessness and despair.)