International Legal Aspects of Aerial Terrorism

Methods of Law Enforcement in Aviation

by Mateusz Osiecki (Author)
©2022 Monographs 274 Pages
Series: Ius, Lex et Res Publica, Volume 22


The monograph discusses the problem of aerial terrorism, one of the biggest challenges humanity faces in the 21st century. Its main goal is to answer the question of whether international legal regulations serve as an effective tool in the fight against terrorists who target civil aviation.
The book itself is divided into three chapters: the first one focuses on the theoretical aspect by describing the term “aerial terrorism” itself from a legal perspective. The second one is an in-depth overview of key legal instruments drafted under the auspices of ICAO, the United Nations, and the European Union, that together form a juridical core for the fight against air terrorists. Finally, the third is a case study that depicts how the mechanisms described in the previous parts function in practice.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgement
  • Table of Contents
  • Introductory note
  • Glossary of abbreviations
  • Chapter 1. Terrorism as a legal phenomenon
  • 1.1. Evolution of terrorist movements
  • 1.1.1. The dawn of terrorism
  • 1.1.2. Terrorism throughout centuries
  • 1.1.3. Fundamentalism: The fiercest face of terrorism
  • a) Al-Qaeda
  • b) ISIS
  • 1.2. “Terrorism:” Definition and scope of the term
  • 1.2.1. Difficulties in defining
  • 1.2.2. Cross-section of definitions
  • 1.2.3. Characteristics of terrorism
  • 1.3. Aspects of aerial terrorism
  • 1.3.1. Introductory notes
  • 1.3.2. Why is civil aviation an “attractive target” for terrorists?
  • 1.3.3. Types of attacks
  • a) Skyjacking vs. aerial piracy
  • b) Aircraft bombing
  • c) Usage of an aeroplane as a weapon
  • d) Shooting down an aircraft
  • e) Destruction of airport infrastructure
  • f) Cyberattacks in aviation
  • g) Usage of specific types of weapons (e.g. biological, nuclear or chemical)
  • h) Targeting passengers directly
  • 1.4. Use of force in response to terrorism
  • 1.4.1. Classical approach to the fight against terrorism
  • 1.4.2. Understanding the “use of force” in relation to terrorism
  • 1.4.3. Change of perception
  • 1.4.4. “War on terror:” The perspective of civil aviation
  • 1.5. Role of state terrorism
  • 1.5.1. Brief analysis
  • 1.5.2. Ensuring safety without infringing human rights
  • a) Preventing terrorism: Sources of duty
  • b) Clash of rules of prevention with human rights protection
  • 1.5.3. State terrorism in civil aviation
  • 1.6. Unmanned aerial vehicles: The future of terrorism (?)
  • 1.6.1 UAV: Definition and role as a target of terrorism
  • 1.6.2. Hijacking a UAV
  • 1.6.3. Shooting down a UAV
  • 1.6.4. Cyber-attacks
  • Chapter 2. Role of selected international organisations in the fight against aerial terrorism
  • 2.1. Introduction
  • 2.2. The International Civil Aviation Organisation
  • 2.2.1. Common issues
  • 2.2.2. The Tokyo Convention
  • a) Circumstances of drafting
  • b) Scope of application
  • c) Jurisdiction
  • d) Powers of the aircraft commander
  • e) Rights and duties of states
  • f) Commentary
  • 2.2.3. The Hague Convention and the Montreal Convention
  • a) Circumstances of drafting
  • b) Scope of application
  • c) Jurisdiction
  • d) Extradition
  • e) Other states’ duties
  • f) Commentary
  • 2.2.4. The Montreal Protocol
  • a) Circumstances of drafting
  • b) Enhancement of the Montreal Convention
  • c) Commentary
  • 2.2.5. The Beijing Convention & the Beijing Protocol
  • a) Circumstances of drafting
  • b) Scope of application
  • c) Jurisdiction
  • d) Extradition and duties of states
  • e) Commentary
  • 2.2.6. The Montreal Protocol of 2014
  • a) Circumstances of drafting
  • b) Enhancement of the Tokyo Convention
  • c) Commentary
  • 2.3. United Nations
  • 2.3.1. General Assembly
  • a) Pre-9/11 Resolutions
  • b) Post-9/11 Resolutions
  • c) Commentary
  • 2.3.2. Security Council
  • a) Resolutions adopted before the 1990s
  • b) Post-Lockerbie bombing Resolutions
  • c) Resolutions on the 11 September attacks
  • d) Post-11 September Resolutions
  • e) Commentary
  • 2.4. The European Union
  • 2.4.1. Overview of early anti-terrorist EU policy
  • 2.4.2. The role of EU Treaties
  • 2.4.3. Other anti-terrorist legislative tools enacted by the EU
  • a) Counter-Terrorism Strategy: A milestone in the campaign against terrorism
  • b) Overview of key secondary law acts related to aerial terrorism
  • 2.4.4. Regulation No. 300/2008
  • a) Scope of application
  • b) Common basic standards
  • c) Other provisions
  • d) Commentary
  • 2.4.5. Commission Regulation (EC) No. 272/2009 and its amendments: A supplement to the aviation security system
  • a) General remarks
  • b) Issues covered by the Annex
  • c) Commentary
  • 2.4.6. The PNR Directive: A controversial tool to prevent and eliminate aerial terrorism
  • a) The principal purpose of the Directive and the definition of PNR
  • b) Conflict with the right to privacy
  • c) Anti-terrorist context
  • 2.4.7. An accurate and up-to-date solution for the terrorist problem: Overview of Directive 2017/541
  • a) Framework Decisions 2002/475/JHA: The first important instrument in anti-terrorist legislation
  • b) Definition of terrorism common for all Member States
  • c) Wider scope of offences
  • d) Jurisdiction and prosecution, system of assistance to victims
  • e) Commentary
  • Chapter 3. Case study
  • 3.1. Introduction
  • 3.2. Metrojet flight No. 9268: Terror above the Sinai Peninsula
  • 3.2.1. Case facts and investigation
  • a) History of the flight
  • b) Investigation
  • 3.2.2. Analysis of the terrorist context
  • a) Presence of terrorist factors
  • b) Context of the Egyptian Penal Code
  • 3.2.3. Aspects of the attack in the light of sector Conventions
  • a) Montreal Convention
  • b) Possible application of Beijing Convention provisions
  • 3.2.4. A reason for retaliation?
  • 3.3. The downing of Malaysia Airlines flight 17: Another step towards the intensification of the conflict in eastern Ukraine
  • 3.3.1. Factual background
  • a) History of the flight
  • b) Investigation on the crash
  • 3.3.2. Was the attack really a terrorist attempt?
  • a) Attribution of attack to a state
  • b) Character of the shooting: Terrorist or not?
  • 3.3.3. The offence under the Tokyo-Hague-Montreal-Beijing system conventions
  • a) Applicability of the Montreal Convention
  • b) Hypothetical application of the Beijing Convention
  • 3.4. The 2016 Brussels Airport bombing: Europe as a target of the Islamic State
  • 3.4.1. Circumstances of the attack and the subsequent investigation
  • 3.4.2. Terrorist character of the bombing
  • a) Analysis on the basis of definition
  • b) Perspective of European Union law
  • c) Provisions of sector Conventions
  • 3.5. Air France 8969: A hijacking that could have ended in tragedy
  • 3.5.1. History of the flight
  • 3.5.2. Presence of a terrorist factor
  • 3.5.3. Classifying the offence as hijacking
  • a) The Tokyo Convention perspective
  • b) The Hague Convention regulations
  • c) Hypothetical application of the Beijing Protocol
  • 3.5.4. The attempt to use A300 as a weapon: A brief analysis
  • Concluding remarks
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series Index

←14 | 15→

Introductory note

Terrorism is a phenomenon considered by many experts in international relations, political science and law, as well as by numerous regular citizens, as one of the most daunting challenges that humanity needs to face in the twenty-first century. States of the world, as well as international organisations have engaged such a great deal of resources to fight against terrorists, that the current situation in this matter can now be even considered a “global war on terror”. Thousands of people killed, dozens of cities across the world attacked and countless attempts to spread panic among the public have made the global superpowers aware of the terrorists’ real capabilities. Although terrorism itself is a problem that has been a nuisance to the mankind since centuries, the world turned attention to it and commenced to treat it seriously just a few decades ago.

Today, global terrorist networks try to target many sectors of economic and political life, but one particular is especially vulnerable to attacks, namely civil aviation. Grim events from 11 September 2001 marked an opening of a new chapter in history – a chapter in which the international community got to understand that traditional forms of fight against aerial terrorism do not suffice and more ambitious solutions need to be implemented, also on the legal level, to win this “global war on terror”.

But one may inquire if this “global war”, at least in relation to civil aviation, is conducted in a satisfactory way. The safety of airlines’ passengers or generally people travelling by air is strongly dependent on decisions of governments and international organisations that work on improving aviation security. However, there is no single reason for protecting civil aircraft and airports from terrorist attacks. Civil aviation itself is currently a fundamental component of the world economy and even international relations. Air transport connects people inhabiting different corners of the world and brings them together, therefore allowing to maintain a peaceful and friendly coexistence of nations. It also plays a crucial role in establishing and sustaining business contacts and exchange of employees between companies across continents. Thus, its role as a basis for global economic and social development should not be underestimated. Terrorism has a potential to crush that order – some of the most spectacular attacks carried out against civil aviation did paralyse or slow down the growth in the discussed sector of transport. If improper actions from the side of the international community are taken, in a long-term perspective civil aviation might be under serious threat. ←15 | 16→Taking into account all the above-mentioned factors, there is a need to conduct research thereon.

Although the title of the monograph suggests that its scope might be immense; in fact, the author concentrates on answering the question related to what was said in the previous paragraph, that is: whether juridical solutions undertaken by states of the world that swore to protect their citizens from internal and external hazards (such as international terrorism) are adequate to effectively counter the problem of aerial terrorism. In other words, the question is whether the international community has undertaken appropriate measures to protect civil aviation from terrorism.

In order to answer these questions, it is necessary to thoroughly analyse the legal aspects of aerial terrorism, mostly concerning international public law. Thus, such an analysis is provided on the subsequent pages of the following monograph. The criteria for providing a clear answer shall be formulated on the basis of the undermentioned research theses: states (or the international community in general) react accurately to the threats posed by aerial terrorism; state actors work prospectively in their fight against air terrorists; actions of a juridical nature are uniform to the most possible extent on the international level; legal mechanisms provided by states who are in combat against terrorism are meaningful in practice.

In order to pin down terrorism as a concept, a brief history of the phenomenon is presented in the first chapter which discusses its early roots traced to Antiquity. Subsequently, a complex study on defining terrorism, with an emphasis of its crucial elements, is carried out. Some primary aspects of the fight against terrorism are also examined, including the evolution of the approach to use force in case of a terrorist attack, and the role of state terrorism. In the first chapter, various kinds of terrorist attacks that might be carried out against civil aviation are presented in detail, including types of offences that were unknown to the international community several years ago, but have become a real threat recently. The final pages of the first chapter are dedicated to an emerging issue in aviation security, namely the role of unmanned aircraft in aerial terrorism. The studies which touch upon these issues contribute to topicality of research provided by the present author. In terms of the methodology used in the chapter, formal-dogmatic method is the dominant one. The historical method plays a supplementary role, especially for the opening part of the chapter.

The second chapter of the monograph constitutes the core part of this book and is oriented at a detailed examination of legal instruments related to combat against aerial terrorism originating in three international organisations: International Civil Aviation Organisation, United Nations and European Union. It goes ←16 | 17→without saying that there are several other organisations which give the fight against terrorism a high priority (e.g. NATO, Arab League, etc.). However, the three enumerated institutions have had the greatest influence on developing a pragmatic approach to terrorism in civil aviation and, therefore, their actions deserve a closer scrutiny. The analysis provided in the second chapter has a critical character – comments are given on both positive and negative aspects of legislative acts adopted by the above-mentioned organisations in order to suggest what improvements can be introduced to the already existing measures and expose what flaws still exist in the system. As methodology used in research for the purposes of that chapter entailed mostly analyses of legal acts, a formal-dogmatic method along with the comparative method had a key role.

The final chapter is devoted to a case study which investigates in detail four selected attacks on civil aviation from the recent past. The selection of these events is by no means incidental – each of them features a particular issue related to fight against international aerial terrorism and their analysis shall help to understand how the mechanisms of eliminating terrorism function in practice. Each case study is divided into several sections, the opening one always describes the facts known about the event and outlines the course of investigation, while the subsequent sections focus on the terrorist factor and crucial legal aspects. A more practical nature of the chapter required usage of empirical method.

The closing part summarises the results of research and formulates the answer to key questions mentioned above.

The monograph itself constitutes an important voice in the discussion on the current legal measures adopted worldwide in response to terrorist attacks that have been haunting civil aircraft and their passengers. Although publications dedicated to this area of research have been widely released, very few of them focus on assessing how the mechanisms of protecting civil aviation function in the present times of rapid development of new technologies, research on unmanned aircraft systems, or cutting-edge solutions concerning cybersecurity. The relevance of the topic together with the fact that terrorism as a domain constantly evolves and research conducted thereon is still absolutely essential were a core motive for taking up this subject matter and writing this book

As in the area of aviation law there is indeed a very strong alliance between academic researchers and representatives of political and governmental institutions, the author hopes the present work could contribute to the continuous improvement of legal measures adopted for the safety of citizens and air passengers.

←18 | 19→

Glossary of abbreviations


Air Accident Investigation Unit


Al-Qaeda in Iraq


advance passenger information


auxiliary power unit


air traffic control


biological, chemical or nuclear (weapons)


The Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (French: Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses pour la Sécurité de l’Aviation Civile)


Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation (German: Bundesstelle für Flugunfalluntersuchung)


Cuban Air Force


Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union


Commonwealth of Independent States


Court of Justice of the European Union


United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee


Donetsk People’s Republic


European Convention of Human Rights


Economic and Social Council of the United Nations


European Court of Human Rights


National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters (Greek: Εθνική Οργάνωσις Κυπρίων Αγωνιστών; Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston)


Land and Freedom Organisation (Basque: Euskadi te Askatasuna)


European Union


Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Spanish: Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia)


Federal Bureau of Investigation


governmental organisation (or international organisation)


Armed Islamic Group (French: Groupe Islamique Armé)


National Gendarmerie Intervention Group (French: Groupe d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale)


International Atomic Energy Agency


International Civil Aviation Organisation


International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights←19 | 20→


International Court of Justice


improvised explosive device


in-flight security officer


International Law Commission


Instrumental Landing System


International Humanitarian Law


Irish Republican Army


Islamic State of Iraq


Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham


Joint Investigation Team (crash of Malaysia Airlines 17)


Interstate Aviation Committee (Russian: Межгосударственный авиационный комитет)


liquids, aerosols and gels


Luhansk People’s Republic


North Atlantic Treaty Organisation


National Security Strategy (United States, 2002)



ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (September)
International law Civil aviation Aircraft hijacking Acts of unlawful interference Global security European Union
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 274 pp.

Biographical notes

Mateusz Osiecki (Author)

Mateusz Osiecki obtained his Ph.D. in international public law at the University of Łódź, Poland. He currently works at the Łazarski University in Warsaw as an assistant professor at the Institute of Air and Space Law. His main research areas include public international law, European law and aviation law.


Title: International Legal Aspects of Aerial Terrorism
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