The Evolving Threat of Terrorism

  • Grades 9 to 12
  • Lesson Duration: One class period
  • Theme: Repercussions of 9/11

Essential Question: How has the threat of terrorism evolved, and what can counterterrorism agents learn from the hunt for bin Laden? 

Learning Goals

Students will analyze the evolving and persistent threat of terrorism.

Students will discuss the importance of inter-agency collaboration in current events as well as historically.


al-Qaeda: This international Islamist extremist terrorist network is responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Al-Qaeda is responsible for multiple terrorist attacks since its founding in the 1980s by Osama bin Laden and others who were involved in the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Their aim has been to overthrow governments in the Middle East, and elsewhere in the Muslim world, which do not strictly enforce a narrow, fundamentalist version of Islam. 

Terrorism: This is when people use violence for political ends. 


1.  Tell students they will investigate some of the ways terrorism has evolved since the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011 and consider what lessons have been learned in the process.

2.  Show the video clip below, The Death of Bin Laden: An Ongoing Threat, which exposes bin Laden’s activity while in hiding and what that information means for the intelligence community.

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3.  After showing the clip, ask students to read the section overview below and consider the following questions:

  • What is a lone actor? What makes that type of attack different from attacks like 9/11?
  • Why has fighting terrorism remained a challenge for law enforcement, military, and intelligence officers in the years since the death of bin Laden?

The raid was the culmination of years of risk, involving countless individuals across dozens of U.S. and allied government agencies. After the operation’s conclusion, Osama bin Laden’s death spurred headlines globally. It was a defining moment for millions of people.

However, the death of bin Laden offers no tidy conclusion to the story of al-Qaeda or of terrorism generally. His successors and others remain faithful to his vision of a religious war. Al-Qaeda is active and continues to plan attacks, while affiliated organizations and radicalized individuals plot their own strikes.

Bin Laden’s fanatical beliefs did not die with him. Until people are no longer willing to kill or die for these ideas, the threat will persist. Even so, a determined network of intelligence, military, and law enforcement officers across the globe, well-practiced in their methods, works tirelessly to counter the terrorist threat. 


4.  Show the video clip below, The Death of Bin Laden: Lessons Learned, in which President Barack Obama reveals what he hopes the intelligence community can take away from the hunt for bin Laden.

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5.  Ask students to share what they think President Obama hopes people will draw from the 10-year hunt for Osama bin Laden. Conclude by asking the question, can you think of other times in history or today when people have worked together for the common good despite differences?