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What distinguishes a mass shooting from an act of terror?




Police officers respond to a shooting at the Olympia Einkaufzentrum (OEZ) on July 22, 2016 in Munich, Germany.
Police officers respond to a shooting at the Olympia Einkaufzentrum (OEZ) on July 22, 2016 in Munich, Germany.
Joerg Koch/Getty Images

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Nine people were killed and dozens more injured in a shooting at a shopping mall in Munich on Friday.

On Saturday, Munich Police Chief Hubertus Andrä said that the killings, carried out by an 18-year-old German-Iranian man identified only as David S., appeared to be a "shooting rampage" rather than an act of terrorism.

But when asked about a possible link between the attack on Friday and the one carried out exactly five years prior by the far-right Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik, Chief Andrä said the connection was "obvious." 

“We must assume that he was aware of this attack,” Andrä said.

That raises the question of how a massacre could possibly be inspired by terrorism and yet not be an act of terrorism itself.

Linda Robinson, senior international policy analyst at RAND, joined Take Two to talk about the sometimes blurry line between mass shootings and terrorism.

Robinson says that although some nuances of the definition of terrorism are disputed, "the hallmark of it really is someone acting for a political or ideological cause. It's really about the objectives and therefore the motivations of the attacker. The other distinguishing trait of course is the targets are civilians or other targets intended to generate fear among a population or in a society."

While it can be difficult to distinguish an act of terror from what may be an equally heinous crime like a mass shooting, Robinson says that expanding the definition of terrorism can play into the aims of terrorist groups like the Islamic State.

Immediately assuming that an attack is an act of terrorism, Robinson says, "helps the Islamic State boast that it has this wide reach, global reach, and a higher profile than it otherwise would."

To hear the full interview, click the blue player above.