Anschlag and Angriff both seem to have the meaning of attack, but what are their differences?
Both terms have other meanings as well, but in the sense of ‘attack’ or ‘assault’, their differences may be summarized as follows:
- A singular destructive event without consequent action is an Anschlag, e.g. in terrorism.
- When it is possibly met by Verteidigung ‘defense’ it is an Angriff, e.g. in war, sports and chess.
An Angriff is also more likely to be considered legitimate or legal by the author than an Anschlag.
Die USA reagierten auf die von Al-Kaida verübten Terroranschläge vom 11. September 2001 mit einem militärischen Angriff auf die in Afghanistan herrschenden Taliban.
Very good question! I am a native speaker and my initial reaction was that "Angriff" is the general term, while "Anschlag" has to be morally condemnable.
Anschlag often describes covert terrorist activities, but I think the covert nature is not essential. I think that originally the essential element was the destructive character, as suggested by Duden's definition:
gewalttätiger, auf Vernichtung, Zerstörung zielender Angriff
I am not sure, how much this definition reflects everyday usage, because I would not hesitate to call a killing with a syringe a "Mordanschlag". Such a killing is not "destructive", but can be connected with "Vernichtung".
There are also many meanings of "Anschlag" that don't relate to attacking.