The Training of Terrorist Organizations


by Major David E. Smith USMC



Terrorist networks are organized for operational effectiveness as well as for group security. Terrorist groups are directed by a "headquarters". The headquarters may be the leaders within the organization or a third party representing a state sponsor. There may also be regional directorates that are subordinate to the headquarters. Action teams, or tactical cells, are groups that perpetrate an assault or other similar actions. They are the men and women who detonate the bombs, conduct assassinations, and actually carry out kidnappings and hijackings. Ideally, they do not know who directs or controls them. Terrorist networks also include support teams that serve various purposes. Support teams may be active or passive. Active supporters may conduct fund raising drives for the group, provide safe locations for members attempting to elude the authorities, or treat wounded or injured members. Although they do not conduct actual missions, they directly interact with, and support the movement. Passive supporters do not become openly involved in the criminal activities of the organization. On the other hand, they may contribute money to the cause or provide the group with information of tactical value. Support teams generally operate at all times, while tactical cells may be activated just prior to planned operations. Support teams normally do not know the identity or existence of other teams in the movement. Compartmentalization into "cell" structures is crucial to the survival of the group. It has become vital as counter terrorist efforts have intensified in scope and effectiveness.1

The three major categories of terrorist groups are non state- supported, state-supported, and state-directed. Non state-supported groups are generally small special interest bands such as radical environmentalists. They tend to be less trained, and less violent, than groups that have outside assistance. An exception is Sendero Luminoso, an extremely violent Peruvian terrorist organization, which may purposely avoid outside support in order to retain freedom of action.

State-supported groups obtain training, financial assistance, and logistical support from sovereign governments. The sponsors generally want to avoid being linked to their surrogate and may conduct training away from their own territory. Financial aid and equipment are funneled surreptitiously to the terrorist organizations, which on occasion may act for chiefly mercenary reasons. Iranianemployment of the Syrian sponsored Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), led by Ahmed Jibril, to destroy Pan Am Flight lO3 over Lockerbie, Scotland is an example of state sponsored terrorism. The PFLP-GC attack was allegedly coordinated in Damascus through contacts established by Sayeed Ali Akbar Mohtashami, former Iranian ambassador to Syria, and a graduate of the Soviet terrorist training facility at Simferopol. Jabril's group reportedly received $l.3 million for the mission.2 State-directed terrorist groups are organized, supplied, and controlled by a nation. An example of state-directed terrorism is the North Korean employment of assassins to murder a number of South Korean officials visiting Rangoon in l983.3 The destruction of Korean Air Flight 858 in l987 is another example of North Korean state- directed terrorism. One of its perpetrators, Miss Kim Hyon Hui, was apprehended after the attack and has provided a detailed description of her training for the operation that was well chronicled by Eileen MacDonald in Shoot the Women First.

Miss Hui was born in Pyongyang during l962 into the relatively privileged family of a diplomat. Like all North Korean citizens, she was indoctrinated to revere her leaders, observe and believe the party line, and to hate its enemies. Her conditioning began when she was two months old and spent portions of each day at statenurseries.

Miss Hui was a superior student in Japanese at Kim II Sung University. During her second year at that institution she was directed to meet with officers from the North Korean Research Department (secret service). After a battery of language, memory, and political reliability tests she was selected for agent training. Her initial training was conducted at Kimsong Political Military College in complete isolation from her family and friends, as well as from other students. Daily instruction was undertaken in small arms, languages, codes, and communications. Political indoctrination was interwoven with all courses. Her physical training was intense. Miss Hui claims that when it was concluded she could "swim two kilometers and run 4O kilometers over rough ground at night."4

After a year at the university she was moved north to the vicinity of the Chinese border where she received advanced instruction in kidnapping, assassination, marksmanship, bombing, and agitation. The research department planned to employ her as an agent in Japan. She spent six years studying the language and customs of that nation with Li Eun Hye, who had been kidnapped from a Japanese beach by North Korean agents. (There have been several reported incidents of Japanese citizens being kidnapped from Japan by North Korean Security Forces).5 The purpose of the training was to allowher to pass as a Japanese citizen. She also received specialized training in professional espionage, automobile operation, photography, and clandestine communications. Her ability to function under cover as a Japanese citizen was tested during a trip to Europe in l984 during which she posed as the daughter of the elderly agent who accompanied her. After returning she studied Chinese in Canton, China and Macao.

Miss Hui was provided with a month of specialized explosives

training during l987, after she had been chosen for the KAL 858 mission. She was paired once more with the elderly male agent that she had traveled to Europe with, and viewed the assignment as a combat mission behind enemy lines. The couple received explosives and a detonator disguised as a radio and a bottle of whisky from a North Korean diplomat while on a layover in Belgrade. Miss Hui stated that she and her companion would have stayed on the plane and exploded with it if that had been required for the accomplishment of the mission. After the couple was apprehended and brought in for questioning her partner committed suicide and she attempted to kill herself with a cyanide laced cigarette. Her combination of years of training and unswerving loyalty to her cause made her an extremely effective terrorist (or agent) for her nation. The duration, intensity, and effectiveness of her training clearly underscores the point that state-directed terrorists are normally more technically prepared and better equipped than state-supported or non state-supported terrorists.6 It is interesting to compare the training Miss Kim received, with "terrorist theory" advanced by Carlos Marighella in his book the Liberation of Brazil.7 The book contains a chapter entitled "Handbook of Urban Guerrilla Warfare" that was widely translated and employed by Latin American and European terrorists. Marighella encouraged physical training and manual skills, as well as the mastery of small arms and explosives. He emphasized the primacy of the political goal. Additionally, he stated that only a guerrilla who had passed initial tests should be selected for additional training or tasking.

Miss Hui's North Korean handlers also believed in physical conditioning and ensured that she was competent with small arms and explosives. She was tested in Europe prior to being assigned to destroy KAL 858, an action designed to further the DPRK's political goal of subverting the Seoul Olympics. The similarities are remarkable and demonstrate the validity of the time tested methods described by Marighella and employed by the North Korean Research Department.