The Training of Terrorist Organizations


by Major David E. Smith USMC



Terrorists require training in a wide variety of subjects in order to operate effectively and achieve their objectives. Since the majority of terrorist incidents involve bombs, explosives training is paramount. Substantial instruction is required to construct anything more complicated than the most fundamental explosive weapon. Use of components such as mercury tilt fuses (common to car bombs), remotely controlled, and electromagnetic firing devices must be taught by experts to students already well versed in, and confident working with, explosives. Additionally, the complexity of the latest types of vehicle bombs is extraordinary. The bomb employed against the Marine Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon consisted of l2,OOO to l8,OOO pounds of explosives arrayed in a gas enhanced configuration. It is widely believed to have been assembled in either Iran or Syria by professional explosives experts for employment in Lebanon. The United States government estimated it to have been the largest non nuclear explosion in history.8

Firearms training is also important and is more easily obtained

than explosives training. Students need range time and instruction

in weapons maintenance in order to become proficient with small arms. This instruction is often combined with small unit tactics and techniques of guerrilla warfare in what is essentially paramilitarytraining. Terrorists also require proficiency in covert communications, document falsification, and methods of surveillance. Martial arts, employment of disguise, and procedures for jamming communications are desired talents. Some terrorists also seek expertise in evaluating security systems, as well as in assessing the vulnerability of various targets. These capabilities are essential for successful mission planning. Languages are also a valuable skill, and media manipulation is additional recurring theme of terrorist training.9

In addition to general skills that are germane to virtually all terrorist movements, groups pursue skills in areas directly applicable to their anticipated operations. Organizations intending to kidnap or

assassinate people while they are in motor vehicles may study defensive driving and evasion methods to reduce the likelihood of their victim's escape. Similarly, organizations contemplating aircraft hijacking will attempt to learn the techniques that hostage rescue teams might employ in order to thwart them.10 Aircraft hijackers also require a team member who can speak and understand English, which is in use in international aviation operations.11 It also helps with the media.

It is important to remember that although terrorists seek training in a wide variety of skills, their rank and file members are normally not particularly skilled. Moreover, they do not need to be as finely trained as law enforcement or military forces do. Terrorists rely on the advantages of surprise and shock when they conduct operations. They prey on the unprepared and avoid undertaking missions that expose them to substantial risks. More importantly, terrorists are rarely concerned with minimizing collateral damage and avoiding injury to noncombatants. In fact, brutality and violence further their ends, and "surgical operations" can actually limit their effectiveness. The average member of a terrorist organization is not well versed in unconventional engagements. Each group has a core of specialists who manufacture bombs, conduct sniping operations, and develop operational plans. Elimination of these key members can, virtually cripple smaller terrorist organizations, and can hamper the activities of larger groups.

Despite their training and varied levels of expertise it is not uncommon for terrorists to be the victims of their own devices. During l97O three members of the Weather Underground perished in an explosion in their Greenwich Village headquarters while manufacturing bombs. The Provisional IRA has also suffered from what the British authorities call "scoring own goals", or blowing themselves up. The PIRA' s leadership was so concerned about accidents by less experienced members assigned to plant bombs that they directed their bomb assemblers to place safety devices on the weapons they manufactured. The devices were simple pins that had to be pulled in order to arm the bomb. This created a new problem, because nervous members often forget to pull the pins, therefore placing unarmed bombs in target locations. Safety devices were later equipped with tags which were returned by the bomb planter to his or her superior to demonstrate mission accomplishment after the weapon had been armed and placed in the desired location.12