The Training of Terrorist Organizations


by Major David E. Smith USMC



Although terrorism originated centuries ago, modern international

terrorism orchestrated by the Soviet Union arguably began at the

Tricontinental Conference conceived by Moscow and conducted in

Havana, Cuba during January l966.13 The purpose of the conference

was to devise a "global revolutionary strategy to counter the global

strategy of American imperialism."14 It resulted in the creation of an

African, Asian, and Latin American Solidarity Organization based in

Havana. The Conference also passed resolutions advocating outside

aid for groups fighting for "liberation". During late l966, the Cubans

opened a number of training camps for guerrilla fighters in Cuba that

were under Soviet supervision. Palestinian groups began sending

students to these facilities on the "Isle of Pines" during l966, and

upon graduation, those students spawned the terrorist groups that

exploded in the Middle East during the l97O's.

Castro's terrorism schools were under the supervision of the

Direcion General de Intelegencia (DGI). Students were flown into the

country from connecting airports, or arrived in Cuban harbors by

boat. Upon debarkation in Havana, they were segregated by

nationality and moved to their individual training locations. The

guerrilla courses lasted from three to six months. Subject material

included "tactics, weapons training, bomb making- particularly how

to blow up oil pipelines, map reading, cryptography, photography,

falsification of documents, and disguise." Illich Ramirez Sanchez,

a.k.a. Carlos the Jackal, is reputed to have received instruction at

Camp Mantonzas, Cuba, prior to further education in the USSR.15

In addition to operating a series of such camps in Cuba, Castro

exported instructors to newly opened sites in Angola and

Mozambique. Cuban instructors arrived at locations in the Middle

East after the October l973 War. During December of that year, 4O

Cuban terrorist instructors arrived in South Yemen. South Yemeni

desert training sites were protected by the Soviet and East German

secret police, and became the focal point for instructing and

sheltering terrorists from nations including Germany, Ireland, Japan,

Turkey, Iran, Italy, France, Belgium, and Palestine.16

When the Lebanese Civil War broke out it created an opportunity

for terrorist groups to operate from that country. In l978 the

Palestine Rejection Front was firmly established at a number of sites

there. In March, l978 the first team of Cuban instructors arrived at

Tyre, Lebanon. They presented a detailed eight month course of

instruction to their first class of perspective Arab terrorists. The

curriculum included street and desert fighting, attacking people and

buildings, demolitions, and sabotaging oil installations. Graduates of

the school were supplied with false passports and work permits, and

sent to various Persian Gulf countries that they were familiarized

with during training.17

Castro's support of terrorism was indicated by his Tucuman Plan,

designed to export South American revolutionaries to Western

Europe. He intended to dispatch members of the Junta for

Revolutionary Coordination (JRC) from Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia,

and Chile to Lisbon, Portugal and Paris, France. These groups were

designed to act in concert against the continent. Castro established a

special training site for these operations on a 4,OOO acre estate at

Guanabo and provided them with a three month course concentrating

on explosives, sabotage, weapons instruction, and urban operations.

The plan was foiled by European security services during l978

before numerous operations could be conducted. Nevertheless, it

underscores the global scope Castro envisioned for Cuban trained


The Soviet Union also provided training for certain terrorist

groups on its homeland, as well as spearheaded training in the

territory of its Warsaw Pact allies. The Soviets sponsored terrorism

as part of an overall strategy designed to destabilize Western

Europe/NATO by supporting international and Western revolutionary

movements whose insurrectional activities would have helped

expand the communist block and further Soviet aims. In fact, a

former senior officer of Soviet Military Intelligence stated that

"ideological sympathy with the Soviet Union is unnecessary: anyone

who helps destabilize the west is our friend."19

A typical member of the Palestine Liberation Army (PLO) selected

for training behind the Iron Curtain received an orientation brief on

expected conduct while undergoing instruction, as well as ideological

orientation prior to departing for Moscow. Upon arrival he was

greeted by the PLO representative there and arrangements were

made for further travel to the individual's ultimate training


A typical training day began with early morning physical fitness

or gymnastics exercises. As the morning progressed students

generally conducted a parade. There were several hours of daily

political orientation covering subjects as wide ranging as "Russian

Mortality Rates during World Wars I and II" to "Russian Ties to the

third World". The meat of daily instruction was education in

incendiary charges and detonators; exploding metals; the art of

mining munitions dumps, bridges, vehicles and personnel; the

rudiments of chemical and biological warfare; command field and

escape tactics; marksmanship and camouflage; the use and

employment of Soviet RPG rockets and shoulder borne Strela

missiles. Interestingly enough, the Soviets also employed Moslem

KGB officers to mix among the trainees and seek recruits for the KGB.


By l977 there were terrorist classes within the USSR near Baku

on the Caspian Sea 22, and near Simferopol on the Black Sea (See Map

One). There were training sites near Plauen, Karl-Marx-Stadt,

Dresden (See Map Two), Babelsberg, Klein Machsrow (See Map

Three), Schmirblitz, and the North Schwein Region of East Germany.

There were four additional sites in Bulgaria, the largest of which was

at Varna (See Map Four). There were also four more sites in

Czechoslovakia and three in Poland.23 It is clear that by the late

l97O's there was a substantial international terrorist network

supporting movements from North and South America, Europe, Asia,

and Africa.

The relationships between students and their instructors varied

immensely. For example, at one point the Soviets asked for higher

quality students from the Popular Front for the Liberation of

Palestine (PFLP). The PFLP students, for their part complained that

their Soviet hosts gave them too many political lectures and not

enough training in field operations.

A second example is in this account of the opinion the Zimbabwe

African National Union (ZANU) had of their North Korean instructors.

"Brigadier Parence Shin, the commander of the 5th Brigade, expressed his disappointment with Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) advisors, indicating that, while they were respected for their individual toughness, they were more notable for their extravagant living and lack of personal discipline, than for their ability to conduct realistic military training."24

The Soviet Union began decreasing its support of terrorism as the

l98O's progressed. By mid l987 Moscow had used its influence to

push members of the African National Congress and Palestine

Liberation Army to seek political, vice military, settlements. By

l987 there was a decline in terrorist action by most of the groups

purported to be supported by the USSR.25 By l989 the Kremlin had

toned down its rhetoric about United States and Israeli terrorist

surrogates. Foreign Minister Shevardnadze's comments to the United

Nations General Assembly clearly conveyed this new Soviet position:

"Violence on national, ethnic, or religious grounds must no longer be tolerated... .no support or sympathy should be extended to the so called movements that allow actions humiliating other nations, or use terrorist, barbaric or inhuman methods in waging their struggle."26

On the other hand, Czechoslovakia continued to sell tons of

SEMTEX (a potent plastic explosive) to East Germany and Hungary

until l989. They also sold prodigious amounts of the substance to

Libya. President Havel of Czechoslovakia stated in l99O that "the

past regime exported 1,000 tons to Libya, and yet it takes only 200

grams to blow up a plane. This means that world terrorism has

enough supplies of SEMTEX for at least l5O years."27 It is logical to

assume that the Libyans supplied movements such as the Provisional

Irish Republican Army with the explosive. Whether or not the

supply will last l5O years is debatable, but it is certain that one

sponsor of international terrorism has amassed a large stockpile of

plastic explosive for future operations.