Safety Handbook for Journalists

3. Terrorist Modus Operandi

Today’s “low-intensity” conflicts do not include the conventional win or lose strategy.

Unconventional military organisations have much less equipment and training than their professional state counterparts with regard to their choice of asymmetric tactics which then compensate for the imbalance in strength. However strong, the opposing forces will remain very vulnerable to asymmetric warfare, as the IED attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq have proven. When conventional forces retaliate and civilian’s casualties occur, it can assist asymmetric fighters to recruit local populations.

Terrorism and the Mass Media

For the media, terror is a prime-time story when terror plots are planned, they take into account the role of mass media and the potential reaction. In the heat of a crisis, TV and reporters can aid situations like hostage taking as the hostage takers can view TV footage to assess the situation on the outside like police or military actions. A successful counter risk strategy must take into account the new rules of asymmetric threat and how your information will aid their cause.

Terrorism is the regular use of violence as a means to obtain political goals. Terrorism in the common definition refers to the use of violent acts to create fear, panic and cause death indiscriminately; this violence can have religious, political, or ideological goals.

In recent years, journalists have been subject to terrorist attacks to drive more attention to certain groups, as was the case in Nigeria, Iraq and Syria.

Adopt an Intelligence-Based Approach to Terrorist Threat

As part of the planning phase, journalists must check about re-occurrence of terrorist attacks in the region they are visiting. They must take into consideration the factors driving terrorists to commit those acts. While doing research, journalists have to pay special attention to tension and other indicators leading to terrorist attacks. The only way to predetermine the incident is to analyse intelligence and street-based information.

Learn about the terrorist’s capabilities.

Before being deployed to a geographic area known by the activity of a terrorist group, journalists need to understand the driving forces of those terrorist groups and what are the possible targets of their attacks, such as whether the media upset them or influenced an opposition party.

Terrorist Areas of Operation:

A specific area of activity does not bind terrorist groups; a group may change its area of operations at any time.

  • Local terror: Groups operate within a small district usually known to the local population.
  • Regional terrorists are individuals operating within a region within a country.
  • Transnational terrorists are terrorist groups that operate over two or more borders.
  • International terrorists: Individuals and groups that operate in multiple countries around the world.

Types of Terrorist Cell

Terrorist groups don’t refer to themselves with the following terms but use terms that better suit their ideology and culture.

  • A command and control cell is composed of external or internal supervisors who make final decisions and supervise execution of attack. They may be leaders of or participants in any of the following cells.
  • Tactical operations cell is a person or team that actually carries out the act of terrorism. Also known as combat cells, attack cells, action teams, or operational cells.
  • An intelligence cell collects data, makes recommendations, selects targets, and provides information to hit the target.
  • Logistics cell includes people who are organised to provide supplies or support to the other cells. These may include bomb makers, black marketers, doctors, lawyers, bankers, couriers, etc.
  • A sleeper cell is any one of the above types of cells that infiltrates a geographic region and lies dormant until activated for a mission. Sleeper cells are distinguished by their ability to blend into their surroundings until given orders to carry out their mission. Once activated, of course, the cell is no longer a sleeper.

Keep in mind that cells may operate independently or in coordination with each other, depending upon their mission.

General questions to help identify your level of vulnerability:

  • Is there really a threat?
  • Are the potential threat groups political, religious, and criminal in ideology?
  • Why would they target our assets? Am I the target, or the organisation?

If a threat group has been identified as posing a risk, perform the following analysis:

  • What does this group call itself?
  • What is this group also known as?
  • What tactics have this group demonstrated?

Terrorist Attack Profiles

Explosives Bombing Attack

In 75% of recorded terrorist attacks, explosive bombs have been used. This choice is mainly because it creates a high impact in collateral damage and population psychology. Explosive attacks are recognised as:

  • Universally available.
  • Cheap.
  • Featuring multiple, easy methods.
  • Highly concealable.

Manual Bombings:

Bombs that are placed by hand:

  • Drop bombing: A bomb left or dropped off at a location.
  • Courier delivered: A bomb given to a second person who knows the device is a bomb and delivers it to the target.
  • Surrogate delivered: A bomb given to a person who does not know it is a bomb and unknowingly carries it to the target.
  • Remotely detonated: A bomb detonated by electronic control from a distance away.
  • Victim activated: A bomb that explodes when the victim starts a vehicle or trips a detonation device.
  • Planted or landmine: A bomb placed on a road- side or under a roadway that explodes when a victim steps on it or rolls over it.

Vehicle Bombings:

  • Planted device or landmine: A bomb is deliberately placed on or under a vehicle.
  • Booby-trapped on site: A vehicle has a bomb attached to the chassis while it is at the victim’s residence or office.
  • Remotely detonated: A bomb is detonated from a distance, usually electronically.
  • Victim activated: A car bomb explodes when the victim starts the vehicle, moves it.

Psychological Threat

Threats such as bomb scares, death threats have a devastating effect on the psychology of a given society and degrade security measures. Hundreds of bomb scares are usually imitated after real terrorist bombings, and this keeps the fear level high and security alert statuses active.