Tactics of terrorism

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The tactics of terrorism are diverse. As important as the actual attacks is the cultivation in the target population of the fear of such attacks, so that the threat of violence becomes as effective as actual violence.


As a consequence of globalisation, the relative ease of access to the chemicals used to make explosives has made improvised explosive devices (IEDs) increasingly prominent. This has the dual effect of increasing the available firepower of terrorists who are generally far weaker than their targets as well as assuring the publicity necessary to attract sympathisers to their cause.

These may be implanted in automobiles to make a car bomb, planted on the roadside to detonate near target vehicles, or even strapped to the bodies of individuals for suicide attacks. From a tactical perspective, each of these methods have positives and drawback, for instance car bombs act as their own delivery mechanisms and can carry a relatively large amount of explosives with weights of up to and over 1000 pounds (450 kg),[1] while a suicide vest has a much smaller payload but may allow the wearer access to spaces and individuals that vehicles cannot.

Suicide attacks

The number of attacks using suicide tactics has grown from an average of fewer than five per year during the 1980s to 180 per year between 2000 and 2005,[2] and from 81 suicide attacks in 2001 to 460 in 2005.[3] These attacks have been aimed at diverse military and civilian targets, including in Sri Lanka, in Israel since July 6, 1989,[4] in Iraq since the US-led invasion of that country in 2003, and in Pakistan and Afghanistan since 2005.

Between 1980 and 2000, the largest number of suicide attacks was carried out by separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam of Sri Lanka. The number of attacks conducted by LTTE was almoust double that of nine other major extremist organizations.[5]

In Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, suicide bombings are an anti-Israel strategy perpetrated generally by Islamist and occasionally by secular Palestinian groups including the PFLP.[6]

Rocket and mortar attacks

The use of rocket and mortar attacks had been widely used from 1982–2012, in the example of the middle east rocket attacks against cities and settlements had been carried out by political entities such as Hizballa and Hamas (not counted as state terrorism) and to non political organization such as Islamic Jihad, Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine, al-Qaeda and many others.

The number of attacks using explosive projectiles has grown after decrease in suicide attacks as can be seen in Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel,[7] according to the reports somewhere between 800000 people [8] to million and a half [9] are being in direct danger of mortar and missile range. In research published in 2011, 15,000 people had been treated or need treatment for PTSD[10] and 1,000 people are being treated in psychometric facilities due to reasons directly to mortar (qassam) and rocket attacks (Grad).[11][12][13]

Vehicle-based attacks

In the 2000s, there have been a number of vehicle based attacks in which terrorists used earthmovers or other motor vehicles to run over pedestrians or to attack vehicles.[14] Some examples of such attacks include the 2006 Jerusalem bulldozer attack and the Omeed Aziz Popal SUV rampage.

Compared to suicide-bomb attacks, using vehicles as weapons is easier to plan and carry out without detection. The tactic does not require acquiring explosives. The weapon, a standard street-legal vehicle, is readily available in the target country and can be used without raising suspicion. According to a report by Stratfor global intelligence, using a vehicle as a terrorist tactic is nearly as effective, yet not as destructive as a suicide bombing.[14]

Aircraft attacks and hijackings

In the failed 2002 airliner attack, shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles were fired at an airliner while taking off.

Aircraft hijacking is also employed as a terrorist tactic. On September 11, 2001, 19 al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked American Airlines Flight 11, United Airlines Flight 175, American Airlines Flight 77, and United Airlines Flight 93 and crashed them into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, the southwestern side of the Pentagon building, and Stonycreek Township near Shanksville, Pennsylvania in a terrorist attack, killing 2,977 victims, most of them American citizens.

Chemical and biological weapons

Aum Shinrikyo, a Japanese "new religious movement" in 1995 carried out the Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway. Ian Davison, a British white supremacist, and neo-Nazi who was arrested in 2009 for planning terrorist attacks involving ricin poison. In 2011 the United States government discovered information that terrorist groups were attempting to obtain large amounts of castor beans for weaponized ricin use.[15]

Nuclear weapons

Concerns have also been raised regarding attacks involving nuclear weapons. It is considered plausible that terrorists could acquire a nuclear weapon.[16] In 2011, the British news agency, the Telegraph, received leaked documents regarding the Guantanamo Bay interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The documents cited Khalid saying that, if Osama Bin Laden is captured or killed by the Coalition of the Willing, an Al-Qaeda sleeper cell will detonate a "weapon of mass destruction" in a "secret location" in Europe, and promised it would be "a nuclear hellstorm".[17][18] [19][20][21]

Conventional firearms

Despite the popular image of terrorism as bombings alone, and the large number of casualties and higher media impact associated with bombings, conventional firearms are as much if not more pervasive in their use.[22] For example, in the second part of the 2011 Norway attacks 68 people were killed by a man with two guns. The 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks were done partly by guns and partly by bombs. Also, one Transportation Security Administration officer was killed and few others injured by a man with an assault rifle in the 2013 Los Angeles International Airport shooting.

In 2004, the European Council recognized the "need to ensure terrorist organisations and groups are starved of the components of their trade," including “the need to ensure greater security of firearms, explosives, bomb-making equipment and technologies that contribute to the perpetration of terrorist outrages."[23]

Secondary attacks

Terrorist groups may arrange for secondary devices to detonate at a slightly later time in order to kill emergency-response personnel attempting to attend to the dead and wounded. Repeated or suspected use of secondary devices can also delay emergency response out of concern that such devices may exist. Examples include a (failed) device that was meant to release cyanide-gas during the February 26, 1993 World Trade Center bombing; and a second car bomb that detonated 20 minutes after the December 1, 2001 Ben Yehuda Street Bombing by Hamas in Jerusalem.


There are and have been training camps for terrorists. The range of training depends greatly on the level of support the terrorist organization receives from various organizations and states. In nearly every case the training incorporates the philosophy and agenda of the groups leadership as justification for the training as well as the potential acts of terrorism which may be committed. State sanctioned training is by far the most extensive and thorough, often employing professional soldiers and covert operatives of the supporting state.


Where terrorism occurs in the context of open warfare or insurgency, its perpetrators may shelter behind a section of the local population. Examples include the intifada on Israeli-occupied territory, and insurgency in Iraq. This population, which may be ethnically distinct from the counter-terrorist forces, is either sympathetic to their cause, indifferent, or acts under duress.


Funding can be raised in both legal and illegal ways. Some of the most common ways to raise funds are through front groups, charitable organizations, or NGOs with similar ideologies. In the absence of state funding, terrorists may rely on organized crime to fund their activities. This has included kidnapping, drug trafficking, or robbery.

Terrorist financing generated through the use of underground smuggling tunnels and the probability that a specific smuggling tunnel or terrorist criminal social network will use the smuggling tunnel to launch a kidnapping operation or terrorist attack has been addressed in the literature.[24][25]


Even though older communication methods like radio are still used, the revolution in communication technology over the past 10–15 years has dramatically changed how terrorist organizations communicate. E-mails, fax transmissions, websites, cell phones, and satellite telephones have made it possible for organizations to contemplate a global strategy. However, too great a reliance on this new technology leaves organizations vulnerable to sophisticated monitoring of communication and triangulation of its source. When Osama bin Laden found out that his satellite phone conversations were being intercepted, he ceased using this method to communicate.[26]


The primary weapon of terrorism is fear, destruction and killing are not an end in and of itself, but a tool to create fear and terror in the minds of the enemy. In an asymmetric situation an enemy who cannot be defeated militarily may be defeated psychologically, that they may come to fear attack and its consequences so much they may become willing to forgo a superior military position in order to be free of the cause of that fear.

If a terrorist group can carry out enough credible attacks then "coded warnings" or planted electronic chatter, designed to be intercepted, can cause as much disruption as a genuine attack or bomb. As long as the supposed attacks are plausible and they are supported by the occasional genuine attack, the authorities will be forced to expend resources to combat non-existent devices, dummy bombs and plain fictions, disrupting the lives of citizens, and feeding the public's fear.


  1. "Vehicle Borne IEDs (VBIEDs)". GlobalSecurity.org. Retrieved 3 August 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. The Moral Logic and Growth of Suicide Terrorism, Figure 1 (p. 128).
  3. The Moral Logic and Growth of Suicide Terrorism, Figure 2 (p. 129).
  4. גדות, יפעת (July 6, 2009). פיגוע אוטובוס 405 (in Hebrew). News1. Retrieved 2009-07-06. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Social psychological motivations of suicide terrorism: A community-level perspective by J. Sheehy-Skeffington.
  6. Pedahzur, A., 'Suicide Terrorism' (Cambridge 2005), pp.66-69.
  7. Hamas Adopting Rocket Tactics Used by Hezbollah, FOX News 31-12-2008
  8. UN fact finding 2008-2009
  9. million and a half in shelters
  10. Sapir Academic college, post traumatic stress distress effects in Sderot people
  11. Ha-moaza le'briut hanefesh,2007-2009
  12. [1] PTSD victims are treated as psychiatric cases
  13. Psychological Aspects of Prolonged and Direct Exposure to Terror: New Empirical Findings
  14. 14.0 14.1 Israel: Vehicle Attacks - A New Militant Tactic?. Stratfor Global Intelligence
  15. ERIC SCHMITT and THOM SHANKER (2011-08-13). "Al Qaeda trying to harness toxin for bombs, U.S. officials fear". The New York Times. Retrieved August 10, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Nuclear Terrorism: Frequently Asked Questions, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, September 26, 2007<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Hope, Christopher (April 25, 2011). "WikiLeaks: Guantanamo Bay terrorist secrets revealed". London: Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved April 27, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Gould, Martin. "WikiLeaks: Al-Qaida Already Has Nuclear Capacity". NewsMax. Retrieved April 27, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "'Nuclear hellstorm' if bin Laden caught - 9/11 mastermind". News.com.au. April 25, 2011. Retrieved April 27, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "'Nuclear hellstorm' if bin Laden caught: 9/11 mastermind". News.Yahoo.com. 2011-04-25. Retrieved April 27, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. http://newstabulous.com/al-qaeda-hid-bomb-in-europe-wikileaks-releases-secret-files/9722/
  22. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. "Conventional Terrorist Weapons". Archived from the original on 2007-06-12. Retrieved 2007-09-06.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. http://ec.europa.eu/justice_home/fsj/terrorism/prevention/fsj_terrorism_prevention_explosives_en.htm
  24. Lichtenwald, Terrance G. and Perri, Frank S. (2013). "Terrorist Use of Smuggling Tunnels," International Journal of Criminology and Sociology, Volume 2, pp. 210-226.
  25. Lichtenwald, Terrance G. and Perri, Frank S.(2011). "Smuggling Tunnels: The Need for a Transnational Analysis" Inside Homeland Security, Volume 9, Issue 1.
  26. Sageman, Marc. 2004. Understanding Terror Networks. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Ch. 5 pp. 158-161

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