Terrorist Organizations


January 28, 2004

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The days of hostage taking and aircraft hijackings may seem like history. Americans are now faced with hateful crimes, performed on their own soil, and designed to strike fear. The groups responsible for these attacks are well trained, disciplined and extremely devoted to their cause. The notion of targets being random is erroneous. In fact, all terrorist organizations share one common characteristic; the acts are never random or senseless, and are intended to cause mass hysteria and generate publicity (Hoffman, 2003). Enter the new face of terrorism. Terrorism is a broad subject, and has been looked at on several different levels. International, domestic, and cyber terrorism are the more common terms to describe today’s terrorism areas. Domestic terrorism, however, strikes an ever-resounding chord in the souls of all Americans. Furthermore, most attacks within the continental United States have stemmed from politically or religiously motivated issues, mostly by well-organized groups. For example, the 1993 attack on

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the World Trade Center, the Oklahoma City bombing and events of September 11, 2001 (9-11) have all met the religious or political motivations. More than any other incident, 9-11 has impacted all Americans and increased awareness that terrorist acts have and do occur in our homeland. The fateful events of that day revealed the countless hours and careful planning by a well-trained organization.

Before exploring events that have occurred within recent American history, the composition of a terrorist organization must be understood. Most organizations operate using the principles of compartmentalization or the “cell system”. Each of these “cells” is then responsible for different phases and tasks of the operation. According to the U.S. Army’s Antiterrorism Instructor Qualification Course lesson plan, the three types of cells normally found within a well-organized group are the intelligence, the operational, and the auxiliary cells. The cell system has proven to be a very useful structure, as it can prevent the compromise of the entire organization. For example, should a member from the intelligence cell be apprehended,

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he/she has no knowledge of the remainder of the plan. At most, an individual may have information about an adjacent cell, but never have information regarding the entire organization.

According to the Army’s lesson plan, intelligence personnel do not normally take part in the physical attack for two major reasons. First, the surveillance personnel normally spend a great deal of time near the victim or the attack site. In most instances, the average surveillance time is approximately 30 days. Therefore, if the surveillance team were to participate in the attack, the risk would be much higher of being recognized. Second, it takes more time to train intelligence personnel than the attack operatives. Many leaders do not want to risk the intelligence operatives being killed or captured. In fact, they may be recalled sometime prior to the attack element’s arrival.

The operational cell is the “action-arm” of the organization and conducts all operational activities. This

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cell is composed of the people who conduct the kidnappings and assassinations and plant the bombs. In sophisticated groups, this cell may contain highly specialized bombers or assassins.

The auxiliary cell consists of professional people, dedicated to the ideals of the movement, but not willing to sacrifice their professional status. Example of auxiliary members could be doctors who provide medical or monetary support, or grocers who provide the organization with food. (U.S. Army, 1999)

As evidenced, careful consideration is given to the confidentiality of an organization. Further consideration is given to the actual planning for an operation. Countless hours are committed toward the planning, training and practicing for the event. Testimony from a convicted terrorist involved in the 1998 Embassy bombing in Kenya, revealed almost five years of planning prior to the event. To ensure success, terrorists meticulously plan their operations down to the finest detail. The planning phase includes reconnaissance, surveillance and intelligence

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gathering over long period’s of time. The more that is known about the subjects’ daily habits, routes of travel and vulnerabilities, the more key elements can be examined.

Terrorists go to great lengths to plan their operations, because they cannot afford to fail. When they fail, they lose credibility, which causes doubt among the populace and leads to a decrease in popular support. Anther key element