Terrorist Attack Methodology
In order to avoid an attack, it is important to understand the basics of terrorist attack methodology. A study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, working in conjunction with the Rand Corporation, found that the vast majority of traditional terrorist attacks follow a seven-step formula.
Seven Steps of Attack
The seven steps are:
Initial target selection/initial surveillance
Final target selection/continued surveillance
Planning/rehearsal phase/continued surveillance
The attack phase
During the initial target selection phase, the terrorist group may examine several potential targets. The terrorist’s ultimate goal is to bring attention to their cause. In the majority of terrorist attacks, the final target is chosen because of a perceived weakness in the security procedures of the close protection detail. The terrorists want to be successful in their attack in order to fully exploit the deed. If they have a choice between two targets, one of which is heavily guarded by a proactive, alert and professional security team, and one which is guarded by a security team that has fallen into a routine, travels the same routes on a daily basis, and otherwise presents a security posture that invites attack, the terrorists will almost without fail attack the softer target.
Although surveillance is a continuing process throughout the preparation, the second phase consists entirely of the surveillance effort. It is during this phase that the terrorist group gathers information about all of its possible targets before choosing the final target in phase three.
During phase three, the final target selection is made based on the intelligence gathered during the initial two phases. Final target selection is based on a number of factors. During their surveillance, did the terrorist notice patterns and trends in the posture of the security team? Has the detail become complacent in their behavior? Do they travel the same routes at the same time every day? Are the agents actively engaged in detecting surveillance? The answers to these questions play a large part in the target selection process.
During phase four, the terrorists will use the information gathered during the surveillance effort to formulate their attack plans. The terrorists have a tremendous advantage in this respect. They possess two very valuable pieces of information: the time and place the attack will take place. The terrorists will choose their attack site carefully, based on several criteria. The attack site will be a piece of terrain the motorcade travels through with predictable regularity. It will provide natural barricades to help prevent the motorcade from escaping, while at the same time allowing the terrorists ease of escape. It will have good fields of fire, provide good cover and concealment, and allow the terrorists to blend into the environment while waiting for the target to arrive. The terrorists will carefully plan their attack and practice it repeatedly, often conducting “dry runs” on the actual motorcade before launching the ambush. During this phase, surveillance operatives continue to gather information and intelligence on the target.
In phase five, the terrorists deploy at the attack site on the day of the planned attack. They will normally position themselves ten to fifteen minutes prior to the estimated time of arrival of the motorcade. They will have developed some disguise or ruse that will make their presence in the area seem natural, and avoid drawing unwanted attention to themselves.
The sixth phase—attack, is the culmination of all of their effort and planning. Target surveillance is conducted right up until the time of the attack, with the final phase of the surveillance effort being target identification. The surveillance and attack teams are normally kept separate for operational reasons. The attack team will rely on the surveillance team to provide the final confirmation of the target’s identification before initiating the ambush. To complete a successful attack, the terrorists rely on a combination of surprise, superior firepower, aggression, and violence of action.
The seventh and final phase is the escape from the attack site and exploitation of the act through the media. If the attack is designed as a kidnapping, means of securing the victim and holding him or her throughout the negotiation process must be accounted for.