How to turn a civilian into a killer -> magic talismans
The “remote control” terrorist operations orchestrated by ISIS continue in Europe. Effective counterterrorism and police work, plus the loss of border access to Turkey, has pretty much shut off the terrorist group’s ability to infiltrate trained operatives into Europe. They’ve resorted to a purely virtualised terrorism – the volunteers are found online, handled online, and their attacks promoted (primarily by the mainstream media) online.
ISIS has been reduced to truly just a PR operation and a tiny bit of terrorism on the side, wherever they can get it. Rather than viewing the reduced capability of ISIS as the counterterrorism success story it is:
- Security forces continue to issue dire warnings about encryption and the dark net preventing them from stopping every single idiot from doing something stupid
- Media continues to gush in breathless prose about the menace and danger of terrorists, “you can delete an account but not an ideology”
The fact that security forces and the media all benefit from terrorist attacks is surely unrelated to the coverage and fear mongering.
Plastic bottles and duct tape stops bullets
The major benefit of turn and burn terrorism are that it is extremely difficult for the state to combat. The operators are indistinguishable from civilians. The time when a suicidal terrorist is most vulnerable to interdiction by security forces — pre-operational planning, preparation and deployment — can be as short as a few hours. A jihobbiest can decide to attack at lunchtime and be a dead errorist before dinner. Other than operational security benefits, it is basically the worst style of terrorist campaign to manage.
There are multiple problems that ISIS faces when trying to get untrained civilians to commit violent acts. Over the years they’ve honed their tradecraft in cajoling, badgering and coaxing vulnerable young men into violent suicidal acts. The handlers must overcome psychological blocks, lack of access to military equipment, incompetence and inexperience, and the innate fear of committing to suicidal action.
But I don’t wanna
Most people have an natural resistance to killing their fellow human beings. The military, and terrorist groups, have to overcome this psychological block. The tried and true method of getting people to kill is roughly the following:
- Dehumanisation: the people being killed aren’t people, they’re the enemy and the enemy isn’t human. Insert pejorative terms here.
- Authority figures: move the responsibility up the chain of command. The officer gives the order, the soldier follows the order. Brilliantly expressed by a Provo gunman, “I didn’t kill him, the Army did.”
There are some other tricks such as “training how you fight”, and “dispersing responsibility across a group.” These aren’t relevant for remote control jihobbiests turned errorists.
- Condition the jihobbiest to refer to the out group as kuffar, and other terms, to indicate (and hopefully internalise) that they’re not really human, unlike members of the in group.
- Establish a clear chain of command position, so that orders are issued from a place of authority, rather than a peer. Ensure that the jihobbiest knows that they’re being directed by an Emir and acting in the righteous name of God.
That’s basically the best they can do from a thousand miles away. Dehumanise and issue orders from an awesome authority figure. Not very much, but…
You go to terrorise with the volunteers you have, not the terrorist operatives you want.
How To: Terrorism
Civilian jihobbiest volunteers tend to be young men, often with no military experience and limited access to military equipment. Not the ideal starting point. They need to be:
- Conditioned to kill
- Given tactical and strategic guidance
- Provided with a plan
- Goaded into action
- Most importantly, they must provide some proof to add credibility when the group claims the attack.
Equipment: Things that go boom
Years ago ISIS operatives were buying AKs and cooking hundreds of kilos of TATP, but these days they’re buying kitchen knives and renting moving vans. Lack of access to proper weapons forced weaponising civilian tools, such as cars and cutlery, which resulted in diminished lethality.
ISIS still encourages volunteers to attempt cooking TATP, but without experienced trainers they’re left to follow YouTube video tutorials. This is like trying to learn how to cook a 6 course meal by watching tutorials, except if you make a mistake rather than an over cooked turkey, you explode and die. Even if the explosive compound is produced, and somehow the untrained amateur constructs a functional device, these homemade bombs tend to be more deadly to the bearer than the targets.
Even partially trained bomb makers aren’t very good at creating deadly suicide vests (in Paris they mostly killed the wearers, even in the middle of a crowded cafe). In Berlin an amateur prematurely detonated his bomb, killing only himself even though he too was in a crowded cafe.
Regardless of the allure of the bomb as a terrorist weapon, it is not very effective when cooked, constructed, and wielded by rank amateurs. The Provisional IRA did a lot of damage, but they had access to military grade explosives, guidance from security forces, and plenty of blue collar professional electricians on hand. ISIS in Syria, and the Taliban also, have phenomenal bomb makers. But the jihobbiests watching YouTube videos have proven more a danger to themselves than others.
Equipment: Things that go vroom
After the attack in Nice using a truck to plow through throngs of pedestrians, the lethal potential of several tons of metal moving at velocity was clearly demonstrated. ISIS doesn’t seem to have had much of an operational role in that attack, but they glommed onto the effectiveness of vehicles as a weapon for untrained amateur attackers. The skills to operate a vehicle are common civilians skills, which is crucial (operations that involve primarily rote skills for the operator are more successful than novel skills.)
Access to vehicles is also relatively easy for a civilian, although the larger trucks do require special permits. In one case this restriction was bypassed by the simple expedient of murdering a truck driver and stealing his truck.
What’s the OPLAN for Operation Clueless Cretin?
Civilians don’t know much about planning terrorist attacks. They don’t know which areas are more strategically important for advancing the terrorist group’s agenda, and they definitely have no idea how to plan at the tactical level. This area requires either significant hand holding, such as ISIS handlers gave to BBC reporters, or it can be a more hands off approach as ISIS handlers gave a German reporter. The two reports cover the extremes of explaining why a strategic target is important and how to hit it, to saying “just the outline of an idea is enough, and then trust in Allah.”
While trying to coax the incompetent (can’t drive, doesn’t know how to use a knife) German reporter faux jihobbiest, one handler went so far as to prepare a detailed plan that involved smuggling a knife (concealed in flowers) into a hospital and stabbing people too sick to get out of bed.
The handlers for the British jihobbiests were more interested in symbolic strategic attacks, indicated that high profile locations were more important than the pathetic method of the attack.
“Now target setting is the thing. London Bridge — what you say about that?
“Truck, axe, anything can work…” — Source
- It is more effective to stick with easily accessible tools and use pre-existing skills than to try to teach a schmuck how to make, deploy and detonate explosives. Vehicles and kitchen knives are superior weapons in Europe due to ease of access and existing skills. Besides, more people are killed by car accidents than by terrorists, so it’s not like cars are lacking in lethality.
- Expect to plan everything, from where the attack will take to place, to how to conduct an attack, to every other aspect of the operation. The jihobbiests are really not competent, committed, or aware of the big picture.
Handlers will have to try everything to get their remote control jihobbiests to commit a violent act.
Just do it
The final hurdle that prevents jihobbiests crossing the point of no return and becoming errorists is the psychological block preventing civilians from becoming suicidal murderers. It’s a huge leap from “yeah, I’m into terrorist bad boy shit” to actually running over families and stabbing people face to face. This final hurdle can be the hardest. One creative way that ISIS has addressed this issue is by providing an instructional video on creating a fake suicide vest with suggestion that wearers won’t be shot by the police. That is, the fake suicide vest is essentially a magical talisman to keep the wearer safe while engaged in violent acts. This could help push the waffling jihobbiest on the fence into taking action.
Another video showed how to make a fake suicide vest and claimed if an attacker wore the vest and stood next to civilians, “the police would not apprehend or kill you”.
If the police neither arrest nor shoot the terrorist, does everyone just stand there for eternity? It makes no logical sense. Someone has to take action. That is indeed what happens.
The London Bridge terrorists wore fake suicide vests during their attack, although they were still shot dead by armed policemen.
- Praise and flatter the jihobbiest, coax them, cajole them, provide them with every piece of information that might encourage them to actually do something. When all else fails, lie to them and offer them a psychological security blanket to get them to actually take the plunge.
There are more time waster volunteers than actual terrorist attackers. There are plenty of people who will flirt with the idea of romanticised violence, but not that many will actually go through with it. Stick in there and keep trying, eventually you’ll get lucky and some sucker will sacrifice themselves for a few column inches glorifying ISIS’ terrifying remote control capabilities which are in no way totally inferior to trained terrorist operatives.