ISIS Tries to Activate Amateur Attackers in the West

An unnamed Islamic State command team has published an e-book for apprentice terrorists that aims to multiply attacks against civilian targets in the United States and Europe. The handbook likely is a forecast of attacks that will be made in forthcoming months based on the fact that the deadly truck attack in Nice, France July 14, 2016, was preceded five months earlier by an ISIS video promoting murder by Truck. 

First released in Turkish on July 3 in the Telegram application ISIS chat rooms, the encrypted social media platform, the “Lone Wolf’s Handbook” gives simple but detailed instructions for burning vehicles, setting forest fires, creating highway accidents, making bombs, vehicular homicide, and bringing down buildings with explosives. The 66-page manual includes 174 illustrations and 7 charts and is written in casual language pitched to younger readers.

Additionally, German language version of Islamic State’s magazine Rumiyah (issue 11 published in July 2017) incited and asked its followers to carry out similar attacks including committing arson with a how-to guide and other dangerous low-tech tactics detailed in the “Lone Wolf’s Handbook.” At the same time, Islamic State social media accounts started a social media campaing called “Lone Wolves to the fields.”

The New Threats:  Highway Traps and Forest Fires

The first chapter is titled “Operation Parking is Forbidden,” which suggests that the author may be a veteran terrorist commander having spent time in the Nineveh Plain battles in Iraq. In this section, ISIS cadre are advised to burn their enemies’ cars in retaliation to the bombings of the US-led Coalition forces. Arson is one of the user-friendly weapons: “All you need is some gas and a match.”

Prospected arsonists are advised to be vigilant about CCTV cameras and to carefully plan exit routes. The manual references French radicals who are infamous for burning as many as 1200 vehicles in coordinated riots over a large area. In France, car burning for some youth was a kind of extreme sport.  The terrorists know that scores of boys between the ages of 12 and 16 are easy to recruit and without video evidence, these crimes can be hard to solve.

I encountered the challenge first-hand as chief of counter-terrorism police in Turkey in 2012. Our police personnel in the 2-million-person city of Sanliurfa were tied down for weeks with a coordinated campaign of car burnings at the same time of night in distant parts of the city. Unless there is direct intelligence or the perpetrators are caught red handed, countering these campaigns is a rubix-cube test for police.

Chapter two and three broach entirely new frontiers of terrorism in the West: triggering highway accidents and causing forest fires.

Chapter two is dedicated to “Causing Road Accidents.” The manual claims that the infidels had already chosen the “wrong way” and now “it is time to ensure their cars go the wrong ways, too.” The recipe for this attack calls for 40 liters (12 gallons) of motor oil of grease (or even kitchen vegetable oil) and applying it 50 feet before entering the highway curves so that the drivers would lose the control of their cars.

Another method to cause accidents, the reader is advised, is by blowing up car tires on vehicles in motion. This entails creating road traps and concealing them so that accidents would happen after drivers run over them. ISIS even provided statistics about road accidents and how many people are dying due to accidents around the world and in the United States. According to the manual, every year 37,000 people die due to road accidents in the U.S. costing over $230 billion dollars to the budget.

The third chapter gives instructions on how to cause forest fires. Readers are given the steps to making napalm-like explosives, taught how to ignite the explosives remotely and where to place the explosives in a forest. In addition to electronic ignition, the manual describes more primitive ways, including acid-and-match combinations. The latter basically delay a fire as the acid melts nylon covers to ignite the fire.  The budding arsonist learns how to accommodate for humidity, wind conditions, elevated land and to choose forests close to residential housing.

Terrorists are strictly advised about their own security, too, since getting caught up in the fire they cause can lead to loss of face.

The fourth section, titled “the ultimate human lawn mower” is about the use of vehicles to kill, first promoted in a slickly produced music video in January 2016. Since then, this tactic has claimed dozens of victims in France, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom. This section starts with justifications and explanations why the U.S. is a terrorist state and why it is time to have the Americans pay for their crimes. ISIS members are advised to get a large 4X4 truck and to weld knife-like metal blades on bumpers and around headlights to increase the causalities.

Attackers are advised to choose the most crowded places and drive over people as fast as possible to exact the most damage. They are also told not to stop after the first hit and to keep driving over as many victims as possible. Furthermore, the terrorists are advised to choose the routes appropriately to ensure that there would be many other victims after the initial hit. According to ISIS, these kinds of attacks should be considered as suicide missions as in most cases the attackers would be captured or killed. The driver assassins are advised to have weapons if possible and fight back until the very end. Attackers are particularly advised to carry out such attacks in Israel, the United States, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands. They are also instructed to leave a note behind claiming the attack in the name of ISIS.

Bomb Making “in Mom’s Kitchen”

The fifth chapter focuses on demolishing buildings. The manual starts with explaining that there are two ways to tear down buildings or cause explosions: mechanical and chemical. While chemical explosions require some level of professionalism, it is always easier to carry out mechanical explosions, claims the manual. Mechanical explosions are described as mixing a kind of explosive material like gas or gun powder with oxygen and an igniter. ISIS describes the easiest way to carry out such attacks as using the gas or propane tanks or by using already available gas lines to cause explosions. The authors advise several ways to carry out such attacks with several precautions so that the perpetrators are not captured and so that the attack would cause the maximum damage. Attackers are advised not to purchase several propane tanks at the same time not to get the attention of the sales clerks. They are instructed to set up the explosions in a way that the police and firefighters might conclude that the incident was an accident. Terrorists are told not to leave fingerprints and CCTV camera recordings behind. Finally, the attackers are advised which parts of larger buildings to blow up so that whole building could be brought down.

The sixth chapter is titled “the Chefs’ Recipes: Kitchen Fun,” which instructs how to “make a bomb in your mom’s kitchen.” A homemade bomb is one of the best ways to carry out attacks in the West because the ingredients are readily and publicly available everywhere and could be reached without getting any attention, according to the manual. Also, in case there is a search of a terrorist’s house, law enforcement would not find explosives and bomb-squad dogs would not be able to sniff them as explosives. Finally, by applying the tactics and methods described in the manual, a lone terrorist could kill several people through simple procedures periodically.

There are four steps. First, they talk about the casings. Second, they instruct how to produce the main ingredients for the explosives from sugar and matches. Third, they detail how to set up the igniter from different day-to-day materials including Christmas bulbs. In the end, future attackers are taught how to build the explosives by using the materials they gathered. The manual also provides ways to make the bombs deadlier by packing nails or metal fragments on the outer walls of the bombs so as to kill more people. For ignition of the homemade bombs, the manual relates how to use batteries, delayed-ignition systems including manual clocks or remote-control systems.

The seventh chapter of the manual is mostly based on al-Qaeda’s previous instructions by code name “Dr. Khateer” (student of Abu Khabab al-Misri in Afghanistan) about how to produce “peroxide” based explosives including “TATP or TACP” through several and in most cases dangerous chemical reaction processes which would require some level of chemistry knowledge. This section explains step by step how to produce peroxide-based chemical explosives in detail with ample pictures to support the production of the materials. The ingredients are readily available at consumer markets. Each step is detailed with extra precautionary measures and with clues to ensure the successful production of explosive materials.

The eighth chapter tells about “remote detonators.” The manual provides in-depth step by step instructions on how to produce remote detonators from car alarms and washing machine timers. This section is also mostly based on Dr. Khateer’s previously produced al-Qaeda manuals. However, the terrorists are provided knowledge and experiences about where to purchase the electronics they need without arousing suspicion.

The ninth and tenth chapters are about the use of handguns and AK-47s for attacks. While the manual provided additional insights and information in the previous chapters, these two chapters chiefly discuss the Makarov handgun and an AK-47 assault rifle. The guns are explained at length, including their parts, how to dismantle them and clean them and eventually how to use them. 

Conclusions

Terrorist organizations stay alive with three essential linked elements: ongoing attacks, propaganda through their attacks and continued recruitment based on sensational publicity. For terrorist organizations staying alive means being able to carry out continued attacks, and for ISIS this means attacks in the West. The mounting defeats of ISIS terrorists in Iraq and the rapid loss of territory may be hurting its star power. Therefore, the “Lone Wolf’s Handbook” likely was rushed to its Turkish-speaking followers regardless of the level of their training and education. The manual also echoes the recent calls of ISIS leaders during the recently-concluded 2017 Ramadan to assault Western interests however they can.

How to Defend against the New Threats

The first line of defense is communicating the existence of this manual to first responders and law enforcement agencies. It is essential that even regular officers who are routinely out on the streets have situational awareness of the threat.

Second, officers should be briefed on how to be vigilant regarding these tactics and what to look for in their daily routines. For example, as they drive, they should be checking roads for traps. In particular, they should increase observation of people who are out late at night and must be able to observe if they are carrying anything flammable liquids or LPG/propane tanks.

Third, law enforcement presence on the streets, around critical infrastructures and where high numbers of people present is crucial. Evaluating possible priorities of terrorists in choosing their targets by law enforcement agencies locally and then allocating their resources based on their evaluations is essential in countering such threats. For this, law enforcement and homeland security officers must be able to think like terrorists and should be fed by intelligence agencies.  

The dispatch centers, fire departments and the emergency services should be notified about the true nature of the threats and what to expect. The priority for the dispatch centers should be bearing in mind that fires could be terrorist attacks so that the appropriate communication mediums are established with the related agencies after such incidents. It is also imperative to evaluate the 911 calls from the same perspective as often there might be public tips related to such attacks that might implicate terrorism.

Ahmet S. Yayla, Ph.D.

Ahmet S. Yayla, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor of criminology, law, and society at George Mason University. He is also senior research fellow at the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). He formerly served as a professor and the chair of the sociology department at Harran University in Turkey. He also served as the chief of counterterrorism and operations department of the Turkish National Police in Sanliurfa between 2010 and 2013. He is the co-author of the newly released book ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Follow @ahmetsyayla

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