Terrorist MOs

While there is no universal model for terrorist operations leading up to an attack, past experiences have demonstrated common principles and plans.

Stage 1: Broad Target Selection 

During this stage, terrorists will collect information on a number of potential targets that will have been selected based on intended objectives.

The information on these targets is gathered by members of the terrorist cell, sympathizers, or people providing information without knowledge of the intended purpose.

Potential targets are screened based on the intended objective and assesses areas such as symbolic value, critical infrastructure points of failure, expected number of mass casualties, and potential to generate high profile media attention.

Targets that are considered vulnerable and which would further terrorist goals are selected for the next phase of intelligence collection.

Stage 2: Intelligence & Surveillance

At this stage, targets that show weaknesses will receive additional attention and priority of effort.

This priority establishes the requirement to gather additional information on a target’s patterns over time.

The type of surveillance employed depends on the target type. Elements of information typically gathered include:

Stage 3: Specific Target Selection

Selection of a target for actual operational planning considers some of the following factors:

A decision to proceed requires continued intelligence collection against the chosen target.

Stage 4: Pre-Attack Surveillance and Planning

This stage gathers information on the target’s current patterns, usually days to weeks. The attack team confirms information gathered from previous surveillance and reconnaissance activities. The areas of concern are essentially the same as in Stage 2 but with greater focus based on known or perceived vulnerabilities.

The type of surveillance employed depends on the target’s activities. The information gained is then used to:

Stage 5: Rehearsals

As with conventional military operations, rehearsals are conducted to improve the odds of success, confirm planning assumptions, and develop contingencies. Terrorists also rehearse to test security reactions to particular attack profiles. Terrorists use both their own operatives and unsuspecting people to test target reactions.

Typical rehearsals include:

Tests in the target area will be conducted to confirm:

Stage 6: Execution

Once terrorists reach this stage of their operation, the odds favor a successful attack against the target.

Terrorists conducting planned operations possess important tactical advantages. Since they are the attacker, they possess all the advantages of initiative and provide:

Because of the extensive preparation through surveillance and reconnaissance, enemy security measures will be planned for and neutralized.

Stage 7: Escape & Evasion

Escape plans are usually well rehearsed and executed. The exception is a suicide operation where the impact is enhanced by the willingness to die in achieving the attack.

In suicide attacks, there are usually support personnel and handlers that require escape or evasion from attack response forces.

Exploitation is the primary objective of the operation. The operation must be properly publicized to achieve an intended effect. Media control measures and prepared statements are examples of preparations to effectively exploit a successful operation. These will be timed to take advantage of media cycles for the selected target audiences.

Effective Development of AMOs

Successful “Predictive Profiling” breaks down both the planning and execution of a terrorist attack into an “Adversary Method of Operation” (AMO).

This approach allows security and law enforcement to centre their attention on the way terrorists work as opposed to focusing on who they are.

By Red Teaming your organisation and thinking like a terrorist, you will be able to refine possible AMOs from which you can develop suspicion indicators.