Words and Bullets: Al Qaeda's Textbook for Terror

A police search of an Al Qaeda member’s home in Manchester, England, yielded a large manual in Arabic on a computer. It is this manual, which includes detailed instructions on how terrorist operatives should go about their daily lives so as to preserve secrecy and not call attention to themselves, that may provide important clues as to how the four young suicide bombers who attacked the London subway and bus systems in early July apparently slipped under the radar of suspicion. Not only did they escape notice by the authorities but even their closest friends and relatives claimed to have been flabbergasted that the four seemingly ordinary young men could have carried out the deadly attacks that killed 52 (plus the suicide bombers themselves) and left more than 700 injured.

This is not the first terrorist manual of its type that has been discovered. The Marxist Japanese Red Army, which held the world in thrall in the 1970s because of the group’s viciousness, composed a similar manual – which advised Red Army cadres living undercover how to dress, behave, and conduct secret operations. They should come and go at the same time each day, the manual said, as though they had regular employment. They were told to dress conservatively, and cohabitating couples were admonished not to hold hands because that was not characteristic of married couples.

The Al Qaeda manual, however, is the most complete terrorist manual ever to come to light. In its preamble recruits are told that Islamic governments “have never and will never be established through peaceful solutions and cooperative councils. They are established as they [always] have been, by pen and gun, by word and bullet, by tongue and teeth.” The manual rails at the “apostate rulers” of most Muslim countries and says that true Muslims know that an Islamic government “would never be established except by the bomb and rifle. Islam does not coincide or make a truce with unbelief, but rather confronts it.”

Qualifications and Principles 

Members of Al Qaeda must, first and foremost, be Moslems, according to the manual. They also must be intelligent, in good health, and patient, able to accept military discipline, and ready to sacrifice their lives and undergo martyrdom. In addition, they should be able to keep secrets and to exercise caution and prudence. All of the organization’s cells should be organized along military lines, the manual states, and operatives must obey their respective commanders and advisory councils.

Lesson Three of the manual focuses on counterfeit currency and forged documents. Key operatives are told to have more than oneentity card and passport. To reduce suspicion, “The photograph of the brother in these documents should be without a beard. … If he already has one [document] showing a photograph with a beard, he should replace it.” Then, the manual advises, stating the obvious, “When using anentity document in different names, no more than one such document should be carried at one time.”

With respect to apartments and hiding places, the manual provides the following tips:

  1. Choose the apartment carefully with respect to its location and its size (which should be big enough for the work necessary – e.g., meetings, the storage of arms and other materials, providing shelter for fugitives, and work preparation);
  2. It is preferable to rent apartments on the ground floor (to facilitate escape and the digging of trenches);
  3. Prepare secret locations in the apartment for securing documents, records, arms, and other important items; and
  4. Prepare ways and means (e.g., the building or purchase of stands and/or wooden ladders) of vacating the apartment in case of a surprise attack
The manual goes on to add that apartments should be leased using false (non-Moslem) names, should not be near police stations or other security installations, and “under no circumstances should anyone know about the apartment except those who use it.” Care should be taken, the manual continues, to ensure that the apartment is not under surveillance, and special knocks and other signals should be developed toentify comrades. Special signals also should be developed to warn other members if the place is under surveillance and/or if there is any other problem of operational significance. According to the manual, “Such signs include hanging out a towel, opening a curtain, placing a cushion in a special way, etc.” Telephone calls should “be answered in an agreed-upon manner,” the manual also advises.

Communications between undercover operatives is broken down into three categories: “common communication” for everyday purposes, standby communication “when one of the two parties is unable to communicate with the other for some reason,” and “alarm communication” for emergencies. There also is a chapter on “Secret Writing and Ciphers and Codes.” Formulas for making secret ink are provided to the reader, as well as ciphers that substitute letters with numbers; that leave out the numbers 8, 9, and 0; that use the numbers 8, 9, and 0 as separators; that use symbols; and that are based on various keys (such as descending-ascending tables). While none of the ciphers would provide much a challenge to NSA, they would be quite effective in disguising communications between operatives that had not come under a high degree of suspicion by authorities.

Meetings and transportation methods are also carefully choreographed, with all of the care and precision of various Cold War protocols developed by the CIA and KGB. “When public transportation is used,” the manual explains, “one should alight at some distance from the meeting location and continue on foot. In the case of a private vehicle one should park it far away or in a secure place so as to be able to maneuver it quickly at any time.” In one proffered piece of tradecraft that runs counter to the general rules developed by some of the world’s intelligence agencies, the manual says that, “The meeting should not be held in a crowded place because that would allow the security personnel to hide and monitor those who meet.” By contrast to the advice in the manual, brush passes and many other meetings with agents and operatives are held in crowded places – both to mask the activity and to make it more difficult to distinguish the various players.

Among the tips offered by the manual to detect surveillance are the following:

  • Walking down a dead-end street and observing who is walking behind you. Beware of traps.
  • Casually dropping something out of your pocket and observing who will pick it up.
  • Walking fast – then stopping suddenly at a corner and observing who will be affected.
  • Stopping in front of store windows and observing who is watching you.
  • Getting on a bus, then getting off after it departs and observing who will be affected.

Interrogations and Assassinations The manual includes a whole chapter on espionage, focusing both on open-source material as well as information that is gathered covertly. As the manual notes, “Spying on the enemy is permitted and may even be a duty in the case of war between Moslems and others. Winning the battle is dependent on knowing the enemy’s secrets, movements, and plans. The prophet – Allah bless and keep him – used that method. He would send spies and informants.” The same chapter goes into considerable detail answering questions about how a Muslim spy “can live among enemies if he maintains his Islamic characteristics” and how he “can … perform his duties to Allah and not want to appear Muslim.” Basically, the manual asserts that “a Muslim in combat or [a] godless area” can be given a certain degree of latitude, in terms of behavior and appearance, if it furthers his goals and permits him to learn his adversaries’ secrets.

The manual even has a particularly chilling section entitled, “Guidelines for Beating and Killing Hostages.” That section explains that it is acceptable “to interrogate the hostage for the purpose of obtaining information.” Then, in a clear sanctioning of torture, it continues as follows: “It is permitted to strike the nonbeliever who has no covenant until he reveals the news, information, and secrets of his people.” An entire section of the manual is devoted to interrogation techniques, including both physical and psychological methods of torture. Among the physical methods of torture recommended in the manual are “whipping and beating with sticks and twisted rubber belts,” “pulling out nails and hair,” “throwing [the person being interrogated] in a septic tank,” “burning with fire,” and “shocking with electrical current.”

With respect to the murder of hostages, the reader is told that “religious scholars have also permitted the killing of a hostage if he insists on withholding information from Moslems.” Hostages also can be exchanged for “money, services, and expertise,” the manual notes, “as well as the secrets of the enemy’s army, plans, and numbers.”

Detailed directions, complete with illustrations, are provided on how to assassinate enemies – surreptitiously, if possible. The manual’s readers are provided detailed information on the “lethal parts of the body,” and case studies are used to describe the pros and cons of various types of physical hits – each of which is carefully dissected with textbook thoroughness. Even missteps are delineated, such as “The Errors which Hassan and Mahmoud Committed.”

Bombs and other types of explosives receive considerable attention as well. According to the introduction to this section: “Explosives are believed to be the safest weapon for the Mujahideen [sic]. … [The use of explosives] allows them to get away from enemy personnel and to avoid being arrested.” The making and use of various types of explosives, blasting caps, fuses, switches, timing devices, booby traps – cars and television sets, for example – and similar information is provided to the reader. The chapter closes with comments on assassinations committed by “cold steel” (knives), blunt objects, poisons (ricin, pure nicotine, and various alkalines), and strangulation.

Lesson Eighteen, the final one included in the manual, is a list of instructions on how to survive captivity in prisons and detention camps, focusing particular attention on a prisoner’s rights – specifically including the right to an attorney – and instructing members on how to “complain [to the court] of mistreatment while in prison.” It was the recommendations in this chapter, of course, that led to the exaggerated complaints and resulting international uproar over the alleged U.S. mistreatment of prisoners at the naval base in Guantanamo Bay – complaints which, not surprisingly, were so enthusiastically embraced by Amnesty International and America’s enemies around the world.

Neil C. Livingstone
Neil C. Livingstone

Dr. Neil C. Livingstone, chairman and CEO of ExecutiveAction LLC and an internationally respected expert in terrorism and counterterrorism, homeland defense, foreign policy, and national security, has written nine books and more than 200 articles in those fields. A gifted speaker as well as writer, he has made more than 1300 television appearances, delivered over 500 speeches both in the United States and overseas, and testified before Congress on numerous occasions. He holds three Masters Degrees as well as a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He was the founder and, prior to assuming his present post, CEO of GlobalOptions Inc., which went public in 2005 and currently has sales of more than $80 million.



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