Working Against Modern Terror Cells: A Change in Tactics

August 24, 2017


Excerpted from:
Offline, cultlike, Spain terror cell evaded detection
August 24, 2017

The jihadist cell behind last week’s twin attacks in Spain was built around a “guru” and went completely offline to avoid detection by anti-terrorist police, experts said.

The group managed to evade authorities so well that even a giant explosion at their bomb factory in Alcanar, where police later uncovered massive quantities of ingredients to build TATP, was not at first linked to the jihadists. Investigators only made the connection after their vehicle rampages in Barcelona and the nearby seaside town of Cambrils.

Experts say the key reason was the way the group was formed.

The “propaganda and recruitment techniques” are like those of a cult, said Lurdes Vidal, director of the European Institute of the Mediterranean.

“The role of the family is emphasised, the group is a closed circuit, and everything is done to stop things from getting out,” she said.

And at the heart of the group, “there is a central person who unites everyone, who provides Salafist answers to youths who may have lost their bearings,” said French former intelligence officer Alain Rodier.

That key person in this case was the Moroccan imam, Abdelbaki Es Satty, who was killed in the blast accidentally triggered by the jihadists themselves.

See the full article here.


This is an excellent article on the make-up of a modern Jihadist terror cell. We have noted for some time (even prior to 9/11) the fact that many terror “cadres” are built around family ties. Much like the Mafia and other organized crime groups, the honor code amongst family and clan members helps ensure loyalty and the Jihadist version of “Omertà.” It is this loyalty to family bonds that makes penetrating and disrupting these cells extremely difficult using classic espionage techniques. And, given the group’s use of non-public communications and the dark web, SIGINT operations are also no guarantee of success. Additionally, this news article also highlights the fact that many terror organizations focus on recruiting younger operatives – often in their late-teens – when a person is much more susceptible to being shaped by outside influences.

As we’ve outlined in several of our previous articles, including The Importance of Understanding the “How” Rather Than Just the “Why” of Terrorism  and  Inside the Mind of a Terrorist Surveillant, a paradigm shift needs to be made to focusing on the “how” rather than the “why” of such groups. There is a concerted effort underway in the US to Counter Violent Extremism (CVE). While a noble cause, and certainly an important part of our overall national security strategy, this will be a long, costly and labor-intensive effort that will take many years to implement and show results. Meanwhile, the next terror attack is being planned somewhere, right now, as you read this article.

The fact that the Spanish terror cell accidentally detonated one of their devices (killing one of their senior members), but was still able to launch a successful attack just a few days later proves a point emphasized in our training seminars: our adversaries can make mistakes, but still carry out a successful operation, because they’ve carefully studied our vulnerabilities and security postures – thus allowing them to develop contingency plans for any set-backs. The only way to stop these groups is to shift our focus “left of boom,” thereby moving from a reactive to a proactive stance.

To learn more about the TrapWire System or our threat and surveillance detection training programs, please contact us.

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