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Lesson 1-5 General Characteristics of Terrorist Groups

Here are some characteristics of terrorist groups:

  • Seek to intimidate by promoting fear.
  • Some have advanced weaponry (e.g., tanks) but generally they are militarily weaker than the governments they fight.
  • Employ unconventional warfare tactics; training can include physical and mental preparation, weapons and explosives, political and religious indoctrination, combat tactics, intelligence, psychological warfare, survival, and communications.
  • Do not equate tactical success with mission success. A specific terrorist act may not achieve its desired results, but a terrorist may still view the act as successful if it publicizes the cause.
  • Usually urban-based and highly mobile. If urban-based, terrorists have access to mass transportation (e.g., airplanes, ships, railroads, and subways). Terrorist groups with international contacts may also have access to forged passports and safehavens in other countries.
  • Generally organize and operate clandestinely in cells of three to five members. A cell may only have contact with another cell or the next higher command level. Therefore, the capture of one or more terrorists rarely results in the compromised identity of the entire terrorist organization.


David L. Heiserman, Editor

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Revised: June 06, 2015