Question about Terrorist Tactics


I don’t understand why terrorist groups aren’t attacking more low level targets like random people’s homes. The message it would send of “No matter who you are you aren’t safe from us” could incite fear in the populace and paranoia that could cause political chaos. It’s low risk, as a typical home is defenseless against armed men with weapons, and high reward because of course it would be news and the random nature of the crime would be upsetting to a lot of people. I could see an uptick in arms sales and a political upheaval. I am curious because they tend to go after high-profile targets–highly populated areas. It seems like they of all people should realize the power of widespread fear to effect political change, and the futility of trying to kill off everyone who you don’t like. America’s been trying that for years on terrorist groups and it’s clear that you can’t kill an idea. But fear and paranoia seem to influence large numbers of people very easily. Just look at some politicians and how they use fear to their advantage.

This is my first foray into this topic, so please be kind. I am just trying to understand here. I am not a political or global terrorism expert, nor do I pretend to be.

I think the answer is probably the simplest one – there just aren’t that many people willing to kill civilians, and willing to face the likelihood of being killed in the attempt, for ideology, in the US.

For the population at large of the US, ~200 million adults, only a tiny fraction probably feel intense, violent anger and rage at the American people at large… and of these people, only a fraction have the physical ability, as well as mental fortitude, to go ahead with killing Americans, knowing that they will probably be killed.

I agree with the above. Even the determined terrorists will want to make a bigger statement than saying “I’m a random killer”.

In foreign countries, low level targets are often hit. Not houses, because that is just not enough people. Markets, theatres, churches/mosques are often targets. The Paris attacks were all low level, just large gatherings.

There’s not much “terrorism” in America and apparently not that much of a network. That’s why ISIS calls for lone wolf stuff. They have to hope some crazies just go and do something like San Bernardino, which would be described as low level. They shot up an office party.

Yeah, can’t see why someone would risk their life to attack a random house containing a dentist and his second wife. If everything goes perfectly, such an attack may kill a few people. Attacking a theater or something, as recently seen, could kill dozens or more.

And attacking a home isn’t “high reward.” ISIL or whomever would probably become a laughingstock: “Those terrorist guys used to blow up planes and skyscrapers; now all they can muster is an assault on a townhouse!”

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The biggest downside to a home invasion is that the homeowners may kill the terrorists before the terrorists can make a name for themselves and their causes.

Then there the chance that the police and media might assume that a home invasion is just another home invasion.

Terrorists have a better chance of successfully terrorizing the public if they stick to attacking victims in gunfree public zones.

Yeah, I know, but if you do a spate of assaults like this, it’s not “all you can muster”, not if you market it that way. If you’re ISIL, you say it’s another addition to your terrorist toolbox. It’s “we not only can attack you in crowds, we can attack you where you feel safest.” Am I overestimating the effect of fear on people?

And is there really a lot of risk in just assassinating someone in cold blood? Maybe from afar? I mean, what’s the percentage of assassins who get caught when all the police have to go on is the direction of the bullet and a dead body with no motive?

Finally, ISIL don’t seem to be the type to be afraid to kill random people. They’ve been doing it for a while now.

What i don’t understand is why terrorist put so little effort into not looking like terrorist. The guy that figures out that if he wears a tshirt and jeans, shaves his beard and smiles once in a while will be able to blow up whatever he wants.

Bunch of guys in banker suits and ties blew up the economy back in 2007/2008 and they all got away with it.

Well, if this is all that ISIL is doing in the US, then it would be viewed as pretty lame.

Read the thread on “good gun news of the day.”

It has nothing to do with willingness to kill. Terrorists typically want to make some kind of statement with violence, not just kill nobodies for no reason. Like, Al Qaeda targeted the WTC a couple times because it was a symbol of American power. What point is there in targeting random houses? What’s next, carrying out a campaign of muggings to raise money for jihad?

Terrorists need to get their message out, and doing something that is newsworthy, something that will occupy conversation and the pundits for days, if not weeks, is what is required. And not being able to use (due to banning, or complete rejection of their Point of View, etc.) the ‘normal’ channels of reasoned debate or protest marches/boycotts/strikes to bring notice to their cause.

And killing random families simply won’t be worth the possible consequences, and risks either having their people caught or, worse yet, their cause ignored (or at least only discussed in the small region affected).

But BIG actions, from 9-11 to the Khobhar Towers to the Hotel attacks in Africa most recently, will get noticed and will get you talked about.

It’s all a matter of How To Get Noticed; we all try to do that in our lives, be it trying to get a job or attack a mate, but terrorists need to make a Big Splash to get noticed by the maximum number of people.

IMHO as always. YMMV.

Seems to me the cheapest way to cause widespread panic in America would be something like the Beltway sniper, except have several teams spread out. Make sure to hit a couple schools too, or kids waiting at the bus stop. Now I’m on a list somewhere, aren’t I?

Right. Risk vs. reward.

What are they gonna do, yell “We killed Doorhinge! Allah Akbar!”?

Plus, he shoots back.

The U.S. Congress, or more specifically the United States Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, created the laws that allowed unverified, sub-prime mortgages to be sold to buyers who couldn’t possibly pay off the debt. The others simply took advantage of the situation. It was for the children.

In many cases, terrorists seem almost inherently predisposed towards big, flashy targets and techniques, regardless of the fact that those are very often less (often considerably less) effective.

For example, they often use bombs instead of guns. Now, this presents some problems. For one thing, there is no retail store that sells bombs, and many of the components of bombs are monitored. So they have two choices: (1) make the bombs themselves, and run the risk of blowing themselves up before they’re finished; or (2) try to find a bomb maker, and run the risk of talking to an informant.

Another example: the Aum Shinrikyo sarin attack on the Tokyo subway. It killed a whopping 12 people–not exactly a lot of bang for the buck. There are numerous other examples where guns or even knives would have been considerably more efficient.

Maybe if that dentist had recently killed a beloved lion …

But you forget that the deisred product of a terrorist attack is not death; it’s terror.

Terrorist attacks are never going to kill enough people to defeat an enemy by outnumbering him; they are designed to weaken the enemy’s morale, and will to continue with the struggle. Hence what matters in a terrorist attack is not the dozen or so people who are killed, but the millions who are terrorised.

And, as we know, humans are irrational in their attitude to risk. We are more frightened of rare and bizarre risks than we are of commonplace ones even though a moment’s thought shows that the commonplace ones are much more dangerous to us precisely because they are common. Hence attacks on airliners, massacres in public places, poison gas etc; they may kill fewer than more conventional military operations would (or than non-political violence does, for that matter) but they are much, much more terrorising.

I’ve posted this kind of thing before. Shortly after 9/11, The Atlantic featured an article listing simple, low-tech things that could be done - such as targeting malls and amusement parks in ways that could have considerable death tolls and significant impact on our economy. I’ve often wondered about the damage a small number of committed folk could do a la the recent Paris attacks - or even San Bernadino. A couple of well-placed truck bombs could paralyze Chicago. Or - as you say, random acts.

These types of attacks would encourage Americans to cast off more of our freedoms, and welcome an increased police presence, which I would imagine would be considered successful challenges to our way of life.

That we have not seen more impresses me as indicative of how few terrorists there are, and how safe we actually are. Which makes the airport security theater all the more irritating.

For the win!

Except that it’s pretty clear that the vast majority of terrorists don’t “hate us for our freedoms” as G.W. Bush phrased it. They hate us for our policies. I’m not sure than any terrorist group – even ISIL, who probably comes the closest to hating us for both policy and non-policy reasons – would care about “increased police presence.” Really, that’s something that mostly civil libertarians, not violent extremists, care about.