Countering the Counter-Terrorists: Senior Jihadis Offer Advice on Security Techniques

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 11

In a quest to spread security and military knowledge that is vital for successful Salafi-Jihadi terror operations, jihadi internet forums intermittently release training lessons in all kinds of subjects. This article will examine two types of jihadi security training materials. The first training episode, published by al-Qaeda in the South Arabian Peninsula, tutors jihadis on ways to resist interrogation. The group published three training episodes entitled “Triumph over Interrogators” in their monthly e-magazine, Sada al-Malahim ( January, February, March, 2009). A second security training episode was prepared by an Ingush jihadi nicknamed Abu Anas of Khacharoy (it does not appear that this individual is the same as Commander Abu Anas [a.k.a. Muhannad, a.k.a. Khalid Yusuf Muhammad al-Emitat], an Arab field commander operating in Chechnya). This posting discusses intelligence and security techniques in an article entitled “Security Advice from an Ingush Jihadi.”  The material is based on the experiences of Salafi-Jihadi fighters operating in the Russian North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia.

Triumph over Interrogators

The anti-interrogation lessons, prepared by an al-Qaeda operative nicknamed Abdulaziz al-Abini, discuss two methods of interrogation aimed at eliciting confessions and intelligence from imprisoned jihadis and ways to counter them. The first method is psychological manipulation and the second method is physical torture. The lesson starts with the psychological methods used by security forces, which begin on day one of imprisonment when the jihadi is restrained with chains as a show of authority. This is typically followed by further manipulative techniques:  

•Intimidation versus Endearment – This method is applied by two interrogators. One plays the good guy and the other the bad guy. The good-guy interrogator will promise to help the jihadi if the latter confesses and provides intelligence on the terror cell. The training warns jihadis not to fall for the false promises of this interrogator. The bad-guy interrogator will use obscene language while threatening the jihadi with all kinds of torture.  The counter-measure suggested by the training is to simply ignore the interrogators’ threats – easier said than done.  

•Empathy – Interrogators use empathy, pretending to care for the jihadi’s fate in an attempt to build rapport with the subject. Building rapport achieves short-term and long-term objectives for security forces. The long-term objective is to recruit the jihadi and release him to penetrate the terror cell. Even though the technique is a very common and crucial instrument in counterterrorism operations, the training fails to explain how the jihadi is supposed to counter this technique.
•Indifference – Leaving the imprisoned jihadi for long intervals without interrogation is another technique used by interrogators when no timely intelligence is required in the given case. In this case, the jihadi is instructed to pretend to be coping well with prison conditions and spend the time reciting the Holy Quran.  

•Exaggeration – The interrogators will question the jihadi about a very serious case, implying his involvement, such as a conspiracy to assassinate a head of a state. This technique is designed to manipulate the captive into confessing a lesser evil and to study his reactions when he is being honest and compare them to his reactions when he lies. To fend off this technique, the jihadi should answer sarcastically to all allegations. The training relates the experience of a fellow jihadi who was accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks.  The accused told his interrogators that he was in one of the planes used in the attacks.

•Simplify – The interrogators try to convince the jihadi that his case is not serious, unless he keeps denying the charges. The training reminds the jihadi that denying the charges will not exacerbate the case legally.  

•Wear Out – The jihadi is repeatedly questioned about a single incident.

•Insult – Obscene language may be used in the interrogation to break the jihadi’s morale. Interrogators may curse God and religion to shake up the pious jihadi who is ordered by God not to tolerate blasphemy and to try and stop it in any way possible.  In this case, the jihadi might think its better to confess than to let the blasphemy continue.

•The Bombshell – After long sessions of trivial conversation, the interrogators will surprise the jihadi with questions related to terror activities, hoping to catch him off guard. The training relates other “bombshell” techniques from actual experience, such as awakening the suspect and immediately posing questions.

•Uncertainty – The training warns the jihadi not to believe allegations that security forces have penetrated the terror cell using one of the amirs. The attempt to cast doubt in the jihadi’s mind and weaken his loyalty to his group is an old technique known even to novice jihadis. The jihadi must have strong faith in the face of the authorities’ efforts to dissuade him from his path, such as the Saudi Arabian reeducation and reconciliation prison program (see Terrorism Monitor, August 16, 2007). The training promises separate lessons on countering the rehabilitation program in future issues of Sada al-Malahim.

•Entrapment – Interrogators will ask questions that sound trivial, such as the time of a particular terror cell meeting, the kind of drinks served in the meeting and details of the rendezvous place.  The training warns the answers to these seemingly irrelevant questions will be used on another imprisoned cell member to convince him security forces have comprehensive intelligence about the cell. Captured jihadis are instructed to give short “yes” or “no” answers to such inquiries because elaboration leads to the disclosure of sensitive intelligence.  

•Polygraph – The training briefly explains polygraph technology. The instructions to counter the polygraph reveals that the jihadis do not fully understand the technology or do not train their operatives to deceive the polygraph by using Yoga techniques, as do some other insurgent groups.

The training warns interrogators can persist in breaking the suspect if they are convinced the suspect is holding back crucial intelligence on activities that might jeopardize human lives. Interrogators will also use all possible means to get a conviction if they believe the jihadi would resume terror activities when released.  

Physical Duress and Cover Stories
The second part of the training discusses physical duress methods allegedly used by all security forces against Salafi-Jihadis.  The training describes different torture techniques and urges jihadis to endure pain for the sake of God, who will reward them in heaven.

The training session puts emphasis on the importance of cover stories. Examples are given of the repercussions of bad cover stories in real encounters with security forces. Finally, the lessons sum up counter-interrogation techniques by instructing jihadis to preplan for interrogation in order to minimize the effects of interrogation on future jihad operations. Different cover stories should be devised for each and every terror plot. Tolerance, sarcasm and indifference will wear out the interrogator, resulting in a “triumph over the interrogators.”

No matter how thorough and experienced the jihadis are in anti-interrogation, the fact remains that human psychology differs from person to person.  Jihadi tactics have failed to address the wide range of psychological methods researched and adopted by security forces. For example, there is no mention in the training of the four different psychological categories interrogators use to try to identify the suspect at the beginning of each interrogation.

Security Advice from the Caucasus

This security posting, supposedly prepared by an Ingush Salafi-Jihadi, aims to educate fellow mujahideen about necessary safety procedures from lessons learned in the North Caucasus jihad (, March 18). The author warns that security agents continuously inquire about ways to join jihad through internet forums, hoping to deceive and identify jihadis involved in trafficking mujahideen.  Jihadi candidates must maintain safety requirements and take precautions to avoid capture.

Although jihad has been waged for many years in the Caucasus, very few Muslims were able to safely travel to the Caucasus and join in, says Abu Anas. Additionally, negligence and incompetent security practices, even by experienced jihadis, have led to arrests which decreased the already modest number of mujahideen active in the Caucasus. Jihad in regions heavily controlled by security forces requires extra precautions and good cover stories capable of disguising even the intention of joining jihad. To hide these intentions, the author suggests would-be jihadis take the following measures:

•The elimination of all religious aspects of appearance, such as the beard and the traditional Salafi dress code.

•Avoid frequenting mosques. Mosques are closely monitored by security services.

•Avoid discussions about jihad with unreliable Muslims who don’t believe in the pillar of jihad.

•Allow women to take off their head covers to disguise religious commitment. Abu Anas claims there is a fatwa (religious verdict) authorizing this measure.  

To stress the importance of eliminating religious aspects of the jihadi’s appearance, Abu Anas says Russian secret services arrested, by chance, an active jihadi among many bearded men in connection with a botched assassination attempt on the pro-Russian president of Chechnya.

Abu Anas warns that the internet is a very valuable source of information for secret services, blaming jihadis for carelessly posting pictures and video clips pertinent to jihad. He offers the example of a policeman’s son who made a jihadi-style video while holding his father’s state-issued weapon. Security services were able to identify the serial number on the gun and arrest the would-be jihadi. Abu Anas cautions against trusting relatives in the security services:

"Sometimes some Muslims are so naive that they think that ties of kinship will prevent members of disbelieving forces from harming them. It should be clearly understood, that bitterness of war in Caucasus reached such a high degree, that local ‘cops’ do not hesitate to shoot, abduct and torture their ‘militant’ relatives or those ‘suspected in links to militants.’"

The release of pictures and videos on the false assumption that the jihadis in these graphics are already known to the secret services limits the chance of those jihadis conducting any kind of clandestine operation, such as collecting intelligence on a possible target. Despite Abu Anas’ warnings, jihadis in the Caucasus keep posting their pictures on the internet, apparently in an attempt to solicit donations from jihad supporters ( April 13, 2009)  

Insecure communications methods, such as landlines, mobile phones and the internet, are a major factor in compromising jihad activities. For the security services, this is the fastest and easiest way to uncover jihadi intentions. Secret services eavesdrop on what the jihadi says and analyze what he writes. Therefore, jihadis must turn off mobile phones in secret meetings and throw away SIM cards if phone calls suddenly disconnect. Jihadis who release audio statements through any means must realize that their voiceprint is saved in the electromagnetic database of the secret services for future auto-tracking. Abu Anas says there are no secure telephones – 80 to 90% of successful security operations against jihadis are, at least in part, the result of intelligence collected through technical means. Hence, jihadis should train on safe communications and severely punish those who are sloppy in these areas.

Finally, Abu Anas recommends the following security precautions:

•Avoid Russian servers when using internet communications. All Russian police forces have authorized access to any email.
•Insurgent groups must immediately expel any mujahid who fails to perform his duties in a secure fashion

•A bad mobile connection in a place that usually has good reception indicates the secret services are listening in on the call.  Evacuate the area immediately and dispose of the SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card.  SIM cards are the first things to be checked by secret services when a jihadi is arrested.  

Although more advanced jihadi training materials have been made available on the internet, the “General Security Advice” prepared by the Ingush jihadi was posted in almost all Salafi-Jihadi forums and blogs to depict a united Salafi-Jihadi global front. However, facts on the ground indicate intrusive Salafism is losing ground to traditional Sufism in the North Caucasus, particularly in Chechnya.