Jihadis Adapt to Counter-Terror Measures and Create New Intelligence Manuals

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 14

Islamist websites are filled with security manuals and training information for jihadi militants. These manuals are often posted on forums sympathetic to violent Islamists, and the visitors to the forums are able to ask questions to different jihadi security experts regarding fighting tactics and intelligence strategies. In intelligence training and sharing practices, the jihadi sites have posted three significant documents: the Great Jihad Encyclopedia, a letter from al-Qaeda operative Abu Yahia al-Libi and a document titled “How to Confront and Cope with Intelligence Agency Interrogators.”

The Great Jihad Encyclopedia

It is not clear when the Great Jihad Encyclopedia was prepared, but it was originally released in 2002. The encyclopedia is a manual on security and intelligence techniques collected from different sources and from experienced jihadi militants. The encyclopedia is broken up into different sections spanning 70 pages, and the sections suggest that the document was prepared from the archives of the renowned services office Maktab al-Khidamat in Pakistan (the Afghan Services Bureau). Maktab al-Khidamat was, essentially, a guesthouse rented by Osama bin Laden in 1984 in Peshawar to receive and organize Arab mujahideen volunteering in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan [1]. The Great Jihad Encyclopedia was written by “Abu al-Qaidan.” The true identity of Abu al-Qaidan is unclear since covert al-Qaeda operatives use pseudonyms. The fact that there was an Algerian intellectual called Abu al-Qaidan suggests that the author could be an Algerian [2].

The jihad manual consists of 11 separate postings. The first posting by Abu al-Qaidan occurred on February 22, 2002, and he continued posting intermittently. His last one is dated September 27, 2002. Some sections of the encyclopedia articulate the fundamentals of security and intelligence trades, while others explain serious intelligence work such as the use of cover stories, surveillance and safe houses. Similar to any training curriculum, the manual commences the training with definitions of security and intelligence terminologies, interjecting pertinent Islamic perspectives of the practices. Furthermore, it explains the process of acquiring, analyzing and presenting information as a finished intelligence product followed with a section on how to preserve the confidentiality of the gathered intelligence and the means of utilizing it.

The encyclopedia elaborates on many intelligence skills such as espionage, counter-terrorism, sabotage, the importance of human intelligence (HUMINT) and agent handling. Moreover, it includes training on quality intelligence work such as the use of safe-houses, defensive and offensive intelligence, operating behind enemy lines, preventive security and a detailed explanation of reconnaissance. In command and control situations, the manual recommends security inspections of current operatives every six months to uncover any possible moles, although it does not explain how to conduct such inspections. In addition, the manual teaches the mujahideen how to resist arrest and interrogation. Finally, the course talks about the two most important prerequisites for any successful intelligence operation: good cover stories and casing a target.

Advanced intelligence agencies focus on the creation of good cover stories that allow for the efficient performance of their agents. The section on cover stories was very explicit and elaborate. Remarkably, the example used for cover training to distract suspicious enemy agents is the Soviet-style method called “secret exhibition,” which was used by ex-KGB agents. The “secret exhibition” method is when the covert operative himself plants false evidence for the probing enemy to find. The evidence, then, corroborates the cover story. For instance, if the operative is posing as an Italian using a fake Italian passport, it is useful to also have in his possession fake personal letters supposedly sent to him from a friend in Milan to his address in Rome; another example would be for this particular agent to keep a bus ticket used in Italy.

Casing is another important tool in the intelligence world necessary to eliminate enemy targets successfully. The manual’s section on casing is presented in a clear and standard form akin to that of any intelligence service. It provides practical examples of casing a target. In the manual, the example used was a house in the al-Ansar wa al-Mohajireen district, which is most likely in Peshawar.

Al-Libi’s Letter Outlining U.S. Interrogation Techniques

The same forum posted a letter, at a different date, regarding U.S. interrogation techniques sent by one of four terror suspects who escaped from the U.S. prison in Bagram in Afghanistan in July 2005. The suspect, Mohammed Hassan (known as Sheikh Abu Yahia al-Libi), is a Libyan national in his mid-30s who studied Sharia doctrine in Mauritanian universities and wrote a book entitled al-Ijmah Wa Mafhoumeh fi al-Sharia al-Islamia (The Concept of Consensus and its Meaning in Islamic Law). In his letter, al-Libi describes, in four major parts, U.S. arrest and prisoner transfer procedures, the locations of five different U.S. prison facilities in Afghanistan, torture methods, interrogation issues and the information that U.S. operatives are seeking to extract from the mujahideen. Al-Libi states that U.S. interrogators are seeking information on the following:

– Information on preparations for future terrorist attacks;

– The whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and other prominent al-Qaeda leaders;

– The whereabouts of Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders;

– The sources of mujahideen funds;

– Training facilities, launch pads and routes used by the mujahideen.

Al-Libi reiterates that there is a variety of other information constantly sought by U.S. interrogators throughout the incarceration period [3]. Al-Libi is a prominent member of al-Qaeda who recently posted a videotape on the internet inciting Muslims to attack France, Norway and Denmark for mocking the Prophet Muhammad in political cartoons (Middle East Online, May 12). In November 2005, he sent a message to al-Zarqawi in Iraq calling upon him to review, reform, revise and evaluate his jihad activities. It was not clear from the short message whether al-Libi was reprimanding al-Zarqawi for faulty techniques or simply advising him to avoid failed terrorist operations (al-Arabiya, December 19, 2005).

How to Confront and Cope with Intelligence Agency Interrogators

Contextually, another mujahideen site also released an extensive training manual on interrogation called “How to Confront and Cope with Intelligence Agency Interrogators” [4]. Albeit the subject is not as exhaustive as the encyclopedia, it thoroughly covers the different aspects of interrogation. The subject was prepared from three different jihadi sites by an individual named al-Kandahari, a very common alias name that refers to the city of Kandahar in Afghanistan. The subject defines the objectives, methods of interrogation and interrogation resistance techniques. The training is a step-by-step guide to almost every procedure the mujahideen might face during interrogation. Interestingly, it even tells the mujahideen how to manipulate the interrogator into drawing preferable conclusions. To manipulate the interrogator and even to intimidate him, al-Kandahari suggests that the mujahid:

– Restrain from answering the same question twice;

– Smile at the interrogator and remind him of God’s punishment for persecuting innocent mujahideen;

– Make eye contact and tell the interrogator that he will one day leave his job and will no longer enjoy the protection of the agency he works for, insinuating that the mujahideen know his name and where he lives;

– Try to figure out the information that the interrogator is after and give seemingly accurate but false information.

The use of interrogation is a very essential technique used by the security apparatus to extract information. It is, basically, a struggle between two individuals. The more that one party understands the technique, the better chance he or she has of prevailing in the struggle. Therefore, al-Kandahari’s document is very useful knowledge for the mujahideen because it teaches them what to expect and how to resist releasing important information.


The encyclopedia and the other different training subjects that jihadis are preparing and sharing remain within the normal practice of the intelligence cycle. It is clear that parts of the Great Jihad Encyclopedia were prepared from non-Arabic and government sources. In addition, the training style used in the documents appears to originate from military intelligence, and the encyclopedia is organized in a logical, sequential training order. The only unique aspect of the mujahideen training manuals is the interjection of Quranic verses and stories of intelligence practices in the Islamic epoch, apparently introduced to different parts of the text to justify certain intelligence work—a necessary addition since much of the manual appears to have originated from governmental sources. For instance, in one stark contradiction, under the “general guidelines for intelligence operatives” section, the manual advises the operative not to drink too much alcohol or to trust women; a stark contradiction to Islamic code that the writer failed to omit from the final document.

From the documents, it is clear that many of the intelligence lessons were drawn from the Eastern intelligence school style of training. This makes sense in light of the information that some ex-Iraqi intelligence officers have joined al-Qaeda in Iraq. In the future, it is possible that these jihadi planners will find a Quranic verse to justify non-conventional intelligence operations involving non-Islamic behaviors such as deep cover operations in the West that could expand rapidly via the advanced technology in communications that has previously helped radical Islamists perpetrate terrorist acts and evade capture.

Advancement in communication technology is the key to the success of any counter-terrorism operation by security and intelligence agencies; unfortunately, the same applies to terrorist operations that use the same technological systems to utilize and disseminate their ideology and methods. Consequently, the internet is the most preferable means of terrorist communication and regardless of how hard the security agencies attempt to control the terrorists’ propaganda and communications by shutting down their websites, the terrorists are always able to find an outlet on the internet to communicate and share their experiences to better confront the security forces.


1. See https://altanaya.com/vb/showthread.php?mode=hybrid&t=2388.

2. See https://www.alsakifah.org/vb/showthread.php?t=15166.

3. See https://www.alsakifah.org/vb/showthread.php?t=47446.

4. See https://www.tawhed.ws.