Al Qaeda Training Manual

8 August 2016

A purported training manual for the Al Qaeda group was found by Manchester police in 2001 and released by the American Department of Justice around the same time. Translated from the Arabic, it outlines ways that members of the global jihad should act in the long-term goal of creating an all-Muslim ruled state. There are anecdotes about manners of behavior, lines from the Quran, and detailed lists of activities members should partake in to plan for “operations” against the non-Muslim community and leadership.This manual, if accepted as true Al Qaeda doctrine, has several implications for the counterterrorism community that all show the difficulty of an organized method for finding potential terror cells. The most important of these is the near-impossibility of detecting terrorists versus non-terrorists. The main reason for this is that in the manual potential terrorists are instructed as much as possible to blend into their environment.

There is a variety of ways in which this can be done, including becoming clean-shaven in passport photos to deter any suspicions of strict Islam adherence (p. 24,) the ability to speak the foreign country language well (p. 18), and “the ability to conceal oneself” (p. 21-22) to match the country in which the nascent terrorist resides. This forces counterterrorism officials to be almost paranoid in their detection of terrorists.This manual is aimed at a Muslim audience, but there is no way to discern Muslims from non-Muslims on the street, particularly if the Muslims are taking extra steps to appear secular. While it is true that this manual is written in Arabic and therefore singles out Arabs for purported questioning, this is not a precise screening method.

Second, this document not only results in a weak method of spotting terrorists from a racial standpoint, but results in complications for financial transaction monitoring, as well. The manual dictates that users diversify all funds (p. 24) and not tell other “Organization” members about the location of these funds. This makes it difficult to trace terrorist monetary transactions. It also allows for safety of allocated funds if one member of the cell is caught and questioned as to the whereabouts of the remaining money of the entire organization.Finally, the document lists emotional or mental criteria such as intelligence, patience, and caution that make it nearly impossible to externally monitor suspects.These aspects make it extremely difficult to identify possible terrorists.

However, the manual does provide some guidance in formulating hypothetical counterterrorism operations benchmarks. The first step would be to target any physical characteristics that are measured in the document. These include “free of illness,” (p. 18) and strict adherents of Islam which means that, theoretically, young men arriving from the Middle East should be targeted the most (Islam places an emphasis on men accomplishing tasks.) They may look freshly shaved or still have thick beards.For a more solid analysis, legal passport activity should be monitored. The training guide mentions that each member should change their name on their passport and not include any family members, as well as change his picture to include a version of the member as unshaved.

They should also be in possession of multiple passports (p. 24). Details such as passport forgeries make terrorists easier to track, especially as they cross international borders.Finally, checks should be performed on frequent apartment renters or those who choose to rent but don’t have permanent citizenship in the country. The manual outlines specific procedures for apartment renting, indicating that members should rent in newer areas to avoid suspicion and hang signs, such as towels or pillows, so other members of the cell can join. The counterterrorism officials should be in cooperation with local officials to report suspicious activity in residential markets.In short, based on the Al Qaeda training manual, counterterrorism will not be easy in the years to come because of the specific ways of blending in that the manual suggests.

However, with careful vigilance, the process of finding terrorists can be refined to be successful.

Works Cited

(2004). Al Qaeda Training Manual. Retrieved December 9, 2007, from Department of Justice.HR Training Class 

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Al Qaeda Training Manual. (2016, Aug 26). Retrieved May 28, 2020, from
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