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Manuals for Mayhem: Ease of Access to Terrorist & Improvised Weapons Manuals

Readily available online, manuals such as the U.S. Army’s TM 31-210 Improvised Munitions Handbook, The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell have a history of misuse by terrorists. Appearing in court in March of 2019 for possession of terrorist materials a Leeds, a UK man was noted to have both of these manuals. More recently, three Long Island students were arrested this May for plotting to blow up their school. Searching the suspects’ homes, police recovered a copy of The Anarchist Cookbook.  

 

 The TM 31-210

 

Published in 1969 and 1971 respectively, the U.S. Army’s TM 31-210 Improvised Munitions Handbook and William Powell’s The Anarchist Cookbook, have laid the foundation for publicly accessible tools for terror. They provide detailed instructions on bomb making and a multitude of tactics for waging guerrilla warfare. Over the years The Anarchist Cookbook, alone, has been linked to a myriad of attacks most notably “Police have linked it to the Croatian radicals who bombed Grand Central Terminal and hijacked a TWA flight in 1976; the Puerto Rican separatists who bombed FBI headquarters in 1981; Thomas Spinks, who led a group that bombed 10 abortion clinics in the 1980s; Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995; the Columbine High School shooters of 1999; and the 2005 London public transport bombers.” More recently the book was linked to the Boston Marathon Bombers. Due to the prevalence of materials online, many perpetrators of attacks have drawn from multiple manuals in preparation of their attacks. In an era where resources, even those explaining the nuts and bolts of terror, are a click away these manuals prove problematic.

Directions from The Anarchist Cookbook

 

The internet has afforded these resources to casual readers and terrorists alike, providing potential actors and terrorists the information necessary to carry out attacks. Both TM 31-210 and The Anarchist Cookbook provide technical specifications for how to assemble and use bombs.  The rise of international terrorism, witnessed in groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS, has led to an evolution in manuals. In addition to explaining how to create improvised explosive devices, jihadi publications, such as Inspire or Rumiyah, provide readers with religious justifications for attacks and opine on the optimal targets.

 

Having called for vehicular homicide in the October 2010 edition of Inspire the use of vehicles as a weapon is not new, however it was not until the November 2016 Rumiyah call for vehicular attacks that the world witnessed a volley of such attacks. These were not limited to the Middle East. From Ohio to Berlin vehicular assault, as a means of terror, have become a common tactic of Jihadis. Unlike the creation of bombs, vehicular assault takes little technical knowledge and is easily carried out. Accordingly merely having read Rumiyah or hearing about its directives is all that is required to replicate an attack. Manuals for terror not only inform and direct terrorist actions, but their very existence as a reference source is inspiration to some.

 

An image from Rumiyah showing the use of vehicles 

 

With the internet as an infinite toolbox for planning and perpetrating terrorist attacks and a ‘by any means’ approach by terrorists, the scale and scope of terrorist attacks is limited only by their imagination. Appropriating the U.S. Army’s TM 31-210 for nefarious ends and expanding upon it in circulars, terrorists have shown that all available information can be utilized. Terrorists have proven themselves flexible and adaptable to the times and have drawn upon extant resources in addition to fabricating their own, based on trial and error. Indeed, with this kind of information readily available online, terrorism is just a click away.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) Historical Analysis Team is aware of the potential dangers posed by the proliferation of this material online, while appreciating the right to access it in a free society. CTG continues to monitor and record terrorist activities, archiving incidents that involve the use of these manuals. With this information CTG is better positioned to understand which manuals are most utilized by terrorists and can relay that information to other agencies, organizations and companies. Please feel free to contact us with any questions.

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1. After latest shooting, murder manual author calls for book to be taken ‘immediately’ out of print, NBC, 17 December 2013. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/after-latest-shooting-murder-manual-author-calls-book-be-taken-flna2D11758543

 

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