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IS 0410: 21st Century Terrorism: Emerging Trends and Evolving Tactics

Course Description
Topic Highlights
Course Objectives
Who Should Attend


“Unless the world community acts decisively with great urgency, it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013.”

-Graham/Talent WMD Commission, 2008

Past commissions and international organizations (including the OPCW) have often delivered predictions concerning the possibility of WMD-wielding terrorist groups. To date, however, this particular prediction has not come to pass. Considering the fact that these predictions have yet to bear fruit, should terrorism against the United States and the international community be viewed as a mere nuisance that has been overinflated? Or is there a new wave of terrorism approaching on the horizon?

Course Description

This three day non-credit short-course is designed to provide a fresh understanding of terrorism’s evolution, current dynamics, and potential trajectories. These new understandings and insights come from the advancement of modern information and computer technologies, which have allowed for the availability of large terrorism related data sets, as well as creation of cutting edge methods and tools for the study of terrorism. These new tools have created a far more informed understanding of the terrorism phenomenon, which facilitates the work of both analysts and policy-makers alike.

Beyond sharing data, however, this short-course also provides resources, the most recent information and exploration of cutting-edge tools necessary to deal with modern, emerging, and more distant threats. Thus, a diverse team of experts in the field of terrorism studies offers participants:


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Each seminar is recommended for: Please call for information about CEUs and contact hours.
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Contact Info.
  • Online contact form
  • Address:
      George Mason University
    Office of Continuing Professional Education
      10900 University Blvd.
      Manassas, VA 20110
  • Telephone: 703-993-8335
  • Fax: 703-993-8336

    1. Empirical and analytic tools to succinctly characterize key details such as the dynamics driving group, cell, and “lone wolf” behaviors, potential attack modalities, and group organizational structures;
    2. Insight and information on the interaction of rapidly advancing technology with terrorist attack modalities; possible and likely terrorist trajectories, including future objectives, attack modalities, and target types;
    3. The ability to enhance tradecraft and tacit knowledge of terrorism through module exercises;
    4. Overviews and fresh insights into key case studies- including the ideologies and activities of Salafi-Jihadist groups and cells, Lone Wolves, Apocalyptic Millenarian groups; and U.S. Right-Wing Extremists;
    5. Exposure to the latest data, research, and salient finding on the process of radicalization;
    6. An understanding of funding streams for terrorist organizations, and the current and emerging methods used to detect and deter such activity;
    7. Explanation of the latest seminal findings in counterterrorism studies and insights into which strategies have proven most effective over the last 40 years.


    • Continuing Education Units (CEUs) will be awarded by George Mason University
    • Syllabus and reading materials
    • Dinner after first day of course
    • Lunch and breaks on all days
    • Certificate of attendance
    • Membership in the George Mason Biodefense Network on LinkedIn

    Topic Highlights

    Among the specific course topics that will be included are:

    • The Evolution of Terrorism: New Insights Through New Assessment Tools

      This opening module begins with an overview of terrorism’s evolution –from the late Nineteenth Century through the present. The discourse on terrorism dramatically altered in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Many commentators criticized intelligence and law enforcement agencies for failing to recognize, let alone detect, the terrorist threat. Whatever the validity of such critiques, they did open a place in scholarly and practitioner communication for new thinking regarding how to characterize and, most importantly from a policy perspective, to detect terrorist threats. The result has been a plethora of new approaches (and the novel application of some old approaches) to understanding the phenomenon of terrorism. What are some of these approaches? How do they differ from what has been done in the past? To what extent do they offer new insights or practical counterterrorism value? Do they reside only in the erudite domain of the Ivory Tower, or can they be utilized in an operational context?

    • Technology and Terrorism: The Fifth Wave

      Technology is advancing at a breakneck pacebreakthroughs that were almost inconceivable barely two decades ago in fields as diverse as microbiology, chemical engineering, information technology, and materials manufacturing are arriving on our doorstep almost daily. This has, expectedly, raised concerns in many quarters about the opportunities for terrorists and other violent non-state actors to exploit these technologies for nefarious ends, including facilitating their clandestine operations or increasing the lethality of their attacks. Which technologies pose the greatest threat in this regard? Are terrorists even aware of these technologies? If they are, what factors influence their decisions to pursue these technologies? What are the determinants of adoption success or failure? Will these technologies give rise to a new generation of super-empowered yet disaffected individuals who can, in the words of John Robb, “declare war on the world and win?" How should governments and publics react in the face of the dual-use nature of modern technologies?

    • Terrorism in the 21st Century: Trajectories

      While the contemporary terrorism landscape reveals rapid changes in all primary terrorist types, discerning the various trajectories of terrorism is marked by levels of uncertainty. What are opaque and, in contrast, visible indicators of today’s terrorism environment? What do they reveal about terrorism’s potential future features? What can we draw from al-Qa`ida’s central core and leadership lower in stature than a growing number of al-Qa`ida affiliatesfor example, al-Shabaab? Almost twenty years after the Oklahoma City Bombing of the Murrah Federal Building, today the U.S. extreme right-wing is highly agitated and growing in size, yet, so far, largely confined to non-violent activities and intercepted plots. Where is this potentially combustible movement heading in the next two years and in the post-Obama era? Five years ago few, if any, observers of the defeat of the Tamil Tigers foresaw the possibility of Syria devolving into a full-blown civil war. What do developments in the Levant, and elsewhere tell us about potential future dynamics of violent enthnonationalist groups and terrorists? Almost 20 years after the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo, Japan, subway by the doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo, apocalyptic millenarian ideologies continue yet they have not manifest into large-scale violent incidents in several years. Where could future violent apocalyptic millenarian groups emerge and what are their potential weapon and targeting preferences?

    • Terrorist Strategies and Tactics: the State of Play Today and Future Trajectories

      Terrorists almost always conduct their operations with both immediate and broader objectives in mind, drawn upon to shape many of their operational choices. However the distinction between “strategy” and “tactics” is less clear-cut in the terrorist context than in the traditional military domain, a point that is often lost on commentators. How do terrorists conceive of “strategy” and “tactics” and how should we, as those who study terrorism, do the same? What influences shape terrorists’ “strategy” and how is this related to the “tactics” that they employ? How does innovation in these areas occur and how can impending shifts in this regard be detected before they result in new forms of attack?

    • Terrorist Organizational Psychology, Group Factors, and Red Teaming: Trade-Craft Enhancement Through a Terrorist Group Construction Demonstration

      Oftentimes, words are often attributed to the actions of terrorists that may not necessarily be true; these often include terms such as “crazy,” “irrational,” and “insane.” Despite these aspersions, organized terrorist entities (from lone-wolves to transnational groups) are often structured with a command hierarchy, held together with a strong and compelling ideology, and choose their tactics, weapons, and targets based off their beliefs. How does ideology influence a group’s goals and targets? Are there particular types of groups that may be less selective in regards to targets than others? What type of group might have the greatest cohesion? Are there particular types of groups that might be more sustainable than others? In the current environment (read as the social media age), are there adaptations that groups might make (or have made) to prolong longevity of their group? In answering these questions participants are shown how to construct fictitious terrorist groups that are highly plausible. Moreover, accurate modalities of attack for the groups are explored and implemented in table-top exercises.

    • Key Case Studies in Terrorism

      Group types and specific terrorist organization are examined with an eye towards past lessons, current realities, and merging trends within terrorist groups. In addition to groups active in Syria, US Right-Wing Extremism, and Apocalyptic Millenarianism, the case studies additionally highlight the following:

      • Salafi-jihadist (group type)

        Al-Qaida Central has been supplanted by its affiliate groups that increasingly yield more power than that their notional benefactor. Few are aware, for example, that the affiliate al-Qa`ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) now controls a swath of land nearly the size of Europe, complete with military bases, arms dumps, training camps and airports. After 20 years of conflict, terrorists hailing from Russia’s northern Caucus region- now under the umbrella of the jihadist Caucus Emirateshave evolved into one of the most operationally capable, resilient, and innovative force in the history of terrorism (only rivaled by the now defunct Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers (LTTE). With a loci of operation covering virtually of Russia, the Caucus Emirates are linked to the larger jihadi revolutionary alliance, especially groups active in Central and South Asia. In addition to Russia, the Caucus Emirate has demonstrated its alarming ability to plan and execute highly complex operations in Central Europe, Turkey, Spain, and, as evidenced by the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, it can link to and inspire acts of terror in the United States as well. In addition to the Maghreb, southern Russia, Central and South Asia, and East Africa, the Levant—especially Syria—is now the centerpiece of international jihadi revolutionary activity. Jihadists from all of these areas are linked to several key jihadi opposition groups active in the Levant’s growing instability.

      • Caucasus Emirate (specific group focus)

        The case study will provide an overview of the Caucasus Emirate mujahedin based in Russia's North Caucasus. The case study will examine the CE's ties to the global jihadi revolutionary movement, its structure and territorial reach, operational capacity and tactics, including suicide bombings. Special foci will be on plots and attacks abroad (outside of Russia) organized and/or inspired by the CE and its operatives and the emergence of hundreds of CE amirs and other North Caucasus and Russian mujahedin within Al Qa`ida-tied organizations fighting in Syria, especially the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nursah.

    • Radicalization

      While numerous theories exist on the phenomenon, large gaps exist in our understanding of radicalization. On one end of the theory spectrum the central dynamic is thought to be an individual’s psychology. On the other end of the theory of radicalization spectrum, group action is held as the key; they act upon well-adjusted, normal, individuals and basically brainwash them. Few, if any, theories on these ends of the spectrum—or in-between—have been fully tested until recently. Which theories are tested and what were the results? What do these results tell us about the process of radicalization? Can tested outcomes—and accompanying early warning indicators—actually inform counterterrorism efforts in blunting or, better yet, reversing radicalization? If so, how can analysts and others in the terrorism field operationalize salient theories—creating tools that can be used in real-world analysis and decision-making?

    • Counterterrorism: Questioning the Strategies by States to Control Terrorism

      This specific course challenges participants to consider a broad range of responses to terrorism that go beyond the conventional practice of threatening harsh punishment of those who engage in terrorist violence. The instructor presents cutting edge research that shows that harsh behavior toward terrorists and their constituencies often lead to more terrorism, rather than less; and that by treating members of the terrorists’ constituencies well, terrorism is more likely to go down. Through table-top exercises participants will be challenged to come up with new strategies to address a range of unique conflict situations.

    Course Objectives

    • Build a working and specialized knowledge of the history of terrorism to identify key components of the evolution from historical to modern terrorism
    • Apply knowledge of terrorism history and current events to gain insight into future trends of terrorism that may be of concern to national/international security
    • Gain familiarity and expertise in the use of analytic tools and resources related to the study of terrorism, including tools to both swiftly and comprehensively characterize terrorist groups
    • Augment tacit knowledge of analytic tools through live table-top exercises in creating fictitiousyet highly plausibleterrorist groups
    • Develop a deeper understanding of terrorist ideologies, structures, capabilities and motivations that relate to key security concerns, such as the possible desire to acquire knowledge and technologies for the intended use of creating chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons
    • Appreciate the salience of select case studies of terrorist types and specific terrorist groups. These include Salafi-jihadi and jihadist groups in Syria (including al-Qa`ida affiliated Jabhat al-Nusrah, or the Support Front for the People of the Levant, and ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham), violent Islamists active in Russia (including the Caucasus Emirate), US Right-Wing Extremism, and Apocalyptic Millenarianism
    • Examine key issues facing modern analysts and policy-makers in the area of terrorism, including terrorism financing, radicalization, and the hydra-headed nature of terrorism
    • Understand policies and policy alternatives to dealing with the threat of terrorism

    Who Should Attend

    Those responsible for preventing, preparing for, responding to, and/or predicting terrorism including policy makers, security analysts from government, private sector and non-government organizations, law enforcement officers, homeland security practitioners, media professionals, and academics.





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