Terrorism Awareness

What is terrorism?

Terrorism is the use of force or violence against persons or property in violation of the criminal laws of the United States for purposes of intimidation, coercion or ransom, or to influence government policy. Terrorists often use threats to create fear among the public, to try to convince citizens that their government is powerless to prevent terrorism, and to get immediate publicity for their causes.

Most terrorist incidents involve small compartmented extremists. Terrorist cells can meld into a community and remain dormant for extended periods of time. Local, state and federal law enforcement officials work together to prevent or protect against potential attacks but face the difficult challenge of identifying these small radical cells.

A terrorist attack can take several forms, depending on the resources available to the cell, the nature of the political issue motivating the attack, and the points of weakness of the terrorist's target. In the following paragraphs, you will find pre-incident indicators that can alert law enforcement to a potential terrorist attack, if properly reported. Understand, the presence of one or two indicators does not presume terrorist activity, but the presence of several indicators should be reported immediately to your local law enforcement agency or the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center (MCAC). Do not conduct your own investigation or dismiss indicators as unimportant. Allow law enforcement to do their job.

Pre-operational Planning

Pre-operational planning always takes place prior to an attack. A few indicators of pre-operational planning include:

  • Surveillance activity, e.g. note-taking, use of binoculars, cameras or maps that appear out of context.
  • Theft of uniforms, official vehicles, access badges, or other resources that can be used to gain entry to restricted or protected areas.
  • Stockpiling/storage of weapons or explosives or explosive making materials, e.g. volatile chemicals, fertilizer, propane tanks.
  • Attempts to test physical security.
  • Presence of individuals who loiter or do not appear to belong in an area for an extended time and/or change or hide their behavior in the presence of law enforcement/security personnel.

Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIED)

Vehicle bombs are a common terrorist method of attack. A few potential indicators of VBIEDs include:

  • Rental, delivery, utility, limos, and other vehicles parked in unusual locations.
  • Drivers who operate the vehicle in an overly cautious manner, attempt to abandon the vehicle or act nervously.
  • Vehicle drivers who display noncompliant behavior, such as insisting on parking close to a building or crowded area.
  • Excessive vehicle weight or unusually uneven weight distribution; e.g. the vehicle appears overloaded.
  • Smoke, strong chemical, or fuel odors emanating from a vehicle.

Suicide Bombers

Individual suicide bombing attacks are a common tactic used in other parts of the world. Although the U.S. has not experienced this type of threat, we must consider suicide bombing as a possible future tactic. Some suicide bomber indicators include individuals:

  • Wearing inappropriate attire such as heavy or bulky clothing inconsistent with weather conditions.
  • Protruding bulges or exposed wires under clothing.
  • Strange chemical odors associated with the individual.
  • Individuals display excessive sweating, mumbling to oneself, or displaying an unusually calm or detached demeanor

Threat of Secondary Explosive Devices

In the event of a successful terrorist attack, anyone assisting the injured should be aware terrorists have used secondary explosives to target first responders. So, first responders will search the response area for any suspicious items, such as unclaimed bags or abandoned vehicles, that could be used to hide a secondary explosive device. If you discover any suspicious items, leave the area and notify the onsite law enforcement personnel immediately.

MCAC provides a Suspicious Activities Reference Guide that can be printed and used as a reference. These brochures are also available in the Sheriff's Office lobby.

(All of the information on this page was provided by the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center (MCAC) website.)