AQ Manual Suggests Targets for Lone Wolf Attacks


Including Methods for Botulinum Toxin Production and Use

by Mr. Shai Arbel, CEO of Terrogence Global, USA

In August 2021, a newly formed Al Qaeda-aligned media unit, Al-Fursan (Lit. “The Knights”), redistributed an Arabic-language manual, penned by an author self-identified as Abu Mahmoud al-Mujahid, and directed at potential lone wolf attackers, particularly Muslims residing in the US, Europe and Russia. A comprehensive book covering a wide variety of fields, it aims to educate potential attackers. The manual provides suggestions for a variety of high-quality targets for attacks by different TTPs, with detailed instructions for some. Most notably, it describes two methods for the production of the botulinum toxin, and its use in CBRN attacks in several suggested attack scenarios. This dangerous content is particularly potent in light of the current propaganda effort by Al-Qaeda elements to reach new audiences of sympathizers.

The manual begins by surveying prominent lone wolf attacks perpetrated in the past several decades, mostly, but not entirely, by Muslim operatives in Western countries. It moves on to describe the characteristics of a lone wolf attacker, who will preferably reside in the country he aspires to target and will have a clean security record and lists favorable categories of countries to attack. It then describes the different stages of a lone wolf attack, starting from the choice of target, the planning and training, up until the operation itself and methods to avoid capture following it. It also elaborates on different ways to avoid reconnaissance and tracking and maintaining secrecy. Several chapters of the manual were dedicated to methods to prepare and carry out attacks by different means, some taken from AQ’s Inspire magazine.

A dedicated chapter reviews the topic of chemical and biological agents. The author first described these as historically effective weapons, listing substances he perceived as most noteworthy due to their high toxicity and availability – ricin, sarin, cyanide and anthrax, while providing some specifications for each, such as the effective method of exposure. He then suggests two methods for the preparation of a “made in the kitchen,” homemade toxic substance, described as a highly toxic material that can potentially kill dozens, affecting the human body within 20 to 60 seconds of exposure, with death occurring after one hour. Though not naming the substance, it can be deduced the author refers to botulinum toxin.

The author recommends dipping a brush in the prepared toxin and smearing it on a number of suggested targets: vehicle door handles, bureau doorknobs, elevators control panels, ATM keypads, train grab handles, means of transport, and water supplies; regarding the latter, the author notes that the toxin should be mixed in Vaseline or oil, as he previously stated.

General Overview of what a clandestine lab might look like
View inside of a clandestine methamphetamine lab.

The description of a botulinum toxin production procedure is offering a simple procedure for cultivating and isolating the specific strain of Clostridium botulinum from which botulinum toxin is derived, albeit as stated, unlike the listing of several notorious agents in its general review of CW, the manual does not directly refer to botulinum toxin by its name. Unlike different instructions found in other chapters of the manual, largely copied from the Inspire magazine, the botulinum toxin tutorial was purportedly compiled by the author. Notably, two different methods for procuring the toxin are proposed, with only the second, described in much less detail, closely resembling procedures discussed by jihadists to date. This second method appeared in a number of jihadist manuals over the years and is likely based on a preparation method originally found in the English-language “The Mujahideen Poisons Handbook,” itself a derivation of a procedure described in the 1988 “The Poisoner’s Handbook” by Maxwell Hutchkinson. The first suggested method is unfamiliar, and its viability to yield the purported toxin is questionable.

Botulinum toxin is sourced from Clostridium botulinum, a Gram-positive bacterium that produces endospores particularly resistant to their habitat and has the ability to produce the neurotoxin botulinum in selective conditions of low or no-oxygen (anaerobic), low acid, sugar and salt, and at a specific temperature range and a certain amount of water. Exposure to the neurotoxin, one of the most toxic of known biological substances, results in muscle paralysis and damage to the autonomic nervous system. The toxin can be used as a biological weapon owing to its extreme potency and lethality, and the relative ease of its manufacture and the brief incubation period before the manifestation of symptoms. Its delivery mechanism includes either via dermal exposure, ingestion or inhalational, the latter of which is most lethal. The toxin is, however, very sensitive to the conditions of its environment, specifically heat, and for this reason, the magnitude of bio-terror incidents involving botulinum would be limited, both in the number of casualties and in duration. These limitations are reflected in the proposed attack TTPs provided in the manual, with the author of the manual providing his readers with attack TTP suggestions that, in theory, have a higher probability of succeeding, and will anyway maximize the number of contaminated victims by weaponizing surfaces in public places frequently touched by crowds of people, thus significantly increasing potential exposure.

Bacteria Sample

As stated, additional chapters of the manual were dedicated to methods to prepare and carry out attacks by different means, in some cases including practical instructions, for example for making of IEDs and HME (TATP,) or constructing a tool for derailing trains, copied from past issues of AQ’s Inspire magazine. Other TTPs are also reviewed, such as hot and cold weapons; kidnapping, car rammings and assassinations; armed UAV attacks; and cyber-attacks, against a wide variety of suggested targets. Some of these include intelligence agencies and government buildings; aircraft and airports; weapons factories and stockpiles; banks and stock markets; and different infrastructure. Special focus was given to attacks against naval targets.

The “Lone Wolf” manual is a highly comprehensive work advocating individual jihad as a favorable modus operandi suited to current times. Though similar to other jihadi manuals published in the past few years, this guide mainly contains previously published jihadist materials, it nevertheless highlights some aspects less regarded in past tutorials. This is especially noteworthy as it is directed so intently toward lone wolf attacks. Particularly, the repeated circulation of tutorials for the production of botulinum toxin continues to preoccupy online terrorists, and this dangerous content is presently being targeted and delivered to new audiences and is troubling in light of the recent propaganda effort by the recently revived presence of AQ-aligned jihadists online.

Author: Bio

Shai Arbel is the CEO of Terrogence Global, a leading private intelligence company. Until 2021, Terrogence was part of the Verint Systems group, a global leader for Actionable Intelligence Technologies, in which Mr. Arbel served as Vice President for Threat Intelligence. Mr. Arbel is a leading expert in WEBINT, OSINT and Threat Intelligence, with over 20 years’ experience in the field of intelligence and counterterrorism. In his previous roles, Mr. Arbel was CEO and a member of the Board of Directors of Terrogence Ltd. And CEO and a co-founder of SenseCy Cyber Intelligence Ltd.

Before joining Terrogence, Mr. Arbel was a team leader in the IDF Intelligence Corps (Unit 8200) and also worked for the Israeli Security Agency (ISA). Mr. Arbel holds a B.Sc. Degree in Economics and Management for executives (Cum Laude) from the Ruppin Academic Center.

Related articles

Recent articles