Today’s missionary faces a new threat that canno longer be ignored. While it is not expected to change the practice ofmissions, terrorism may affect missionaries, their families, churches, and missionagencies.
The mission enterprise is not helpless in theface of this danger, however. By becoming aware of its vulnerability, and byacquiring a basic knowledge of the methods, goals, and objectives of terrorism,the mission’s community can take precautions to keep from being victimized.
Missionaries are most vulnerable in twosettings-«at home» on the field, and while traveling in dangerouscountries. The preventative measures presented here are based on personalresearch, travel in dangerous lands, studies of terrorism, and the experienceof Contingency Preparation Consultants, a nonprofit security and trainingorganization serving the mission community.
The enigma of terrorism
Terrorism is difficult for police andgovernment intelligence forces to understand. It is even more of an enigma forthe evangelical Christian. Perhaps one explanation for this is that terrorism’sgoals and objectives are obscured by the intensity of the violence.
Terrorism, however, is not mindless violence. Normally,it is a grand display of cunning, planning, power, and skill. Terrorists lackpolitical and economic power in the traditional sense, so they resort totactics designed to underscore the weaknesses and vulnerability of the targetgovernment and all of that government’s institutions.
The seemingly senseless skyjacking, kidnapping,or assassination comes into perspective when carefully examined and analyzed.Terrorism is a means to an end; the act is never the intended end in itself.The terrorists have real objectives. But they have come to believe they cannotachieve their goals quickly by legitimate means.
Terrorism is the systematic use of violence, orthe threat of violence, to achieve political, social or economic goals.Terrorism today is an urban phenomenon distinct from acts of war, crime, orrural guerrilla deployments. The goal of the common criminal is to kill, steal,or molest. That is the beginning and the end of his ambition. Rural guerrillaswant economic, social or political change within their own country. Guerrillasneed the widespread support of the local population. In war between countries,there is a declared state of armed conflict against a stated enemy.
The terrorist is unique, however. He has alarger purpose behind the immediate act. His goal is to mold world opinion. Inmany cases, his organization is so tiny that it can be financed with small sumsof money.
Shakespeare said in “Hamlet,” that “All theworld is a stage and the men are merely players.” The terrorist uses thisapproach. The script is presented as a «morality» play, one that willfocus attention on his cause. If the terrorist views the world as Shakespearedid, then he could be described as choreographer. The terroristic choreographerwants the players (a government) to dance to his tune. When the curtain goesup, the spotlight is on «center stage» and a worldwide audiencewatches tragedy unfold.
There are two kinds of terrorism, discriminateand indiscriminate. Discriminate terrorism is easier to understand. Such terrorists simplyattack the enemy. The Irish Republican Army attack on a British army hostel isunderstandable. The victims are soldiers or potential combatants.
Indiscriminate terrorist acts, however, mayinjure non-combatants, civilians, tourists, international residents and peoplefrom all walks of life. Whether it is the bombing of a public place or theskyjacking of an airliner carrying members of one’s own race, creed, color,nationality or religion, indiscriminate terrorism assaults all people withinrange of the deed.
In many instances these «surrogatesoldiers of warfare» simply want a sacrificial lamb, a scapegoat. Whatbetter scapegoat than an American-especially if the policies of the UnitedStates are not popular at the moment.
The seized foreigner serves a dual purpose. TheU.S. embassy puts pressure on the host government. The press often has a fieldday describing the government’s profound impotence to deal with dissidents inits society or to protect its own citizens or foreigners. Tourists becomefearful of traveling there, which often negatively impacts the local economy.The government loses if it does nothing or if it uses too little responsiveforce. The terrorists really win when the government responds with too muchforce or violence.
The repertoire of terrorism
Terrorists act with a limited technicalrepertoire. Bombings alone account for roughly half of all terroristicincidents. Six basic tactics comprise 95 percent of the total: bombings,assassinations, armed assaults, kidnappings, barricade and hostage situations,and hijackings. No terrorist group uses all of them. Approximately one-third ofall terrorist incidents involve hostages.
In the last 10 years, the problem of terrorismhas spread throughout the globe. Latin America leads the world in the volumeand frequency of terroristic kidnapping. Europe experiences the largest numberand frequency of bombings, although the Middle East leads the world in multiplefatality and extensive injury from a single bomb detonation. The «severityfactor» belongs in the Middle East in the bombing category. In recentmonths, the more violent fundamentalist Muslim groups have obtained more pressfrom their «choreography» of kidnappings than have Latin Americans.
The amount of terroristic activity directedagainst ordinary citizens has increased by 68 percent in less than a decade.»The proportion of incidents with multiple fatalities has risendramatically from 33 percent in 1982 to 59 percent in 1983.112
Terrorism and the mission community
Wycliffe linguist Chester Bitterman andPresbyterian Bryan Lawrence are present-day examples of missionaryhostage-taking. Bitterman’s incident resulted in a tragic execution after 41days in captivity. Lawrence was released unharmed. The response to thisviolence may be increased tension, especially for the missionary, hisorganization, and his family in the U.S. or overseas.
Terrorists generally target male heads ofhouseholds or businesses. They normally do not target families of businessmen,but fear for the family become a major concern for the provider.3 Terroristsrarely murder kidnapped hostages. It may encourage the victim to know that 98percent of all kidnap victims are eventually freed.
Even in mass kidnappings, such as planeskyjackings where executions are considered a normal method of operation, RandResearchers found that only 15 to 16 percent of all hostages were killed. Only3 percent of the skyjack victims were executed by their kidnappers. Twelvepercent died during assaults by security forces. Terrorists indeed want a lotof people watching-not a lot of people dead.
In reality, Americans are more likely to die inan automobile accident or from diseases such as cancer or heart disease whetherliving at home or overseas. The fear of terrorism, much like the fear of anyunknown, is greater than the probability of its occurrence warrants. Oneanalyst suggested that the number of people who have died as a result ofterrorism is roughly equivalent to the annual homicide rate of Flint, Michigan.
Never has terrorism, as differentiated fromwarfare, even approached the homicide rate in the southern United States. Inthe worst years of terrorism (1978-1984) the death rate was roughly equivalentto that of American fire fighters and police officers during the latter part ofthe turbulent sixties.’ There were about 80 violent deaths for police officersas compared to a U.S. population of nearly 500,000 police officers.
What are you going to do about it?
Even now, scholars and researchers are makinginroads in understanding and combating terrorism. Simple precautions may betaken to avoid becoming a victim of terrorism. The key is understanding thephenomenon of terrorism. First, understand what the terrorist wants, and howhis cultural and socioeconomic background affects his perspective. Then you canunderstand how Americans or Christian evangelicals fit into his scheme ofthings.
Risks can be ignored, removed, reduced ortransferred. The missionary living in dangerous environs must decide what hisaction or reaction will be to street crime and terrorism. He or she can be»proactive» or «reactive.»
An analysis of 781 kidnap operations since 1970shows clearly that in the vast majority of cases, victims failed to exerciseeven elementary security precautions.8 Had victims used; even basic securitypractices, the number of abductions probably would have been cut by 50 to 70percent.
Missionaries are now more vulnerable becauseother Americans are seeking protective aid such as business and residentialalarm systems, armored vehicles, bodyguards, and security plans. The missionarymay not be able to have (or want) the armored car or other technologicaladvantages. But he or she can have a basic understanding of terrorism and howto prevent it.
Missionaries can have security plans. Securityspecialists use a term called «target hardening» to describe crimeprevention practices. These practices make it harder for a criminal orterrorist to victimize an institution, residence, or individual. A «soft»target is criminal jargon to describe easy prey that offers small risk and goodreturn on the criminal’s investment.
Target hardening, or crime prevention, is notexpensive. It is not even time consuming. But through simple practices, you cansubstantially increase your own safety and that of your family anywhere in theworld. Through common sense methods, you can reduce your risk by largepercentages.
Police and government officials carefullyanalyze terrorist documents and records. After successful raids, they oftenfind extensive dossiers on particular target groups or individuals.
Police have found records indicating thatindividuals had been kept under surveillance for months, or even years. Yet,quite often, after planning to attack a particular person or institution,terrorists would change their minds. They would alter their tactics, strategy,and even their target.
Terrorists sometimes «step down» tosofter targets because they want to be successful in any operation. Their goalis to make governments and organizations look vulnerable to their strategy.This means they must not fail. Consequently, if the probability of success isnot strong, they will abort an operation. Even if the missionary is one of thelast to leave a violent area, he can still use a crime prevention plan thatwill cause terrorists to look elsewhere for victims. Today this policy is anoption; it is a necessary part of a competent missionary’s life.
Crime prevention while traveling
Travelers have become an attractive target forsome terrorist groups in recent years. Nevertheless, there is much thatmissions personnel can do to reduce their risks during travel.
Overseas flight arrangements should be keptconfidential by designated personnel within the mission organization. If aterrorist group is able to obtain travel related information, the traveler’srisk of becoming a victim is greatly increased. Specific data such as dates,times, flight numbers, carriers, and hotel reservations should be availableonly on a need-to-know basis.
American Airlines security personnel suggesttravelers use a simple code to communicate travel plans if it is necessary toinform someone in advance. With the use of a code, the data may be transferredby telephone, telex, or cable without fear of compromise. American Airlinessays travelers should assume that messages may be received by someone otherthan the intended recipient. If the message is in code, potential danger isavoided.
Those who must travel to a particularlydangerous area should contact the U.S. Commerce Department’s Foreign CommercialService. The State Department can also give useful travel-related information.These agencies can give valuable tips on whether it is suitable to travel at aparticular time.
Anyone can become an attractive target for aterrorist. In fact, air travel, both domestic and international, greatlyincreases your chances of being affected by terrorism. Successful travelersblend in with their surroundings. They alter their travel deportment to becomeinnocuous low-profile citizens.
Careful travel planning can significantlyincrease your security. One of the primary rules is to avoid any indication ofstatus. For example, the director of a large mission organization travelingoverseas should take sturdy, unpretentious luggage. Expensive luggage is astrong indication of wealth or status.
Luggage tags should be carefully marked toavoid indication of status. A dangerous luggage tag might say: «Dr. GeorgeC. Bigwig, Executive Director, International Ministries for Christ, ExecutiveHeadquarters Building, New York, New York 00000, U.S.A.»
The designation of Ph.D., a Th.D., or a D.D. isa strong indication of power, wealth and status. This is not part of anacceptable security plan. The title «executive director» is also anindication of status. The name of the mission agency could be seen by membersof fundamentalist religious groups. This too, is not in the best securityinterest. For example, to a Shiite Muslim defending his faith, the knowledgethat an evangelical Christian leader of international status is available couldbe a strong plus in his evaluation of passengers on a plane. This unsuspectingChristian may even be chosen as the first sacrificial lamb.
A proper label, on the other hand, could read:»George Bigwig, 1315 Smith Avenue, Minerva, New York, 00000, U.S.A.»
The address is indicated. Status is not. Do notbe influenced by status indicators. A non-status oriented tag can still be usedto recover lost luggage.
The luggage name tag should also be»status neutral» on any briefcase or other forms of carry-on luggage.Some travelers prefer luggage tags with closed faces, which cannot be read by acasual observer. Business cards, blank letterhead stationary and envelopesshould be carried in checked luggage. All status indicators should be left athome, at the office, or in checked luggage. Never use a business card as aluggage tag.
An executive, or anyone in a high statusposition, should avoid the appearance of an accompanying «entourage.»Staff members accompanying the executive in travel should be treated as equals.Avoid indicating status by giving orders.
Security in the airport
Upon arrival at the airport, promptly check allluggages, and proceed to a more secure area of the airport. This is on the»other» side of the metal protectors and carry-on luggage X-rayreview devices. Do not carry gifts, packages, or baggage for others unless youare totally aware of their contents. Some passengers even «band»their luggage to ensure no tampering occurs. Notify airline officialsimmediately if you believe someone has tampered with your luggage.
Anyone who witnesses unusual or suspiciousactivity conveat the airport or on board the airplane should immediately alertairport personnel.
For travel in dangerous lands, the choice of anairline is very important. The Israeli Airline, El Al, has the reputation ofbeing the most security-conscious airline in the world. Forget about comfort,convenience, and the quality of cuisine when security is an issue. Indeed, thesecurity-conscious traveler will avoid first-class seating, even when given ona complimentary basis by the airline.
The traveler should sit as far away from flightcheck-in desks as possible while waiting for the gates to open. These check-indesks have been compromised in years past by terrorist bombers. Travelersshould also stay as far away as possible from garbage containers, decorativeshrubbery or vending areas for the same reason.
Avoid first-class seating on flights near orover troubled lands. Dress conservatively. Expensive clothes, watches, orjewelry are definite attention attractors. You do not want attention in aterrorist encounter.
If possible, carry-on luggage should remainlocked unless it is personally handled at all times. Combination locks are moresecure than those that open with keys. A unique combination should be chosen,as opposed to selecting a 1-1-1 number on the left hand lock and a 2-2-2 numberset on the right hand lock.
Security on board
When selecting an airplane seat, be aware thatwindow seats are safer. Passengers on the aisle side are more likely to bepistol-whipped during the first moments of a skyjacking. The further you arefrom the aisle, the more protected you are. Try to get a seat away from anyemergency exit. A seat near the exit will place you in close proximity to aterrorist if the emergency exit is opened while the plane is parked on thetarmac. Also try to be seated as far from a bulkhead as possible.
In flight, conversation with strangers shouldbe reasonably discreet. If you are sitting next to a terrorist or anintelligence officer of the country you are entering, your uninhibitedconversation could get you into trouble. Obviously, you would not want tomisrepresent yourself. Simply be aware of all indicators of status.
The following is an example of an acceptableconversation: A Ph.D., or Th.D. named William Smith, the chief executiveofficer of International Missions, could introduce himself without deceit andwithout indicating status.
He could say, «Hello, I am Bill Smith. I’massociated with International Missions.» You do not have to volunteer thatyou are Dr. William Smith, the chief executive officer of the organization. Youcertainly do not want to discover that you have the highest status of anyone ona skyjacked plane. By failing to share all of the information, you havesubstantially increased your safety.
A safe arrival
When the airplane has landed, stay in the moresecure area of the airport (behind the metal detectors, X-ray machine and theguards) to allow time for luggage to be removed and sent to the baggagecheck-in area. Pick up your luggage, clear customs, and depart as expeditiouslyas possible.
Do not remain inside an international airportany longer than is absolutely necessary. Depart from the airport parking lot assoon as possible.
If the people meeting you do not know you bysight, a special form of recognition should be agreed upon
while making theflight arrangements. Try to avoid the placards in the airport lobby with»Dr. William Smith» printed in bold letters. Prearranged knowledge ofmode of dress is an effective way to be recognized. Confirm that any driver orescort is who he claims to be. If there is any doubt, confirm by telephone.
When leaving the airport by taxi; take the next»approved» vehicle in the taxi line and depart. Do not even considerusing the gypsy taxi system.
By being vigilant and observant, you can avoidbecoming a victim. Stay aware-stay alert-stay alive. Crime prevention can bevery simple if you know the rules and follow them.
U.S.Department of Commerce, Survey of Current Business, August 1980, p. 27.
BonnieCordes et al., Trends in International Terrorism, 1982 and 1983, (RandCorporation), p. 6.
Susanna W. Purnell et al., The Problems of U.S.Businesses Operating Abroad in Terrorist Environments (Santa Monica:RandR-2842-DOC, Nov. 1981), p. 19.
Brian Jenkins, Terrorism and PersonalProtection (Boston: Butterworth Publishers, 1985), p. 279.
Brian Jenkins et al., Numbered Lives: SomeStatistical Observations from 77 International Hostage Episodes (Santa Monica:Rand P-5905, July 1977), p. 26.
‘Arthur J. Alexander, «An EconomicAnalysis of Security, Recovery, and Compensation in Terrorist Kidnapping,»Terrorism and Personal Protection (Boston: Butterworth Publishers, p. 189.