How to stop suicide bombers, crazed gunmen, and other terrorists.

May 22, 2007 · Posted in innovation, problem solving 

One of the most frightening threats today is suicidal murderers. Either organized militant terrorists or crazed individuals, we feel helpless against their attacks. Is there a way to prevent the attacks?

Yes there is!

There are two innovative approaches to stopping suicidal murderers. You could diagram protecting people or you can diagram the terrorist’s process then find ways to stop it.

If you stop any of the functions in the terrorist’s process you prevent the terrorist act. So, let’s approach the problem that way. Figure out the functions of terrorism then find ways to prevent any or all of them.

You may have heard of Motive, Method and Opportunity. Investigators look for those three to figure out who committed a crime. If you look at this a little deeper you find that a potential criminal considers a few more things. The complete set of things needed to commit a crime make up the criminal process.

There are five functions in the terrorism process.

  1. Desire — some goal believed to be unattainable any other way
  2. Identify Victim — find people that are weaker than attacker
  3. Connect to Goal — identify victims that have significance to goal
  4. Power over Victim — Actually have more power than victims
  5. Access to Victims

A normal criminal wants to get away with the crime and would have an extra function. The terrorist doesn’t care about getting caught or killed. Normal criminals are deterred by the chance of getting caught later. They worry about being identified. Terrorists don’t care about getting caught.

Security cameras, lights, alarms, harsh penalties, background checks, none of those have any meaning to a terrorist. Many anti-criminal tactics are worthless on terrorists. The first time you know about the terrorist is after the attack.

Terrorism isn’t totally different from normal crime. Terrorism uses a subset of the criminal process. A normal criminal has all the functions a terrorist does plus some more. So if you solve the terrorism problem you also stop normal crime.

Criminal Function Diagram


Everyone is motivated by some desire. We all have things we want. If our desires change then that motivates us to change our actions.

The potential terrorist’s desire goes beyond what they want. They also believe that violence is the best or only way to get what they want. They believe that so strongly that the desire to harm can become the goal.

If you can satisfy the original desire or make violence a less attractive way to get what they want then you’ve prevented terrorism.

What do terrorists want? Political violence can have hidden or even conflicting goals. It’s more helpful to look at the goal of the individual. Because when it comes down to it all you have to do is stop the individual. What does the individual want?

  • relief from frustration
  • revenge
  • gain for someone else
  • glory

You can stop terrorism by offering something they want more or show a much easier way to get what they really want.

Relief from Frustration

If the would-be attacker wants something but doesn’t know how to get it the frustration can lead to violence. Love, respect, success, or just to be treated fairly are common desires that would-be attackers often have trouble getting. Since there are always at least 15 ways to achieve any goal the would-be attacker probably didn’t try every way.

Teaching people how to use the Alternatives Grid can help them find ways to reduce frustration and prevent violence.


If the attacker was injured or maligned by someone they might seek revenge. The idea of revenge is to even the score, to make the bad guy suffer.

It’s absolutely essential that all forms of violence are stopped and treated. When a victim suffers over a long period of time with no relief they become violent. The violence is often directed towards themselves so we refuse to see it.

A person that lashes out in revenge wants to feel power. It’s essential that any violent act is shown as a type of weakness no matter who does it. All violence must be ridiculed and injustices remedied as quickly as possible.

Gain for Someone Else

Defending their family, freeing their homeland, serving their God or their leaders, these are just some of the ways people kill to benefit someone else. When you think about it gain for someone else is the motivation of all soldiers.

To deter the motivation anyone that might gain for the attack must not be allowed to receive any benefit. If possible, anyone that encouraged an attack must be punished and held accountable for the attack.

Additionally you can offer to reward and protect any attacker that reports an act before it happens. Some of the attackers who are doing it to benefit someone else would prefer to not do the attack but feel forced. If you make a very public effort to reward and protect people that expose planned attacks you can prevent that attack and many more in the future. Because the leaders might try to kill any one that exposes an attack or harm their family you might need to fake the attack to hide the informant. The best way to do that is to make it look like it failed for technical reasons or simply didn’t do as much damage and the informant died in the attempt.


Even though a suicidal attacker might never experience the fame if they believe they will achieve it through violence they might be motivated to try it. Make sure that murderers receive as little attention as possible and any attention shows them as weak and pathetic.

Identify Victim

A victim is someone or something that has a weakness the terrorist can attack. If the would be terrorist can’t find someone or something that is possible to attack they are stopped. This sounds like a perfect way to prevent terrorism.

In most societies children are very highly valued. And we all know that children are weak. Children can’t easily defend themselves and rely on adults.

Because children are weak and adults are very likely to react to an attack on children they are a top target. It’s critical to make it as difficult as possible to identify children as victims.

Almost everything current society does regarding children helps terrorists. Grouping children together makes them easy to find. Declaring schools “weapon free” makes it easy for terrorists to identify children as defenseless. This has the same effect as putting a pile of food out in the middle of bear territory.

Israel realized this problem and solved it. In the 1970’s several schools were attacked by gun wielding terrorists. Israel enacted a law requiring all children to be accompanied by an armed adult. Since that law no attacks have occurred on Israeli schools.

Any place that people join in groups must be believed to have armed guards. That can be uniformed guards or enough concealed weapons that a terrorist can’t identify a weak victim.

  • reduce groupings of weak people
  • make armed guards visible
  • publicize presence of people are armed
  • eliminate schedules to make it hard to pick a time to attack

Connect to Goal

Target or victim must have some connection to the goal. The terrorist must believe that attacking a certain target will achieve the goal. So the goals are important.

  • gain for someone else
  • glory
  • revenge
  • relief from frustration

If it’s clear the violent attack won’t achieve the goal that prevents the attack.

Currently when a crazed individual attacks a bunch of people that crazed person becomes a celebrity. Their face is on all the media outlets, their goals are examined, and they might even get free airtime for their manifesto.

Imagine a very different approach. A crazed individual attacks a bunch of people, killing and wounding a large number. The media announces,

A terrible tragedy has occurred. These people were hurt and these people were killed. It was caused by a crazy person. Our sympathy goes out to everyone suffering. We ask you to please make sure you rehearse your defense plans and if you know anyone that seems unstable, reach out to help them to help avoid such a meaningless end. If you’re feeling desperate yourself, please call the toll free number to get help. Again it’s very sad this happened. Please do your part to prevent anything like it in the future.

Can you see anyone feeling glorified by that?

Power over Victim

There are two types of attacks, instant and drawn out. Instant attacks like bombings have to be prevented by focusing on desire, connection to goal, identifying victims, and access to victims. The drawn out attack can be fought with force.

Terrorist don’t attack strong targets. Crazed gunmen are usually after one thing, to feel power over their victim. If you look at any of the crazed gunmen attacks they end the instant anyone with a gun confronts the attacker. And often the attacker kills himself.

If an attacker is determined and doesn’t care about dying the only thing you can do is fight back. Preparing in advance to fight back is your only option.

Terrorists often attack many people. If any one of the potential victims has the ability to stop the terrorist all the others are safe.

To prevent attacks and to stop the unpreventable attacks make sure that any possible victim is armed and educated on self defense. A powerful person is not a victim. The more powerful the general public is the less likely any crime will occur.

Access Victim

If the attacker can’t get to the victim obviously the attack can’t happen. Since you can’t identify an attacker until the attack it is impossible to keep them away from all possible victims.

The best approach is to limit the size and density of groups. If people are spread out it gives each individual more response time from the first attack. After the first attack the terrorist is easy to identify making it easier to escape or launch a good defense. Also if groups are spread out it makes weapons like bombs or chemicals less effective.

Make sure you can always escape when you need. This also applies to fires or other life threatening situations.


Terrorist attacks can be stopped or damage reduced. Doing any of what I’ve listed stops most crime as well. The steps I listed are cheap and easy to implement.

Just a 25% improvement in each of the 5 elements would reduce crime 76%.

  • Reduce desire
  • Make victims harder to identify
  • Disconnect violence from achieving goals
  • Give victims power to defend themselves
  • Reduce groups of defenseless people

In an Abundance Society much of the desire leading to violence would be gone. When everyone feels they have power then no one needs to use it.