What to do in the event of a terrorist attack

(To Francesco Bergamo)

The lockdown and everyone moves freely: including terrorists! Unfortunately, we cannot let our guard down, because the danger is always present. So what should we do if there is unfortunately an attack? The answer lies in being prepared for this act and everything will come as a result, also helped by luck.

Here it is not a matter of being anxious or fatalistic, it is better to know certain things first, so as to hope to have an opportunity for salvation. Once learned the method of reasoning with terrorist logic, it will then become second nature which will be applied automatically without thinking about it. And without anxiety.

The problem is complex but not impossible to learn quickly with the advice of experts in the sector (see bibliography at the bottom).

It terrorista

It can be anyone, even a native: Homegrown terrorist1. In this last case it is particularly insidious because it knows customs and habits and moves freely in the context. Both men and women, both dangerous, are usually people who are physically trained and very skilled in procedures. They are supported by purposeful skills and have unwavering faith and determination in what they do.

Asking for mercy to be saved is useless because their goal is to raise the number of deaths to the maximum. Their action projects potential victims into a sudden and unknown situation. Terrorists generally try to act in delimited places and with little chance of escape for the targets. As already mentioned, they seek the maximum in no time.

Here the reasons that drive them to act will not be taken into consideration, but only the technical-operational part. However, the following passage is illuminating: However, we must not make the mistake of considering a terrorist as a person with a psychiatric condition. (...) On the contrary, he is a responsible and conscious person of the actions he carries out2.

Planning of the act

The attack is planned scrupulously, even when it seems improvised. It is therefore very important to remove the lifeblood for this purpose: the maximum concentration of people. There has been a terrorist evolution, passing from attacks in style against very important and sometimes well-controlled targets, to attacks against unprotected civilians and in the most disparate places but often with a high percentage of human presence. In the terrorist economy it is the maximum advantage: fairly fast planning in terms of time, high number of deaths with few men employed and deep instillation of terror in the affected society.

For some types of attacks, they generally follow the following principle: La urban guerrilla must launch its operations away from the logistics centers of the police3. The aim is to have more time needed to increase deaths. The planning is done with inspections and study of the most suitable method. In this case the terrorist becomes an absolutely man invisible, must not be noticed4.


Always following the logic of terrorism, more deaths with less effort, the chosen places generally have a human numerical value in the first place and also sometimes a symbolic-punitive value because places against their morals. Here is a purely indicative and non-exhaustive list:

1) trains, buses and subways5;

2) restaurants and casinos5;

3) shopping malls5;

4) railway or bus stations5;

5) queues for the check-in At the airport5;

6) sports stadiums5;

7) cinemas and theaters5;

8) churches, temples and other religious structures5.

Interesting what was explained by the excellent Gianpiero Spinelli regarding the flaws of our system, reason why citizens must be alert and careful because the terrorist: he knows, for example, that at the station in Milan there are checks on the tracks, but he knows very well that if he takes a train in the suburbs, a few kilometers away, the security checks are practically reset6.


The attacks tend to strike by surprise, but there are some constants and sometimes some important or symbolic dates. The times of greatest gathering and flow of people are included in the constants.

The dates with a high religious value, with distorted value, as during the period of Ramadan or on Friday.

Here is a statistic of the attacks in Europe from 2004 to 2019 drawn up on the basis of the data extracted from the study of the European Data News Hub6a:

Attempt by month

January 1

February 1

March 6

April 2

May 6

June 3 (2 + 1 for revenge)

July 3

August 4

September 0

October 0

November 2

December 2

Days of the week

Monday 5 (4 + 1 for revenge)

Tuesday 4

Wednesday 4

Thursday 6

Friday 6

Saturday 4

Sunday 1th of


An attack can take place in different or mixed ways with single, multiple and coordinated attacks in several areas of the territory: white weapon, firearm, explosive, bacteriological and chemical. A low-powered bomb can be placed to direct the bulk of people towards a narrow passage or forced passage and detonate a more powerful device there. Always with this logic, they can put a small bomb and once it has exploded wait for people and help to be on site to detonate the second one. They can start with an explosion and then come with firearms. Or otherwise. They can only use a bomb or only firearms. Or the white weapon. There is only the limit of the imagination. With the explosives they are introduced inside the structures, in the vehicles or among the people outdoors. With knife and firearms they tend to face head-on7.

Signs of imminent attack

Terrorists are men and women who have trained themselves not to leak their emotions, this does not mean that in a situation of high stress they can also betray themselves.

Here is a reference list to be taken with due reservations because there is never anything safe:

1) tunnel vision8;

2) does not respond to verbal commands8;

3) profuse sweating, muttering8;

4) irregular looks from one side to the other8;

5) leads to or adjacent to a large object8;

6) inappropriate clothes8;

7) nervousness8;

8) pale due to the recent shaving of the beard8;

9) repeatedly check himself or adjust clothing8;

10) inadequate or lack of eye contact8;

11) looks well-groomed but wears sloppy clothes8;

12) walk in a deliberate, rigid or embarrassing way8;

13) acts in an unusually vigilant way8;

14) has an empty facial expression, or appears extremely focused or in a trance8;

15) hands hidden in pockets, bags, luggage etc.8;

16) excessive perfume to mask chemical odors8.

In the face of all this, how can the ordinary citizen be defended? First of all by changing mentality, as the Americans who have been studying the experience of Israel since 2006 are doing: Israel's populace has been in a constant state of alert since the founding of the country given its unique geography, history, demographics, and adversarial neighborhood9.

Today it is important to see things with a new perspective. Citizens must start thinking in terms of preventive attention and always have clear ideas about what to do during the attack.

Practical advice

To simplify, we recommend viewing the link in the bibliography of the movie "Stay Safe" of NaCTSO (National Counter Terrorism Security Office) English9a.

The recommendations of the Federal'naja služba bezopasnosti (FSB- Federal Security Services of the Russian Federation) in case of a suspect package in public places or means of transport:

• do not touch, do not move, do not open the found object10;

• keep in mind the time of finding the object10;

• Do everything you can to get people away from the object10;

• wait for an operational investigative team to arrive (remember: you are a very important eyewitness!)10.

Taken hostage

It is one possibility among many. The first thing to do is not to challenge them with your eyes and do whatever they want. Don't make sudden gestures and try to stay calm. Imperative to become a gray person. Prepare to be treated hard and with various hardships. Whoever tends to create problems is the first to be liquidated.

There is only one case of resistance: only if you have the perception that the Special Forces are about to intervene. In this case one must avoid becoming human shields. Try to position yourself away from the windows and doors, because they are the first to jump in the event of a raid. If asked to be a messenger, do so without question.

In case of break-in during the blitz, to remain motionless on the spot, possibly already lying on the ground with your hands on your head. To help the special forces stay still and only when asked to do what they say. Terrorists try to take people who are in coaches, buses, trains, subways, buildings hostage. More difficult to fly because they are too supervised. They tend to prefer land transport because they are easier to take and more controllable. Always keep in mind that surely one of them will be close to the driving position, so it is easier for him to take a few passengers from the front rows to be used as a human shield.

For the intervention on the vehicles: stay seated with your head in your hands and crouch as possible.

In buildings: always sit or possibly lie down with your hands on your head.

The action on the vehicles lasts a few seconds, in buildings longer.

Bomb attack

It is useless to hide the truth: with a bomb there is little chance of salvation if you are in the radius of the explosion. However, if you notice in time, immediately try to reach the nearest escape route or the previously stored emergency exit. In the structures do not take elevators and avoid running in the crowd that runs away. After the outbreak, if you are on the ground, wait as long as the situation requires in anticipation of a second device or an attack with firearms. Leave everything and run towards the most suitable escape route or take shelter behind something that has a certain resistance to bullets.

If you are outdoors or have managed to escape, do not go away by public transport because they are potential targets (rule of concentration of people). Under the fire of weapons run to zig-zag11. Possibly from one shelter to another.

It is always recommended wear loose-fitting clothing made of natural fibers. These in fact catch fire less quickly than synthetic clothing11a. Always keep in mind that the security doors have an anti-panic handle which is activated by pushing also with the body. Do not stay in the crowd or in a collection point, there may be a second bomb or a second attacker there too11b.

Attack with firearms

Terrorists who use long automatic weapons and guns tend to hit the bulk of concentrated people first who offer a wide silhouette, then standing, then everything else. Usually the action can last up to ten minutes. In this case it must running away when possible, hiding when running away is impossible, fighting as a last resort12. Always call the police as soon as possible. During the escape, abandon everything.

Those who are well trained in using automatic weapons tend to double shots or short bursts of three shots at a time. Anyone who shoots a larger number will most likely be poorly prepared12a.

Try not to be too close to the walls as the bullets bounce and walk or run trying to stay low. If the shots come from an elevated position, it is better to remain standing, but if the shots reach the level, then it is better to lower. Never go out in the open with your head, if you have to look it is better to lean sideways, better at ground level than higher12b. It is important not to enter the turnstiles (like those of hotels) because they are slow to turn and you become targets: in some buildings, you will find that there is a door located next to the revolving one, which serves to facilitate access for the disabled and opens from the inside13. For preventive purposes, always on the premises sit with your back to the wall, keeping away from the windows and all passageways14.

In most cases the attackers, to begin the criminal action, approach the victim within 5 meters15. From here we understand that the reaction must be immediate. The farther away you are from the access points, the later the target detection arrives and the more time you have to reach the previously stored escape route. The attacker has 1,50 seconds ahead16 in addition to the surprise effect, with such short times, opening a door in the right direction quickly also helps: normal doors when you see the hinges open by pulling them, if you don't see them, pushing them. This particular offers a recovery of precious time in case of escape.

Attack with knives

It is however lethal! The knife never jams and is easy to hide and use. It is a fearsome weapon.

If possible run away, possibly stand in the way of a solid obstacle, light pole, tree, chair or other. If you have the readiness to throw something or retrieve any object that serves the purpose of creating a barrier, try to do it. Alternatively, know that the outer bone of the forearm can be a temporary shield against the cuts created by the knife, but not against heavy blades such as machetes, cleavers or axes.

Never try to grab the blade of the knife, rather pull low frontal kicks to the shins or kneecaps hitting them laterally with a semicircular kick.

Attack with vehicle

A terrorist who drives a vehicle and deliberately runs over pedestrians is a form of attack. The rule of concentration of people always applies. To defend yourself you only need obstacles strong enough to stop the vehicle.

In a pedestrian area, whenever possible, check if at the beginning of the road and at the end there are blocks positioned to safeguard passersby. If the road is open to vehicles, always walk against the direction of travel of the vehicles, so as to see what is happening and promptly jump behind a solid obstacle or the deep jamb of a door. Monuments, steps, concrete walls are fine, as long as they are related to the means used by the terrorist. Walking on the wrong side means not seeing the means arrive.

When you sit at the outside tables of a room, look for those that are more sheltered from obstacles. Attention, a normal planter does not offer grace to hold against a car, let alone a van or a truck. Stroll if possible a few meters from a row of trees or lampposts. Follow the road always displaying the most suitable and closest obstacle.

You ran away and closed the door

Barricade the entrance with everything in the room and then hide or take shelter at the safest and most distant point, because bullets could pass through the door. If possible placed mattresses soaked with water against the walls, they will absorb fragments and eventual projectiles17. A valid system to increase closure and delay or prevent access is the locking of any automatic spring return, a device that can be seen at the top, tightening the two protruding metal parts with a belt or something that does not allow their opening to compass. This system slows down or prevents the possible entry of the terrorist if the lock is forced. Other system: insert wedges between the door and the floor.


We live in the technological era and in some ways it is good because man has a valid help. One of today's technological advantages is to call Public Security at the exact moment of the attack by providing as much information as possible. But be careful: when you are hidden everything that trills, rings or vibrates must be deactivated. If at night and in the dark, make sure that it does not leak light from the mobile phone screen.

Time = Salvation

The attack comes suddenly after a careful study to implement it and with an advantage over a possible reaction on the spot of 1,50 seconds. Being able to grind seconds and then minutes for your salvation is of fundamental importance, because the security forces on average arrive after 10/15 minutes. These are in principle the times within which certain types of attacks take place. All this explains the logic of what was previously written.


What is written above are only indications that could work as not, because luck also matters in life. But if you are prepared, it is better.

Bibliography and sources

1 - What to do in the event of a terrorist attack - Giampiero Spinelli, MURSIA, page 21

2 - What to do in the event of a terrorist attack - Giampiero Spinelli, MURSIA, page 17

3 - Small manual of urban guerrilla warfare ”- Carlos Marighella, Chap.13 Mobility and speed, page 13

4 - What to do in the event of a terrorist attack - Giampiero Spinelli, MURSIA, page 40

5 - Executive Protection-The next level- Richard Hardaker. ShieldCrest Publishing Ltd

6 - What to do in the event of a terrorist attack - Giampiero Spinelli, MURSIA, page 99

6a - https://www.ednh.news/it/cronologia-degli-attacchi-terroristici-in-europa-dal-2004-al-2017/

7 - Basics of soft targets protection - guidelines (2nd version), Ing. Zdeněk Kalvach et al., Soft Targets Protection Institute, z.ú. Prague, June 2016, Appendix 8 - Classification of threats through Risk Analysis, Pag. 46

8 - Executive Protection-The next level- Richard Hardaker. ShieldCrest Publishing Ltd

9 - COMPARATIVE US-ISRAEL HOMELAND SECURITY by Jeffrey A. Larsen Tasha L. Pravecek, The Counterproliferation Papers, Future Warfare Series No. 34, 2006,

USAF Counterproliferation Center, VI. Analysis: Observations from Israeli Experience, p. 85

9a - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDiv-PwEde4

10 - http://ambmosca.esteri.it/ambasciata_mosca/resource/doc/2015/11/raccomandazioni_fsb_sui_comportamenti_da_tenere_in_caso_di_atto_terroristico_.pdf p.1

11 - What to do in the event of a terrorist attack - Giampiero Spinelli, MURSIA, page 78

11a - Live News: a survival guide for journalist, written and produced for the International Federation of Journalist by Peter McIntyre, page Italian edition: 38

11b - How to avoid being killed in war zones, Rosie Garthwaite, Sperling & Kupfer, p. 78

12 - What to do in the event of a terrorist attack - Giampiero Spinelli, MURSIA, page 64

12a - Live News: a survival guide for journalist, written and produced for the International Federation of Journalist by Peter McIntyre, page Italian edition: 24

12b - Live News: a survival guide for journalist, written and produced for the International Federation of Journalist by Peter McIntyre, page Italian edition: 28

13 - The Bodyguard Manual - Gérard Desmaretz, Mediterranean Editions, p. 52

14 - The Bodyguard Manual - Gérard Desmaretz, Mediterranean Editions, page 59

15 - Professional defense manual, Fausto Di Gregorio, Olimpia Editorial, p. 71

16 - Professional defense manual, Fausto Di Gregorio, Olimpia Editorial, p. 138

17 - How to avoid being killed in war zones, Rosie Garthwaite, Sperling & Kupfer, p. 77

Images: Counter Terrorism Policing UK / web / Arma dei Carabinieri