How to pro­tect your­self from sim­ple ter­ror­ist at­tacks

Ac­cept­ing that sim­ple at­tacks with ve­hi­cles, knives and guns are pos­si­ble, and be­ing men­tally pre­pared to re­spond will help counter the ten­dency of de­nial.

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents - By Scott Stewart

Sim­ple at­tacks by grass­roots ji­hadists have be­come a fact of life in the West. In­deed, we saw three such in­ci­dents on Sept. 15: the bomb­ing at­tempt against a sub­way train in Lon­don, a knife at­tack against a French sol­dier at a Paris sub­way sta­tion and a ham­mer at­tack against two women in Chalon-sur-Saone, France. Th­ese in­ci­dents are among the lat­est in a long string of in­ci­dents across the globe that fea­tured at­tack­ers armed with sim­ple weapons such as knives, ve­hi­cles and crude bombs.

Our tac­ti­cal anal­y­sis team has pro­vided ad­vice to our Threat Lens clients to help ex­ec­u­tive pro­tec­tion teams ad­just to this new re­al­ity, but in light of re­cent events, I think it would be use­ful to pro­vide some guid­ance to help peo­ple pro­tect them­selves from such at­tacks.

Ter­ror­ist Guid­ance: Keep It Sim­ple, Stupid

Since 2009, al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula has urged ji­hadists liv­ing in the West to con­duct sim­ple at­tacks near where they live us­ing read­ily avail­able weapons. This guid­ance was first fur­nished in its Ara­bic-lan­guage Sada al-Malahim magazine, but af­ter some ini­tial suc­cesses in the United States in 2009 in Lit­tle Rock, Arkansas, and Fort Hood, Texas, the group be­gan heav­ily pro­mot­ing this model of ter­ror­ism via the English-lan­guage magazine In­spire, which was launched in July 2010. The al Qaeda core group also em­braced this con­cept in 2010.

While al Qaeda's en­treaties in­spired a few at­tacks, such as the 2013 Bos­ton Marathon bomb­ing, the phe­nom­e­non re­ally be­gan to gain mo­men­tum af­ter the Is­lamic State's bat­tle­field suc­cesses in Syria and Iraq in 2014 gen­er­ated ex­cite­ment that helped the grass­roots ji­hadist move­ment grow. That surge in in­ter­est ini­tially in­spired a record num­ber of for­eign fight­ers to travel to the Is­lamic State's core

ter­ri­tory, but af­ter the U.S.-led air cam­paign against the Is­lamic State be­gan, then-Is­lamic State spokesman Abu Muhammed al-Ad­nani ap­pealed to grass­roots ji­hadists in Septem­ber 2014 to at­tack tar­gets in the West. While al-Ad­nani es­sen­tially just echoed the prior mes­sages of al Qaeda fig­ures, the re­sult was a cam­paign of sim­ple at­tacks that has far sur­passed those in­spired by al Qaeda in terms of scope and num­bers.

As the Is­lamic State has lost ter­ri­tory in its core ar­eas, its mes­sag­ing to grass­roots ji­hadists has shifted from "come and join the caliphate" to "stay home and con­duct sim­ple at­tacks." With both poles of the ji­hadist move­ment call­ing for more of th­ese types at­tacks, it is not dif­fi­cult for us to fore­cast that the phe­nom­e­non will con­tinue and even ex­pand.

The Chal­lenge for In­di­vid­u­als

By its very na­ture – and in­deed by its de­sign – the lead­er­less re­sis­tance form of ter­ror­ism in which at­tack­ers op­er­ate alone or in small cells against largely un­pro­tected tar­gets us­ing sim­ple tac­tics and avail­able weapons is dif­fi­cult to counter. While a good num­ber of grass­roots plots have been thwarted, se­cu­rity agen­cies sim­ply can­not catch them all – and in­evitably some suc­ceed.

This strat­egy has not only given au­thor­i­ties headaches, but it also poses a dan­ger to or­di­nary peo­ple who may be­come in­ci­den­tal vic­tims of th­ese types of at­tacks. Vic­tims in most of th­ese cases had not been specif­i­cally tar­geted – they just hap­pened to be in a tar­geted lo­ca­tion when an at­tack was launched.

Tra­di­tion­ally, we ad­vise peo­ple to ex­er­cise good sit­u­a­tional aware­ness in hopes that they can de­tect ter­ror­ist sur­veil­lance, and this re­mains ex­cel­lent ad­vice when they are in a ter­ror­ist's crosshairs. But in a case where they be­come tar­gets only by hap­pen­stance by be­ing at wrong place at the wrong time, it is more dif­fi­cult for them to pick up on the pre­op­er­a­tional sur­veil­lance and other prepa­ra­tions that makes ter­ror­ist op­er­a­tives vul­ner­a­ble dur­ing the ter­ror­ist at­tack cy­cle. This is be­cause their sur­veil­lance is con­ducted against the tar­geted area and not on the passersby who might be present when the at­tack is ex­e­cuted. A pedes­trian who is go­ing to walk across Lon­don Bridge to­mor­row sim­ply has no way of see­ing the would-be at­tacker watch­ing the bridge to­day.

This dis­con­nect al­lows at­tack­ers to seem­ingly "ap­pear out of nowhere," as some vic­tims have de­scribed, and start their at­tack with­out warn­ing. How­ever, there is no rea­son to fa­tal­is­ti­cally ac­cept this con­cept at face value. There are things you do to help in­crease your chances of avoid­ing or sur­viv­ing a grass­roots at­tack.

Sit­u­a­tional Aware­ness and Other So­lu­tions

While it is nor­mally not pos­si­ble for the ran­dom vic­tims of a sim­ple at­tack to see most pre­op­er­a­tional sur­veil­lance as it is be­ing con­ducted, it's pos­si­ble that ac­tiv­ity in the mo­ments lead­ing up to an at­tack will give away the fact that one is im­mi­nent. As ter­ror­ists move into po­si­tion to con­duct an at­tack, they are vul­ner­a­ble to de­tec­tion. A po­ten­tial as­sailant might dis­play ab­nor­mal de­meanour as he pre­pares to be­gin a stab­bing ram­page, or a driver might po­si­tion a ve­hi­cle in an un­usual way as a ve­hic­u­lar as­sault is nigh. Notic­ing and rec­og­niz­ing th­ese de­tails can al­low a po­ten­tial vic­tim to quickly get out of range – and hope­fully alert the au­thor­i­ties.

In ad­di­tion to spot­ting such pre-at­tack in­di­ca­tors, an­other key to avoid­ing or sur­viv­ing a sim­ple at­tack is recog­ni­tion that it is un­der­way – the quicker, the bet­ter, as far as the chances of es­cape are con­cerned. As I've writ­ten else­where, the dead­li­est en­emy of sit­u­a­tional aware­ness is de­nial, a mind­set that can also un­der­mine at­tack recog­ni­tion. I have in­ter­viewed many crime vic­tims who had the chance to avoid a prob­lem but didn't be­cause they could not be­lieve what they saw un­fold­ing and failed to re­act.

De­vel­op­ing and main­tain­ing the proper mind­set is a crit­i­cal com­po­nent in at­tack recog­ni­tion. Ac­cept­ing that sim­ple at­tacks with ve­hi­cles, knives and guns are pos­si­ble, and be­ing men­tally pre­pared to re­spond will help counter the ten­dency of de­nial. With the proper mind­set, peo­ple can de­velop the dis­ci­pline wher­ever they go to make men­tal notes of ex­its and po­ten­tial places to seek shel­ter or items to use as cover if trou­ble breaks out.

One prob­lem that can de­lay a per­son's re­ac­tion to an at­tack is the dif­fi­culty of see­ing an ac­tive at­tacker through a crowd. If a crowd is thick enough, it could even be hard to spot a ve­hi­cle be­ing used in an as­sault. Be­cause of this, it is im­por­tant to pay at­ten­tion to crowd dy­nam­ics – es­pe­cially since the crowd it­self can am­plify the ef­fects of an at­tack. A crowd stam­pede can cause in­juries and even fa­tal­i­ties. In fact, sev­eral of the in­juries in the Sept. 15 Lon­don bomb­ing at­tempt were caused when peo­ple flee­ing the scene tram­pled oth­ers. An in­ci­dent in a crowd tends to cre­ate an ef­fect much like a peb­ble thrown into a pond, with the rip­ples flow­ing away from the ini­tial cause and cre­at­ing a cas­cad­ing hu­man stam­pede. Be­ing aware of crowd dy­nam­ics ap­plies pretty much any time you find your­self in a throng of peo­ple.

Some­times the squeal of tires, or the sound of an ex­plo­sion, screams or shots fired will give you a pretty clear in­di­ca­tion that trou­ble is brew­ing. At other times, a clue could be some­thing as sub­tle as a nudge, a jos­tle or even a push in a crowd. If you sense a sud­den change in a crowd that po­ten­tially could de­velop into a stam­pede, it is im­por­tant to keep mov­ing to­ward the crowd's edge and not to al­low your­self to be over­come by the wave of hu­man­ity. This is the mo­ment that you should move quickly to the exit, shel­ter or cover you have pre­vi­ously iden­ti­fied.

Even af­ter one at­tack has be­gun, there is al­ways the dan­ger that an­other will fol­low or that the ini­tial at­tack was a tac­tic used to herd vic­tims into the kill zone of a sec­ondary as­sault. That's what hap­pened in the 2016 Brus­sels air­port bomb­ing, the 2002 Bali night­club bomb­ing and in many other soft-tar­get at­tacks. Be­cause of this, it is im­por­tant to not just blindly run with the crowd. You should al­ways be mov­ing to­ward safety and pro­tec­tion while care­fully watch­ing for sec­ondary at­tack­ers.

Sur­viv­ing a grass­roots ji­hadist at­tack is pos­si­ble, even in the heart of an in­ci­dent, by keep­ing your wits about you and hav­ing a plan to re­spond al­ready in mind. Th­ese guide­lines ap­ply whether you are deal­ing with ve­hic­u­lar as­saults, edged weapons at­tacks, ac­tive shooter sit­u­a­tions or other types of at­tacks.

Be­ing aware of crowd dy­nam­ics ap­plies pretty much any time you find your­self in a throng of peo­ple.

An air am­bu­lance land­ing at the Par­lia­ment Square af­ter the March 222 ter­ror at­tack in Lon­don in which five peo­ple were mowed down by a car

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