People were surprised during a savage attack on London Bridge carried out by three terrorists who were later shot dead. The British police responded in eight minutes of the first call. Few days ago at the Manchester Arena there was a suicide style attack that claimed 23 lives, including children. No one expected an attack after a musical show by a famous female artiste.
The British Police and allied agencies have been at the forefront of securing their nation. Yet predetermined acts of terror planned to inflict maximum casualties continue to take place. The tactics of terror outfits evolves. This becomes a challenge to Police and Counter terrorism units. Securing large cities with thousands of people moving about is not an easy task, especially in countries with underground rail systems. The culture and social attitude of each nation is also exploited by terrorists.
All terrorist attacks have a common five phase routine, although at times they may change according to the desired target. The first is ‘Target Selection’. Today the ‘terror trend’ seems to be shifting from military installations and VIPs to easily accessible soft targets like crowded sports venues and public events where the attacker can easily buy a ticket and get in, having to face perhaps one entry check point.
In Western nations the bulging winter clothing, at times provides good cover when carrying an explosive. It is not clear how the London attacker managed to breach security and take inside his IED (improvised exploding device) that was filled with acetone peroxide (TATP) a primary high explosive. In the Ataturk Airport attack in Istanbul the three men managed to drive through the first Turkish sentry in a taxi, concealing AK-47 rifles in a bag. The Manchester attack on a soft target will put pressure on public events of this magnitude in the future, in any country.
The second phase is ‘Target Reconnaissance’, where the attacker or another person – can involve a group of persons – makes detailed observation of a venue and its security systems. They will often try to acquaint a security guard or service staff in order to derive details. During the famous 1972 Munich Olympic attack on the Israeli sports team one terrorist of Palestinian Black September Front had secured a job at the Olympic stadium, and done his homework.
With the growing hype on social media it is easy to follow the movements of a celebrity or VIP as they post their days movements on Facebook and Instagram. The third phase is ‘Operational Planning’ where the attackers plan the actual attack: When they will use their deadly weapon from the IAS (ideal attack site). This is the challenge Police and Close Protection Units (bodyguards) face. Convoys are at risk as they drive through ‘choke points’ on a given route. In a crowded venue like a stadium you can’t profile and analyze everyone, although you can scan people with detectors and K-9 Units (policedogs). The terror attacks in 2016 show a shift from using suicide vests, although this threat remains.
The new ISIS inspired trend is to use a vehicle as a weapon and drive it at top speed into a crowd, crushing people and causing mayhem. The advantage of this tactic is that no one can perceive the criminal intent in the mind of the driver. Decades ago a truck with explosives was driven into a US Marine barracks causing great loss of life. The fourth phase is the ‘Actual Attack’, where terrorists have the element of surprise. The fifth phase is ‘Escape’. Today this final stage is not an option for the attacker as he comes ready to die. There is no surrender.
Some of the other terror trends are not that deadly but create fear, which can spread across a community. A classic example is the individual knife attacks seen in Israel, where soldiers and people are suddenly stabbed. The threat of the lone gunmen has been haunting the public for a few years. Here again a radical or a mentally deranged person wields an assault rifle and kills everyone within firing range for no reason. Thankfully we in Sri Lanka have not witnessed this yet. British philosopher Jonathan Glover has revealed that humans are fascinated with inflicting brutality on others.
Another dormant terror tactic is the use of a drone, which can be used to release payloads of CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive). A small portion of any combination of chemical, biological and radiological substance on an aircraft for example can cause major panic in the sky. US Aviation security recently arrested a man after they detected the first laptop bomb at an airport entry point. The bomb was made to fit into a common laptop. With new high rise luxury office towers in Asia, someone can cause panic by crippling a crowded elevator, or even taking people hostage inside an elevator. As police increase their vigilance the terrorists will stay one step ahead. Their tactics will change and disturb the urban landscape.