Security - Aviation & Defence

'Run and hide, don't play dead': Insights in a terror attack

Written by: Fleming. Team

Be more prepared to counter terrorists

The Brussels attacks on Tuesday do not come as a surprise as Europe has been targeted by terrorist groups for years after the 9/11 attacks. Last year, we saw two attacks in France, the Charlie Hebdo and the Paris attacks. These clearly show that the new threat from Daesh (Islamic State) is far greater than thought. Al-Qaeda has never come close to what Daesh has done in Europe, crippling the very core of the European Union. Passengers with travelling bags and backpacks, and the placing of concealed explosives in the commercial areas did not raise suspicion among law enforcement personnel in the airport or the metro area in Brussels. The attacks were not particularly sophisticated in terms of the method of operations employed by the attackers. In the early morning attack, triacetone triperoxide (TATP) was used. Although this agent is not stable, the attacks were carried out with precision. TATP is the choice of most terrorist groups, and it is easy to acquire and difficult to detect. This method of terrorist operations is very similar to the insurgency operations and they are lethal.

All airports are vulnerable to terrorist attacks, especially the arrival and departure areas. The terrorists are constantly changing their modus operandi. “Think like a terrorist, think of the unthinkable” is what all security personnel should learn in order to understand the threat posed by terrorist groups. These soft targets have always been there and experts have warned about the vulnerabilities. This is where a “terrorist needs to be lucky only once and we to be lucky all the time”. Attacks during the early morning rush hour is one of terrorists’ most preferred attack scenarios. The psychological reactions of humans in the morning are far less prepared to address threats as this is the time of unpreparedness of the human brain, be it in the general public or law enforcement personnel.

Terrorist groups understand the psychological constraints of law enforcement personnel during this time of the day. This is the most vulnerable time for commuters and law enforcement personnel. The planned attacks might have taken several months to plan but there might have been a drastic change of plan, according to some counterterrorism experts.

The arrest of Salah Abdeslam last week triggered the “fast forward” of the planned attacks. This may be due to the fact that the Belgian authorities would be interrogating Salah on the threats of Daesh in Belgium. Knowing that he “chickened out” in the last attack in Paris, he could have soured again but, this time, only to the authorities. The authorisation to carry out the attacks as soon as possible might have been given by Daesh in Europe so as not to deter the planned attacks that might have been planned for a later date.

These coordinated attacks will be more frequent in European cities and the pattern is moving from one European city to the next or it could bounce back when complacency sets in. The many threat scenarios of terrorists’ modus operandi in European cities will constantly change when new opportunities arise for easy target selection and attacks to take precedence.

The European authorities will not be able to counter these threats easily as we have seen from the many attacks taking place randomly in European cities. The Europeans now need even greater training to counter the threats of terrorism on an operational level as this will be the focus of countering the threats already taking place in Europe. Far greater than radicalisation is the current threats of foreign fighters returning and the less than “one per cent” of them who would carry out an attack.

Written by: ANDRIN RAJ,

Counter-terrorist specialist and Southeast Asia Regional director, International Association for Counterterrorism and Security Professionals, Centre for Security Studies