Counter Terror: Tim Compston on the cost of terror attacks
Tim Compston, Guest Features Writer at Security News Desk, weighs in on the implications recent terrorist attacks and the counter terror measures needed to protect the public in future.
Sadly, the waves of terrorist incidents that have rocked Europe – and beyond – in recent months show no sign of abating with the authorities, and the public, being urged to remain on a high state of alert in these troubled times.
Vehicles as weapons
The security implications of trucks and other vehicles being employed, essentially as weapons, is of course a growing concern. A case in point was the tragedy that unfolded In Berlin on 19 December when Polish driver Lukasz Urban was attacked in his parked-up lorry. The suspected culprit, Tunisian-Born jihadist Anis Amri, then, allegedly, took control of the vehicle and proceeded to drive it at speed into a crowded Christmas market at Breitscheidplatz, resulting in the deaths of 12 people (including Mr Urban). Ultimately Anis Amri was killed in a confrontation with Italian police whilst on the run.
Outside of Europe, last month an incident with a similar modus operandi to Berlin hit the streets of Jerusalem with a group of Israeli soldiers on an educational trip in the firing line when a Palestinian drove a truck into them at high speed, fatally injuring four. Sadly, this is not a new phenomenon. Here in the UK we are not immune to such scenarios, as evidenced by terrorists ramming a 4×4 vehicle into the front of the terminal building at Glasgow airport, back in 2007, and the murder of Lee Rigby near the Woolwich barracks four years ago.
Returning to France, the earlier vehicle attack on Bastille Day in Nice brought into sharp relief the clear and present danger that terrorists pose to large crowds of people at major events, especially in our towns and cities. In many ways, the carnage wrought on Nice, which resulted in the deaths of 83 people – and three more subsequently – was simply a physical manifestation of the way that radicalised individuals are now being encouraged, through the groups like ISIS, to engage in ‘lone wolf’ or small cell attacks using whatever is close to hand.
Where vehicles and crowds are concerned, more attention, moving forward, is likely to be given to the deployment of temporary blockers, barriers, and other hostile vehicle mitigation (HVM) measures to curtail rampages in areas temporarily closed off to traffic. In this context, Paul Jeffrey, Managing Director at Avon Barrier, believes that it is important to think outside the box in terms of the lessons to draw from Nice, in particular: “If you take Nice as an example I don’t think it is practical to start putting in permanent or temporary solutions to control the access of vehicles because there are so many routes on that piece of road. What they should be doing is providing refuges at the edge of the road with bollards, for example, so if people want to get off the road someone simply can’t drive a truck into that area.
In the firing line
As we saw with the Bataclan theatre tragedy in Paris, entertainment venues too present a relatively soft target for opportunist terrorists seeking to wreak havoc in more confined spaces. The targeting of the Reina nightclub in Istanbul on New Year’s Eve by a lone gunman served once again to underline just how vulnerable people are once a terrorist – or terrorists – gain access to a crowded building.
More broadly, the importance of a fast and coherent response by the authorities as a situation develops cannot be underestimated as every second that is wasted is, potentially, life threatening. With the inquest now underway into the deaths of 30 Britons (out of a total of 38) at a resort near Sousse in Tunisia, some of the evidence presented thus far has been particularly damming. Most worrisome are the deficiencies which have been flagged up in the response of the police and security forces at the resort, poor training and a reluctance to engage the suspect as events unfolded.
Managing the threat level
On the subject of how authorities are confronting the daily reality of terrorism, Chris Dickson, a Security Consultant at Covenant, says that it is no easy task as they are constantly having to grapple with how and when to ramp-up security; manage their resources; and communicate the threat to public to so there is heighted awareness of any danger: “I know that France and Germany went up to their highest level after the recent attacks but it is just not sustainable to keep things there because it impacts on commerce and your way of life. We are talking about closing roads down and closing public spaces and amenities.” Added to this, Dickson says that the top level is only really designed for when an attack is underway: “You can stay in that for 48 or 72 hours but by then hopefully you will have, actually, contained the situation.” Having the threat level too high for two long can lead to complacency creeping in reckons Dickson: “Now (in the UK) we are at severe threat level but over time this can be counterproductive as the public start to behave in the way they would if it was actually two or three levels below that.”
In terms of the implications for employees travelling to areas where there may be a heightened risk of terrorism, Rob Walker, a Travel Risk Management Specialist at International SOS says that, thankfully, there is a much greater focus by organisations on the dangers that are out there now: “Many organisations became suddenly aware of the need to consider travel risks, even in countries they previously considered safe, due to the events of 2016. We are seeing increasing interest for e-learning from organisations, and for those with an implemented travel risk mitigation programme, their mobile employees are completing these courses. Awareness and preparedness are vital, as are insight and objectivity, when dealing with a crisis,” concludes Walker.
Things to consider when in crowded places
Regarding best practice advice for travellers, in the aftermath of what happened in Berlin, International SOS has issued some guidance on how to stay vigilant in crowded places. The key takeaways are:
- Be vigilant but not alarmed.
- Know where the exits are in case you have to react to what is a very unlikely event.
- Have a charged mobile phone with you, so you are able to get access to information about disruption or any on-going incidents, as well as call for help, if necessary.
- Follow advice from local authorities, and have confidence in our police, intelligence and security agencies to prevent/disrupt, or warn us appropriately.
- If anything happens, immediately depart the scene by a direct route in the opposite direction of any threat.
- Find a safe location and, once there, move only if you need to find a more secure location.
- Immediately attempt to communicate. Remember mobile (cellular) communications networks might be unworkable, either as the volume of traffic increases, or as emergency responders reserve the network for their own purposes: landline services are an alternative.
- In the immediate aftermath, make reasonable attempts to account for other members of your party. If you are in a group, stay together.
- If necessary, seek medical assistance immediately. Find out where any injured people will be taken and accompany injured friends/relatives to hospital.
Of course, it is important to emphasise here that the ongoing terrorist threat is not solely confined to radical Islamist groups like ISIS or their sympathisers, Irish Republican violence too is still a threat to Northern Ireland and the wider UK – albeit at a lower level than at the height of ‘the troubles’ – as evidenced by the shooting of a police officer in Belfast, who was seriously injured at a petrol station by automatic gunfire.
Those with far-right leanings too have been involved in incidents, with the Canadian Prime Minister condemning the killing of six individuals by a lone wolf gunman at a Mosque in Quebec City earlier this month (February) as: “A terrorist attack on Muslims in a centre of refuge and worship”.