Manchester - SMT Training Newsletter #32

Earlier this week, the world watched in horror the aftermath of the terrorist homicide bombing at a music concert in Manchester, UK. Many of us in the defensive world are desperate to help you, our clients and students, to avoid experiencing this kind of tragedy. This type of attack is hard for law enforcement to predict or prevent. You're going to see a lot of posts by security experts telling you simple steps to take to avoid these killers, but the truth is there's nothing simple about it.

You see, there aren't necessarily consistent features between homicide bombers. There are often different bomb-making techniques, and gender, age, or ethnicity may vary. Instead, defenders must look for extraneous signs to ID the homicide bomber, while attempting to make the smartest positioning decisions possible.

Let's start with an after-action review of the Manchester homicide bombing terror attack. Here's what we know so far:

1. The terrorist was using some kind of Improvised Explosive Device.

These devices are made from products you could buy at a hardware store. They can cost anywhere from $25 to $250 to make. Terrorists often tape or pack other shrapnel around the bomb to cause as much tissue damage to the people around them as possible. In this case, it appears that the terrorist used nails, but it could be other metal items like ball bearings or nuts.

These vests or belts are often very hard to see and terrorists wear extra clothes to conceal these bombs from security forces. The bombs often have multiple forms of detonation, from simple cord pulls to "clackers" (mini plungers that can be squeezed with the hand to send an electrical signal to the bomb to detonate), or pressure release switches, which are held closed in the hand so even if the terrorist is killed before getting to their desired attack point, the bomb will detonate as their hand releases. With the cell phone detonation, it doesn't have to be the terrorist wearing the bomb who detonates it, but another person that is overseeing the plot, a sort of "command and control" operator, if you will.

2. The terrorist utilized a "choke point" to ensure that his victims were as closely packed together as possible.

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The concert had ended and as people were leaving, the terrorist detonated himself in a choke point, which is a geographical space that restricts movement. With the Manchester Arena, much like Target Field in Minnesota or any other arena, there are limited avenues of entry or exit. This means that when large numbers of people are moving through those entry portals, they crowd together and slow down. This makes for an incredibly easy target for the terrorist. In this case, the terrorist seems to have been waiting for the crowd to gather in the foyer of the arena, specifically in the place were parents were picking up their children.

The choke point was just past the entry/exit, but before the terrorist would have needed to be screened by security. Below you can see the foyer from the inside, then outside. Note the doors, which would impede the flow of people, crowd them together and make for an easy target. 

3. The terrorist targeted children specifically.

This is far from the first time that terror groups have targeted children. Read the book Terror at Beslan if you'd like to see my worst nightmare for what might happen in the US. In these terrorists' twisted and evil view of the world, children are a legitimate target because they will become the soldiers of their enemies in the future. This kind of homicide terror attack is not uncommon in the Middle East or Chechnya. Some elements of ISIS are now using children to commit horrid atrocities like beheadings and murders, and as the US and coalition forces have taken away the oil revenue of ISIS and other like-minded groups, they have turned to harvesting th e organs of children to make the money they need to continue their fight.

4. The terrorist was not a "lone wolf."

Though that term has been bandied about incessantly by the media in the last several years, the reality is that these terror events are rarely one-offs. There is almost always a web of connected individuals that eventually lead to the homicide bomber. The police in the UK have already arrested five other suspects in regard to this attack as I write this newsletter. The more appropriate term for many of these terror attacks in the last few years was coined by Patrick Poole of PJ Media as "known wolf" terrorists, meaning that law enforcement and other intelligence services were most likely aware of these potential threats and had been unable to stop the threat, or had made the incorrect determination that the individual would not become an active threat. An example of this was the Boston Marathon terrorist Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

So, what does this mean for us as defenders? What do we do?

1. Understand the threat and get educated.

A quote from Sun Tzu comes to mind: "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles. Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win. {Thus} the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting."

We should read what it is the terrorists are saying to us and we must come to the conclusion that this a fight that we've had before (Barbary Pirate War) and we will win again, but we must be ready. If you don't know how to carry a firearm and use it well, then learn. If you don't know core emergency response, learn it. If you don't know how to conduct urban chaos escape and evasion, learn that, too.

2. Develop Situational Awareness at a deep and unconscious level.

Situational Awareness is identifying threats and threatening environments and taking positive defensive action to avoid conflict. The special operations community has this skill mastered and you should too for your Citizen Defender environment. The DVD series: Avoid-Deter-Defend was made specifically to help you, the citizen, learn this skill.

3. Know what the professional terror hunters know about identifying the homicide
bomber terrorist. 

Since September 11, 2001, federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies have been watching, studying, and training their officers to identify potential homicide bombers as early as possible. Some great unclassified material is available to the general public. To save a bit of time though, I'll summarize from an unclassified Department of Homeland Security Document:

FBI Suicide Bomber Indicators: ALERT

A - Alone and nervous

L - Loose and/or bulky (inappropriate) clothing

E - Exposed wires (possibly through a sleeve)

R - Rigid mid-section (possible explosives device location on the person)

T - Tightened hands (person may be holding a detonation device)

Additional Indicators

  • Person may be carrying luggage, handbag, or backpack
  • May be seen repeatedly patting his/her body, as if double-checking for something
  • No obvious emotions or displays nervousness and profuse perspiration
  • Hesitant mumbling (such as praying)
  • Person appears to be focused and vigilant, maybe even trance-like
  • Walking with deliberation or running in a suspicious manner
  • Person does not respond to authoritative commands or direct salutations
  • Person appears to avoid security forces
  • Person makes attempts to blend in with a crowd (suspicious movements or wearing disguises)
  • Female homicide bombers may dress in Western clothing and wear makeup instead of normal religious coverings (Palestinian and Chechen homicide bombers)
  • Reluctant to have bags inspected at security checkpoints

Should you identify a possible homicide bomber, your first action should be to get some space between you and them and if possible, put some cover (which will stop a bullet) between you and the threat. Next, contact higher authorities, but try to do so while monitoring the threat from a safe distance.

So learn your Situational Awareness and stay ALERT.