Terrorist attacks usually fall into one of two categories, the “decimation assault” and the “mass hostage siege.”
Like all other actions taken by terrorists, the decimation assault is not a “crime.” It is an “attack” mounted by an organized, militarized terrorist group. The decimation assault can be set in motion very quickly with very little pre-planning and logistical support by a small number of people with or without the OK of the major terrorist organization with which they identify.
The decimation assault is good for a quick splash in the news and—as twisted as it sounds—is used chiefly to gain favor with the parent terrorist organization or for fund-raising and recruitment when either starts sagging. Dealing with the decimation assault is a tactical problem for our police and security forces, as opposed to a strategic problem.
Decimation assaults typically involve a lone suicide bomber climbing onto a bus and detonating his explosives or a “gun-and-grenade” type attack where two or three terrorists walk unannounced into a heavily populated area, pitch a few grenades and then begin spraying innocents with automatic weapons fire.
Gun-and-grenade attackers may flee after wreaking sufficient carnage, or they may stand in place, murdering as many as possible until responding police kill them. Hijacking and then deliberately crashing a passenger airliner is another form of a decimation assault, only on a grand scale, and usually requires a higher level of pre-planning and sophistication.
From the terrorist perspective, the decimation assault is usually a “low yield” attack with a low “body count.” Remember, these people think in terms of thousands, even millions, of defenseless innocents being murdered. To maintain funding and recruitment, they have to score large numbers of dead, with the 9/11 level of slaughter now being the standard to beat.
Militarized terrorist groups get the least political mileage from decimation assaults in communities and nations already hardened by terrorist attacks, such as London, England, or the state of Israel. However, they reportedly view the United States as still being a fertile ground for this type of assault.
The mass hostage siege, however, is the preferred type of attack for all militarized terrorist groups. While more difficult to plan, organize and implement, it pays the largest dividends in human suffering and slaughter, all played out leisurely on the evening news, with the greatest terror impact inflicted on the populace of a community or nation.
With that goal in mind, the perpetrators of a mass hostage siege always try to establish contact with the news media, and we will be hard pressed to stop them from doing so. If we deny them contact with the news media, they characteristically will begin killing innocents until we permit them to have the desired contact.
The second goal of the terrorists during a mass hostage siege is to turn the situation from a tactical problem for responding police to a strategic and political problem for the local community and the nation at large. Our goal must be to take steps to keep the situation at a tactical level, even if we give outward appearances of going along with their wishes. It is critical that our police and security forces keep things at a tactical level if they hope to have any positive effect on the outcome of the mass hostage siege.
The only proven method for minimizing the casualties of innocents is to “negotiate” with the terrorist hostage-takers until we have an assault force in place and then make a coordinated, simultaneous assault on the building from all sides. As the world has seen, this coordinated assault on every exterior door of the building must be implemented as soon as possible to prevent the terrorists from wiring the building (and even some of the hostages themselves) with explosives.
Militarized terrorist groups have declined to attempt a mass hostage siege at any school in Israel since the Maalot incident in 1974, purely because they know that Israeli schools take preventive security measures very seriously. Even if the terrorists manage to take schoolchildren and staff hostage, they know that Israeli police and security forces will immediately assault the building before the terrorists are prepared for it. As stated previously, organized terrorists do not choose targets that are likely to result in failure and humiliation for them.
Bear in mind that the third and final goal of the perpetrators of a mass hostage siege is to force the surrounding police and security personnel to assault the building once it is adequately wired with explosives and fully automatic weapons are pre-positioned.
As terrible as this sounds, we must be prepared for it. The militarized terrorist perpetrators of a mass hostage siege will have chosen our facility for the express purpose of dying horribly with our innocents raped and butchered at their feet. Should any of the terrorists object, or balk at the last moment, their own leaders will kill them out of hand.
This is a terrible thing for us to contemplate, but we have no choice but to get ready. Our only other option is to proactively work hard to prevent a mass hostage siege from even occurring. The more you learn about militarized terrorist groups, the more committed to preventing an attack you will become.
Dealing with militarized terrorists during a mass hostage siege is very different from dealing with a Columbine-style “active shooter” scenario. In order to assault a fortified building held by militarized terrorists, police and security personnel need at least a 10-to-1 ratio in the assaulting force.
If our information indicates there are five terrorists holding hostages in the building, then we will need an assault force of at least 50 officers who have been trained to execute assaults of this type. These officers will have to be briefed on the floor plans of the building in question and have easy access to the doors they’re assigned to enter.
If the doors cannot be opened with a key, then police explosives technicians will have to set charges in the door frames and blow the doors open. These explosions must be coordinated and, in any event, will create enough noise and vibration that it will alert the terrorists that the police assault has been initiated, giving the terrorists additional time to kill innocents.
If we wait to assault the building until the terrorists have it wired with explosives and fortified with fully automatic weapons, then the hostages will all die. Some now, some later…but they will all die if we fail to be ready to act. A coordinated police assault on the building during the early, confusing stages of a mass hostage siege, before the terrorists have gained complete control of the building and its occupants, has proven to be the best method for saving the lives of the hostages.
Keith Jones is a deputy sheriff with the Marion County, IN Sheriff’s Department and is currently assigned to the Decatur Township Metropolitan Schools in southwest suburban Indianapolis. He has been a career police officer since 1971, serving both in patrol and investigations, and as an academy instructor. Jones has been involved in the investigation of threat groups and terrorist activities since the mid-1980s, initially environmental and anti-abortion threat groups. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.