Differences exist in the appropriate law enforcement response to an attack by an organized, militarized terrorist group as opposed to a Columbine-style “active shooter” incident. A militarized attack by an international terrorist group is far more complex and difficult to deal with than the “active shooter” incidents for which American law enforcement has been training since the Columbine tragedy in 1999.
Counter-measures for such attacks include counter-intelligence screening, proactive prevention and neutralization of a militarized terrorist attack on an American school, its staff and children. International, militarized terrorists groups to date have conducted 314 attacks against schools in Turkey, Chechnya, Timor, Israel, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Russia, Holland, Malaysia and the Philippines in recent years.
Evidence has shown that the terrorists methodically videotape their own operations for after-action critique and training purposes. Evidence also indicates that they have progressed from simple attacks at small rural schools to complex attacks on larger urban schools, each time learning to take better advantage of things like the schools’ in-house camera surveillance systems and weak or ineffectual security measures. Each attack on a school by an international, militarized terrorist group has been carefully preplanned to inflict the highest possible loss of life among the innocent.
As these terrorist groups have perfected their attack techniques, they increasingly have given themselves over to suicide attacks where the perpetrators clearly plan to slaughter innocent people in the most horrifying manner possible until they are killed in place by responding police and security forces.
These types of terrorists are trained to “negotiate” with police only until they have fortified their position with explosives and enfilading gunfire from fully automatic weapons. Once they are prepared, they will then do something to force surrounding police and security personnel to attack the fortified building, usually by beginning to kill their hostages in some horrible manner.
The overall goal of an organized attack by a militarized terrorist group is to create terror among the populace of a community or a nation by inflicting horrific loss of life among innocents and responding police and security personnel. In doing so, they hope to demonstrate that the population of a targeted community or nation is vulnerable to suffering and death at any time and anywhere, and also that their community or nation’s police and security forces are powerless to protect them.
Each terrorist attack must meet that goal in order for the terrorist groups themselves to continue to successfully receive funding from various supporters and to enable them to recruit additional people to their cause. They are always badly in need of money and recruits, and interrupted and failed attack plans are a severe humiliation that threaten their survival as an organization. Consequently, militarized terrorist groups are very careful about choosing their targets and will not do so without extensive intelligence gathering and preplanning.
Because international terrorism is a stateless entity, combating it abroad has required that our military forces assume some of the operational methods normally reserved to police forces. Conversely, it is critical that we understand that in some limited respects, our law enforcement personnel must now adopt some operational methods heretofore reserved to our military forces if we hope to successfully deter and dismantle militarized terrorist attacks.
Our goal now should be to train our security personnel and school administrative staff to aid in the effective deterrence and defeat of this new threat. As a community and as a nation, we have the enormous benefit of the “home field advantage.” If we stay alert, institute and adhere to some simple security measures, and diligently work our counter-intelligence sources in an organized manner, we can very effectively “harden” our facilities for comparatively little cost.
But it has to be a group effort that is taken seriously by every staff member, every student and every parent. While we have a few professional personnel who devote themselves full time to security issues, security is nonetheless everyone’s job and should be looked upon as such. If necessary, an internal administrative campaign to achieve that mindset must be instituted at every level of our organization.
The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, according to military psychologist (retired) Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman. Counter-terrorist experts worldwide have bitterly pointed out that the one public figure who has never lied to us in his public statements is Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.
Bin Laden has publicly stated: “We will continue to kill their children,” and on another public occasion stated that his international terrorist group intends to kill “four million Americans…one million of them children.” A recently developing dynamic that compounds our problem is the perverse “competition” now in evidence between the Arabic-dominated Al Qaeda terrorists and the Iranian-controlled Hezbollah terrorist group.
While both of these terrorist groups loudly claim the United States and Israel as their primary enemies, it clearly appears that behind the scenes, they are actively competing for funding and recruits globally. This “competition” is so intense that Israeli intelligence organizations report that they have often been tipped off by members of one terrorist group about an impending attack by a different terrorist group. Hezbollah has currently grabbed all the headlines worldwide with its high-profile conflict with Israel.
Al Qaeda has now been pushed out of the limelight by Hezbollah and must do something soon to get itself back into the news or risk loss of the two things it desperately needs to survive: money and recruits. In the twisted value system of international terrorism, Al Qaeda’s only hope is to execute an organized terrorist attack that is even more spectacular and horrifying than Hezbollah’s highly propagandized “success” in the recent fighting in southern Lebanon. This can only translate to even more suffering and murder for innocents…and soon.
It is believed by many counter-terrorism experts that the recent attempt to hijack and destroy up to 10 American passenger airliners in the United Kingdom was an Al Qaeda effort to get back onto the six o’clock news with a big bang…or rather with multiple big bangs, as has been their traditional group “signature.” No terrorist group has publicly taken “responsibility” for this hijacking attempt because it was a failure.
Its now-humiliated planners will simply go back to the drawing board and prepare for another strike, only this time with tighter security and fewer mistakes. The dangerous factor that we must keep in mind is that each successive terrorist attack must be even more bloody and spectacular than the previous one, if these now-competing militarized terrorist groups are to successfully garner new funding and new recruits.
The handwriting on the wall is all too clear. This problem can be dealt with effectively by understanding the issues at hand and implementing across-the-board counter-measures that should not measurably impair the quality of life for our students and staff. If this requires a mental shift on the part of our adult staff members, then our administrative staff will simply have to make that happen. The risks and consequences are far too high at this point in our nation’s history. The practical aspects of this problem are detailed in the next column.
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.