We have just seen a disaster unfold in Mumbai, India where gunmen took over the most expensive and popular hotels in town. We don’t know where the death toll will end in this protracted terror event.
In America we have disarmed virtually all of the hotel security people long ago. The very people that know the facilities, guests and trusted employees have to run away and call 911. They are people with marginal security training and zero firearms experience.
Restaurants are the softest targets since security is nearly unheard of. It’s time for every soft target business that hosts crowds of people to rethink their internal security while they have a chance.
American malls are perfect terror targets since they never have armed security and host big crowds especially this time of year. Any small group of committed gunmen could turn a mall like L.A. Beverly Center to a killing field with a few guns and some gasoline. The police would be afraid to enter the malls during a terror event for fear of making matters worse.
And we’ve just entered the height of the shopping season….
John Thompson at Canada’s National Post imagines what security people in North America must be thinking, about now:
Hotels, office towers and apartment buildings represent large concentrations of people with few access points. They have all been favourite targets for truck bombs for many years, but some counter-terror officers have often wondered how long it would be before some group of gunmen tried to control these buildings rather than destroy them. This is the future face of terrorism.
Ask any infantryman or SWAT-trooper about how much they would like to hunt through a high rise for terrorists who are holding hostages: not much. Buildings soak up manpower (and munitions); and every confrontation tends to be at point-blank ranges. Clearing and securing such sites cannot be quick, easy or risk-free; and the terrorists have the time to do what they want with their captives.
When "red-teaming" potential attacks inside Western Europe and North America, counter-terror officials have often refused to even contemplate attacks like this. Mumbai-type attacks are seen as too complicated to war-game in training exercises. Moreover, the idea of a hostage situation with a gang of gunmen in a high-rise has been seen as too "Hollywood" ( Die Hard, to be more specific) to be tackled seriously.
This week’s Mumbai attacks should change this thinking. Our police and emergency responders have new standards that they will have to learn to meet — or else the same kind of tragedy could unfold here.
One hopes the LAPD and LA County Sheriff’s Department are staying up late reviewing their plans. I can think of an ideal terrorist attack for Los Angeles, and it wouldn’t take as many guys as Mumbai. And if I can think of it, some Knight of Allah already has.
Finally, Indian blogger Amit Varma asks a very good question:
People are calling this Mumbai’s 9/11. In the sense that this city will never be the same again, I agree. But in terms of what we do about it, I’m not sure.
Once it was clear that 9/11 was caused by al-Qaeda, the US went after them, not bothering with niceties like their geographical location. From the information available at the time of writing this, it seems that we can soon be equally certain of who’s behind this. So what will we do?
I’ll be honest, Amit. If this atrocity really was perpetrated by Lashkar-e-Toiba, or some other group sponsored by Pakistan’s ISI, I don’t see how India can avoid going to war with Pakistan, unless Pakistan dismantles this group and purges the ISI. I don’t think the new government in Islamabad is strong enough to do that, however. And, if they don’t, New Delhi cannot let this pass unpunished. No government could let so many of its citizens and foreign guests be killed and do nothing.
Believe me, we’ve been there.