Could homegrown terrorists use suicide attacks to further their cause?
By guest columnist Henry Morgenstern, President of Security Solutions International (SSI)
Security Solutions International is the leading national training company for Homeland Security from awareness training for first responders, to hospital and medical response and even helicopter and marine emergency response to acts of terror.
Most attention today is focused on vicious terror attacks originating from the Middle East. Is it even conceivable that US based groups - such as anti-abortionists, white supremacists, anti-government types and militia members to eco-terrorists and even people who hate corporations or Latino separatists - could use deadly suicide attacks here?
Consider this: in recent months, intelligence officials in Washington have been warning national law enforcement agencies that al-Qaeda terrorists have been spotted with members of MS-13 in El Salvador, prompting concerns the gang may be smuggling Islamic fundamentalist terrorists into the country. Law enforcement officials have long believed that MS-13 controls alien smuggling routes along Mexico. In East Boston, the MS-13 boasts more than 100 members, known for their brutal machete attacks, rapes and home thefts. According to an article in the Boston Herald on January 5th 2005, Boston law enforcement is taking the threat very seriously. Boston, you will remember, is where the 9/11 attacks were launched and where Raed Hijazi, an al-Qaeda operative charged with training the suicide bombers in the attack on the USS Cole, lived and worked, prosecutors have charged.
A few months ago, an East Texas man was pleaded guilty to possession of a weapon of mass destruction. Inside the home and storage facilities of William Krar, investigators found a sodium-cyanide bomb capable of killing thousands, more than a hundred explosives, half a million rounds of ammunition, dozens of illegal weapons, and a mound of white-supremacist and antigovernment literature.
In October of 2004 Twenty-year-old Ivan Duane Braden, a discharged National Guard soldier with neo-Nazi leanings who'd taken to calling himself the "pimpin' aryan assasin," stuffed his backpack on with large knives and materials for a homemade grenade, police say.
Braden allegedly left his parents' Knoxville, Tenn., home that day with a murderous plan in mind - until he decided, as he later told FBI agents, that "Jewish people were not worth dying for."
Instead of driving to the local National Guard Armory, where police say Braden had a detailed plan to take hostages, murder them and set off explosives, Braden took himself to an outpatient mental health facility, where he told staff that he had "thoughts of killing people," reportedly including the officer who'd discharged him from the Iraq-bound 278th Armored Calvary Regiment weeks earlier. The FBI says that Braden told agents he'd planned to wear a trench coat stuffed with explosives and get himself "as close to children and the rabbi as possible to cause the greatest amount of damage possible."
According to Daniel Levitas, author of The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right, quoted recently in USA today, "The government has a severe case of tunnel vision when it comes to domestic terrorism. I have no doubt whatsoever that had Krar and his compatriots been Arab-Americans or linked to some violent Islamic fundamentalist group, we would have heard from John Ashcroft himself."
The specter of US born terrorism using copycat methods proven in the Middle East is extremely worrying. Captain Mike Coffin, of Volusia County Sheriff, completing his thesis for a Master of Forensic Science degree on the topic of the recognition of cognitive aggression in suicide bombers is more cautious on the probability: "Nearly all acts of suicide terror in the Middle East involve bombings as the modus operandi. They typically utilize explosives between 3kg and 10kg concealed on the body and designed to inflict maximum casualties in enclosed spaces. Of all the terrorist bombings in the United States none have utilized this approach, but future predictions of this tactic cannot be ruled out. The attacks of September 11th proved that terrorists are willing to change tactics to suit their purpose and keep homeland security off balance.
The question here must be divided into two parts: First, the potential of domestic hate groups to utilize suicide attacks and, second, the ability of foreign terror groups to organize suicide attacks in the continental United States. The likelihood of domestic hate groups to use suicide attacks is unlikely because cultural and sociological influences of western civilization make for a small pool of candidates. There is always the chance
of an individual acting out of a self-proclaimed martyrdom or need to draw attention to himself (Charles Bishop crashing a Cessna into a Tampa office building), but we have not seen the traditional recruitment and training of suicide terror within domestic groups as we have with foreign radical groups. Although we continue to make great strides toward hardening security of high profile domestic targets, the ability of terror groups to infiltrate potential targets remains relatively easy. With this in mind it makes no sense for domestic terror groups to change their tactics by using suicide bombers as seen in the Middle East.
The ability of foreign terror groups to infiltrate the United States and employ suicide terror attacks is a much more likely scenario. Again, 9/11 was a wake-up call to America that terrorists are willing to change tactics and organize attacks for maximum effect. Soft targets such as public transportation, shopping malls, and large sporting events are particularly vulnerable to the effects of suicide terrorism."
Tal Hanan, an Israeli expert, who has trained more than 200 different Government agencies, law enforcement, first responders and elected officials for SSI, echoes some of Coffin's views. " I do not believe that this will happen in the USA because it takes a special conviction to conduct suicide terror attacks. It is not only about dying for your cause but taking many innocent people along with you. Most US domestic fringe groups have their own peculiar moral compass and that does not usually include Suicide Terror. It is a completely different question if you think about Al Qaeda or any of the other groups recruiting from within the US population and I am afraid that is a much more likely scenario."
But even if the possibility is viewed cautiously no one is sleeping on the job.
Organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, founded in 1971 as a small civil rights law firm, takes a big role in educational projects. The Center is internationally known for its tolerance education programs, its legal victories against white supremacists and its tracking of hate groups. The Intelligence Project regularly conducts in-person trainings for local, state and federal law enforcement officers by request. They focus on the history, background, leaders and activities of far-right extremists in the U.S.
The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, (FLETC) is also very active. Intelligence Project staff have been involved in the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center's hate and bias crime "train-the-trainer" program since its inception in 1992. FLETC trains personnel for more than 75 federal law enforcement agencies and provides services for local, state and international agencies.
FLETC invited Intelligence Project personnel to help develop and write courses for a training program to improve the recognition, reporting and investigating of hate crimes. A member of the Intelligence Project staff taught one of the program's first pilot classes in New Jersey in 1994 and continues to instruct FLETC classes today.
Could there be improvements in keeping communities safe against this potential threat?
Coffin believes that there is; "two areas that the United States could use some improvement is physical security and behavioral profiling. Physical security measures can be as simple as environmental design changes of public transportation facilities to more advanced countermeasures such as deployable vehicle barriers as part of a defense in-depth system of protective measures. The U.S. should take a lead role in developing technology that identifies explosive components through thermal imagery and/or trace residual vapor detection systems.
Behavioral profiling is an area that Coffin believes offers the greatest opportunity for law enforcement. "Cognitive aggression indicators are extremely difficult (if not impossible) to hide and the few minutes and seconds immediately prior to the lethal event are critical to effective recognition and intervention." His research shows a strong correlation between recognizing suspicious behavior and intervention resulting in lower casualty rates."
It is better to expect the unexpected from enemies that have no red lines, as 9/11 and other atrocious attacks have proven. Continued monitoring of fringe groups, as well as beefed-up counter-measures, are a real necessity in this age of insecurity.
Mr. Morgenstern is a US and Israeli citizen with business experience in the United States, South America, Europe, and Israel. He was educated in the United Kingdom and took an honors degree from the University of Cambridge in 1974.
While in Israel from 1984 to May 2003, Mr. Morgenstern built a tiny start-up company into Israel's leading provider of high tech services to such world- class clients as Microsoft, IBM, Intel, and Philips Medical Technologies.
Today, WORDS (www.wordsisrael.com) also trains the Nigerian Government in security and non-security related subjects. In May 2003, Mr. Morgenstern gave up his role as the CEO of WORDS and Biblio Books to go back to the United States to co-found SSI.
He is a widely published author on security-related subjects in the following publications: IACSP Counter-Terror magazine, The Journal, Fire Chief, Law Enforcement Technology, Law Enforcement Executive Journal, Frontline First Responder, Executive Flyer, The Forum, and many others. Mr. Morgenstern has also provided commentary for ABC Radio, National Public Radio, and has appeared on numerous newscasts commenting on security issues for NBC, CBS, and ABC.
While in Israel from 1984 to May 2003, Mr. Morgenstern developed excellent high level contacts with the Security Establishment, making SSI the premiere training company for counter-terror related subjects. The company relies on these experts for training in the USA and also takes qualified personnel to Israel for training. He resides in both Miami, Florida and Israel. Mr.
Morgenstern has dual US/Israeli citizenship.