In response to this weekend’s bombing in Saudi Arabia, the Department of Homeland Security has issued an "Informational Bulletin" to U.S. law enforcement authorities to be on guard for possible attacks by terrorists impersonating police or other first responders.
Domestic agencies are being cautioned to watch for terrorists who may seek to disguise themselves as police officers and/or security guards.
A spokesman for DHS says there is no intelligence suggesting such an attack is planned or that terrorists are systematically trying to obtain police equipment and uniforms. The bulletin is simply being distributed to raise awareness.
In Saturday's bombing in Riyahd, terrorists apparently used police uniforms, badges, and a vehicle painted like a police cruiser to gain access to the targeted compound. Investigators said the vehicle was apparently a private sport utility vehicle painted with police insignia. Once inside they triggered an explosive device hidden inside a vehicle. U.S. law enforcement agencies are being asked to keep a special watch for reports of stolen uniforms and equipment and the theft of explosive materials.
PoliceOne has warned of possible attacks by terrorists disguised as first responders in the past. Terrorist groups have utilized police or military uniforms to mask their identities and achieve closer access to their targets without arousing suspicion.
Terrorists in South America, Russia, the Philippines and Pakistan have commandeered or stolen emergency medical services vehicles and uniforms (or imitations) to facilitate attacks on key facilities.
Law Enforcement should note that missing uniforms, badges and equipment is a major problem across the country with many incidents during the past two years.
In an effort to understand the extent of official identification, uniform, and vehicle thefts, the DHS conducted a survey of selected members of the law enforcement community in five states. The survey revealed that from February to May 2003 hundreds of official identification cards, badges, decals, uniforms, and government license plates were reported stolen or lost.
Agencies should review policies for keeping track of and securing uniforms and equipment. Agencies should also be aware of the risk of secondary terrorist attacks targeting emergency services personnel. During an emergency situation all emergency personnel - Police, Fire and EMS - should be on the lookout for items or individuals out of place, such as a firefighter wearing a coat from a department that would not ordinarily respond.
Intelligence continues to suggest al Qaeda is still focused on mounting attacks against U.S. interests here and abroad. Saudis blamed al Qaeda militants for this weekend's homicide car bombing of a Riyadh housing complex that killed 17 people, declaring it proof of the terror network's willingness to shed Muslim blood in its zeal to bring down the U.S.-linked Saudi monarchy.
Four U.S. citizens were among the wounded. In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Amanda Batt said "some Americans were treated for minor injuries and released." U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said he was "personally quite sure" al Qaeda was behind the Saturday night attack "because this attack bears the hallmark of them."