Terrorism dry runs: They can happen anywhere, anytime

The activities aboard US Airways Flight 1880 from Washington Reagan National to Orlando International on September 2, 2013 should serve as a wake-up call for all of us

Earlier this week, law enforcement agencies in London thwarted a Kenya-style terror plot, arresting four men — all British nationals between the ages of 25 and 29, with roots in Turkey, Pakistan, Algeria, and Azerbaijan — “after they were detained in pre-planned, intelligence-led raids.” 

As was reported by Associated Press, a British security official said the men were “planning a shooting spree akin to the Westgate attack in Nairobi, in which at least 67 people died.” 

While it’s important to note this event, there is also another piece of terrorism-related news — also involving “four middle eastern men” — relevant for law enforcement that very likely slipped beneath your radar. According a memo obtained by WTSP-TV in Tampa Bay, the union that represents pilots for US Airways says that “there have been several cases recently throughout the (airline) industry of what appear to be probes, or dry-runs, to test our procedures and reaction to an in-flight threat.”

Check out the video report by WTSP-TV, and pick back up on this brief news analysis below. 

Dry Runs = Imminent Threats
So, what do we make of the activities aboard US Airways Flight 1880 from Washington Reagan National to Orlando International on September 2, 2013? 

I won’t rehash the eight pre-attack indicators of terrorist activity in this space — you can read those here. I will remind you, however, that among the eight pre-attack indicators, you’ll note that “Conducting Dry Runs” is number seven. 

The only thing that comes after that is “Deploying Assets.”

We must heed the words of Wolf Koch — the Aviation Security Committee Chairman for the Air Line Pilots Association International quoted in that video — who said that “most security experts will tell you that if a dry-run is occurring, the attack will shortly follow.”

US Airline Pilots Association Security Chairman Steve Sevier and Committee Member Pat O'Laughlin co-authored the memo mentioned above. In it they stated that “bringing down an airliner continues to be the Gold Standard of terrorism” and that anyone who thinks that our enemies are not targeting American commercial aviation should “think again.”

The four airborne violators in September and the four guys nabbed in England this week should serve as a wake-up call for all of us. Terrorists continue to plot and plan to commit murder and mayhem.

Here’s the one bit of good news for today: Among the eight pre-attack indicators, dry runs are among the most visible (if you know what you’re looking for). 

Dry runs can be as simple as:

•    Calling in false alarms and watching the public safety response
•    Leaving a suspicious package at a location and watching the response
•    Showing up at a target location repeatedly but at varied times of day
•    Driving different routes and timing the sequence of traffic lights
•    ...Add your own example of a dry run in the comments area below

Stay vigilant. Stay safe. 

About the author

Doug Wyllie is Editor in Chief of PoliceOne, responsible for setting the editorial direction of the website and managing the planned editorial features by our roster of expert writers. An award-winning columnist — he is the 2014 Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" winner in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column — Doug has authored more than 900 feature articles and tactical tips on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA). Doug is active in his support for the law enforcement community, contributing his time and talents toward police-related charitable events as well as participating in force-on-force training, search-and-rescue training, and other scenario-based training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.

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