Terrorism preparedness

EMERGENCY911 block-1The recent tragic events in Paris and the lockdown in Belgium, plus the comments of the Barbados Attorney General on the same subject, raise a number of hypothetical scenarios that suggest Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean may be not as prepared as one would like to believe. It also suggests that the entire region may be far more vulnerable that one would imagine.

 The French government’s decision to extend the state of emergency, instituted as a result of the Paris tragedy, also extends to the French islands of the Caribbean. As explained in the international media, this state of emergency gives the French law enforcement agencies wide powers to detain any individual who is deemed a suspect or security threat to France. It grants wide search, seizure and arrest powers to law enforcement agencies. In other words, without declaring an actual curfew, France and Belgium have in fact implemented many of the law enforcement powers often used during such a state.

 The issue here is whether this kind of security management has become necessary as a result of ongoing security management issues, combined with the increasing occurrence of bombings and random shootings in public places that result in death, destruction of property, and escalation of fear within the community.

 The Caribbean is viewed as a vacation destination of sun, sea, rum punch and relaxation. It is not generally seen as a destination where one must be overly cautious when venturing outside the relative safety of the resort’s grounds, or one where a fun-filled vacation has to be tempered by the thought of “I hope they don’t shoot up where I am staying”.

 In view of the Paris event, Europe and the United States have issued maximum level travel advisories for its citizens as well as, in some cases, almost banned travel to some countries where it has been determined individuals could become targets of a terrorist threat. What was not said, but widely acknowledged, is that whenever a threat is carried out, the collateral damage also includes average citizens who have no association with the perpetrators of the terrorist act.

 Random bombings and shootings are not selective in their targets. The only objective is to inflict as much damage as possible, hurt as many people as possible, and destroy as much property as possible in the shortest possible time.

 During my training as a responder, I completed a required course entitled The Mind of a Terrorist. The course presented one of many theories on the thought processes of persons identified as terrorists. It suggested that these persons were single-minded, in that the primary objective was to get their message, whatever that message was, to the widest cross section of people, utilizing whatever methods they deemed appropriate to achieve the objective.

 This concept does not allow for selectivity during implementation, neither does it allow for separating targets.

 Another theory presented during the course suggested that collateral damage is an expectation and not an oversight. The course instructors presented the argument that in order to further their cause, the terrorist, while targeting a specific country’s social and physical infrastructure, also needed to influence that country’s populace and win sympathy and support of the cause. It suggests that the terrorist planner also requires the concurrence of the impacted country’s citizens to recognize the policies and beliefs of those claiming to represent an oppressed group.

 There is also the matter of not apologizing for accidental deaths caused during the event. An event is planned, a venue is selected, a time is determined and the decision is taken to carry out the act when the highest visibility will be achieved.

 How does this mindset affect the Caribbean? If an event is planned, the idea that only the target country’s citizens should be affected does not even come into play. For example, if a restaurant is the target, the fact that there are workers at that restaurant, that there may also be passers-by, and that children may also be injured, do not influence the terrorist planner’s decision. The single objective of targeting a particular country, regardless of the location, is driven by the original objective of the planner – to make that country recognize that it is vulnerable, regardless of where its citizens may be.

 This is what makes planning for a terrorist act extremely difficult. The rules which would normally apply for a planned military or police action in which specific targets are identified and attacked, do not apply in planning a terrorist act. A bomb going off in a crowded market, in which the target country’s citizens also shop alongside unrelated or unaligned citizens of the host country, is often seen as a bonus for the terrorist planner.

 The media coverage of the dead and injured against a background of rubble and partially standing buildings further dramatizes the effect of the act. Apologies are not issued, neither should they be expected.

 Let us return to Paris. Victims from 26 unrelated countries were also injured or killed during that terrorist event. A similar situation would exist if such an event occurred during the Trinidad Carnival, or the , or the Crop Over Festival St Lucia Jazz Festival. There are no innocents in a terrorist act, only dead people, massive injuries and destroyed buildings. There has been much discussion on how to plan for a terrorist act, but how does one plan or simulate a terrorist act when times and locations are never known until it has occurred? How does one determine which restaurant, theatre, cinema, bar, public festival, school or shopping centre will be the most likely target of a terrorist?

 Most countries have the ability to plan for the aftermath of such an event. That being said, most countries do not have the ability to predict when and where the next act will happen. One can only plan for its aftermath. The intelligence community may be able to collect and decipher information that suggests that an event is likely, but the where, when, how, and who become, as described in my course, akin to a blind person looking for a needle in a haystack.

(email rwg.rwgl@gmail.com)

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