Q+A-Post-Mumbai Europe toughens defence against raids

by (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2010. Click For Restrictions. http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 29 September 2010 07:33 GMT

Sept 29 (Reuters) - A militant plot to stage coordinated attacks in Europe has been disrupted in its early stages by drone strikes in Pakistan, but it is not clear if the threat has been completely eliminated, security sources said on Wednesday. [ID:nSGE68S066]

Here are some questions and answers about the vulnerability of Western capitals to such a commando-style assault, which the sources said was likely to involve small groups taking and killing hostages.

WHY ARE MILITANTS ATTRACTED TO "SWARM" ATTACKS?

Brazen, broad daylight raids by militants bent on eventual suicide can grab world headlines for hours or days provided they find temporary strongpoints they can defend for long enough to draw intense media coverage.

The raids of the type carried out by militants in Mumbai in 2008, which killed about 170 people, was seen by the global militant community as an unmitigated success because it produced days of television coverage, said Hagai Segal, a security expert and lecturer at New York University&${esc.hash}39;s London branch.

Security experts have repeatedly said the attack may trigger copycat attempts among militants in other continents.

"There&${esc.hash}39;s been a significant focus in the West on addressing Mumbai-type vulnerabilities, much of which leads to improvements out of sight of the public," he said.

HOW FEASIBLE IS SUCH AN ATTACK?

Western cities have tougher defences than some of their Asian counterparts thanks to stricter gun laws, tighter surveillance and more systematic monitoring of land use.

Even so, European capital cities have sought to heighten their readiness, fearing that militants will one day seek to replicate the Mumbai attacks.

The assault led to a re-evaluation of urban security around the world and was particularly closely studied in port cities from Marseilles and Liverpool to Sydney and San Francisco.

WHAT DO COMMANDO ATTACKERS NEED?

Security analysts say a minimum of three conditions need to be in place for a Mumbai-style "rampage" attack to have a chance of success:

-- ready availability of automatic rifles

-- access to isolated, ungoverned spaces and months of time in which to carry out team-based training with the weapons

-- significantly impaired surveillance of armed groups

In Europe, these conditions do not readily exist. Criminal organisations use and trade illegal weapons but have an interest in not getting involved with terrorists because of the far greater law enforcement scrutiny such links will attract.

ARE MORE BASIC ATTACKS LIKELY?

Yes, and some experts say they are more likely than complex team-based raids that require military training.

Al Qaeda spokesmen have called for young militants to carry out attacks on whatever targets they can find using whatever weapons they can get their hands on. This strategy relies on the attackers&${esc.hash}39; fervour, rather than skill, and seeks to instil fear in the West by prompting Western governments to over-react to simple attacks with draconian counter-measures.

PUBLIC SECTOR/PRIVATE SECTOR

Coordination between business and the state is important, not only because the private sector in many countries runs core services such as water, power and transport, but because the preparedness of an enterprise is a factor investors consider.

In Western countries, since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, fire, police, medical and security personnel have improved the way they work together thanks to a campaign by governments to counter perennial problems in a crisis, particularly in communicating with each other and setting lines of authority.

But private business has had a mixed record in updating its procedures and preparing staff for disasters, notably in instilling a culture of office security drills, experts say.

Major companies have made a sustained effort, particularly in the financial centres of London and New York, where companies work closely with the police to shore up vigilance.

HOTELS, TRANSPORT ARE FAVOURED TARGETS

New hotels are being designed further away from main roads, allowing greater "stand-off" protection from vehicle-born bombs. Entrance routes are laid out so that the approach of any vehicle to the main entrance is slow and done in stages.

New building formats eschew glass-panelled lobbies or the placing of a ground floor restaurant adjacent to a car park.

Transport systems are seen as potential targets in Europe, where bombers carried out devastating attacks on London&${esc.hash}39;s underground in 2005 and the train system in Madrid in 2004.

COUNTER-SURVEILLANCE

Better protection for building security depends on a relentless focus on better routine practices -- a challenge for managers and workers alike because the tasks are by definition repetitive and monotonous, counter-terrorism experts say.

Once an attack is under way it is almost impossible to stop. So experts recommend building managers develop an ability to detect when they are under surveillance by attack planners.

In effect this requires a fully-fledged intelligence operation: Surveillance cameras and surveillance personnel to identify suspicious behaviour and collect evidence, plus trained staff to analyse the material gathered.

USES OF VIGILANCE

Public vigilance in cities with a history of militant attacks may be higher than elsewhere, experts say. A success from the May 1, 2010 bombing attempt in New York&${esc.hash}39;s Times Square and from a similar failed bombing attempt in London in 2007, is that citizens spotted something suspicious and raised the alarm. (Writing by William Maclean and Peter Apps, Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.