The Lost Lesson of Recent Terrorism

classic_time_bomb3For years, everyone speculated about what would happen if something like the Bombay Attacks happened here. All kinds of carnage were suggested.

Well, we’ve just had two roughly analogous attacks in 2013. How did Creepy Chris Dorner and the Jihad Brothers do, relative to Bombay?

Dorner was a lone wolf, but he was a well-armed lone wolf, better trained in marksmanship than most of his former LE peers, and armed with a suite of weapons. His shooting spree killed not hundreds, not dozens, but four people. (Three more civilians would have died but were saved by cops’ terrible marksmanship, despite being targeted by an average 80 rounds each at point-blank range).

Speedbump and Flashbang, the Jihad Twins, likewise managed to kill four people, despite using three bombs, an unknown quantity of guns, and calling on mighty Allah for aid. Like Dorner, they used a certain limited amount of stealth and animal cunning, and like him, they were quickly run to ground (in Speedbump’s case, literally) by a coordinated police response and an alert public. They also were the beneficiaries of awful cop marksmanship, with relatively few hits for hundreds and hundreds of rounds hastily addressed “to whom it may concern.” (At least they were hit. Dorner never was; his sole wound was his self-inflicted head shot). In Boston, too, two non-terrorists were saved only by police marksmanship when a number of confused cops mag-dumped a marked State Police SUV, and there was at least one single-shot negligent discharge among the assembled throngs of lawmen.

Terrorist Ajmal Kasab, in the former Victoria Station. Hung November, 2012.

Terrorist Ajmal Kasab, in the former Victoria Station. Hung November, 2012.

But compare this to Bombay in November, 2008, where 166 people were killed, including 15 policemen and 2 elite NSG commandos, and almost 300 wounded. There, of course, there were more shooters — ten, in five teams — and the attack was well organized, with the cooperation of an organized terror group, Lashkar-e Taiba, and LET’s national sponsor, Pakistan’s national intelligence agency, ISI. (Pakistan still has brought no one to justice, and won’t; their “Anti-terrorism Court No. 1” is running out the clock still. Conversely, India has rededicated itself to the death penalty and has been merrily condemning and hanging Islamic terrorists and mass murderers recently, including the sole survivor of the Bombay shooters, Mohammed Ajmal “Kasab”). An organizer of the attack was extradited from Saudi Arabia (!) to India last summer; it will take several years for his case to make its way through India’s courts.

Taking into account the shock effect of the multiple attacks, the superior small arms, and the probably superior training of the Pakistani terrorists, the Indian results are about four to eight times worse than the American ones — roughly 17 victims per shooter compared to two or four.

Despite the fact that India was under steady attack from foreign terrorists, the Indian security services were ill-prepared for an attack of this nature. As bad as American police marksmanship training is, at least American police are armed with adequate weapons (once mobilized, superior weapons to the terrorists) and provided with ammunition. Some Indian police carry bolt-action rifles or even single-shot shotguns, with ammunition counts in the single digits. Cops like that died on November 26, 2008 when they came up against determined AK-armed shooters. The NSG was a single unit for the vast country, and had to be mobilized and brought in (once they were on scene, they quickly reduced the remaining concentrations of terrorists and freed hundreds of hostages).

The Indians were not lacking in valor — both NSG commandos and ordinary cops ran towards the gunfire, as soon as they could — but were deficient in equipment, training, numbers, and coordination.

Indians are as smart as any people on Earth, and they took these lessons to heart: the state government of Maharastha bought the police boats and copters to patrol the coastline, and established a state-wide CT element, Force One; all police agencies upgraded their guns and their training, which benefits day-to-day crimefighting as well as CT potential; NSG established four regional bases, putting its operators closer to possible missions; and a nationwide investigative agency with both crime and terrorism beats, much like the FBI, was stood up.

All those were already in place in the USA, so the butcher’s bill of our jihadis was much lower. So that’s the lost lesson of the Dorner and Flashbang/Speedbump attacks: the USA is a pretty hard target, even deep inside the Boston Victim Disarmament Zone.

So another lesson learned, for terrorists: you get one shot at a novel attack like this. Next time, we’re ready for you.

One last comment on India: the government didn’t want the nine deceased shooters’ graves to become points of pilgrimage for other radicals, and Indian moslem imams didn’t want them in their cemeteries, either. The Toronto Star retells the story in an article on the Boston bombers (albeit with numbers a little off):

After the Mumbai attacks in 2008, which killed 164 people, including nine gunmen, the Indian government considered burying the bodies of the attackers in a Muslim graveyard in the city. However, religious leaders vehemently opposed the use of their cemetery. The government was forced to hold on to the bodies. When they began to rot, officials launched a secret operation to bury the bodies in the outskirts of the city, away from the media glare. The government informed the public of the burial two days later.

The executed jihadi, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, was interred inside the jail where in which he was hanged.

There is an exception to the general futility of US terror attacks: Nidal Hasan’s attack at Fort Hood, Texas. Jihad solo practitioner Hasan knew he had a disarmed target set, because of the gun-control practiced by military provost marshals; he practiced with weapons for his planned attack; and applying these Bombay-like factors, he achieved near-Bombay levels of per-terrorist killing (13 dead, 32 wounded) before far-off police arrived to stop him. Hasan’s error in choice of weapon saved a lot of those wounded from death: he used an FN Five-seveN pistol, which makes small wounds.

Likewise, some criminal shooters’ have had successes more like the Bombay terrorists, by applying similar factors, particularly on target selection: contained, disarmed, undefended targets. So the lesson learned there seems to be: harden and arm such targets.

5 thoughts on “The Lost Lesson of Recent Terrorism

  1. Medic09

    I truly hope you are right; but I am not convinced that is the case. The Israeli experience complicates your arithmetic. No one would say that Israeli police, Border Guard, the IDF, and even civilians are armed and prepared to respond to terror attacks. (I myself had that experience in the center of Jerusalem in the 80s.) The Sbarro pizzaria bombing killed 15 diners. A week later, a bus bombing killed 19 riders. A disco was bombed in Tel Aviv, killing 21. In 2002, the worst year of that decade, 47 bombings killed 238 people. None of those figures include wounded who were not killed. When a hotel in Netanya was bombed during the Passover seder, 30 were killed and 140 injured.

    A lot depends on the method used by the terrorists. The shooting attack I helped stop (peripherally only) was limited because it was a shooting attack. The Boston Marathon bombing had a limited death toll, thank God, only because the terrorists didn’t do a better job. On the other hand, the events of 9/11 showed how much damage can indeed be done. It also showed the resilience of American society, and the ability to recover even from a horrific attack.

    The ONLY thing, so far, that Israel has done which seems to make a big difference is to tighten the borders – especially with the wall built between Israel and the PA. That isn’t a really feasible option in a very big country like the US. Another thing that seems to help is spot checks of IDs, etc. on the street. That won’t fly in the US on civil liberties grounds.

    Let’s not limit our thinking about terror to ‘shooting attacks’. Bombs in various forms are tragically effective in many places ’round the world. Gas has been used with some effect (Japan); and we don’t even know what innovative, criminal, depraved minds might come up with. A dirty bomb isn’t inconceivable, for instance.

    Usually security forces are one step behind the terrorist’s innovations. There has to be a better way. Meanwhile, I fear that terrorists simply haven’t made man determined attempts in the US, yet.

  2. Medic09

    That was supposed to read that “no one would say that Israeli….are not armed and prepared…”

    And at the end, “I simply fear that terrorist haven’t made many determined attempts…”

  3. GBS

    Dorner could have killed dozens, but that wasn’t his objective. Unlike “Flashbang”, “Speedbump”, and the Mumbai hit team, Dorner’s objective was to kill cops and some of their relatives, and specific cops at that. Not trying to justify any of it, just differentiate. If a well armed and competently trained team comprised of people willing to die were able to get loose in a concentration of civilians in a major city, we’d see a blood bath of both civilians AND cops.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Thoughtful post, as was Medic09’s. I worry more about people not willing to die, but clever enough to take their shot and move. The DC snipers were bozos, but they caused a great deal of disruption. The media insisting they were white tea party guys driving a white van (they were Black moslems driving a sedan) delayed their capture. The media ran the same play in Boston.

      1. GBS

        The urban “shoot and move” sniper causes disruption, but as I’m sure you know, there is a growing body of technology in use that helps the authorities rapidly localize gunfire. In that situation, time and numbers are on the side of the police. However, those well armed / trained, willing to die, but not necessarily throw their lives away, historically impose a ton of near-term damage. By contrast, the police are, to a man, focused on finishing the shift alive. They often do fine when there is many of them on a single suspect, but as you’ve highlighted, not always. It doesn’t necessarily make them cowards, but more individually cautious, and that inherent caution would allow a coordinated team of aggressive gunmen to retain the initiative for some time. I suspect that even with the many Iraq / Afghanistan vets now populating police departments, those who have participated in a real up-close firefight are a small minority. Worse yet, in cities, you can’t exactly call artillery or CAS. The guys on the ground, with perhaps a few in helicopters, are it. Given time, they can get themselves organized and often use technology to locate and corner a single active shooter. A situation like Mumbai would present immediate challenges that few, if any, big city departments could immediately counter. In fact, it might take people like yourself to get things under control. In the interim, we’d see a catastrophe.

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