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Terrorist attacks: Don’t be a soft target

Watching the carnage and the ease of the attack on a soldier in London last month further confirms that Jihadists have a favored style of terrorism — ambushing soft targets

As law enforcement officers, we need to concern ourselves with maintaining security for ourselves on duty, as well as off duty while we’re with our families. This is true whether or not the threat is criminals or terrorists. Because of recent events, I will address the latter group here, but it applies to the former as well.

Last month, terrorists around the world watched two Jihadists armed with a butcher knife and meat cleaver achieve a significant battlefield success in London.

Their attack required virtually no financial investment and very little planning. In fact, terrorist extremists like those in London last month aren’t deploying a bunch of complex and/or secret tactics. They’ve consistently reinforced some important intelligence: Jihadists like to attack soft targets.

From Mumbai to Main Street
Popular restaurants and hotels have been identified as soft targets and attacked in Bali, Indonesia, Mumbai, India, Marrakech, and Morocco.

Movie theatres in Moscow and Mogadishu have been identified as soft targets and attacked.

Schools in Beslan (Russia) and Toulouse (France) have been identified as soft targets and attacked.

Have movie theaters and schools here in the USA also been identified and attacked? Of course, you know the answer to that question...

Jihadi extremists have even been able to identify a U.S. military installation as a soft target — Fort Hood (Texas) — and attacked the unsuspecting soldiers on base there.

Here’s the bottom line: As long as there are Jihadis hell-bent on terrorism, soft targets will be their killing fields.

As we saw last month in London, compared to previous terrorist plots such as the Boston Bombing, Mumbai, or 9/11, they did a lot of damage with very little invested to achieve it.

That’s why you and I need to be concerned. Don’t think for a minute that these terrorists wouldn’t love to attack an American law enforcement officer whether on or off duty.

Why? Because they can get maximum press coverage and create incredible fear for a civilized society as their protectors are slain. What stops a terrorist from murdering you in cold blood at your doorstep? Imagine the same terrorist in London, with bloody hands, being photographed standing in your driveway or front yard.

This may sound a little farfetched to some, but is it really? The murder of the Colorado Prisons Chief on his front porch is just one, headline-grabbing recent example which supports my point.

The attack in London took place 200 yards from the soldier’s barracks — they were practically at the murdered soldier’s front porch.

Soft Targets Advertise
A soft target is a tactical term referring to an unarmed or undefended position or target. A soft target can be a structure, automobile, school, mall, or an assembly of people.

The spectators at the Boston Marathon were soft targets. The moviegoers at the Aurora movie theatre were soft targets. Police officers sitting in police cars with “low situational awareness” have been soft targets. Off-duty officers wearing swag that displays the last police training school they attended or displaying a popular brand of police equipment they favor can be a soft target.

The off-duty British military soldier was wearing a T-shirt displaying a “Help for Heroes” logo and carrying a military rucksack. He was a soft target.

Avoid making yourself a soft target — that’s the first step.

Traditionally a terrorist would survey a soft target’s residence, route to work, favorite pubs, and any other predictable habits.

He will target the attack at the softest target in your routine. This may be a choke point that allows them for a quick escape. Undercover Narcs have known this forever and go through a great deal of effort to avoid detection.

The London attack, however, just revealed a serious problem. The terrorist may have picked a location that was soft but instead of a quick escape — they waited around the scene for a half hour, talking with witnesses — because they wanted maximum exposure from a media source. That means they were willing to battle anywhere regardless of the outcome.

Similarities in terrorist planning have become obvious from the perspective of the lone-wolf Jihadist or the small-cell extremist attacks. Consider these six points as you develop your defense.

1.) The terrorist will first select or identify a vulnerable soft target.
2.) The terrorist will determine the method of attack.
3.) They will conduct detailed surveillance of the target to measure security forces.
4.) They will assess target vulnerability and select the site or move on to another.
5.) After site selection, a second round of surveillance will be conducted.
6.) Finally, the operation will be scheduled and the attack conducted.

Do not encourage a terrorist attack by becoming a soft target. The most effective way to avoid indicating as a soft target is to remain in a high level of situational awareness. The sad truth today is that walking down a street on the way to a ballgame in a downtown setting may place you in the middle of a battle space in a split second.

Your ability to recognize and perceive potential threats while going about routine activities while on or off duty will make the difference.

Don’t deny your gut feelings. As we all know, most good arrests on the streets come from a gut feeling or intuition and then most importantly, acting upon that feeling or suspicion. Situational awareness and the apparent readiness of that person indicate whether or not they are a hard target or soft target.

That’s all for this week. One week from today (Wednesday, June 12) Police1 will post part two of this column. There, we’ll discuss how we make ourselves hard targets.

Glenn French, a retired Sergeant with the Sterling Heights (Mich.) Police Department, has 24 years police experience and served as the Team Commander for the Special Response Team, and supervisor of the Sterling Heights Police Department Training Bureau. He has 16 years SWAT experience and also served as a Sniper Team Leader, REACT Team Leader, and Explosive Breacher.

Contact Glenn French.