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Op Ed ­— Citizen preparedness: The only real solution to terrorism

  • Friday, December 13, 2013

Last week’s gruesome attack on a hospital in Yemen is the most recent example of why citizen preparedness is the most important factor in the fight against terrorism. It should cause us grave concern for our schools, hospitals, hotels and shopping malls.

On Dec. 5th, a group of 12 al Qaeda-backed terrorists - mostly Saudi nationals - stormed a security complex in Sanaa, Yemen, set off a bomb, then split into two separate groups before attacking the nearby hospital shooting at guards, doctors, nurses and patients, ultimately killing 56 and injuring 215 others.

The attack was partially reminiscent of the 1995 siege of a hospital in Budyonnovsk, Russia when Chechen Islamists held between 1,500 to 1,800 persons hostage for four days. Ultimately, 166 were killed and 450 were injured.

Our own recent Boston Marathon bombing this past April also comes to mind.

Other examples include two separate, devastating attacks this past September. Nigerian Islamists - wearing military uniforms and using assault rifles - stormed an agricultural college in the dead of night, killing some 40 college students as they slept in their dorm rooms. In Nairobi, Kenya, several members of the group al Shabaab - linked to al Qaeda - stormed a shopping mall using grenades and small arms, resulting in 59 dead and over 300 injured.

In 2008, the Pakistan-based Islamist group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, carried out a large-scale attack on several establishments in Mumbai, India - including two hotels, a train station, a hospital, a café and a Jewish center - killing 166 and injuring over 300.

In 2004, Chechen Islamists stormed an elementary school in Russia taking some 1,100 persons hostage, including 777 children. The gruesome casualty count included 334 killed - with up to 186 being children - and over 700 injured.

In 2002, 50 male and female Islamists - using grenades, mines and improvised explosive devices - seized a crowded theatre in Moscow taking some 850 hostages. At the end of the four-day siege, all 50 terrorists and about 130 hostages were killed and hundreds were injured.

Terrorist groups across the globe are increasingly engaging in well-planned attacks on soft targets, studying building blueprints and ventilation systems and using grenades, explosives and assault weapons that wholly overwhelm traditional security systems and specifically target civilians, including children.

Just this past September - on the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks - al Qaeda leader, Ayman Al-Zawihiri, urged both lone wolf and small unit groups to seek every opportunity to conduct these type of attacks across the U.S.

“Keeping America in a state of tension and anticipation does not cost us anything but (organizing) dispersed strikes here and there…. Just as we defeated (America) in a war on nerves in Somalia, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan, we must afflict it with a similar war in its own home,” Zawihir said.

Encouraging small-scale, lone wolf attacks is extremely beneficial to larger terrorists organizations because it is more difficult for intelligence agencies to track down and monitor smaller, unaffiliated groups and allows larger organizations to concentrate their efforts on killing people (mostly fellow Muslims) in Iraq and Syria.

Terrorists have recognized that airlines and other industries have become hard targets because of their increased attention to physical security, but these bad guys are now eyeing soft targets as they present as easy pickings for would-be terror activities.

As Rep. Michael T. McCaul - Texas Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee – said just this week, “I personally see it spreading like a spider web, like a wildfire, through North Africa and the Middle East… As that threat increases overseas, so too does it increase to the homeland.”

There is no longer any question that American shopping malls, hospitals, schools and hotels are among the most likely targets.

This is why local law enforcement at the community level, and even individual citizens themselves, are the best prepared to guard against future terrorist attacks.

Keith Pounds is a former hospital corpsman (combat medic) having served in the U.S. Navy and with the Marines. He holds an MBA with a concentration in organizational psychology and is the president and CEO of the Columbia, S.C.-based counter terrorism consulting company, Countercon.

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