Thursday, March 23, 2017

An Attack Foiled in Antwerp

Belgium thwarted a repeat of Nice in Antwerp a day after Westminster was attacked by an Islamist terrorist. A French-Tunisian Islamist was arrested after trying to drive a red Citroën with French license plates loaded with liquid gas, a shot gun and knives into a crowd of shoppers in an attempted terror strike.

The suspected attacker named as Mohamed R, 39 year old French-Tunisian tried to mow down pedestrians on Meir, Antwerp's main pedestrian street on 23rd March 2017.

Source: Daily Mail

It was not immediately clear if the car contained any explosives.

The car was driven down the Meir street in Antwerp - the city's busiest pedestrian streets. 

Shoppers had to dive out of the way of the speeding car to avoid serious injury.

Belgian soldiers then forced the driver to stop, but he fled by running a red light as he made his way towards the Scheldt river.

He tried and failed to knock people down in the busy shopping area and fled the scene towards the city's port where he was arrested, according to Le Soir. 

The man was detained on St Michielskaai in Antwerp which is less than a mile away from the Meir, according to VTM.

The gas liquid was found in a canister, and as a result the case was handed over to the federal prosecutor's office, which usually deals with terrorism cases in Belgium. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Westminster 22/3

In 2016, it was Brussels 22/3 and one year later it is Westminster 22/3. A terror attack in the heart of London left five dead and nearly 40 injured

The London terror attack is a developing story and is reminiscent of the 2001 Indian Parliament attack though on a relatively lesser scale. The incident has taken place on the first anniversary of the Brussels attacks carried out by by Islamist militants that killed 32 people.

An assailant believed to be an Islamist (owing allegiance to ISIS) stabbed a policeman and was shot by police just outside Britain's parliament building in London on 22nd March around 2.40 pm in what police described as a "terrorist incident." It was later announced that the policeman Keith Palmer, 48 succumbed to his injuries.  It was reported earlier that two people died in the incident, according to Sky News, but the total number of casualties was unclear. Later it was reported that five persons including the police officer and the assailant were among those dead and around 40 were injured.

Amid confusing scenes, it appeared the incident may have unfolded in several locations, including on the nearby Westminster Bridge where eyewitnesses said a car had crashed into pedestrians. 
A 4x4 vehicle ploughed into the railings near Westminster Hall after mowing down pedestrians on the bridge.

Source: NYT Terrain and aerial imagery by Google
The yellow arrow indicates the route taken by the terrorist on Westminster bridge; the two yellow circles are the places where the car crashed and where the assailant was shot and the red spots show where the pedestrians were wounded.

Reuters’ reporters inside the parliament building heard loud bangs and shortly afterwards saw two people lying on the ground in a courtyard just outside, within the perimeter of the parliamentary estate.

A Reuters’ photographer said he saw at least a dozen people injured on Westminster Bridge, next to parliament.

His photographs showed people lying on the ground, some of them bleeding heavily and one apparently under a bus.

Witness reports suggested the assailant and the stabbed policeman were the people seen lying on the ground just outside the parliamentary building by Reuters reporters.

The House of Commons, which was in session at the time, was immediately suspended and lawmakers were asked to stay inside.

Prime Minister Theresa May was safe after the incident, a spokesman for her office said. He declined to say where May was when the attack took place.

Journalist Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail newspaper told LBC radio that he had witnessed the stabbing of the policeman and the shooting of the assailant from his office in the parliament building.

"He (the assailant) ran in through the open gates ... He set about one of the policemen with what looked like a stick," Letts said. 
Letts, said he saw a man in black attack a police officer outside Parliament before being shot two or three times as he tried to storm into the House of Commons, the Press Association reports.

"The policeman (Keith Palmer) fell over on the ground and it was quite horrible to watch and then having done that, he disengaged and ran towards the House of Commons entrance used by MPs (members of parliament) and got about 20 yards or so when two plain-clothed guys with guns shot him." 
He added: “As this attacker was running towards the entrance two plain clothed guys with guns shouted at him, what appeared like a warning, he ignored it and they shot him two or three times and he fell.” 

Reuters’ reporters inside parliament saw a large number of armed police, some carrying shields, pouring into the building.

In Edinburgh, the Scottish parliament suspended a planned debate and vote on independence as news of events in London came in.

Britain is on its second-highest alert level of "severe" meaning an attack by militants is considered highly likely.

The identity of the suspected Islamist militant has not been released by the London Police for reasons best known. It is rather stupid on part of the authorities to suppress the identity merely because of suspected ISIS links. Suppression of essential information leads to speculative reporting. The attacker was briefly identified by Channel 4 News as a prominent British-born Islamist extremist but the broadcaster later reversed its report after other journalists disputed it on Twitter. BBC Pakistan correspondent Secunder Kernani said a “reliable source” told him that the man Channel 4 named was in jail.

The Islamist link was apparent from the choice of weapons, namely using a vehicle to plough into a crowd as in Nice and Berlin and a knife for stabbing which has been used in the past by Islamist terrorists in Israel and elsewhere. The ISIS link is further reinforced by the choice of the target, namely, the heart of democracy, the British Parliament and a street with a lot of pedestrians. ISIS, the Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Toiba choose high value targets and public places frequented by a lot of people at any given point of time.

The police again had no business to refer to the attack as a "Lone Wolf Attack" or that only a lone attacker was involved in the absence of detailed investigations.

In May 2013, two British Islamists stabbed to death soldier Lee Rigby on a street in southeast London.

In July 2005, four British Islamists killed 52 commuters and themselves in suicide bombings on the British capital's transport system in what was London's worst peacetime attack.

Update: The identity of the assailant was released by the authorities. The name of the assailant is Khalid Masood, 52 from West Midlands who had a  criminal record but was not considered as a terror threat. According to sources, the terrorist was killed by the protection officers of Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.

Update 25th March: According to security officials, the terrorist Khalid Masood was not a “lone wolf” and others had played a key part in indoctrinating him and helping him to carry out the deadly attacks in Westminster on 22nd March.

The disclosure that the British-born Muslim convert was likely to have been part of a wider conspiracy came as armed police detained 11 people in raids across the country with two of the arrests, including that of a woman, Rohey Hydara, a Gambian woman with whom he was living, described as “significant” in the investigation.

Friday, December 23, 2016

A Repeat of Nice in Berlin - Terror Attack on Christmas Market

Berlin, on the night of 19th December 2016, became a target of an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror attack when a Scania R-450 semi-trailer truck belonging to a Polish delivery company Ustugi Transportowe (Transport Services) laden with steel beams meant to be delivered to ThyssenKrupp, plowed into a crowd of holiday revelers at the market in front of Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church at Breitscheidplatz killing 12 people and injuring 48 others. The black semi-trailer with Polish license plates drove into the sidewalk at the market at about 8.00 pm barreling more than 200 feet, according to eyewitnesses. 

The Berlin Attack was identical to the attack carried out by a Tunisian-born French citizen during the Bastille Day celebrations in July 2016 in Nice, France which claimed the lives of 86 innocent civilians. In both the attacks the perpetrators were of Tunisian origin and the responsibility for the attacks was claimed by the ISIS. The attacker, later identified as a 23 year old Tunisian, Anis Amri took over the truck driven by a Polish citizen identified as Lukasz Urban before driving into the crowd at the Christmas market. A suspect, Naved Baloch of Pakistani origin was detained briefly but was released for want of evidence. Amri was known to German intelligence and was under surveillance for trying to acquire weapons. (It is indeed strange that most of the jihadi terrorists responsible for carrying out attacks in Europe since January 2015 have had a police record or were placed under surveillance of intelligence agencies at some point of time). After the truck attack in Nice and many attacks in Israel using the same modus operandi, namely, ramming a vehicle into a crowd, or using Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED), the European agencies ought to have been alert to movement of suspicious heavy vehicles near markets and religious congregations. In fact the training manuals of ISIS and Al Qaeda contain details of carrying out a successful vehicular ramming attack. 

Al-Qaida published several training manuals on how to carry out a successful vehicular ramming attack since Inspire magazines volumes 1 & 2 (2010). In the 13th (2014) and 16th (2016) Volumes of Inspire magazine, the organization provided examples of successful vehicular ramming attacks, noting the ramming of Canadian soldiers and the attack in Nice as exemplary lone wolf attacks.

ISIS as well published its own “user manuals” on how to carry out a successful vehicular ramming attack; the most recent of which was published just a few weeks before the Berlin attack (Rumiyah, Issue 3, November 7, 2016). The publication calls for the individuals to initiate vehicular ramming attacks, pointing out the benefits of such attacks, giving detailed instructions on how to select and operate the vehicles and recommending the types of targets.

The advantages, according to the article, of using vehicles for vehicular ramming attack are the fact that a vehicle can serve as 'a weapon' which is easy to use for anyone who knows how to drive, it is significantly less suspicious than other weapons (such as a knife, for example), it is easy to obtain and can cause a large numbers of casualties. The organization summarizes these advantages: “It is for this obvious reason that using a vehicle is one of the most comprehensive methods of attack, as it presents the opportunity for just terror for anyone possessing the ability to drive a vehicle. Likewise, it is one of the safest and easiest weapons one could employ against the kuffar, while being from amongst the most lethal methods of attack and the most successful in harvesting large numbers of the kuffar”.

ISIS notes that the vehicle of choice to carry out these attacks needs to be heavy weight and as large as possible while still being able to reach high speeds. Vehicles can be bought, rented, lent, and if necessary, even acquired by theft or kidnapping of the driver.

Finally, the article provides several targets of choice such as outdoors events and/or markets, pedestrian crowded streets, festivals, parades and political rallies.[1]

To contend or conclude that the attacks in Nice and Berlin were “ISIS inspired” lone wolf attacks is utterly idiotic. The Berlin attack is still under investigation and as yet it is not clear as to how the perpetrator or perpetrators got hold of the truck which was used in the attack. This attack seemed to have been carefully planned and executed and the target, namely, the Christmas market was not randomly chosen. This is evident from the extract given above.

The writing was on the wall!
Europe had been on the crosshairs since the beginning of January 2015 when the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo was attacked by Islamist gunmen. This incident was followed by the Kosher Market hostage taking and later the November 2015 attacks in Paris and the Brussels airport bombings in March 2016. Germany itself witnessed some not so major terrorist incidents in 2016 and it was not a question of if but when Berlin would be targeted by ISIS.

In the beginning of December 2016, European Union’s law enforcement agency Europol warned that some intelligence services anticipated that several dozen people directed by the ISIS may be in Europe to commit terrorist attacks. Europol also stated in addition to France and Belgium, all other EU member states which were part of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State may be targeted by terrorists. Notwithstanding these alerts or warnings, Germany was unable to thwart the present attack indicating a failure of some sort, either in coordination between various security agencies within the German Republic or the threat assessment level pertaining to individuals who pose grave threat to national security. For years, according to critics  a lack of information-sharing was slowing down and weakening the effectiveness of Germany’s patchwork of federal and regional security agencies.

Within Germany’s federalized system, each of the country’s 16 states has its own state police force as well as its own domestic intelligence service, in addition to various federal agencies operating nation-wide.

The core problem, officials say, is that — partly due to outdated IT systems, and partly to Germany’s strict laws regarding data privacy — information obtained by investigators is currently stored by different services in separate information pools, which exist in parallel.

“You could say, ‘too many ‘pools’ spoil the broth,’” De Maizière said in a November 2016 address to the annual conference of Germany’s Federal Criminal Office (BKA). “They unnecessarily duplicate data and include the high risk of inconsistent, incomplete and inaccurate data.”

Officials can only access individual pools, rather than all of them at the same time, De Maizière complained back in November.

Likewise, on the European level, he has complained about the lack of data-sharing between EU intelligence and security agencies.

Germany’s Federal Crime Office (BKA) is monitoring 530 so-called Gefährder, radicalized individuals who officials suspect may commit serious crimes such as a terror attack or murder.

It is highly unlikely that redressing this defect would secure Germany from future attacks. The resources of the federal and state agencies have been stretched, thanks to the Merkel government’s foolish and short-sighted policy of allowing more than a million so-called refugees from the war zones of Syria and Iraq to enter the country without any system of vetting or verification. Thus the agencies were burdened with a herculean task overnight. (Around 1.2 million Muslims entered the country between May 2011 and the end of 2015).

It must be emphasized that the European governments must concentrate their efforts on tackling Islamist extremists owing allegiance to the ISIS rather than on Islamophobia.

[Update: Anis Amri, the Tunisian attacker was reportedly shot dead by Italian Police officers in the Italian city of Milan during a routine identity check on 23rd December 2016.

What started as a routine police check ended in the death of the Berlin attacker. Two police officers on a regular early morning patrol spotted a man acting suspiciously at 3:00 a.m. local time at a train station in Milan's working class neighborhood of Sesto San Giovanni. They approached the man, unaware of the fact that he was Anis Amri and asked for his papers. He reached into his pocket and instead of pulling out documents, he pulled out a .22-caliber pistol and shot one of the officers, who returned fire and shot him dead].

[1] The Berlin Vehicular Ramming Attack – What We Know & Insight from ICT Experts, International Institute for Counter Terrorism, IDC Herzliya, Israel

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Uri Attack: India Responds

Eleven days after Pakistan-backed terrorists owing allegiance to the Jaish-e-Mohammed attacked the 12 Infantry Brigade HQ at Uri, the Indian Army struck back. According to Indian Army sources, personnel of the Special Forces were para (or heli)-dropped across the Line of Control (LoC). Five terror launch pads were destroyed by the SF personnel. This was not only a surgical strike but a pre-emptive strike as well, as precise information was available that terrorists were being assembled for infiltration across the LoC for carrying out attacks in Kashmir and elsewhere. The operation was meticulously planned post-Uri and perfectly executed by the Special Forces.

The Special Forces operation on terror launch pads lasted from 12:30 am to 4:30 am, the location was between 500 meters to 2 Km across the LoC, news agency ANI reported.

The announcement of the sudden action by the army to target terrorists was made by the Director General Military Operations Lt Gen Ranveer Singh at a hurriedly called news conference during which external affairs ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup was also present.

Gen Singh said India shared with Pakistani army details of the surgical strikes which followed “very specific information” that terrorists were positioning themselves in the launch pads along the LoC.

Based on specific intelligence input of terror groups ready to infiltrate into India and carry out terror attacks, Army conducted surgical strikes on terror launch pads at the LoC on the night of 28th and early hours of 29th. The strikes were carried out in Bhimber, Hotspring, Kel & Lipa sectors, on Pakistan's side of the LoC. Indian commandos entered three kilometres across the Line of Control to conduct the 'surgical / pre-emptive strikes. 5 terror launch pads were destroyed during the surgical strike. According to media reports about 35 terrorists and 9 Pak Army personnel were killed in the operation.

The strikes seemed to have been carried out by the elite para commandos (most probably units from 4 Para and 9 Para) who were heli-dropped two to three kilometers deep into Pak-occupied territory and were backed by ground troops. The insertion and exfiltration of the commandos was executed flawlessly. The unit executing the strikes had speed, surprise, stealth and superior tactics the four ‘Ss’ required for a successful surgical strike. The raiding party also had accurate and real time intelligence through human sources to inflict casualties and damage on the enemy. It is learnt that the targets were kept under close surveillance (probably through the use of UAV or HUMINT) for nearly a week before the strikes.

The Pioneer in its web edition dated 21st September 2016 had reported that one battalion each of 4 Para and 9 Para Special Forces trained for anti-terrorist operations had been asked to stand in operational readiness till further orders, indicating that the Centre has not ruled out retaliatory action for the Pakistan-sponsored attack. 

The new Indian Express too in its web edition dated 25th September 2016 had reported that besides movement of infantry brigades, multiple teams of elite Special Forces (SF) were camping at strategic locations. Sources claimed that troops from commando units like 2, 4 and 9 Para SF were gearing up on the Line of Control (LoC), as they were trained in unconventional warfare, special reconnaissance and to carry out cross-border surgical strikes. The units of 4 Para and 9 Para were probably assigned the task to take out the launch pads across the LoC on 29th September 2016.

This author has in the past urged that India was well within its right under international law to respond militarily by resorting to measures in the form of "Reprisals". The relevant extracts from two older posts are reproduced herein:

The military option that India must consider is not war but measures short of war. Reprisal, for instance, under such special and compelling circumstances could be considered legitimate and justified under international law. “A reprisal is an act of SELF-HELP… by the injured state, responding—after an unsatisfied demand—to an act contrary to international law committed by the offending state….Its object is to effect REPARATION from the offending state for the offense or a return to legality by the avoidance of further offenses." [Naulilaa Case (Portugal v. Germany), 2 UN Reports Of International Arbitral Awards 1012 (Portuguese-German Mixed Arbitral Tribunal, 1928)] A reprisal is a form of self defense and can only be used as a last resort; it must be executed with the view of restoring a sense of equilibrium in international relations and ensuring future compliance with legal norms.

What are the options available to India? 

India should retaliate at a time and place of its choosing. India under international law is entitled to take action in the form of reprisals. The Indian Army’s Special Forces have the means and capability to initiate an operation similar to the one carried out by Pakistan. However, more important is that the Army needs to have a contingency plan to carry out limited cross-border strikes at regular intervals to deter the enemy from engaging in such adventures. Of course, the essential pre-requisite for sanctioning a one-off military operation in retaliation or regular strikes as and by way of deterrence is the existence of a strong political will and the unqualified support of the political leadership.