New York Terrorist Attack: What measures can be taken to prevent vehicle attacks?

new-york-terror-truck attackSaipov

In the late afternoon on Tuesday 31st October 2017, Sayfullo Saipov, an Uzbek citizen who arrived in the US in2010 and became a legal US resident, drove a truck down a cycleway in lower Manhattan, New York, killing 8 people and injuring 11 more. After crashing the truck, Saipov emerged from the vehicle wielding a pellet gun and paintball gun. NYPD officers shot Saipov who received serious but non-fatal injuries and was arrested. The cosmopolitan make-up of New York was seen in the victims where five of those killed were Argentinian and another victim who died was Belgian. Within an hour of the attack New York authorities declared this was a terrorist incident. Saipov left a note in the truck claiming he committed the attack on behalf of the group Islamic state (IS), adding ‘ISIS lives forever’. At the time of writing IS have yet to claim responsibility for the attack, but as I have said in previous blogs, IS do claim responsibility for many attacks where they do not give direct orders or have any direct contact with the attacker.

Möglicher Anschlag mit Lastwagen auf Weihnachtsmarkt

Once more we have witnessed an attack where a vehicle has been driven into people. We have seen a number of attacks of this nature in the last 18 months from Nice, July 2016, the Berlin Christmas Market, December 2016, three attacks in the UK in 2017, Stockholm, April 2017, Barcelona, August 2017 and now New York. In total these attacks have killed 136 people with many more injured.

This raises a number of questions, including if we should expect more of these type of attacks and, importantly, what can be done to prevent these attacks? To the first question it appears the answer is yes, we should expect more of these attacks to occur in the near future. It is an easy form of low-level attack to carry out that can have the maximum, impact in terms of casualties. In IS’ online magazine, Rumiyah, issue 3 contained an article detailing the best methods to use in preparing and carrying out a vehicle attack. Other issues have published articles on how to carry out the most effective knife attacks and in kidnapping western hostages. Even though IS has lost control of a lot of geographical territory, its propaganda media is still effective, especially in influencing individuals to follow IS’ narrative and carry out attacks in the group’s name. So, unfortunately it is highly likely that we will see more attacks of this nature.
In relation to whether anything can be done to prevent these types of attack we are approaching seasonal time of year in western states with events ranging from Thanksgiving celebrations in Canada and the US, Christmas Markets and other open air public events through to New Year’s Eve celebrations. It is of paramount importance that we all play our part in preventing attacks, not in leaving it solely to the security services and the policing agencies. Local governments and business should regularly review there contingency plans and where events are planned to ensure sufficient resilience has been built in to prevent terrorist attacks. This can range from ensuring sufficient and effective physical barriers as in place to having effective evacuation facilities.

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In the UK this comes under the Protect strand of the CONTEST counter-terrorism policy. With colleagues, I will be advocating this at the UK Security Expo 2017 exhibition that is being held at London’s Olympia exhibition centre 29th and 30th November 2017.

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I discuss the New York attacks and issues above in more details in my interview with BBC Radio Sheffield. The interview is 1 hour 9 minutes 10 seconds in

National Action Member Charged with Encouraging Murder of UK MP

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A 31 year-old male, Christopher Lythgoe has been charged for being a member of a proscribed group, the extreme far right group National Action and for encouraging the murder of a UK Member of Parliament (MP), Rosie Cooper. Lythgoe is appearing in Westminster Magistrates Court (London) today. National Action were proscribed as a terrorist group in December 2016 by the UK government.

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I will be discussing the implications of this along with the threat extreme far right groups pose to state security with Shelagh Fogarty on LBC just after 3pm (BST) today (27th Oct)

Islamist Terrorism Conviction: Madihah Taheer

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Madihah Taheer, a 21 year-old woman who was married to Islamist Ummar Mazra was convicted on the 26th October at Woolwich Crown Court for plotting acts of terrorism that would have occurred in Birmingham. Mazra had earlier pleaded guilty to the offence and Taheer were arrested in march 2017, shortly after the Westminster bridge terrorist attack (the two incidents are not linked). Although Taheer denied the offence saying she was manipulated by Mazra and did not believe Mazra would carry out the attack, evidence presented by the prosecution at her trial revealed the opposite and that she was deeply imbued with the Islamist narrative of the group Islamic State.

West Mids CTU logoMI5 logo

Following an MI5 operation tracking Mizra, he was arrested by the West Midlands Counter-Terrorism Unit  along with his sister for the offence. From Whats App conversations between Mizra and Taheer evidence revealed how there was little doubt that she was influenced by the violence in Islamic Sate’s narrative. For the UK 2017 has been a year where there have been five terrorist attacks, four influenced by Islamism, one allegedly by the extreme far right, but operations like this show how the UK’s security services and police are working on preventing further attacks from happening and the work they put into keeping the UK safe. We can all support them by reporting an suspicious activity to the Anti-Terrorism Hotline 0800 789 321

 

Death of Sally-Ann Jones (White Widow)

 

sally ann jonesI’ll be on BBC Radio Scotland just after 12 noon (BST) today discussing the reported death of Sally-Ann Jones (the white widow) in a US drone attack in Syria and issues around radicalisation http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b096smkk

Commentary on the reported death of Sally-Ann Jones

The reported death of Sally-Ann Jones, who had been nicknamed the ‘white widow’, following a US drone attack in June 2017 in Syria is significant. Raised in Kent, UK as a Roman Catholic, she converted to Islam and married her husband Junaid Hussain where they travelled to Syria in 2013 to join Islamic State (IS). There Hussain was a jihadi fighter with IS who also had a major IS role as he was also employed  as a computer hacker. Jones was used by IS to recruit people to join the group, mainly western women. She also posted on social media threatening messages to Christians in the UK.

During my BBC radio interviews that I gave on the 12th October I was asked if Jones’ death was significant, if it was a surprise that a white middle class woman could be radicalised to IS and questions on the effectiveness of the UK’s Prevent policy. (BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat 5 minutes 32 seconds in, BBC Radio Scotland 15 minutes 38 seconds in and BBC Radio Kent, 1 hour 4 minutes 50 seconds in).

I do see it as significant as it has placed a dent in IS’ propaganda machine, especially in having a blonde haired white woman from the UK who converted to Islam and who was a committed IS follower. Having such an asset not only helped IS in recruiting other western women, IS used her to enhance the acceptance of a global Islamic community, especially using the fact that Jones spurned her western life as she embraced the IS narrative and life in the group’s self-proclaimed caliphate. While not being significant in a military sense, Jones did encourage UK citizens in carrying out IS inspired attacks in Britain and being as influential as she was IS have lost this asset in Jones too.

Corbyn’s Reluctance to Support Drone Attacks on Terrorists

The leader of HM Opposition in the UK’s Parliamentary Houser of Commons, the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn agrees that if correct Jones’ death is significant. In a veiled condemnation of the fact she was killed in a drone attack, he added that it would have been preferable if she had been arrested and put on trial. I agree that in an ideal world all terrorists should face a criminal trial, but when you are dealing with groups like IS, this is a difficult task. When a targeted IS member is in IS held territory in the current conditions in Syria with its on-going civil war, where communication is difficult to establish and to have assets on the ground, this is virtually impossible. In relation as to whether Corbyn would order a drone attack, in essence he stated he would not do so adding one would have carefully look at the effects such a strike would have on a civilian population. He is right of course, this is an important factor and it is one the RAF and other western air forces do consider. prior to carrying out a bombing sortie. In giving this response Corbyn tried to avoid the issue and in my mind showed his reluctance and naivety on this issue. The former US President, Barak Obama certainly had many liberal credentials and he acknowledged that targeted strikes were not a ‘cure all’, where he was haunted by the civilians who were unintentionally killed. While committed to capturing terrorist suspects, in difficult circumstances where this was not possible Obama saw drone attacks as saving lives. It is a not an acceptable state of affairs, but in areas like Syria where individuals who influence others to carry out attacks on a wider civilian population, drone attacks are a necessity.