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In Pakistan, Mixed Results from a Peshawar Attack from Stratfor

In  Pakistan, Mixed Results From a Peshawar Attack is republished with  permission of Stratfor.”

By Ben West

The Pakistani  Taliban continue to undermine Pakistan’s government and military  establishment, and in doing so, they continue to raise questions over the  security of the country’s nuclear arsenal. On Dec. 15, 10 militants armed with  suicide vests and grenades attacked Peshawar Air Force Base, the site of a third  major operation by the Pakistani Taliban since May 2011. Tactically, the attack  was relatively unsuccessful — all the militants were killed, and the perimeter  of the air base was not breached — but the Pakistani Taliban nonetheless  achieved their objective.

The attack began the night of Dec. 15 with a volley of three to five mortar  shells. As the shells were fired, militants detonated a vehicle-borne improvised  explosive device near the perimeter wall of the air base. Reports indicate that  all five militants inside the vehicle were killed. The other five militants  engaged security forces in a nearby residential area and eventually were driven  back before they could enter the air base. The next day, security forces acting  on a report of suspicious activity confronted the militants, who all died in the  resultant shootout.

Pakistani security forces came away from the incident looking very good. They  prevented a large and seemingly coordinated team of militants from entering the  confines of the base and thus from damaging civilian and military aircraft. Some  of Pakistan’s newly  acquired Chinese-Pakistani made JF-17s, are stationed at the air base, and  worth roughly $20 million each, they were probably the militants ultimate  targets.

Another reason the militants may have chosen the base is its location.  Peshawar Air Force Base is the closest base to the northwest tribal areas of  Pakistan, where Pakistani and U.S. forces are clashing with Taliban militants  who threaten Islamabad and Kabul. The air base is most likely a hub for  Pakistan’s air operations against those militants. The Dec. 15 attack killed one  police officer and a few other civilians, but it did no damage to the air base,  the adjacent civilian airport or their respective aircraft. Flights were  postponed for only a couple of hours as security forces cleared the area.

Tactics and Previous Attacks

Major military bases in Pakistan have been attacked before. In May 2011,  Pakistani Taliban militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and firearms  destroyed two  P-3C maritime surveillance aircraft and killed 10 soldiers during an  attack on Mehran  Naval Air Base in Karachi. The militants entered the base by cutting through  the fence.

More recently, seven Pakistani Taliban militants scaled the walls of Minhas  Air Force Base in Kamra before killing a soldier and damaging a  Ukrainian transport aircraft. They were pushed back before they could damage the  squadron of F-16 fighter aircraft stationed at the base.

The Dec. 15 attack was not nearly as destructive as these other attacks,  probably because half the militants were killed immediately in the explosion at  the perimeter. Their deaths suggest the device detonated earlier than expected  or that they were not far enough from the device when it exploded. It is unclear  why they died, but the device could have detonated prematurely for several  reasons. There could have been a glitch in the construction or detonation  of the device. Otherwise, it could have been the result of the security  forces’ countermeasures (something officials have not yet claimed). Had the  militants survived the explosion and breached the perimeter, they might have  been more successful against security.

The Dec. 15 attack also differs from the previous two attacks tactically.  Whereas militants stealthily entered the bases in Kamra and Karachi, the  militants who attacked the base in Peshawar used mortars and explosives because  the wall — roughly eight feet high and topped with barbed wire — could not be  cut or climbed easily. These tactics are much more aggressive than the two  previous air base attacks, and therefore they immediately caught the attention  of security forces. Indeed, security forces in the vicinity would have heard  mortar shells and explosions. But just as important, mortar shells and  explosions create flames that security forces can use to pinpoint the attack and  respond quickly.

It is hard to say whether the combination and coordination of mortar fire,  explosives and a direct ground assault with firearms would have resulted in a  successful attack even if half the militants had not died in the initial  explosion. They certainly would have been greatly outnumbered. The few mortar  shells fired at the base may have suppressed forces momentarily, but the  militants did not sustain their indirect cover fire, which eventually allowed  security forces more mobility in responding. In any case, breaching the wall  with an explosion sacrifices the element of surprise too early — outside the  base rather than inside — reducing the amount of time the assailants have to  find their targets before security could respond.

A final reason the attack failed may have been the fact that the threat was  known about weeks earlier. In late November, authorities apprehended a would-be  suicide bomber and his handler entering Peshawar on a motorcycle. The suspect  later confessed that they were targeting the airport. Peshawar airport was  already on high alert after the attack on the Kamra base in August. The November  arrests heightened security, which lessened the militants’ chance of surprise.  Moreover, the arrests were made publicly available in open-source materials, so  the militants should have known that security forces were on high alert.

As for the security forces, the protective  intelligence available was obvious, and the attack came when they were  most prepared to repel it. Yet they benefited greatly when the explosion did  half their work for them. It appears that they just got lucky.

Strategic Value

The Dec. 15 attack appears to have been carried out by militants who intended  to replicate the damage caused by their comrades’ attacks in Karachi and Kamra.  Tactically, they failed.

But that does not mean the operation wasn’t valuable. Like previous attacks  on Pakistani military installations, the Peshawar attack grabs headlines because  of its high profile. Put simply, the sensitivity of the target demands media  attention.

As in the Karachi and Kamra attacks, the Dec. 15 attack involves the security  of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. There are no indications that there are nuclear  weapons stored at the Peshawar base, and there is no evidence that the nuclear  weapons that may have been stored at the Karachi and Kamra bases were  compromised. But the attack nonetheless raises questions about the security of  Pakistan’s military installations and by extension their nuclear  arsenal. For the United States and India, such attacks compel lawmakers to  revisit debates over whether the United States should intervene to protect the  weapons.

These headlines and discussions benefit the Pakistani Taliban because they  call into question Islamabad’s ability to rule. Meanwhile, the Pakistani Taliban  will continue to try to destabilize the military, one of the strongest pillars  of the state, and provoke  fear of external involvement from the United States.

In fact, the Pakistani Taliban would benefit from U.S. involvement, which  would create huge public backlash and chaotic conditions in which the militants  could thrive. The Pakistani Taliban do not necessarily need to destroy aircraft  or kill military personnel to raise these doubts in Pakistan and the wider  world. From the perspective of the insurgents, all the coordination and  firepower they brought to the attack was a strategic success if this attack  nurtures that doubt, even if it wasn’t as tactically successful as previous  attacks.

Read more:  In Pakistan, Mixed Results From a Peshawar Attack | Stratfor

 

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Mimicking Breivik in Poland from Stratfor

“<a href=”http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/mimicking-breivik-poland”>Mimicking Breivik in Poland </a> is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

By Ben West

Poland’s Internal Security Agency announced Nov. 20 that it had arrested  “Brunon K,” a chemistry professor at the Agricultural University in Krakow who  allegedly planned to attack the lower house of the Polish parliament. The arrest  came Nov. 9, just two days before Warsaw’s annual Independence Day parade, which  authorities believe could have been another target. During the arrest,  authorities seized ammonium nitrate fertilizer, high-powered, military-grade  explosive RDX and other bomb-making equipment. They also seized several  hundred rounds of ammunition, a bulletproof vest and a pistol.

Presumably, the suspect in question is Dr. Brunon Kwiecien, who has published  multiple chemistry papers at the Agricultural University in Krakow, according to  a Polish academic directory. Kwiecien openly espoused anti-government views and  accused the Polish government and the European Commission of tyranny.  Specifically, he condemned the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which has  angered Internet freedom activists in Europe.

Kwiecien is also a self-proclaimed supporter of Norwegian  ultranationalist terrorist Anders Breivik, who conducted a successful lone  wolf attack in Oslo in 2011. Indeed, tactically Kwiecien’s plot against the  Polish government resembled Breivik’s in many ways. But his was only the latest,  certainly not the last, thwarted terrorist attack in Europe, where similar plots  can be expected as the economic and political situation continues to  worsen.

The Plot

Kwiecien allegedly considered Breivik’s  vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attack on Norway’s parliament  building a failure — Breivik’s killed  only eight people and failed to inflict catastrophic structural damage on  the building. Breivik used 1 metric ton of ammonium nitrate-based explosives,  commonly called ANFO,  or ammonium nitrate fuel oil, and parked his vehicle on the street,  putting some distance between the VBIED and the building. Kwiecien intended to  construct an explosive device using 4 metric tons of ANFO inside a tanker truck,  crash through the gates of the parliament building and detonate the VBIED within  the courtyard. Investigators believe that it would have been a suicide mission.  Had he executed his attack successfully, he likely would have created a blast  big enough to cause significant structural damage and loss of life, resulting in  more damage and more deaths than Breivik’s explosive device.

According to authorities, Kwiecien began planning for the attack between July  and September. He apparently had traveled to Warsaw to surveil the area  surrounding the building. The fact that there is fairly light security at the  entrance to the parliament building may have encouraged Kwiecien to go forward  with his plot.

What differentiates Kwiecien — and Breivik before him — from many other  aspiring terrorists is his knowledge of how to make bombs. Most grassroots  terrorists lack the requisite  skillset and the wherewithal to build a viable explosive device. Reaching  out for assistance in acquiring these skills exposes them to detection. For  example, Adel Daoud was arrested Sept. 15 in Chicago by an undercover FBI agent,  from whom Daoud had sought assistance to carry out his attack.

Kwiecien’s Skillset

Kwiecien, a professional  chemist, could have avoided Daoud’s fate. He had the scientific background  necessary to know how to make explosives. He also was an explosives enthusiast;  allegedly he lost several of his fingers detonating a homemade bomb when he was  a teenager. He had filmed his “experiments” over the past 10 years. Authorities  also claim that Kwiecien had detonated a bomb containing as much as 250  kilograms (about 550 pounds) of explosives, though video footage shows explosive  charges that were much smaller.

 

Even if he had detonated a bomb of that size, there is no indication that he  ever came close to experimenting with a bomb containing 4 metric tons of  explosives. Thoroughly mixing 4 metric tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and  diesel, the typical fuel oil in ANFO, is very difficult, but the challenge in  constructing bombs that large is detonation. Generally, the larger the main  charge is, the harder it is to achieve a simultaneous detonation and thus cause  maximum damage.

Four metric tons of ANFO equates to more than 3,000 liters (800 gallons).  Successfully igniting all that material requires the ignition of several  smaller, high-powered detonation charges. Otherwise the device can fail or only  partially detonate in what is referred to as a low-order explosion, where the  ANFO is propelled away from the device rather than detonated. In 2010, Faisal  Shahzad attempted to construct a device and detonate it in Times  Square. But he was an amateur bombmaker. As such, he constructed a poorly made  bomb, and the main charge failed to detonate accordingly.

It appears that Kwiecien was planning to use RDX for the detonation charges.  Acquiring ANFO is relatively easy; it is made from legitimate agricultural  products, and Kwiecien worked at an agricultural university. Acquiring RDX  is far more difficult; it’s a military-grade explosive that is much more  regulated than fertilizer. But again, Kwiecien’s chemistry background would have  given him the skills needed to make homemade RDX instead of having to source it  externally. Making it alone would shield him from law enforcement officials who  monitor the acquisition of such materials.

Kwiecien’s Mistakes

It is unclear whether Kwiecien could have built the bomb he intended to, but  he was much more likely to have done so than other would-be terrorists. However,  just because Kwiecien appears to have had the skillset to make a bomb without  alerting the authorities does not mean that he kept the plot only to himself. In  fact, he made several serious mistakes in plotting his attack that made him  vulnerable to authorities.

Kwiecien brazenly advertised his anti-government ideology. He reportedly  spoke openly with his students about bringing down the Polish government. He  taught extracurricular classes on making explosives and claimed that officials  had threatened to prosecute him if he didn’t stop them. His wife, a biologist,  alerted authorities when Kwiecien allegedly asked her how he could make a  biological “dirty bomb.”

In addition, Kwiecien used his own email address and identity for his online  activity, where he made anti-government comments, praised Breivik and openly  recruited like-minded people to join his cause. Reports indicate that Polish  authorities’ investigations into Breivik’s connections in Poland may have also  led to Kwiecien. All of these actions tipped off authorities, who likely had a  fairly thick file on him by the time he was arrested.

Notably, none of his actions were necessarily grounds for prosecution. To  gather more evidence, the Polish national police mounted an investigation that  involved infiltrating his group. Excluding Kwiecien, the group comprised four  members, two of whom were undercover agents. The other two were arrested.

Once undercover, the two operatives were able to collect details on  Kwiecien’s weapons and explosives acquisition efforts. Moreover, they would have  been able to provide evidence that ties Kwiecien to the materials meant to be  used in the attack. The operatives also could have kept tabs on Kwiecien and  alerted authorities when they believed he was moving closer to an attack.

Kwiecien’s motivations for expanding his group are unknown, but ultimately it  was his desire for recruitment that compromised him.

Breivik’s Influence

Like Breivik, Kwiecien embodied the rare combination of ideological fervor  and technical capability. But unlike Breivik, he did not strictly adhere to  operational security standards. Breivik went to great lengths to maintain  operational security, seeking help only when he absolutely needed it — like  when he traveled to purchase firearms. Kwiecien flaunted his capabilities and  his ideology, making him a bigger target for authorities.

Kwiecien was also a copycat who sought to conduct the same attack that  Breivik did, only on a larger scale. European authorities — indeed, law  enforcement agencies around the world — have studied the Breivik case for more  than a year. Thus they probably became better at identifying attacks that employ  the same tactics.

Perhaps most important, Kwiecien’s case also shows that Breivik’s call to  action has been heard. In his manifesto, Breivik appealed to other like-minded  individuals to form cells and fight multiculturalism in Europe. Individuals like  Breivik and Kwiecien, who combine capability and ideology, are rare. But Europe  has a skilled workforce that could produce similarly capable extremists.

Indeed, Breivik and Kwiecien are not alone in their ultranationalist ideals.  On Nov. 23, Swedish extremist Peter Mangs was sentenced to life in prison for a  series of killings targeting immigrants around Malmo, a city in southern Sweden.  Mangs killed for several years before he was caught, indicating that he was well  disciplined and practiced operational security.

The conditions of Europe are conducive for extremism. As national economies  worsen and European institutions weaken, there will be more cause, in the eyes  of extremists, to lash out against the state and against Europe. Such  threats are not found only among ultranationalists. Left-wing groups and anarchist  cells also pose a threat, as evidenced in Greece and  Italy. Kwiecien certainly will not be the last extremist to plot an attack in  Europe, and the more like-minded individuals who take up the cause, the higher  the chances are for more attacks.

Read more:  Mimicking Breivik in Poland | Stratfor

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