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The Gatekeepers

The Gatekeepers is a documentary film about Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security service, made by Dror Moreh. It consisted of interviews with the six living former heads of Shin Bet, interspersed with archive film and some CGI graphics, and told the organisation’s story since 1967. Until then the main threats to Israel were external, so Mossad, the foreign intelligence service was more important than Shin Bet.

Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza after the 6 Day War in 1967 meant that it faced a security threat from territory that it controlled, so Shin Bet became the more important of the two intelligence services.

The film is divided into seven segments, which give it a roughly chronological order, but also discuss various themes and moral issues that have arisen since 1967, including political direction, torture, targeted assassinations and collateral damage.

The six participants are Ami Ayalon, Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon, Avi Dichter and  Yuval Diskin.

The seven segments are:

No Strategy, Just Tactics:

This covers the initial stages of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Israel had no strategy for the future of the occupied territories; everything revolved round short-term tactics aimed at reducing terrorism.

These succeeded in cutting the number of attacks hugely, but did nothing to produce a long-term solution, although some Israelis, including Avraham Shalom, wanted a Palestinian state even then.

In order to carry out a census of the occupied territories, Israeli soldiers were taught a small number of relevant Arabic phrases, including ‘We want to count you.’ Unfortunately, a pronunciation error mean that many Israelis actually said that ‘We want to castrate you.’ Shin Bet subsequently set up a very rigorous programme of Arabic lessons for its personnel.

Forget About Morality:

This deals with the hijacking of the 300 bus in 1984. The four hijackers were killed, but it subsequently emerged that two had been captured alive, badly beaten and then killed. The film attributed this to the Israeli Army, but the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has published documents that blame Shalom and Shin Bet.

One Man’s Terrorist is Another Man’s Freedom Fighter:

This covers the peace negotiations between Israel and the PLO that culminated in the 1993 Oslo Accords. Opposition to them in both Palestine and Israel resulted in the growth of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and terrorist acts by Israelis.

Our Own Flesh and Blood:

This dealt with terrorism by Israelis who opposed the Oslo Accords. Shin Bet investigations resulted in the arrest and conviction of many of them, but most were released after serving only part of their sentences. On 4 November 1995  Israeli Prime Minister Yithak Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, an Israeli.

Victory is to See You Suffer:

The title of this segment comes from a comment made by a Palestinian to Ami Ayalon during Israeli-Palestinian talks during the Second Intifada. It means that the Palestinians would regard it as a victory if they could make life for the Israelis as bad as it was for themselves.

Collateral Damage:

This covered the targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders, and the risk that innocent civilians would also be killed. At one point Shin Bet discovered that the senior command of Hamas would be meeting in a particular building. The Israeli Air Force could have dropped a one ton bomb on it, killing all of them, but also some innocent civilians. The politicians insisted that only a quarter ton bomb should be dropped. This reduced the risk of killing innocents, but meant that the Hamas leaders would be killed only if they were in the upper floor of the two storey building; they were not and survived.

The Old Man at the End of the Corridor:

This came from a belief held by Ami Ayalon when he was a child on a kibbutz that Israel was run by a wise man (David Ben-Gurion) who sat in an office behind at the end of a long corridor and made decisions after thinking things through carefully. When he entered the government, he found the corridor, but there was no door at the end of it.

In this segment the six men reflected on Shin Bet, its activities and the implications for Israel. They all thought that it was necessary for Israel to talk to its enemies, and did not seem to have been impressed by the politicians that they had worked for, apart from Rabin; he was described as understanding security issues so well that they did not have to be explained to him.

A fear was expressed that Israel may end up winning all the battles but losing the war because of stubbornness. The occupation has embittered the occupied and brutalised the occupiers. Avraham Shalom suggested that Israel is treating the Palestinians as the Germans treated the non-Jewish subjects of the countries that they occupied in WWII.

A very powerful film. All six men came across well, speaking openly and honestly. They were aware of the problems that Israel’s actions had created, and feared that its strategy was flawed, but had been in positions where they could only carry out the strategy laid down from above.

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Soft Targets Back in Focus – Stratfor

Soft Targets  Back in Focus is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

Read more:  Soft Targets Back in Focus | Stratfor

By Scott Stewart Vice  President of Analysis

From time to time, I will sit down to write a series of analyses on a  particular topic, such as the fundamentals of terrorism series last  February. Other times, unrelated events in different parts of the world are  tied together by analytical threads, naturally becoming a series. This is  what has happened with the last three weekly security analyses — a common  analytical narrative has risen to connect them.

First, we discussed how the Jan. 16 attack  against the Tigantourine natural gas facility near Ain Amenas,  Algeria, would result in increased security at energy facilities  in the region. Second, we discussed foreign  interventions in Libya and Syria and how they have regional or even  global consequences that can persist for years. Finally, last week  we discussed how the robust,  layered security at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara served to thwart a  suicide bombing.

Together, these topics spotlight the heightened and persistent terrorist  threat in North Africa as well as Turkey and the Levant. They also demonstrate  that militants in those regions will be able to acquire weapons with ease. But  perhaps the most important lesson from them is that as diplomatic missions are  withdrawn or downsized and as security is increased at embassies and energy  facilities, the threat is going to once again shift toward softer targets.

Soft Targets

Obviously, individuals desiring to launch a terrorist attack seek to strike  the highest-profile, most symbolic target possible. If it is well known,  the target can magnify the  terror, especially when the operation grabs the attention of international  media. Such extensive exposure not only allows people around the globe to  be informed minute by minute about unfolding events, but it also permits them to  become secondary, vicarious victims of the unfolding violence. The increased  exposure also ensures that the audience affected by the operation becomes far  larger than just those in the immediate vicinity of the attack. The attack  on the U.S. diplomatic office in Benghazi and the killing of U.S. Ambassador  Christopher Stevens led to months of media coverage that has included televised  congressional hearings and fierce partisan and bureaucratic squabbles in  the media. It was the terrorist equivalent of winning the lottery.

However, in the wake of terrorist attacks, increased situational awareness  and security measures make successful attacks difficult to replicate. Targets  become more difficult to attack — what we refer to as hard targets. When this  happens, attackers are forced to either escalate the size and force used in  their attack, identify a vulnerability they can exploit or risk  failure.

In the August 1998 attacks against the U.S. embassies in Nairobi,  Kenya, and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, al Qaeda planners turned to the first  option: a larger attack. They attempted to use large truck bombs to  overcome the embassies’ layered security. The embassies had decent  perimeter security but lacked enough distance between the street and the  buildings to protect them from a large blast. In both attacks, the attackers  also tried unsuccessfully to get the bomb-laden trucks through perimeter  security vehicle checkpoints to detonate them closer to the embassy  buildings.

After those bombings, security enhancements made most diplomatic  facilities more difficult to attack, leading militant groups to turn  their attention to hotels. A strike on an international hotel in a  major city can make almost the same kind of statement against the West as a  strike on an embassy. Hotels are often full of Western business travelers,  diplomats, intelligence officers and, not insignificantly, members of the media.  This has made hotels target-rich environments for militants seeking to kill  Westerners and gain international media attention without having to penetrate  the extreme security of a hard target like a modern embassy.

But increased security is not the only factor that leads those wishing to  conduct a terrorist attack to gravitate toward softer targets. For the better  part of a decade, we have chronicled how  the global jihadist movement has devolved from an organizational model  based on centralized leadership and focused global goals to a more amorphous  model based on regional franchises with local goals and strong grassroots  support. For the most part, these regional franchises lack the training and  funding of the al Qaeda core and are therefore less capable. This means  franchise groups are often unable to attack hard targets and tend to focus on  softer targets — such as hotels or the U.S. ambassador while he is staying at a  poorly protected office in Benghazi rather than at his residence in Tripoli.

Changing Threats in North Africa

As hotels in places like Amman and Jakarta became harder to attack with large  vehicle bombs, attackers began to smuggle  in smaller devices to bypass the increased security. There was also a trend  in which attackers hit restaurants where Westerners congregated rather than the  more secure hotels.

The same dynamic will likely apply today in the Sahel. We believe  that the attack at the Tigantourine natural gas facility in Algeria was greatly  aided by the complacency of the security forces. The attackers did not  demonstrate any sort of advanced terrorist tactics or tradecraft. It would be  very hard to replicate the attack on another energy facility in the  region today due to increases in awareness and security. The  increase in security will be compounded by the fact that al Qaeda in the Islamic  Maghreb and its jihadist brethren in the Sahel lack sophisticated  terrorist capabilities and have lost their bases in northern Mali.  This means they will be hard-pressed to conduct a successful attack against a  hard target.

Furthermore, having lost substantial quantities of men and materiel, and with  French and African forces potentially interdicting their lucrative smuggling  routes, these jihadist groups will be looking to refill their coffers.  Kidnapping is a longstanding way for militant groups in the region to resolve  precisely these issues. Although they have lost control of the towns they  captured in northern Mali, these groups will continue to pose a  threat of kidnapping over a wide swath of North Africa.

Turkey and Lebanon

While the jihadist militants in Syria are currently fixated on attacking the  Syrian regime, there is nonetheless a non-jihadist threat in Turkey — and  perhaps Lebanon — that emanates from the Syrian intelligence and its proxy  groups in the region. However, the Feb. 1 attack against the U.S.  Embassy in Ankara demonstrated the limitations of the capabilities of one of  those proxies, the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front.

Carrying on the operational legacy of its parent organization, Devrimci Sol,  the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front aspires to conduct spectacular  attacks, but its attacks frequently fizzle or fail. Successfully striking a  hardened target such as the U.S. Embassy is beyond the group’s capability. In  fact, the group frequently botches attacks against softer targets, as in the  attack against an American fast food chain outlet in May 2012 that  failed when the explosive device malfunctioned.

The Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front’s limited tactical  capability supports the theory that the attack against the U.S.  Embassy in Ankara was commissioned by the Syrian regime. The group has even  failed in suicide bombings against Turkish police stations with far  less security; it knew it was attacking something beyond its reach.  But at the same time, the group’s limited capability and the failure of the  attack against the U.S. Embassy will likely result in a shift to softer targets  if the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front was acting at Syria’s  behest and the Syrians have asked for additional anti-American attacks.

As noted last week, Devrimci Sol conducted dozens of attacks against U.S. and  NATO targets in Turkey during late 1990 and early 1991 at the behest of Saddam  Hussein. The majority of these attacks were directed against soft targets such  as U.S. corporate offices, nongovernmental organizations, hotels and  restaurants. We believe these same targets are in jeopardy of attack by  the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front now.

Syria maintains a number of proxy militants in Lebanon, including Hezbollah. Hezbollah has its own  calculations and may not be as willing as Syria’s smaller proxy groups  to act on Syria’s behalf. Hezbollah maintains a far more sophisticated militant  capability than these small groups and is able to attack hard targets, unlike  the smaller groups. Therefore, if the Syrians commission a terrorist  attack in Lebanon and Hezbollah does not help them, the attacks their proxy  groups will carry out will be quite limited — and will again focus on soft  targets.

For the most part, soft targets are soft by their very nature. It  is not only impractical to employ embassy-like security at a fast food  restaurant, but it is inordinately expensive — too expensive to be economically  feasible for a business. Still, there are some simple and practical security  measures that can be taken to make them slightly more secure and hopefully cause  anyone planning an attack to divert their operation toward an even  softer target.

Additionally, individuals living in or traveling to these places can and  should practice good situational  awareness, review their personal  contingency plans and mentally prepare  to respond to any crisis.

Read more:  Soft Targets Back in Focus | Stratfor

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When Security Measures Work – Stratfor

When  Security Measures Work is republished with permission of Stratfor.
Read more:  When Security Measures Work | Stratfor

By Scott Stewart Vice  President of Analysis

On Feb. 1, a Turkish national named Ecevit Sanli walked up to the side  entrance of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara like many others had done that day.  Dressed inconspicuously, he waved a manila envelope at the man inside the guard  booth as he approached the entrance. The security guard had no reason to  distrust the man approaching the checkpoint; the entrance is used to screen  packages, and perhaps the guard assumed Sanli was dropping off a document or was  a visa applicant at the wrong entrance. What the guard did not know, perhaps, is  that Sanli was a person of interest to the Turkish police, who suspected that he  was plotting an attack.

The guard opened the door of the access control building — the outermost  door of the embassy compound — to speak to Sanli, who took one step inside  before detonating the explosive device that was strapped to his body. The  explosion killed Sanli and the security guard, seriously wounded a journalist  who was visiting the embassy and left two other local guards who were manning  the entrance with minor injuries.

The embassy’s local security personnel, as designed, bore the brunt of the  attack. They are hired and trained to prevent threats from penetrating the  embassy’s perimeter. The low casualty count of the Feb. 1 attack is a testament  to the training and professionalism of the local guards and the robust, layered  security measures in place at the embassy — factors for which those responsible  for the attack apparently did not sufficiently plan.

Layers of Security

Sanli apparently had hoped to breach the outer perimeter of the compound and  to detonate his device inside the embassy building. Reportedly he carried a  firearm and a hand grenade, and the way he approached the access control point  likewise suggests he hoped to gain entry. Had he wanted to kill Turkish  citizens, he could have done so simply by hitting the visa line outside the  embassy.

At embassy compounds, secondary access control posts for vehicles and  pedestrians typically are staffed with fewer guards than more heavily traversed  access points, such as the main entrance or the entrance to the consular  section. This particular access point had two guards at the vehicular entrance  and a third guard to receive and screen packages and pedestrians. Since there  was no drop slot for packages and envelopes, the guard inside the access point  had to open the exterior door to receive deliveries. It is likely that the  plotters knew about this procedure, which probably factored into their decision  to breach the perimeter at this entrance. Moreover, the attack happened around  lunchtime, so it is also possible that attackers thought the guards would be  inattentive.

Though these smaller access control points have fewer people guarding them,  they still boast at least two heavy security doors that all visitors must pass  through. Many embassy compounds, including the one in Ankara, have a third door  located inside the building. This multiple-door configuration, referred to as a  sally port by security officers, provides an additional level of security at  perimeter security posts. Sally ports equipped with magnetic locks and  reinforced doors can also serve as effective traps for intruders.

The access control point constitutes just the outer perimeter of the embassy.  There is also another layer of external security at the entrance to the embassy  building itself. It is possible that Sanli thought he could somehow use his  weapon or grenade to penetrate that layer once he got through the access control  center, but the forced entry/bullet resistant doors and windows on the embassy’s  exterior would not have been quickly or easily penetrated by such weapons.

Whatever his plan, Sanli never had the opportunity to fully execute it. He  was stopped immediately inside the access control center by the security guard  and detonated his suicide device just inside the door. The force of the blast  blew the outer security door off its hinges and cracked the reinforced concrete  exterior wall of the access control building. But the embassy perimeter was not  breached, and Sanli never got near the embassy building.

Security Designs

Embassy security measures are designed with specific threats in mind. Sanli,  for example, executed precisely the type of attack that embassy security was  meant to counter: an isolated terrorist strike that circumvents a host country’s  police and security services. Ankara is an older embassy office building, but it  has received security upgrades over the past few decades that have given the  facility decent access control and concentric layers of security meant to stymie  intrusions.

Like most older embassy buildings, however, it does not meet the security  requirements put in place in the wake of the embassy bombings of the 1980s. The U.S. Consulate  General building in Istanbul, which was completed in 2003, exemplifies a  building that meets those requirements. Not only is it constructed to  specifications, it is also appropriately far enough from the street to help  counter threats, such as those posed by Sanli, and to help withstand the damage  of a vehicle bomb.

But even the most modern embassies cannot withstand all types of threats,  including those posed by long periods of mob violence. On Sept. 14, 2012, a large mob  overwhelmed the outer security perimeter of the U.S. Embassy in  Tunis — a newer facility with a robust security design — causing  millions of dollars of damage. Tunisian authorities responded quickly enough to  prevent the mob from entering the main embassy building, but with sufficient  time the  mob could have breached the facility.

Such was the case at the newly built and occupied U.S. Embassy in Tripoli,  Libya, in May 2011. After U.S. diplomats were ordered to leave the country, the  local security force was unable to prevent a large  mob, which constituted security forces and Moammar Gadhafi supporters, from  ransacking, looting and burning the facility. The attack rendered the building  uninhabitable.

Embassy security measures are also not designed to prevent prolonged  assaults by militant groups armed with heavy weapons. Security measures can  only provide a delay against a persistent attack by a mob or militant  organization. They cannot withstand an indefinite assault. Without extraordinary  security like that of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in the 1980s and 1990s, embassy  security only works when the facility enjoys the support and protection of the  host country as mandated by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

The Attackers’ Weakness

Sanli’s method of attack played right into the strength of the embassy’s  security measures. Perhaps he and his colleagues in the Revolutionary People’s  Liberation Party-Front believed Sanli could threaten or shoot his way through  the embassy’s concentric rings of physical security. If so, they underestimated  the physical security measures in place and the dedication and bravery of the  local guard force.

Notably, attack planning is not a strength of the Revolutionary People’s  Liberation Party-Front. Over the past decade, the group has conducted several  attacks, including five suicide bombings, but their attacks have been famously  poorly planned and executed. Often they fail to kill anyone but the suicide  bomber. They also have had problems with the reliability of their improvised  explosive devices, such as the suicide vest that failed to detonate during  the suicide  bombing attack against the Turkish justice minister in April 2009.

The Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front’s Sept. 11, 2012, suicide  bombing against a police station in Istanbul killed the bomber and one police  officer. In that attack, the bomber threw a grenade at the security checkpoint  at the building’s entrance, but when the grenade failed to detonate he was  unable to get past security at the building’s entrance. Only then, in a move  similar to the Feb. 1 attack, did he detonate his device.

Following Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Devrimci Sol, the Revolutionary  People’s Liberation Party-Front’s parent organization, conducted a spate of  attacks in Turkey that targeted the United States and NATO. Because of the  timing, U.S. terrorism investigators believed that Saddam Hussein’s government  sponsored these attacks. Currently, some leaders of the Revolutionary People’s  Liberation Party-Front’s factions live in Syria and maintain close connections  with the al Assad regime. Some of the group’s militants have fought with the  regime forces, and the group has published statements supporting the al Assad  regime. They have also fomented pro-al Assad and anti-intervention  demonstrations inside Turkey. This pro-Syrian sentiment, or perhaps even  financial enticement from the Syrian government itself, could explain the motive  for the attack against the U.S. Embassy. Therefore, it is possible that there  could be other anti-U.S. or anti-NATO attacks like those seen in 1991.

The Feb. 1 bombing serves as a timely reminder of several facts that tend to  be overlooked. It reminds us of the underlying terrorist threat in Turkey. It  also reminds us that not all suicide bombers are jihadists, let alone religious.  Indeed, there is a long history  of secular groups engaging in suicide terrorism. Last, it reminds us that  not all threats emanate from al Qaeda and the constellation of groups and  individual actors gathered around its ideological banner.

Perhaps most important, the incident highlights the heroism and dedication of  the local guards who serve at U.S. embassies around the world. In the Feb. 1  attack, the embassy’s security equipment functioned as designed, and the guards  performed as they were trained, undoubtedly saving many lives. These local  guards are often criticized when they make a mistake, but they are too  frequently overlooked when security works.

Read more:  When Security Measures Work | Stratfor

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The Unspectacular, Unsophisticated Algerian Hostage Crisis – Stratfor

The  Unspectacular, Unsophisticated Algerian Hostage Crisis is republished with  permission of Stratfor.”

Read more:  The Unspectacular, Unsophisticated Algerian Hostage Crisis | Stratfor

By Scott Stewart Vice  President of Analysis, Stratfor

The recent jihadist attack on the Tigantourine natural gas facility near In  Amenas, Algeria, and the subsequent hostage situation there have prompted some  knee-jerk discussions among media punditry. From these discussions came the  belief that the incident was spectacular, sophisticated and above all  unprecedented. A closer examination shows quite the opposite.

Indeed, very little of the incident was without precedent. Mokhtar  Belmokhtar, who orchestrated the attack, has employed similar tactics and a  similar scale of force before, and frequently he has deployed forces far from  his group’s core territory in northern Mali. Large-scale raids, often meant to  take hostages, have been conducted across far expanses of the Sahel. What was  unprecedented was the target. Energy and extraction sites have been attacked in  the past, but never before was an Algerian natural gas facility selected for  such an assault.

A closer look at the operation also reveals Belmokhtar’s true intentions. The  objective of the attack was not to kill hostages but to kidnap foreign workers  for ransom — an objective in keeping with many of Belmokhtar’s previous forays.  But in the end, his operation was a failure. His group killed several hostages  but did not destroy the facility or successfully transport hostages away from  the site. He lost several men and weapons, and just as important, he appears to  have also lost the millions of dollars he could have gained through ransoming  his captives.

Offering Perspective

Until recently, Belmokhtar  and his group, the Mulathameen Brigade, or the “Masked Ones,” which donned  the name “Those Who Sign in Blood” for the Tigantourine operation, were  associated with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Prior to their association with  al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, they were a part of Algeria’s Salafist Group  for Preaching and Combat, which operated in the Sahel. As part of these groups,  Belmokhtar led many kidnapping raids and other operations throughout the region,  and these past examples offer perspective for examining the Tigantourine  operation and for attempting to forecast the groups’ future activities.

In April 2003, Belmokhtar was one of the leaders of the Salafist Group for  Preaching and Combat operation that took 32 European tourists hostage in the  Hoggar Mountains near Illizi, Algeria, which is roughly 257 kilometers (160  miles) southwest of the Tigantourine facility. Seventeen hostages were freed  after an Algerian military raid, and the rest were released in August 2003 —  save for one woman, who died of sunstroke.

 

Prior to 2006, when the  Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat essentially became al Qaeda in the  Islamic Maghreb, kidnappings and attempted kidnappings occurred roughly once  a year. But after 2006, the operational tempo of kidnappings  in the Sahel quickened, with about three to five operations conducted per  year. According to U.S. Treasury Department Undersecretary for Terrorism and  Financial Intelligence David Cohen, al Qaeda earned approximately $120 million  in ransoms from 2004 to 2012. Cohen added that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb  had become the most proficient kidnapping unit of all al Qaeda’s franchise  groups.

Examples of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s proficiency abound. In  September 2010, the group took seven hostages from a uranium mine in Arlit,  Niger, and kidnapped four European tourists in Mali in January 2009. More  recently, it kidnapped three aid workers in Tindouf, Algeria, in October  2011.

Typically the group prefers to kidnap more than one person. Having multiple  hostages allows the captors to kill one or more of them to ratchet up pressure  for the ransom of the others. Guarding multiple hostages requires more  resources, but Belmokhtar has plenty of human resources, and the additional  ransom makes guarding them worth the extra effort.

Holding multiple hostages also enables the kidnappers to make political  statements — often connected to outrageous demands. In the Tigantourine attack,  much attention was paid to the militants’ demands to the U.S. government to  release Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, also known as “The  Blind Sheikh,” and Aafia  Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist convicted of terrorism  charges. But again, such demands are not unprecedented. Edwin Dyer, one of the  four European tourists kidnapped in January 2009, was beheaded in June 2009  after the British government refused al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s demand to  release imprisoned jihadist cleric Abu Qatada. The group again demanded the  release of Abu Qatada in April 2012 in exchange for British-South African  citizen Stephen Malcolm, who was kidnapped in Timbuktu, Mali, in November 2011.  Certainly the militants had no realistic expectation that the British would meet  their demands; the demands and Dyer’s subsequent execution were meant as  political statements, not realistic objectives.

Botched Missions

Tactically, how the Tigantourine attack transpired remains unclear. What we  do know is that the amount of militants used in the attack is not unprecedented.  While serving as a unit leader for the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat  in 2005, Belmokhtar led a group of 150 militants in a raid on a military outpost  in Lemgheiti, Mauritania, that left 15 Mauritanian soldiers dead and another 17  wounded.

According to a Jan. 21 statement made by Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek  Sellal on Jan. 21, it appears that Belmokhtar’s Tigantourine operation was  a two-pronged attack. One team appears to have been tasked with intercepting a  bus taking Western employees from the facility to the airport. Militants  reportedly used vehicles marked as oil company security or as belonging to the  Algerian government. Sellal noted that the objective of the operation was to  take a group of the hostages out of the country, presumably transporting them to  northern Mali’s Kidal region, where in recent years al Qaeda in the Islamic  Maghreb has held its foreign hostages.

Notably, the Tigantourine facility is located only about 32 kilometers from  the Libyan border. The attackers probably took advantage of the chaos in Libya  to gather weapons and prepare for the attack and then came across the border  from Libya to conduct the attack. They could have covered very quickly the  distance from the Libyan border to the facility, and this likely provided them  an element of tactical surprise.

The second prong of the attack was directed against the facility itself.  Heavily armed attackers surprised the security forces at the facility and  subdued them by concentrating their forces and using overwhelming firepower.  Algerian forces recovered from the assailants a recoilless rifle,  rocket-propelled grenade launchers and several medium and light machine guns. We  are currently unsure if this group was tasked with taking additional hostages at  the facility and fleeing with them, staging a  drawn-out hostage drama, as in Beslan, or sabotaging the facility and  fleeing. Such an operation may have meant to divert attention from the group of  militants that was transporting hostages out of the country. Having a group of  hostages in custody outside Algeria could have helped them extract the second  team from the facility.

In any case, the first unit apparently failed to achieve its objective, and  it does not appear that the militants were able to take hostages from the bus  and quickly transport them out of the country. (Currently, not all of the  hostages are accounted for, but they are most likely among the unidentified  dead. It will take time for forensics teams to identify them.) Moreover, on the  second day helicopter gunships thwarted the escape efforts of some militants,  who had used foreign hostages as human shields.

Some reports indicate that the attackers set explosive charges around the  plant and attempted to destroy it Jan. 19, an action that apparently triggered  the final assault to neutralize the militants at the facility. We have not seen  photos of any demolition charges or any other indication that the attackers  employed any sort of sophisticated improvised explosive devices in the  operation. If the attackers went to the trouble to bring large quantities of  explosives with them on the raid, they likely did so intending to use the  explosives to damage the plant or to facilitate a drawn-out hostage drama — or  both. The militants wouldn’t need large quantities of explosives to seize  hostages, and they would not have spent the money to buy them or the effort to  transport them unless they are critical to their mission.

But tactically, both missions — stopping a vehicle to kidnap foreigners and  storming a facility — are within the demonstrated capabilities of Sahel-based  jihadist militants. In addition to numerous vehicular ambushes al Qaeda in the  Islamic Maghreb has conducted to steal cargo or grab hostages, it has also  raided hotels, homes and clinics to seize hostages. Perhaps the attack most  similar to Tigantourine was the September 2010 raid on the Areva uranium mining  facility near Arlit, Niger. The facility was more than 320 kilometers from the  Malian border and more than 160 kilometers from the border with Algeria. The  militants demonstrated their ability to operate hundreds of kilometers from  their bases in northern Mali, successfully storm a facility and return to  northern Mali with Western hostages. These militant groups have also staged  large-scale raids on military bases across the Sahel.

Several indicators suggest the Tigantourine operation was intended to seize  hostages, not kill hostages. According to a June 2007 classified cable released  by Wikileaks, the U.S. Embassy in Algiers said that Belmokhtar had criticized al  Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s suicide operations that mean to kill civilians.  Moreover, the attackers did not immediately begin to shoot foreigners as they  did during the November 2008 Mumbai  attack and the June  2004 attack against foreign energy workers in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia. They  failed to hold these hostages for any period of time, and by all accounts they  failed to take Western hostages back to northern Mali. This amounts to a  significant loss for Belmokhtar.

Avoiding Complacency at Energy Sites

Despite a long history of militant activity in Algeria, energy facilities had  largely escaped unscathed — until last week. When al Qaeda in the Islamic  Maghreb began to conduct  large vehicle bombings in Algiers and roadside bombing attacks against buses  carrying foreign energy workers in or near the capital, energy companies  countered the threat by flying workers directly into airports near energy  facilities like the one in In Amenas.

This lack of attacks led to some complacency on the part of Algerian  officials and security forces at Tigantourine. But in the wake of the recent  attack, security at such facilities will be increased, and any sense of  complacency will disappear — at least for a while. And because militants prefer  to hit softer targets, we are unlikely to see follow-on attacks at similar  facilities in the region in the immediate future. It may also take Belmokhtar  some time to replace the leaders and materiel unexpectedly lost in the  attack.

However, with targets in the region becoming scarcer and harder to attack,  these groups will likely continue to extend their range of operations for new  kidnapping victims. Doing so would not only replace the resources they lost in  the attack but would also circumvent the French and African military offensive  in Mali, where their traditional smuggling activities will be disrupted.

Another lingering concern is the presence of large  quantities of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles in the region. If  Belmokhtar or other militants decide to attack Westerners working at energy  facilities in the region instead of merely kidnapping them, and if increased  security prevents them from other direct assaults, like Tigantourine, these  militants could attack aircraft used to ferry Westerners to airports near these  remote sites.

As Mali becomes a more difficult environment in which to operate, these  groups likely will retreat, at least initially, to Mali’s  Kidal region and possibly Niger’s Air region. Once those areas face the  French-backed African intervention forces, a retreat farther back into southern  Libya is likely, due to the vacuum of authority there and the close links they  have with Libyan militants.

Contrary to what has been widely discussed, the Tigantourine attack fit well  within the range and capability of Sahel-based jihadist militants like those of  Belmokhtar’s group. Thus the attack was more of a reminder of the region’s  chronic problems and less a startling new threat. Militancy and banditry were  fixtures in the Sahel well before the jihadist ideology entered the region. This  history — combined with the vacuum of authority in the region brought on by the  Malian coup and the overthrow  of Gadhafi, the prospect of millions of dollars in ransom and the large  quantities of available weapons — means we will see more kidnappings and other  attacks in the years to come.

Editor’s Note: A comprehensive assessment on al Qaeda in  the Islamic Maghreb can be found here.

Read more:  The Unspectacular, Unsophisticated Algerian Hostage Crisis | 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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