Acts of Terrorism – what have we learned?
By Uli Gebhard, Suarez International Staff Instructor Los Angeles, CA
It’s just a couple of days to the ten-year anniversary of the Terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Ten years of time to learn, review our defenses and improve them. When I say “we”, I am not referring to the United States and its intelligence apparatus and the collective law enforcement.
What I refer to is what the individual person can do to prevent or stop a terrorist attack. Richard Reid was stopped and subdued by other passengers on his plane. United Flight 93 crashed in an open field when passengers of this flight fought back against the terrorists and prevented this airliner from hitting a fourth target packed with innocent civilians.
Now, ten years later the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks has finally been brought to justice and it seems that we are back at a point where people seem to be more likely to throw their arms up in surrender than to fight. Unfortunately, Al-Qaida is not completely destroyed and the US has an abundance of soft targets:
Soft Targets in the USA
The Virginia Tech massacre showed us painfully how easy it was for one deranged scumbag to kill a large number of victims, even with the police already on campus. He lined them up in a “weapon-free” environment and executed them one by one. These students had never learned to fight back. They were too overwhelmed by the violence of the attacker. They had been told all of their life to depend on police handling the bad guys. They had never developed the mindset to take the initiative and try to take the shooter down.
Five years ago, I went back to school for a couple of semesters. California is for the most part already a restrictive state, but the Campus was a non-permissive environment just like Virginia Tech.
Back then Columbine had already happened and my first actions were to take a look at the classroom, the building and the surrounding area to determine my options in case someone would try something like this here. The steel classroom door was a good start. A nook next to the door offered concealment to ambush anyone trying to force his way in from behind with a blade. Far from ideal, but the best I would have been able muster under the circumstances. However, I wonder how many of the other students had any form of plan what to do in case things went south. I had at least ten years on the majority of them plus five years of carrying a concealed weapon. Developing defensive plans had already become second nature.
Terrorists are cowards. They go after soft targets where they can kill a high number of innocents while encountering little to no resistance. In case of Jihadists, they will most likely embark on this mission with the intent to die in the process. The School Siege at Beslan showed horrifically that Jihadists have no qualms about murdering children. John Gidduck shows in his book “Terror at Beslan” that this was not the work of only Chechen terrorists, but that they had support from Al-Qaida Arabs. They attacked this school knowing that on this day, they would be able to take a maximum number of hostages. Beslan being far from Moscow, they also knew that it would take a long time for the authorities to bring a counter-terrorist team in position.
Mumbai is another example of the cowardice and cruel efficiency of a small group of terrorists who carried their mission out with low-key equipment. This attack was nowhere near as complex as the 9/11 airliner hijackings or Beslan, yet it kept an entire city off-balance for several days. Again, India is a country that does not readily allow its citizens to own let alone carry weapons. Municipal police in India is neither equipped nor trained to deal with this level of violence. The terrorists could be sure that they would encounter little to no resistance.
With Osama bin Laden and several of his high-level aides dead the chances of another complex attack like 9/11 are reduced. However, individual jihadists such as the Fort Hood’s Nidal Hasan are very unlikely to show up on the radar of our intelligence agencies. Consequently, it is very unlikely that law enforcement will be able take action against individuals or small groups before an attack happens.
If it comes to this, people on-site will have to deal with the situation as it unravels.
What have we learned about things we can do to deal with an active shooter/small-scale act of terrorism?
Educate yourself about terrorism: Know the ways of your adversary. Read “Terror at Beslan” or “through our enemies' eyes” and get a feeling for the mindset behind these attacks.
Be vigilant and observant: Once you have an understanding of what our enemy is after, you will see your surroundings differently and see certain areas in your city no longer as a nice place to go to, but also as a potential soft target for an attack. If you have to go to such a place be alert and evaluate your options.
Be prepared: Preparedness by itself is a topic that could fill several articles. I want to abbreviate it to core issues: Be mentally and physically prepared to fight back. Be prepared to help the victims.
Jeanne Assam stopped the active shooter at the New Life Church in Colorado,
Kenneth Hammond cornered the Trolley Square Mall shooter. Both individuals decisively put their lives on the line to stop the attackers on their killing spree. Both were armed with handguns and knew how to use them efficiently. Both happened to be on-site long before law-enforcement could arrive at the scene.
In contrast, CCW-Holder Brandon McKown tried to stop the Tacoma Mall shooter, but instead of firing and stopping the shooter he tried to verbally engage him. This action directed the shooters’ attention to him. He did not get any shots off, but was shot five times by the attacker and is now paralyzed as result of a spinal injury.
Be mentally prepared to apply lethal force regardless of appearance and age of the shooter. McKown held his fire because he perceived the shooter as “a kid”.
Learn how to fight with a handgun that you can keep on your person. If you live in a restrictive area such as many places are in California, learn to fight with the weapons that are not restricted such as knives.
Most likely , this is what I will have available here in California: Knives, tactical flashlight and tactical pen. Center in the back: Emergency bandage primed with hemostatic agent - a minimalist approach to trauma care.
At the New Life Church and at the Trolley Mall, several people were injured by the shooter. There is a good selection of tactical trauma care courses available. Consider them as part of your individual disaster preparedness.
There is also a good selection of pocket-size trauma kits available today. Get at least two of them, use one to get familiar with the contents and how to use them and take the other one with you wherever you go. After all, it may not be a stranger after and active shooter incident but one of your loved ones after a car accident that could need you trauma care skills.
Talking with co-workers about some of these events they dismissed the probability of being involved in an active shooter event as “highly unlikely”. I bet many of the people at the New Life Church would have answered in a similar way. They were lucky enough to have a person on-site who was equipped and willing to stop the gunman.
Do not rely on others to come to your aid in case you get caught up in a horrific incident like this. Instead be the one who is prepared, willing and has the capabilities to end it.
Active shooters and individual jihad can only be stopped by individual preparedness.