Another Terrorist Ambush in France

Paris to Calais Map

The sentinels of Paris has no idea that a terrorist lay in wait ready to spring his ambush. Clearly he had done his homework, casing the target and noting their movements. Now he waited for the perscribed time when the unsuspecting soldiers would depart the barracks to begin their patrol to keep Paris safe.

Yesterday, on August 9, 2017, a group of six French soldiers departing their barracks at Place de Verdun in the suburb of Levallois-Perret in Paris were ambushed. A terrorist launched his weapon accelerating the BMW he was driving and rammed into the unsuspected soldiers. The soldiers were from the 35th Infantry Regiment who were part of Operation Sentinel, set up to protect critical sites around Paris after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015.

After striking and injuring the soldiers, Hamou Benlatreche, an Algerian national sought to escape capture. But he didn’t go to ground or hideout in a safehouse.  Where might he be seeking refugge? Where was he heading? It is too soon to know for certain but it appears he was attempting to flee not only Paris but France. A police trainee in his vehicle saw a black BMW with extensive damage to the windshield, hood and front end speeding north on the A15 highway. The police trainee took  down the license plate and mentioned it when he went into the police station. Soon the damaged vehicle was spotted on the A16 highway heading north. French police were able to stop the vehicle and ended up shooting Hamou Benlatreche five times before he was captured.

One can only surmise that Benlatreche was attempting to reach Calais where he could have boarded a ferry to Dover. The 21 mile journey across the English Channel would put him out of France. This seems to be the only reason one would take have taken the A16 highway heading north.

While many of the more recent attacks in Paris have targeted soldiers and police officers they have been guarding critical and tourist sites. We have seen terrorists attack locations like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral, and even on the Champs Elysees. By attacking soldiers, police and tourist sites this impacts tourism which has a cascading impact on the French economy. In 2016,  1.5 million less tourists visited Paris than in 2015 taking a huge bite out of the economy.

On August 5, 2017, a 19 year old French citizen who was recently released from a psychiatric hospital brandished a knife at police officers while trying to enter the secure zone of the Eiffel Tower. Tha man was inspired by the Islamic State and shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great).

On June 6, 2017, Ikken Farid attacked a Paris police officer with a hammer in the square of Notre Dame Cathedral.  Another police officer shot Farid who was transported to a hospital. During the attack Farid shouted, “This is for Syria.” The gothic cathedral on the River Seine attracts over 13 million visitors each year.

On April 21, 2017, Abu Yuffel al-Belgiki opened fire on police officers in their vehicle on the Champs Elysees Aveune. Abu Yuffel killed Officer Xavier Jugele and injured two other police officers. The terrorist got out of his vehicle on the Champs Elysees and opened fire on police with an automatic weapon. Abu Yuffel  then attempted to flee on foot but was killed. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. Officer Jugele had been one of the first responders at the Bataclan terrorist attack in November 2015.

Terrorist have been relentless in attacking targets in France. On July 14,  2016,  Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, a Tunisian, rented a truck which he drove into the crowds on the Promenades des Anglais in Nice as people celebrated Bastille Day. Lahouaiej-Bouhlel plowed into people after a firework show and killed 86 and injuring over 300 people.

In the Islamic State’s 3rd issue of Rumiyah, there is an article entitled “Just Terror Tactics” that gives advice for individuals in selecting the “ideal vehicle” to use in a terrorist ramming attack. The article mentioned this tactic was “superbly demonstrated in the attack launched by the brother Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel who, while traveling at the speed of approximately 90 kilometers per hour, plowed his 19-ton load-bearing truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France. . . .”

On January 7, 2016, a man wearing fake explosives attacked police officers at a Paris Police Station with a meat cleaver shouting “Allahu Akbar.” Police officers killed the suspect.

While we think often of just the terrorists who have conducted these attacks in France, there are those who have inspired, directed, manipulated, motivated, financed provided aid, assistance and logitcal support. Without these others these attacks would not be able to be executed. Hamou Benlatreche may have run over six French soldiers in Paris but others have played a role in this attack and governments must work to remove not only the support network, the inspirational network, and the ideological network that all play a role in these types of attacks. If we don’t then we will continue to have individuals carrying out attacks in the city of lights.

 

Terrorist Martyrdom Operations: Paris, Wurzburg, New York

Any trip to Paris would be incomplete without stops at the Louvre Museum and the Eiffel Tower. The Louvre is the largest art museum in the world housing art from Rembrandt, Raphael, Goya, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Donatello and other great artists. Abdullah Reda Refaei al-Hamamy spent time at both Paris tourist attractions scouting his targets. He would also take selfies marking his targets on social media.

On January 26, 2017, Abdullah Reda Refaei al-Hamamy boarded a flight from Dubai with a tourist visa and headed for Paris. Upon his arrival he rented an upscale apartment in the 8th Arrondissement paying €1700 for a one-week stay. Two days later he entered a gun shop and purchased two machetes. Below is a picture of the upscale apartment building where Al-Hamamy rented an apartment.

paris-apartment

Located on the Right Bank of the Seine River, the Louvre Museum in 2016 saw a decrease to just over 7 million visitors. As one of the most visited sites in Paris, tourists, school groups and others line up for entry and to pass through security. After the 2015 terrorist attacks at Charlie Hebdo, the Bataclan Concert hall, the Stadium of France and restaurants, about 3500 French soldiers have patrolled tourist sites and other potential targets. One might think that deploying soldiers to potential terrorist targets in Paris might be a deterrent.

However, just before 10:00 a.m. on February 3, 2017, Al-Hamamy bypassed the main entrances to the Louvre Museum. He did not wait in the long lines of people seeking admission and waiting to pass through the security checkpoints. Instead he attempted to gain entry through the Carrousel du Louvre Shopping Mall entryway. Individuals using this entryway have the option of going to the shops and restaurants or to the one almost secret entrance to the museum. When using this entry to the museum one needs to already have purchased a ticket and have no large bags or large items with them.   Below is a picture of the Le Carrousel du Louvre “secret  entrance.”

le-carrousel-du-louvre-entranceway

French soldiers told Al-Hamamy that he couldn’t enter the museum with his two backpacks. Four armed French soldiers were not a deterrent to conducting an attack. For at the end of these types of attacks the terrorist is hoping that he will become a martyr.Armed with a machete in each hand he began attacking the soldiers yelling Allahu Akbar.” This not a phrase one wants to hear being yelled on a bus or at a potential terrorist target site. Al-Hamamy struck one of the soldiers with a machete causing an injury before being shot multiple times. Al-Hamamy survived his attack but like the other attackers in New York and on the German train these individuals were all seeking martyrdom. These attackers all sought to self-sacrificing themselves seeking what they believe would lead them to paradise. Below is the article Just Terror Tactics in ISIS’s Rumiyah magazine.

isis-rumiyah-magazine

Just before Al-Hamamy conducted this attack he tweeted the following “for our brothers in Syria and fighters across the world. No negotiations, no compromise, no retreat, relentless war.” The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) propaganda arm Al-Hayat Media Center in the second edition of Rumiyah magazine called for individuals to attack infidels. In an article entitled, Just Terror Tactics ISIS stated:

“One need not be a military expert or a martial arts master, or even own a gun or rifle in order to carry out a massacre or to kill and injure several disbelievers and terrorize an entire nation.”

If one has no firearms one can easily acquire a knife, an ax or a machete. There are no barriers to acquire a weapon to attack the enemies of ISIS. One doesn’t even need training or to be an expert to carry out these attacks. One doesn’t need expensive weapons or bomb making experience is what ISIS is publishing to it’s followers and potential attackers.

ISIS continues to recruit individuals who can launch low-tech attacks. ISIS is using a two-prong strategy of having trained and untrained individuals launch attacks. By radicalizing individuals online and using encrypted apps, ISIS makes it more difficult to identify and stop potential terrorists. ISIS doesn’t need attackers to travel to obtain terrorist or weapons training. Traveling to Syria or Libya or somewhere else makes it easier for intelligence services to identify potential terrorists. ISIS recognizes this and tells individuals not to travel to Syria. By combining a strategy of using trained terrorists with firearms and suicide bomber vests along with untrained individuals armed only with a knife, ax, machete or truck ISIS is making it hard to detect these plots.

german-train-attacker-ahmadzai

One of the last things Riaz Khan Ahmadzai communicated before he executed his terror attack  was “Pray for me to be a martyr, I am waiting for the train.” On July 18, 2016, Riaz Khan Ahmadzai boarded a regional German train traveling from Treuchtlingen to Wurzburg, Bavaria. As the train pulled into the Wurzburg station Ahmadzai attacked passengers onboard with an ax and a knife. After injuring four people on the train he fled. He attacked another individual before being cornered by police. Ahmadzai refused to surrender and attacked the police with his ax and was shot and killed.

Ahmadzai, a 17-year old arrived via Austria in 2015 as an unaccompanied minor refugee seeking asylum. He arrived in Germany claiming to a refugee from Afghanistan. He was placed in a refugee center in Ochsenfurt where he lived until being placed in a foster home. Ahmadzai communicated with an ISIS handler who asked him:

What weapons do you intend to use?                        “Knives and ax.”
Would not it be better to do it with a car?                 “I can’t drive.”
You should learn.                                                                “Learning cost time.”
The damage would also be significantly greater.   “I want to come to paradise tonight.”

Just before the attack he sent a video clip to his ISIS handler in which he stated “I am a soldier of the caliphate and will be doing a martyrdom operation here in Germany.” Ahmadzai also wrote a letter in Pashtun to his father and said, Now pray for me that I can take revenge on these nonbelievers, and pray for me, that I make my way into heaven.”

Within weeks of Ahmadzai being moved from a refugee center to a foster home he was able to execute this attack. In the video released by ISIS Ahmadzai bragged about living among you and that he “planned against you in your land.” He stated My message to the Islamic nation-wake up, the Islamic Caliph is established. Support the Muslim Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.” There can be no doubt as to his motivation for conducting this attack. We can expect ISIS to continue to inspire its followers to conduct attacks like these.

attacking-4-nyps

Who would attack four armed police officers? On October 23, 2014, four police officers were standing together on Jamaica Ave in Queens, New York. A photographer asked if he might take a picture of the four officers together. As the photographer took the picture Zale Thompson moved into position with his ax. Thompson attacked the four New York Police officers with an 18-inch ax. A convert to Islam, Thompson had taken the kunya-Zaim Farouq Abdul Malik. The 32-year old man from Queens had served in the Navy but had been discharged in 2003 for misconduct. He had explored various radical sites online and was clearly seeking martyrdom. Posted under his kunya Zaim Farouq Abdul Malik stated, “Which is better, to sit around and do nothing, or to wage jihad.”

Why else would one attack four armed police officers with an ax? Two officers were injured in the attack before the assailant was killed. While these attacks make no sense, the statements of these terrorists show their intentions. One of Thompson’s statements shows his mindset and how he wanted to launch an attack.

“Helicopters, big military will be useless on their own soil. They will not be able to defeat our people if we use guerrilla warfare. Attack their weak flanks.”

We will continue to see ISIS identify individuals that can be manipulated and motivated to undertake terrorist attacks using low-tech weapons like knives, axes, machetes, and trucks. The benefits for ISIS are that these “inspired” terrorists are hard to identify, detect and stop. Little to no investment is required by terrorist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda since the “inspired terrorist” provides their own weapons. These terrorist group don’t have to arrange for travel, logistics, security, safe houses finances or training to execute these attacks.  Terrorist groups like ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula will continue to call for these attacks as well as focus attention on jihadists who have undertaken these types of attacks.By doing this they may be able to inspire others to undertake and execute attacks.This death by a thousand cuts strategy keeps these terror attacks in the media, terrorizes people and makes the law enforcement and intelligence community expend resources trying to identify and prevent them from happening. Thus, enabling terrorist groups to spend their time and resources on “planned attacks.”

Containers of the Brussels Suicide Bombers

Right after the September 11th attacks, I was part of a team that conducted some terrorism training for all personnel at Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts. The Terrorism Research Center’s (TRC) Aviation Security team would later conduct our Global Threats to Aviation at a number of airports across the United States. Participants in the training were taught to understand that the while airports have secured areas terrorist attacks could be launched or conducted in the pre-secured areas as well as teaching how terrorists have attack the aviation segment of transportation.

I always think back to the first flight I made out of BWI Airport after September 11th. On that day, BWI Airport had heavy security at all the security checkpoints manned by private security, law enforcement and even National Guard troops. But what bothered me as I lined up with hundreds of travelers backed up awaiting our turn to show our identification and have our carry-on bags checked was that in this area security was almost nonexistent. I say nonexistent hoping that there were some undercover officers screening travelers but as I looked around there were none. Every once and a while an unarmed private security officer would make the rounds telling everyone to move forward in the long line. Law enforcement officers and security personnel need to screen people arriving, parking, and being dropped off in taxis and other forms of transportation at the airports. But this effort requires additional personnel and airports are all about profits and keeping the flying customers happy.

One of the lessons TRC imparts in our training is that terrorists used different types of containers and deception to lull security into a false sense of security. Over 2500 years ago Sun Tzu wrote in the Art of War that “all war is deception.” The terrorists who attacked the Brussels airport and the Maelbeek Metro Station used deception. After being dropped off at the airport by a taxi cab the terrorist got three luggage push carts. Ibrahim El Bakraoui and Najim Laachraoui loaded their heavy luggage (bombs) on the cart looking like any other traveler. Using deception was a key part of their plan. The only abnormal thing was that the two suicide bombers had a black glove on their left hands. We have seen suicide bombers disguise their bombs in numerous types of containers. Luggage, backpacks, cassette radios, shoe bomb, underwear bomb, camera bomb, printer bomb, sports drink bomb (Liquid Explosives) bicycle bombs, watermelon bomb, car bombs, truck bombs, and even a birdcage bomb are all examples of how terrorists have used deception. The global threat to aviation continues and ISIS now reminds us once again that deception is a key element in launching these attacks. Luggage is just one of many “containers” that suicide bombers can use to execute a suicide bombing.

Hidden in Plain Sight: Salah Abdesalam’s 120 Days on the Lam

Les Beguines Bar in Molenbeek

Europe’s most wanted terrorist Salah Abdesalam was finally captured after 120 days of eluding police. On November 13th, Salah Abdesalam didn’t detonate his suicide vest as part of the Paris attacks. Instead of going through with his part of the attack he called friends seeking someone to drive the 180 miles to Paris. The first friend he called stated that he didn’t want to put the miles on his leased vehicle. Salah next called Mohamed Amri and Hamza Attou, two friends who drove from Brussels to Paris to spirit him back to the old neighborhood. It should come as no surprise that Abdesalam went to ground in the area he grew up in-the Molenbeek District of Brussels. Many of the Paris attackers had ties to the Molenbeek District. The Molenbeek area can best be described as a working class Muslim neighborhood where jihadi recruiters have been able to manipulate and motivate individuals. Many people say that unemployment and poverty are the reasons that segments of the Molenbeek District are marginalized. However, the Abdesalam brothers were business owners not unemployed or in poverty.

Ibrahim and Salah Abdesalam owned the Les Begoines Pub on Rue des Beguines. In August 2015, police raided the pub due to complaints about drug usage. A notice was sent after the raid to the bar for the owners to contest why the bar should not be closed. Neither Ibrahim or Salah Abdesalam attended the hearing. Instead on September 30, 2015, they sold the bar six weeks before the Paris attacks. It doesn’t appear that the two brothers were pious Muslims, owning a bar and allegedly selling drugs from this establishment.

How could Europe’s most wanted terrorist hide out in the neighborhood he was from and worked in remains a question that investigators will be seeking to answer during their interrogation with Salah Abdesalam. With the intensive manhunt by police in Brussels, Salah Abdelsalam’s picture and wanted info was being circulated on social media and on the news. Yet, Abdelsalam it seems was able to survive and elude police looking for him right in his own neighborhood. It should have been hard for someone to move without being noticed. But yet he was able to elude police hiding right under their nose in his neighborhood. As with so many of these cases there is always individuals providing some level of shelter and support.

In the Terrorism Research Center’s “Terrorism 360: Hidden in Plain Sight” training program we show how numerous terrorists over the years have been able to evade police and the intelligence dragnets set up to locate and capture them. Many of them hide in locations they are quite familiar with and have a level of support. Depending on the level of support provided we have seen terrorists like Eric Robert Rudolph evade capture for more than five years.

Eric Rudolph after conducting four domestic bombings in the United States was able to evade capture from July 27, 1996 to May 31, 2003. Rudolph was captured by Jeff Postell, an alert police officer in Murphy, North Carolina. Murphy was a location that Eric Rudolph knew quite well and had support within the community. Segments of the Murphy community at times seemed to be working against the law enforcement community looking for Rudolph. Some stores in that area sold t-shirts that said “Run Eric Run.” Terrorists can not survive nor hide in plain sight without logistical support, shelter and people willing to finance them while they are on the lam. For law enforcement to capture terrorists and criminals they require information from the communities they serve. Neighborhoods like Molenbeek require police to be proactive and working with the communities they serve. Enlisting the aid of the community is the quickest way to capture someone hiding in plain sight. But in a neighborhood known to be where so many individuals have traveled to Syria to fight with ISIS this neighborhood will be a challenge for police to get residents to trust the police.

ISIS Launches Coordinated Attacks in Brussels Airport and Subway

Early reports from Brussels are that two coordinated attacks have taken place with the first being at the Brussels Airport Departure Terminal and the second within the Brussels Subway system. It is being reported that there have been attacks at two locations within the Brussels Airport and three subway stations have been attacked. As with all information right after an attack more accurate information will flow after detailed investigations.

With the arrest of Salah Abdesalam on Friday it appears that the ISIS terrorist network in Brussels has sped up its attacks that were in the pipeline. After the arrest of Abdelsalam it had been reported that he has been “cooperating” with law enforcement. Members of the ISIS Brussels terror network would have been worried about what information Abdelsalam might be providing and thus would have sped up any operations that had been planned.

It took Brussels law enforcement authorities 120 days to finally capture Europe’s most wanted terrorist who escaped from Paris and returned to his hometown of Brussels. With the raid that captured Abdelsalam it has been reported that police seized a large cache of weapons that had been gathered for another potential attack.

Transportation in Brussels from the airport, trains and the subway system have all been shut down. American Airlines at the Brussels airport is reporting that all its employees are accounted for with no reported injuries. Brussels is a hub for reaching across Europe and such all of Europe needs to be on high alert. The ease of movement in Europe and the number of individuals that have traveled to Syria and returned to Brussels gives great concern. European borders are too open. The network of ISIS linked fighters and large communities of disenfranchised Muslims from other countries will continue to cause problems. It is not that intelligence and law enforcement have not known of active plots and the large number of active fighters in Brussels. Unfortunately, this is not the last ISIS inspired attack we will see in Europe.

Last week in Baltimore, Maryland I gave a talk to a corporate security division on the “Anatomy of a Terrorist Attack.” These days terrorist are becoming more sophisticated being able to seize hostages, conduct firearms attacks and suicide bombings while executing all three types of attacks simultaneously. Having the skill sets to build TATP devices, use encrypted messaging apps and being able to move terrorists unhindered to the targets are just a few things that law enforcement and the intelligence community have to think about. The Terrorism Research Center since the Mumbai Attacks has been teaching that all law enforcement need to be prepared to deal with multiple location terrorist attacks using firearms and suicide bombing attacks. What we are seeing in Brussels today is just another example of terrorists doing just that-attacking heavily populated transportation areas that are soft targets.

Next Generation of Al-Qaeda Terrorists

Twenty-seven years after the founding of Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader is hoping that one of Osama Bin Laden’s sons can provide some luster to the floundering terrorist group. With Hamza Bin Laden featured on the latest audio tape from Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda is hoping that a Bin Laden can return interest in Al-Qaeda. For years Al-Qaeda was at the pinnacle of terrorists groups in the Middle East. But years of being run to ground, its leadership decimated by drone strikes and special forces operations have all but relegated Al-Qaeda to survival mode. These days Al-Qaeda has to compete for recruits, money and media with ISIS.

On the recent audio tape Hamza called for lone wolf attacks in London, Washington, Paris, and Tel Aviv. While ISIS attacks in Syria and Iraq have captured the attention of the world, Al-Qaeda wants to refocus attention to attacks in these world capitals. This theme echoes what Ayman al-Zawahiri said in his memoir Knights Under the Banner of the Prophet” when he stated “Therefore, we must move the battle to the enemy’s grounds to burn the hands of those who ignite fire in our countries.”

One can’t imagine that Hamza has a huge following of lone wolves waiting for his word to strike. But there is no telling what some lone wolf will read or state is the reason for launching an attack. This gives lone wolves the ability to link back to Al-Qaeda. Hamza Bin Laden was the only son of Khairiah Saber, Osama Bin Laden’s favorite wife. Like his brother Saad, Hamza was groomed to one day walk in his father’s shoes. But like Saad, Hamza and some of the other Bin Laden children were moved to Iran for their safety after September 11th. There they became restricted guests of the Iranians living under house arrest for years after the fall of the Taliban. While most thought that Saad Bin Laden was destined for leadership in Al-Qaeda he was killed in a drone strike in 2009.

This was not the first time that Hamza has been used in Al-Qaeda propaganda. As a small boy, Hamza appeared in Al-Qaeda videos with his father and other Al-Qaeda fighters. In 2005, at the age of fourteen, Hamza appeared in an Al-Qaeda video entitled “The Mujahideen of Waziristan.” Dressed in a camouflage coat, a headband and armed with an AK-47,  Hamza stated, “we will fight the kafir forever!” Hamza has been raised at the elbows of Al-Qaeda terrorists and has fought with the Taliban.

Hamza does not have a huge following in the jihadi world but his last name still carries weigh. The old grizzled lions of Al-Qaeda have become fewer and older with much of the leadership either killed or captured. While hordes of recruits are flocking to ISIS in Syria and Iraq due to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s violence and slick media that has never been the plan for Al-Qaeda.   Al-Qaeda has always positioned itself to be the facilitator and vanguard for jihad. But for the last ten years, Al-Qaeda has been more in survival mode than being the vanguard of the jihadist movement. And this void has been filled more by ISIS and their lighting quick strikes across Syria and Iraq. To defeat Al-Qaeda and groups like ISIS we must know and understand the ideology and concepts that motivate and drive these terrorists.

One thing is clear to Ayman al-Zawahiri. For Al-Qaeda to remain relevant they must link from the past to the future if they are to have legitimacy in the modern jihadi world. Ayman al-Zawahiri is hoping that Hamza Bin Laden is that link between the two worlds. By using the next generation in Al-Qaeda’s propaganda communications Zawahiri is positioning his terrorist group for the future.

We have seen terrorist groups bring in family members. When Abdurajik Abubakar Janjalani, the founder of the Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines was killed, the leadership named his younger brother Khadaffy Janjalani as their leader. Khadaffy Janjalani was not his brother. He hadn’t fought the Russians in Afghanistan and lacked Abdurajik’s religious background, leadership qualities and connections. But he did possess one thing-the Janjalani name -the link to the past.

Another father son succession can be seen with the Haqqani Network. Jalaluddin Haqqani started fighting the Russians under Yunis Khalis and later formed his own group. Today his son, Sirajuddin, who leads the Haqqani Network, is more violent than his father ever was.  In August 2012, when Badruddin Haqqani, Siraj’s brother was killed by a drone strike several other brothers and cousins stepped forward and assumed his duties including Yahya Haqqani, Abdul Azziz Haqqani and Ahmad Jan. The Haqqani Network is like a dynasty. The Haqqanis have always kept a hand on the levers of power often integrating fighters with elements of the Taliban but always under their own commanders.

Al-Qaeda has problems and is seeking to link to the next generation of terrorists. Just having the last name doesn’t guarantee success in the world of jihad. But Hamza is someone to watch since he has grown up inside Al-Qaeda and has the right pedigree. Zawahiri has watched Hamza since he was a small boy and clearly is positioning him for the future.