In the first part of this series we reviewed attacks on tourist destinations in West Africa and established the following common factors;
Strategic objective: to use mass casualty events to draw attention to their cause and influence the strategic outlook of the target country.
Target countries: Francophone countries with a foreign (i.e. French and/ or international) military presence, bordering or hosting conflict zones and ungoverned spaces with a recent history of political upheaval
Target locations: hotels and resorts frequented by foreigners and the local elite located in or near major (or capital) cities.
Target people: attackers have specifically targeted non Muslims and Europeans.
Attackers: the attackers are generally very young, trained, non local males, who use stealth, deception and disguise to approach and infiltrate their targets and attack with basic light infantry weapons, which are either smuggled in beforehand or brought in with the attackers. As yet there have been no suicide bombings as part of the attacks in West Africa.
Perpetrators: they have all been claimed by the AQIM Sahara Emirate (led by Yahya Abu al Hammam) or its offshoots such as Khatibat al Mourabitoun (led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar) or the Macina Liberation Front (led by Amadou Kouffa).
Media: the attackers have very quickly claimed responsibility and released professional media pieces on social media and to traditional media organisations.
We will now attempt to review the implications for Nigeria, a potential attack cycle and counter measures.
Implications for Nigeria
Attacks on tourist locations are within the intent and capability of terror or militant groups in the North and South. Whilst these attacks have been perpetrated by AQIM linked Islamist groups so far they are easy to replicate by any motivated actor.
The most likely perpetrators would be Niger Delta militants or neo Biafran agitators. Other possible groups could be Bakassi militants, criminal gangs or Islamist groups.
The likely objective would be to generate publicity, extract concessions from the State or Federal Government and/or ransom. Likely targets would be Westerners, middle and upper class Nigerians and government officials who would be concentrated in upscale hotels, shopping malls or tourist spots.
The area’s most likely to be targeted are Lagos (Victoria Island, Ikoyi, Lekki etc) or Port Harcourt (GRA), however Warri, Calabar or Yenegoa also contain the correct target groups.
The attackers would most likely use small arms and grenades or IEDs, to defeat site security and secure the site, however it is likely that the perpetrators (unless fanatics) would intend to survive the encounter, thus they are unlikely to use any more violence than is necessary to secure the target and obtain compliance. They are also more likely to grant concessions such as releasing women, children, sick, elderly or Nigerian locals particularly of the same tribe.
As survival will be an objective the attackers will have an escape plan, which could involve taking a group of hostages with them as human shields and withdrawing into inhospitable terrain favourable to them.
To that end the siege would most likely be prolonged and could be ended by negotiation (and concessions) with limited loss of life. Traditional hostage rescue and negotiation tactics could be employed.
The most likely perpetrators would be Islamist fundamentalist terror groups Ansaru or Boko Haram. The likely objective would be to generate publicity and influence the current COIN campaign by creating unacceptably high casualties amongst foreign and upper/ middle class Nigerians.
The area’s most likely to be targeted are Abuja or Lagos. Various tourist spots in the North and Middle Belt such as Yankari Game Reserve, Wikki Springs, or cities such as Kano, Kaduna, Sokoto could also be targeted however they are unlikely to have the critical mass of foreigners needed to make the attack worthwhile although security will be more lax.
The attackers would most likely use small arms, grenades or IEDs. It is possible that PBIEDs or VBIEDs could be deployed to breach security, cause casualties or create diversions. The attackers are unlikely to intend to survive and if any discrimination is shown it will be towards the few Muslims who are fortunate enough to be given the chance to establish provenance.
IEDs or the threat of IEDs are likely to be used to deny or block approach routes or doorways.
Enemy Attack Cycle
A hypothetical attack cycle could pan out in 7 phases:
Planning: this phase will include identifying potential target locations using a variety of criteria such as concentration of target groups, ease of attack, distance from staging areas, ease of approach, likely security force response times etc.
Reconnaissance: once the target is selected, a recce is likely to be conducted of the building, access points, noting security routines, practices and patterns, potential approach and withdrawal routes etc. It is most likely to be repeated several times, in general or to confirm certain points. The recce could be conducted by anyone, man, woman, child, staff member etc. using a variety of means; sketch maps, camera phones, or simple observation etc.
Preparation: weapons and ammunition will need to be obtained and brought forward to the launching point. The attackers will need to be trained, propaganda videos made and then the attackers brought to the target area. Other attackers might be infiltrated as street hawkers, prostitutes, beggars, staff, guests etc. It must be noted that not all enemy personnel might take part in the attack, some who have infiltrated earlier could open doors or gates, create diversions, identify key targets or man observation points apprising the attackers of security force responses.
Approach: the approach will be by a variety of methods, either prior infiltration with attackers prepositioned as guests, shoppers or staff members and weapons cached or a using combination of stealth and deception, such as a vehicle the security staff are expecting to see like a tour bus, delivery van or a vehicle with police, diplomatic or military markings.
Breach: breaching the security could be as easy as driving through in a recognised vehicle, bribing security, diverting attention with a commotion or a kinetic attack, using small arms and explosives to defeat security checkpoints and access control points and gain entry. In a particularly well defended location IEDs could be used to breach walls, destroy strongpoints and/or create diversions to divert security staff.
Capture: Once the location is breached the attackers are likely to block or secure the entrances and exits, control the mass of hostages and identify any specific target groups. The enemy will most likely split up in order to cover the most ground at the time, working bottom to top if a storied building.
Hold: if there is sufficient time the enemy will murder as many people as possible, most likely leaving at least one sentry guarding access points and/or block them with IEDs. The enemy will most likely conduct a mobile defence firing from several points to delay the security force assault and deceive them as their numbers and locations. Once the assault begins the enemy is likely to resist at choke points such as doors or hallways or else control commanding ground such as balconies or open spaces that create killing zones to attackers. If in danger of being overwhelmed they are likely to fall back and continue fighting until killed or out of ammunition, in Nigeria it is likely that they will utilise PBIEDs either to attack fleeing hostages or the security forces.
Exploit: the enemy will almost immediately disseminate news of the attack on social and traditional media, in order to exploit the topicality of the event as well as to confuse and deceive the security forces by deliberately leaking false information via press releases and fake ‘chatter’. Once the attack is complete the enemy will further exploit the publicity with professional videos, released at timed intervals in order to maintain the information momentum as well as to try to influence national policy and strategy.
Nigerian Security Deductions
A review of previous attacks and these factors leads to several deductions
Speed: if the enemy can be defeated before they breach the target or contained in a portion of the target, the casualties can be minimised. Speed can be achieve by training, preparation and planning
Planning: Comprehensive plans to deal with such incidents, including how to clear and secure routes to the targets, hospitals for casualties, potential observation sites etc. will not only allow the security forces to plan and prepare for many eventualities but also allows them to coordinate plans with the resorts and hotels so each party knows how to react in an incident
Preparation: hardening facilities, prepositioning stores, identifying cordon locations and how they will be controlled, helps reduce the time taken to react to incidents. In places like Abuja, Lagos or Abuja where traffic is an issue, innovative ways to overcome this such as water transport, air, motorcycles etc could be used.
Specialist skills: Specialist armed intervention units will be needed to ensure the enemy is defeated. These units will need the appropriate skills for the task, such as close quarter battle in urban areas, tracking, patrolling and deliberate attacks in rural or open areas. These are demanding tasks requiring speed, fitness, discipline, marksmanship and aggression. Correct training and equipment is necessary, a combination of firearms and non-lethal devices such as stun grenades, tear gas, ballistic shields etc.
Information: collecting, collating, analysing and interpreting information before, during and after an attack is key to allow the security forces to gain an understanding of the situation. Simultaneously the enemy must be cut off from their sources of information such as phones, radios etc. Real time intelligence can be obtained with small UAVs drones or observation points on local high ground such as skyscrapers.
Civil planning: the targets themselves will be crucial in defeating these attacks by robust security measures. Common training and procedures helps civil security staff and the security forces operate and coordinate their efforts.
Intelligence gathering: whilst resorts by their very nature see large influxes of transient visitors, it is still possible to build up a pattern of life, particularly by engaging with shop keepers and local people, (even criminals and prostitutes who are extremely good sources of intelligence). By sensitising everyone and maintaining a ‘networked approach’ unusual patterns of activity can be detected quicker. Platforms such as CCTV, UAVs, phone and wireless intercepts can also be used to build a comprehensive intelligence picture.
Nigerian Security Countermeasures
Security force Counter Measures could be summarised as;
Prevention: this requires planning and cooperation by the police, military, intelligence services and potential targets. An analysis of a given area will allow the security forces to identify the most likely targets and advise and assist them as to how to prepare. Monitoring social media, wireless and other communications for chatter or for abnormalities can help indicate an attack. However solid, boring, time consuming and mostly frustrating police and investigative work will be needed.
Deterrence: once potential targets are identified they can be hardened to resist attack, the more secure a potential target the less likely it is to be attacked. These could include reinforcing entry and entrance points, providing a strongpoint to protect against explosives and small arms, bollards to prevent VBIEDs from getting close to the walls, high walls with glass or razor wire, flood lighting, chicanes, bars on windows segregated vehicle and foot search areas etc. Security practice should be reviewed with local and remote monitored CCTV, thorough daily searches and staff training. Whilst this might be expensive and not conducive to a luxury hotel or resort neither are hundreds of dead guests.
Resistance: In the event of an attack passive and active resistance will buy enough time for the security forces to respond and people to be taken to safety. Passive resistance can be provided by obstacles and force protection measures and active resistance by armed personnel (police or military).
Mitigation: if security is breached then the effects can be mitigated as best possible. For example sealing security doors, sealing off floors, shelter in place or evacuation plans, safe rooms or bunkers can be contemplated. The longer it takes the attackers to breach the target and reach large numbers of people the better
Neutralisation: the quicker and more decisive the security force response the more likely casualties will be reduced. The first, crucial task would be to isolate the incident by setting up a cordon, in order to prevent the attackers from moving on to other targets or accomplices from reaching them. At the same time escaping hostages must be contained and screened as they are being evacuated (to prevent attackers fleeing pretending to be hostages and also to gather information from them). Once the area is isolated, an assault force will need to go in in order to neutralise the hostages.
Exploitation: once the incident is complete, there will be a lot of evidence to assist investigation and enemy propaganda must be countered.
Attacks on hotels and tourist spots are cheap and easy to plan, execute and exploit, yet the time, effort and resources to combat them are large and as recent events have shown even militarily sophisticated countries such as France or the USA cannot prevent such attacks.
However the probability and severity of any attacks can be limited through a recognition of the threat and robust and proactive measures to counter it.