THE threat of an improvised explosive device (IED) is a major concern today for governments globally as not only does it threaten a democratic nation’s stability, but also the public in an urban environment.
The threat of an IED is real and it is the weapon of choice for most terrorist groups. This method is easily deployed with minimum supervision and maximum effect on casualties.
While most bomb warnings are called in, they are basically to spare lives and reduce the risk of people being killed.
We have seen some strategies used by terrorists and they include a variety of deception and deceitful methods.
The “mousetrap” is a strategy used by terrorists and transnational organisations with links to terror groups.
The mousetrap is used as an anti-disturbance or command detonation system, used to target responding bomb technicians and law enforcement teams.
It could be booby trapped when bomb technicians respond to it. The strategy is to lure bomb disposal units and first responders to the scene.
Such a strategy can be deadly as the bomb can be detonated from a distance.
The goal is to target law enforcement agencies and dismantle such units and their capabilities.
This was a common strategy used in Northern Ireland by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) operatives for about two decades.
Providing false bomb location is another method that is aimed at discrediting law enforcement agencies. It may also be used to drive people to the location of the real bomb.
It consists of claiming that the bomb is located at a specific place, but in fact it is placed at a different location.
Terrorist or transnational groups may employ this strategy to make society believe that the law enforcement units are incapable of protecting the public.
False information by the callers can be attributed to “she said, he said”, giving conflicting information to law enforcement units.
The caller will give false information, and the authorities will scramble to the location given. But when the real bomb explodes, the authorities will be blamed as the terrorist groups will deny that they had given the wrong information.
The terrorists will manipulate the information that the authorities have been warned of the bomb attack, blaming the authorities for failing to respond, thus leading public opinion against the authorities.
Of the many incidents of bomb threats in Kuala Lumpur and one that I witnessed at a major hotel after a National Day celebration of a foreign embassy some three years back, there was a clear indication of a similar bomb call-in.
Although there were bomb disposal teams engaged in the operation, I assessed that there was little knowledge of such strategies.
Complacency can be devastating as the so called “cordoned” area looked very relaxing as hotel guests were still walking about.
The protocols of cordoning and addressing people were not seriously administered by security personnel. There were no clear signs of people being moved to secure areas as well.
This strategy could have been devastating if it was a “real bomb” placed at a different location and exploded within a civilian population.
The “bomb”, however, turned out to be a large cake with metal inserts to hold the cake in place.
Another incident was at a major shopping centre, where a bomb warning was called in, also some three years back.
The scenario was, as usual, to cordon off the area and move in to defuse the bomb.
However, the bomb was actually a car battery placed by a movie production house shooting a scene.
This call was made by a person who may have used the situation to test first responders.
How operations are carried out and where will the authorities fail in basic bomb measures are strategies used to assess bomb response teams.
The “Short Warning” strategy is a method that is also used to discredit law enforcement units by warning the authorities without enough time to facilitate evacuation or deliberately mislead the detonation time.
Terrorists will call in a bomb warning and the authorities will scramble to the location, and cordoning operations will take place and people will be evacuated.
But then the bomb goes off while operations to cordon off the location are in progress or the bomb goes off before the given time.
This strategy has been employed by terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda globally, and more commonly used by nationalist political groups.
We have also seen these strategies employed in Malaysia during the communist insurgency.
Although the most common strategy was the mousetrap, it was by means of using booby traps placed in specific locations to attack security forces.
Critical lessons learned are: never assume that information stated in a bomb threat call is accurate. The caller may be misinformed or inaccurate in his statements. The caller may be deliberately misleading in an effort to provoke a specific response.
Always search evacuation zones and evacuation routes for secondary devices.
Although in a bomb threat call there are no secondary devices, a search of the evacuation zone for secondaries may reveal the actual bomb location.
The writer, a national security and counterterrorism expert, is Southeast Asia regional director for the International Association for Counterterrorism and Security Professionals-Centre for Security Studies.