Wednesday, September 09, 2009



Study: Terrorists Shifting Focus to 'Soft' Targets. Al Qaeda is changing from a centralized organization with global goals to regional "franchises" with more parochial aims and strong grass-roots support, according to a report from STRATFOR

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

For several years, militants — primarily Islamist militants — have been changing their target set to focus more on soft targets. Hotels are particularly popular targets for militant strikes involving improvised explosive devices (IEDs), vehicle-borne IEDs, armed attacks or kidnappings and assassinations. However, there are several security measures that can be taken to limit the damage caused by militant attacks at hotels or even prevent such attacks before they happen.

In early 2005, STRATFOR began writing about another trend we observed: the devolution of al Qaeda and the global jihadist movement 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. As a result of this change, the less professional local groups receive less training and funding. They often are unable to attack hard targets and therefore tend to focus on softer targets — like hotels.

Following several attacks against hotels in 2005 — most notably the multiple bombing attacks in Amman, Jordan, and Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt — we updated our 2004 study on the threat to hotels to include tactical details on these attacks. Now, following the November 2008 Mumbai attacks and the July 2009 Jakarta attacks, we are once again updating the study.

The most likely method of attack against a hotel is still an improvised explosive device (IED), whether vehicle-borne (VBIED), planted ahead of time or deployed by a suicide bomber in a public area. However, after the Mumbai attacks, the risk of a guerrilla-style armed assault including the use of high-powered assault rifles and explosives against multiple targets within a given radius is quite high. The relative success of the Mumbai operation and the dramatic news coverage it received (it captured the world’s attention for three days) mean that copycat attacks can be expected. Additionally, attacks targeting specific VIP’s remain a possibility, and hotels are likely venues for such attacks.

Jan. 14, 2008: At approximately 6:30 p.m. local time, three militants opened fire on security guards with AK-47s and hand grenades on the perimeter of the Serena Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan. A suicide bomber then made his way inside the hotel before detonating the IED he was wearing. A local Taliban spokesman quickly claimed the attack, which killed six people and injured six more.

Sept. 20, 2008: Around 8 p.m. local time, a VBIED consisting of about 1 ton of explosives detonated at the security barrier of the JW Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan. More than 50 people were killed and some 270 were injured. The attack was blamed on the Al Qaeda-linked Islamist group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

Nov. 26, 2008: Attackers armed with rifles and grenades stormed the Oberoi Trident and Taj Mahal Palace hotels in Mumbai, India. Over the course of the three-day siege, 71 people were killed and more than 200 were injured. The attackers belonged to the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

June 9, 2009: Attackers with guns and a VBIED targeted the luxury Pearl Continental Hotel in Peshawar, Pakistan, around 10 p.m. local time. The attackers breached the security gate and detonated the explosive-laden vehicle next to the hotel. Sixteen people were killed and more than 60 were injured. The attack is believed to have been carried out by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.

July 17, 2009: Two suicide bombers belonging to a Jemaah Islamiyah splinter group detonated IEDs nearly simultaneously in the adjacent JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta, Indonesia. Nine people were killed and 42 were wounded in the attacks. The bombs had been assembled in the hotel room of the JW Marriott where one of the attackers had been staying.
Although hotel security workers do occasionally monitor and confront suspicious loiterers, militants have found that one way around this is to check into hotels, which gives them full access and guest privileges. The bombers who conducted the July 17 twin suicide bombings of the JW Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton in Jakarta, Indonesia, had checked into the hotel two days prior to carrying out the operation.

The most substantial threat comes from IEDs — either VBIEDs detonated at hotel entrances, inside a garage or other perimeter locations, or an IED used by a suicide bomber who aims to detonate within a lobby, restaurant or other public gathering place inside the hotel.

WASHINGTON -- Terrorists are aiming for hotels and other easier-to-hit targets as security measures at military and government facilities continue to improve, says a global intelligence company.

Al Qaeda is changing from a centralized organization with global goals to regional "franchises" with more parochial aims and strong grass-roots support, according to a report Tuesday from STRATFOR. These smaller cells get less training and less money, so they set their sights lower.

That doesn't mean they aren't dangerous, "particularly if they are attempting to prove their value or if they are able to link up with someone who is highly tactically skilled," the report says.

According to STRATFOR, the number of attacks on hotels has more than doubled since the 9/11 attacks in 2001 when compared with the eight years before. Injuries and deaths caused by those attacks have increased six times over the same comparison period.

From a terrorist's perspective, the downside to hitting soft targets is that the attacks don't generate as much "political and ideological mileage" as hitting a hard target such as a better guarded government building or military facility, the report says.

Despite the increasing attacks in hotels, the report says many owners and managers have been reluctant to equip their buildings with more security measures, which can be cumbersome and inconvenience guests.
A hotel is the ultimate soft target for Islamic extremists: a fixed location, lots of human traffic and shallow security perimeters. Hotels also attract many Westerners, giving militants high probabilities of killing or injuring large numbers of them in a single attack, according to the report..
Against unsecured targets, VBIEDs generate the greatest number of casualties. VBIED attacks targeting hotels have occurred in Karachi, Pakistan (May 2002); Mombasa, Kenya (November 2002); Jakarta, Indonesia (August 2003), Taba, Egypt (October 2004); Pattani, Thailand (March 2008); Bouira, Algeria (August 2008); Islamabad (September 2008), Peshawar, Pakistan (June 2009) and Beledweyne, Somalia (June 2009).