IED attack at airport in Somalia; lessons to be learned

Posted by Christopher W. Holton

An Improvised Explosive Device, sometimes known as a bomb, disguised as a laptop computer was detonated today at an airport security checkpoint in Somalia. Preliminary reports from the scene indicate 6 injuries and, thankfully, no deaths, from this incident.

But this is a nightmare scenario that we have discussed here on Terror Trends Bulletin before and it is worth reposting here:

Since the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, the federal government has gone to great lengths to keep weaponry of all sorts from finding its way on airliners.

The effectiveness of these measures is open to debate, but the idea has been to prevent items such as explosive devices fashioned in the form of contact lens saline solution bottles, shaving cream cans and the like from finding their way onto an airliner. The TSA is also supposed to be on the lookout for box cutters (and pocket knifes and fingernail files), as well as shoes loaded with explosives.

All of these measures have been reactive–in response to both successful and failed terrorist plots from the past. Such is the nature of our bureaucratic counter terror apparatus. The enemy watches what we do and dreams up more methods to exploit holes and vulnerabilities in the defensive security measures. And, of course, once the enemy tries a new method, successful or otherwise, the TSA modifies its policies to defend against the last attack.

Americans of all philosophies are frustrated by what they perceive as onerous inconveniences and gross invasions of personal privacy.

But that is not the issue that should be of greatest concern to Americans. What should truly concern us all is that the measures that have locked down airliners tighter than a drum have created bottlenecks and choke points in airport terminals, leaving even larger numbers of travelers vulnerable to violent terrorist attack.

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One attack on a single airliner has the potential to kill anywhere from dozens to a few hundred innocent passengers. But an attack on a busy airport terminal has the potential to kill several plane loads of innocent travelers before they get on the airplane.

Take a look at the accompanying photographs and the vulnerability is clear. A backpack bomb in a security line would be devastating and the security apparatus is exactly what caused the vulnerability.

Travelers queue up at the security checkpoint in Denver International Airport in Denver, Saturday, Dec. 23, 2006. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Travelers queue up at the security checkpoint in Denver International Airport in Denver, Saturday, Dec. 23, 2006. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

To be fair, security lines are not the only vulnerability. Long lines at ticket counters produce huge crowds and bottlenecks as well:

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What all this adds up to is an overall air travel industry that is still quite at risk.

Lest you think that I have pointed out a vulnerability that the Jihadists may not have thought of yet, rest assured that the Jihadists have already identified airports as targets for mass casualty attacks.

In fact, there have been two such attacks in recent years, one successful and one failed.

In January 2011, Islamikaze bombers attacked Domodedovo airport in Moscow, killing 35 and wounding 182. This incident is largely forgotten in the West. In fact, it received scant media attention beyond the day of the attack.

The fact that the attackers were believed to have been trained at an Al Qaeda camp in Pakistan should serve as a warning to America. If the Jihadis can train to attack Russian airports, they can train to attack American airports just as well.

The photographs below of the carnage serve as a stark contrast to the photos above showing travelers queuing up to get their tickets or go through security…Note that these photos were taken from camera phones soon after the bombing.

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Photo posted on Twitter by likhtenfeld from Domodedovo Airport blast. 05_Flatbed_WEB - JANUARY   Original Filename: Domodedovo_airport_twitter1.jpgvia Flatbed Web

Photo posted on Twitter by likhtenfeld from Domodedovo Airport blast.
05_Flatbed_WEB – JANUARY Original Filename: Domodedovo_airport_twitter1.jpgvia Flatbed Web

When one compares the photos from the security and ticket counter lines to the photos from Moscow, it is not difficult to grasp the magnitude of the vulnerability.

Moscow was not the only airport attack.

In 2007, two Moslem physicians attempted to blow up the terminal building at Glasgow International Airport in the UK with a VBIED (Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device).

The two planned on driving a Jeep Cherokee through the front door and detonating a large bomb upon slamming through the entrance. Fortunately, their bomb fizzled, but the images below show just how close they came to achieving their evil objective. Given the results from other VBIED attacks in the past in places like Lebanon, Iraq, Kenya and Tanzania, it’s not hard to imagine the horrible effects of a successful attack on a crowded airport terminal.

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There is an old saying that he who tries to defend everything defends nothing. What is the answer to these vulnerabilities? No doubt technology will play a prominent role in finding solutions, but we should also consider the fact that while the newly unionized TSA is confiscating nail clippers from soldiers returning from war, making mothers sample their own breast milk, frisking wheelchair-bound grandmothers and fondling genitalia, they are actually putting all travelers in real danger.

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