Are Terrorists Coming to a Town Near You?

In the space of 8 months Sousse, Bamako, Sharm el Sheikh, Paris, Jakarta, Ouagadougou have been the subject of headline news for all the wrong reasons. Six separate terror attacks in apparently unrelated incidents in different parts of the world, carried out by a variety of different groups. While some claim the attacks were in support of so called Islamic State, others, such as the attack in Ouagadougou, have been claimed by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Regardless of who is claiming responsibility, the fact remains that travel to overseas locations is becoming increasingly high risk.

The one thing all these attacks do have in common is that they all targeted ordinary people going about their everyday business. Sousse and the attack on the Russian Metro-Jet aircraft departing Sharm el Sheikh, specifically targeted tourists, while Paris and Jakarta focused on people enjoying social activities as normal as having a coffee with friends or going to a concert. Both the Bamako and Ouagadougou attacks took place in hotels frequented by foreigners, which in different times would have been regarded as “safe”.

In many ways the French have borne the brunt of the attacks, Paris being the obvious and direct message that their involvement in the war on terror has come home to haunt them. Both Mali and Burkina Faso are former colonies and places where the French still have significant interest and military presence. Equally, the attack on Metro-Jet aircraft coincided with Russia’s decision to launch attacks in Syria. Although there’s no solid evidence to suggest the two events are related, it does appear more than mere coincidence.

People are afraid and some are no longer prepared to travel overseas, while others worry about going into major cities for fear of being caught up in a Paris style attack. Does this mean that the terrorists win? After all, their intention is to strike fear into citizens to the point they are no longer able, or willing, to do the things they used to. And while the world’s security experts look for how to combat this issue, the public across the world are asking “where next?”

So, are terrorists really coming to a town near you? Almost certainly not, but that’s not to say we should become complacent about the threat of an attack. The chances of being killed in a terrorist attack overseas are one in 20 million. Will terrorists strike again somewhere new? Yes. There’s little escaping that fact. Do we know where? Probably not. If we did, you would hope the security services would do something to prevent it. The British security services have foiled 7 credible would-be attacks in the last 12 months and the hope is they will continue to foil future plots. However, the old adage that the security services need to get lucky all the time, the terrorists only need to get lucky once, rings very true.

While, for the most part, we trust governments will do all they can to protect us, is there anything ordinary citizens and travellers can do in order to further reduce the chances of becoming a victim of the terrorists? The good news is “yes” there is, but it takes a little investment and time. Most people have no clue about the things going on around them, even in their home towns. They wander around in a bubble of their own thoughts rather than having an eye on anything that might seem out of the ordinary, or suspicious. Anyone with bad intentions will give off warning signs in their body language or behaviour, whether they are a petty criminal or a terrorist. Spotting them and doing something to get yourself away from harm is something security people refer to as “situational awareness” but most ordinary people are not very good at it.

There are various travel safety courses you can put yourself through, from the basic through to hostile environment training, and if they are any good, they will cover subjects such as situational awareness, operational security (OPSEC) and what to do in the event of a terror attack. You can also make sure you prepare before taking a journey, whether that be to a major city in your own country, or on an overseas trip.
Identify “safe” havens, places you pre-designate where you will head for in the event of an attack. Notify all members of your team (or family) where these places are and practice how you are going to get to them. Make sure there’s more than one route in and out. In the chaos of a real incident you will get separated from the people you are with, so rather than hang around looking for loved ones, or colleagues, make sure everyone knows what to do and where to go in an attack.

In the highly unlikely event that you are caught up in a terrorist situation, remember “Run, Hide, Fight.” Your first instinct should be to put as much distance between you and the terrorists. Don’t stay in a mass of people, terrorists aim their fire at the highest density of people, you need to get away from this.

If you can’t run for any reason, hide and find the best hiding place you can, even if it’s behind a large object that can protect you. Lock doors and turn off lights. Don’t move until you are absolutely convinced the emergency services have secured the scene. This could be hours. Make sure you also turn your mobile phone off or put it on silent and non-vibrate mode.

Finally, if you can’t run or hide, then fight with every bone in your body in order to give you a chance to incapacitate an attacker and get away. Improvise weapons from what is available to you, these could be everyday items such as bottles, chairs, or fire extinguishers. Be aggressive and throw everything into your attack. This is not the time to hold back.

Once emergency services are on scene, try to remain calm and keep your hands in clear view and follow their instructions quickly and quietly. Their first objective is to neutralise the threat and not to treat casualties. Once the scene is safe the injured will be dealt with, but not until then.

The chances of being caught in such an attack are incredibly small, but there’s no harm in having a plan in place. Keep it simple and effective and don’t forget to have contingencies in case your original plan is compromised. The threat of terrorist attacks is real, but through vigilance and training you can improve your odds of survival, even if terrorists do come to a town near you.