Lessons Failed: Soft Targets, Active Shooters & Non-Terrorist Incidents.
Year 2 - Week 22
Some hours ago, a new attack took us again by surprise, this time in Manila, Philippines capital. In a matter of a week the insular country has come back to the news because the takeover of an Islamic State branch, Maute Group, over the Mindanao city of Marawi. This group, a schism of Abu Sayyaf, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in 2015. In historical perspective, Mindanao is the cradle of traditional insurgent Muslim movements fighting against the central State due to a clash of civilizations between the Christian mainstream and the South islands of Mindanao, Sulu or Basilan, of Muslim majority: first the MNLF, second its schism the MILF and from it, in 1991 Abu Sayyaf, turned into the territorial branch of al-Qaeda with the integration of many mujahidin coming back from Afghanistan, acting as mobilizing agent of global jihad in the region. A new wave of schisms fragmented the group in the last years, when a radical branch of Abu Sayyaf joined some minor groups, between them the so-called Maute Group. In the context of a broad network structure, the leaders of this Group, the Maute brothers, had strong ties with members of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and also strong family ties with elite members of the MILF. Last 23rd of May, Maute Group took control over some parts of Marawi city, establishing a stronghold of the Islamic State in the traditional Muslim feud of Mindanao.
But to what extent may the Islamic State and its Philippines branch is responsible of the last attack to the Casino Resort in Manila? The attack was almost immediately claimed by the organization, but this responsibility has been denied by the Philippines Police, who in attention to the typology of victims and wounded -36 deaths with smoke suffocation signs and several injured of different severity as a result of a disordered evacuation, none of them sustaining firearm wounds- points out in the direction of a foiled robbery. So independently of the military capabilities of the Maute Group in Mindanao –by the way, closer to guerrilla warfare than to terrorism- what lessons may we learned of yesterday armed incident?
First: The threat. The disaster came, independently of its motivation, because there is a psychological perception of threat regarding international terrorist jihadism. Thereby, the Islamic State doesn’t even need to perpetrate an attack, they have enough with appropriating someone else’s ones. Because international community have clear references from this kind of attacks: Bali, Bombay, or the very same Bataclan o La Reina. An active shooting incident and then, the chaos associated to a situation that has become usual. With this in mind, we may ask ourselves the following question: If it is not the first time to happen, then why the panic situation? And that lead us to point two.
Second: the target. While it is true that the motivation of the attack is important and that the underlying ideology may infer in the modus operandi –for instance jihadist terrorism is prone to use combinations of active shooting and explosives, while an amok case is prone to use weapons of fortune-, in this point it is the same talking about modus operandi and ideology, because the common denominator is the category of target. As we just have said, this is not the first time to happen, and probably won’t be the last one at the current pace. Soft targets as spare time places, in this specific case with a more than probable security service for the assets, but with a majority of non-trained users in active shooting incidents management. And we insist in this point, it is not a matter of one modus operandi or ideology, it is a matter of implementation of protocols of management for those users that are supposed to be enjoying their time in a safe environment. What is the point in addressing the terrorist threat when a robbery may provoke the very same lethal outcome? The number of victims will be the same in a terrorist active shooting incident than probably in a non-active shooting incident –let’s remember the fact that according to official sources no guest presented gunfire wounds, so that would exclude the category of active shooting, as actively engaged in killing potential victims- from the equation. And it will be so because of a lack of training in incidents management, including channels of command and control, communications, leaderships and protocols for evacuation and protection of potential victims. We need to know protocols as run-hide-fight, but also how to adapt them on the spot. To run on the opposite direction or to hide in the wrong side may maximize instead of mitigate the threat.
This time was Manila’s time, but many other Western countries have suffered this very same situations, and more of them are probably to join the list. In many cases we are not facing the threat and we are not facing superior military capabilities, or even a superior moral and ideological background. The main threat is our lack of awareness regarding ourselves as potential victims and regarding our material assets as probable loses. And we work in the line of mitigating this threat.