Skid Row Terrorist
The rubric of terrorism studies embeds terrorist TTPs (Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures) within the overall context of motivations and intent that a terrorist are/is presumed to have. This is further fundamentally subordinate to the over-arching al-Qaeda framework. However, if we consider characters such as the ‘dishevelled or nihilist terrorist’ (Flaherty, 2012), then terrorist TTPs have to be detached from any other framing, and we are left with terrorist-like acts, or acts automatically legally defined as ‘terrorism’ because a bomb, or weapon of mass destruction has been used; however, these may be committed by individuals, even groups who have little or no ideological intent beyond hate, malice, or protesting some injury against them personally, or society generally.
RECENT EXAMPLES TERRORIST PROTESTS
Recent events in China, provide examples of a protestor using terrorist-like TTPs. In these cases disgruntled petitioners (under China’s system for governmental redress of wrongs), attack people, or kill themselves in terrorist-like incidents. The most recent report, appeared to show Chinese citizens in posts/blogs expressing support for a disabled man who set off an explosion (only doing so, after warning people to stay-away from him) at Beijing’s international airport, injuring himself, in what was an apparent protest against police brutality (AFP, 2013). However, these same commentators also condemned the actions of another Chinese unemployed man (who had also been a disgruntled petitioner), and who ‘killed 47 people in the previous month by setting-off an explosion on a bus in the coastal city of Xiamen, according the Chinese state media’ (AFP, 2013).
The events surrounding the attack by Joe Stack, provide a similar example of a protestor using terrorist-like TTPs. Stack slammed his plane into the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offices in the ‘Echelon I’ building. His actions were driven by his displeasure with the government, the bailout of financial institutions, politicians, and conglomerations (General Motors, Enron and Arthur Andersen, unions, drug and health care insurance companies, and the Catholic Church), all of which was contained in his online suicide note. Stack also described his experiences meeting with a poor widow who never got the pension benefits she was promised, the September 11 attacks airline bailouts that only benefited the airlines but not the suffering engineers (he himself was an engineer), and how a CPA he hired seemed to side with the government to take extra tax money from him. His suicide note included criticism of the Federal Aviation Administration, the George W. Bush administration, and called for violent revolt.
Incidents such as these point to a phenomena, that will come to dominate our understanding of terrorism, which is the concept of the “Horror Protest” (Bunker, Flaherty, 2013), combined with the notion of the ‘dishevelled-nihilist terrorist’ (Flaherty, 2012). The ‘dishevelled-nihilist terrorist’ is a broad-based terrorist movement (without order or substance), consisting of the dispossessed economic and social cast-offs of society who utilise terrorist –like acts to vent their rage. The 1988 RAND analysis (Hoffman, 1988) argues that it is possible for a ‘form of post-modern terrorism which is divorced from any coherent political agenda’, to have arisen. This is argued, could be motivated by transcendental or nihilist objectives, or simple rage at the failure of some societies and the success of others (Goodin, 2006; Jenkins, 1980). The behavior-tactical link in nihilist terrorism is impromptu acts. The attacker uses whatever means happen to be available (Flaherty, 2012).
THE DISHEVELLED-NIHILIST TERRORIST
The ‘dishevelled-nihilist terrorist’ are effective, as they are able to utilise two key developments of contemporary terrorist TTPs, these are:
• Mimicking Operations (Flaherty, 2003); and,
• The ongoing simplification of weapons technology.
Mimicking operations is a – “cost-effective way of achieving a desired operational effect using superior deception tactics to exploit concealment and camouflage opportunities (Flaherty, 2008). The use of the homeless beggar on the streets, or any urban setting, sitting on the ground, covered by dirty blankets and bedding outside transport hubs, and along pedestrian, shopping, and entertainment thoroughfares, staring-up at the well-dressed (who are the vary targets of much of broad spectrum of anti-West propaganda, equally mouthed by al-Qaeda, the far right, survivalist militia and radical- economic reformists movements), present the perfect mechanism for smuggling-in and deployment of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) and BCBs (Body Cavity Bombs).
The recent events in the 2013 Boston Marathon attack show that weapons rather than becoming more complicated:
• Have, and will continue to become more rudimentary, and easier to construct.
• The behavior-tactical link in nihilist terrorism is impromptu acts. The attacker uses whatever means happen to be available. Fundamentally, they operate from the exact same logistics base as the defense, security and policing which is setup to counter them, in short – organized from the city infrastructure.
The 2013 Boston Marathon attack used a weapon, made from a pressure cooker, using bomb making instructions found in Al Qaeda publications. The fireworks were purchased from a store in New Hampshire. These ‘pressure cooker bombs’ are relatively easy to make, as the explosives needed are culled from commercial sources, and are simple black power or ammunitions, and all the other materials needed are readily available. These bombs can be ignited using a simple electronic device such as a digital watch, garage door opener, cell phone, pager, kitchen timer, or alarm clock. Like a pipe bomb, the pressure cooker contains the energy of the explosion and allows it to build up before it releases; allowing low explosives to be used to produce a relatively large explosion. The fragmentation of the pressure cooker itself, and its packing with nails, ball-bearings etc. create the potentially lethal shrapnel.
The dishevelled-nihilist terrorist will become the automaton foot soldier , of transnational terrorism, like al-Qaeda, and the far right, and any other group agenda. This can be demonstrated through the case of Richard Reid, the 2001 ‘Shoe Bomber’ and self-admitted member of al-Qaeda, which also provides the historical example of the ‘dishevelled’ archetype (Flaherty, 2013). On the 21st of December, 2001, Reid attempted to board a flight from Paris to Miami, Florida, but was delayed because his dishevelled physical appearance aroused the suspicions of the airline passenger screeners. It appears that Reid’s other behaviours raised immediate suspicion as he ‘did not answer all of their questions, and had not checked any luggage for the transatlantic flight.’ After additional screening, the French National Police re-issued a ticket for Reid for the following day. He returned to the Paris airport on the 22nd of December, 2001, and boarded American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami.
Reid boarded the plane wearing his special shoes packed with plastic explosives in their hollowed-out bottoms. Passengers on Flight 63 complained of a smoke smell in the cabin shortly after a meal service. One flight attendant, thinking she smelled a burnt match, walked the aisles of the plane, trying to find the source. A passenger pointed to Reid, who was sitting alone near a window attempting to light a match. She warned him that smoking was not allowed on the airplane. Reid then promised to stop. A few minutes later, she found Reid leaned over in his seat. After asking, “what are you doing?” Reid grabbed at her, revealing one shoe in his lap and a fuse leading into it, and a lit match. She, along with other attendants (and some passengers), succeeded in subduing Reid, after a brief melee.
Reid had allegedly received terrorist training. The clumsy way in which he attempted to initiate his bomb, however, suggests otherwise. Additionally, the one day delay compromised the quality of the explosive. That, combined with the rainy weather and accumulated foot perspiration, resulted in a fuse too damp to ignite. It appears that Reid spent 1999 and 2000 in terrorist training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Reid then returned to Europe, living in numerous places and working as a dishwasher. He was said to have continued his communications with al-Qaeda connections in Peshawar, Pakistan. In November 2001, Reid and another shoe-bomb conspirator (Badat) returned to Pakistan. After travelling to Afghanistan, they were given the pre-made shoe bombs. Both bombs were found to have been constructed by the same maker. Reid returned separately to the UK in early December 2001, before travelling to Belgium for 10 days at which time he caught a train to Paris on 16 December. The clumsy execution of his plan did not damage its influence on airline security measures. Ongoing concerns about bombs concealed in shoes led the US and most international airports to require airline passengers to pass through airport security in socks or bare feet while their shoes are scanned for bombs.
Reid’s history as an itinerate worker – a dishwasher in Europe – is similar to that experienced by Tim McVeigh, who was responsible for the attack on the A.P. Murrah Building, viewing the attack as revenge for past US government crimes (Thomas, 2001). In the case of McVeigh, he increasingly spent more time on the gun show circuit, travelling to 40 of the 50 states and visiting about 80 gun shows in all. It is argued that this life helped build an ideology immersed in the beliefs of these forums. It is also the case, the itinerate background to these men fits in with the theme of dispossessed and out-cast looking for revenge, finding a leading influence that will give them that opportunity.
The presence of the dishevelled-nihilist terrorist ensures a permanent ‘wild card’ scenario in urban security thinking. As a prevention strategy, the question becomes the treatment of persons on the street – viewed as a potential threat by security – will likely lead to greater repression, attempting to clear civil areas of street people. However, it is exactly this type of security response that will create the next crop of potential terrorist and extremist recruits. It is sobering to note that the classical drivers/causes of terrorism, which have been identified by theorists, have been issues such as: alienation/discrimination, socio-economic status, and political grievances, all of which underpins the lives of homeless street people who populate our cities.
(1) The ‘automaton foot soldier’ concept, is based on 18th century war-fighting – “accommodated the need of a king (or his general) to have at his disposal a mechanism by which he could see his ambitions realised. The ordinary soldier was merely a machine through whom the king acted against his opponent.” (see – Flaherty, C.J. (1996) Australian Manoeuverist Strategy, Seaview Press. ISBN 1876070110: 16). This is based on the military principles of Frederick the Great, whose military system was based on the absolutist concept, and insistence on exact discipline enabled him to ‘form his conceptions in the knowledge that they would be realised’ (see – Flaherty, C.J. (1996) Australian Manoeuverist Strategy, Seaview Press. ISBN 1876070110: 125-126 – Footnote 21).
(2)Interestingly, Reid’s situation fits well within most table lists of traits, identifying the active shooter in workplaces or schools in particular a ‘noticeable decrease in attention to appearance and hygiene.’ (Flaherty, 2012).
AFP. (2013) Sympathy for China Airport Blast Protester. 21 July 2013. URL: http://news. ninemsn.com.au/ world/2013/ 07/22/04/12/sympathy-for-china-airport-blast-protester
Flaherty, C.J. (2003) Mimicking Operations, Australian Army Journal. (1)2: 11-14.
Bunker, R.J. Flaherty, C. (2013) Body Cavity Bombers: The New Martyrs. A Terrorism Research Center Book. iUniverse, Inc. Bloomington, 2013.
Flaherty, C. (2012) Dangerous Minds: A Monograph on the Relationship Between Beliefs –Behaviours – Tactics. Published by OODA LOOP (7 September 2012).
Flaherty, C. (2008) 3D Tactics and Information Deception. Journal of Information Warfare. September, 2008 (7)2: 49-58.
Flaherty, C.J. (1996) Australian Manoeuverist Strategy, Seaview Press. ISBN 1876070110: 125-126 – see Footnote 21).
Goodin, R.E. (2006) What’s Wrong with Terrorism? Polity Press.
Hoffman, B. (1988) The Contrasting Ethical Foundations Of Terrorism in the 1980s. The RAND Corporation, 1700 Main Street. P.O, Box 2138. Santa Monica. CA 90406-2138 (January, 1988).
Jenkins, B.M. (1980) The Study of Terrorism: Definitional Problems. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, December, 1980.
Thomas, J. (2001) ‘No Sympathy’ for Dead Children, McVeigh Says. The New York Times (March 29, 2001). URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/03/29/us/no-sympathy-for-dead-children-mcveigh-says.html