Gate 15 Threat Advisory, 25 May 2017

This week, terrorists have conducted attacks in the United Kingdom, Indonesia, the Philippines, Somalia (and other parts of Africa), as well as ongoing fighting in Iraq and Syria.

On 15 May, the US Department of Homeland Security released an updated National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) Bulletin, stating that,

  • “We face one of the most serious terror threat environments since the 9/11 attacks as foreign terrorist organizations continue to exploit the Internet to inspire, enable, or direct individuals already here in the homeland to commit terrorist acts…
  • “…terrorist groups are urging recruits to adopt easy-to-use tools to target public places and events. Specific attack tactics have included the use of vehicle ramming, small arms, straight-edged blades or knives, and homemade explosives, as well as other acts such as taking hostages…
  • “Specifically, continued successes aimed at disrupting and defeating terrorist groups overseas may encourage homegrown terrorists inside the United States to carry out acts of violence.
  • “Additionally, foreign terrorist fighters, who have acquired training and battle-tested terrorism experience, are likely to flee from terrorist-controlled territories with a desire to conduct attacks elsewhere, including the United States. Some of these individuals may be US citizens or citizens of other nations attempting to travel to the United States on visas, from visa-waiver countries, with the aim of attacking the homeland or inciting others within our borders to conduct attacks.

With this week’s attacks, it is important to note a few additional considerations:

  • In the Manchester attack, we have observed what appears to be terrorists employing a powerful and very lethal explosive device (using what seems to be nuts, bolts, and screws to inflict additional harm), with preliminary findings leading investigators to believe the device was the work of a highly-skilled bomb-maker (read additional details via The Mirror).
  • Terrorist propaganda and online discussions before and following the attack continues to call for attacks in the West, to include the United States.
  • We are approaching Memorial Day weekend, a notable holiday for the United States (US).
  • Friday begins this year’s celebration of Ramadan, which lasts from 26 May and continues through 24 June.
  • As noted by Megan G. Oprea (@mgoprea) in the The Federalist, Ramadan “has also been a time of heightened terror attacks… During the month of Ramadan in 2016, ISIS claimed responsibility for: the stabbing of a police officer and his partner in France; the Ataturk Airport bombing; the Orlando nightclub shooting; and an attack in Dhaka, Bangladesh that killed 24. In the weeks that followed Ramadan, the Nice attack occurred, killing 86 and injuring hundreds; a French priest’s throat was slit in his church; and in Germany there was an attack on a train in Würzburg and a bombing near a music festival in Ansbach. It’s possible that the bombing on Monday night will be the first in a series of attacks in the West during Ramadan and the summer months.”
  • 26 May UPDATE: As noted by Lisa Daftari (@LisaDaftari) at The Foreign Desk, on the 25th, the Islamic State called for an “all-out war” in the West, calling for attacks against civilians (stating such attacks are “believed” and  “the most effective”).

While DHS has updated its Bulletin, there has been no explicit guidance to the public regarding the attacks nor guidance moving into this holiday period. According to DHS, it “has never issued an Alert because neither the circumstances nor threat streams have risen to the required level or purpose of the system.” Given the current threat environment, it would seem appropriate to issue something at this time. In the absence other guidance, Gate 15 is happy to share a Threat Advisory.

Gate 15 Threat Advisory, 25 May 2017

In light of recent events and ongoing threats, personnel in the United States should consider the period from present through the end of June as a period of heightened threat. While no specific actions are needed and routine activities should be continued, individuals are encouraged to be vigilant, particularly in public spaces such as commercial facilities and mass transportation.

On 22 May, a tragic terrorist attack was conducted in Manchester, England, taking the lives of twenty-two people, including women and young children. Authorities are continuing an ongoing investigation and details will be forthcoming appropriately. It is suspected that the attacker was part of a larger terrorist cell. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack. Additionally: on 23 May, an Islamic State-affiliate claimed a suicide attack in Somalia that killed five and wounded 12; on 24 May, two attackers conducted an attack at a Jakarta, Indonesia bus station, killing and wounding multiple police officers and civilians; on 25 May, Russian authorities detained four individuals suspected of being linked to the Islamic State and plotting explosive device attacks against transportation; and, more broadly, the Islamic State is involved in on-going fighting in the Philippines, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and other parts of the world.

Terrorists and their admirers have and continue to discuss and share propaganda encouraging attacks against civilians worldwide, including the US. While such activities are largely aspirational and should not be overly concerning or perceived as specific threats, coupled with the demonstrated ability to conduct attacks outside of their primary bases of operations, they do constitute a credible threat. There is no specific or imminent threat to the US but we do assess the US to be a highly desirable target for terrorism.

Approaching the Memorial Day weekend and Ramadan, an important Muslim holiday focused on prayer, fasting, charity and faith, we believe terrorists may seek to conduct increased attacks. While the vast majority of Muslims around the world will peacefully celebrate their religion, radicalized extremists have used the Ramadan period as a time for aggressive attacks and we assess that is likely to continue. Further, other extremists, including those hostile to Muslims, may use this summer period for other attacks or to implicate Muslim populations.

We emphasize that leaders throughout industry, particularly in industries related to mass gatherings such as concerts, performances, sports activities, and mass transportation, are actively reviewing security plans, processes, and procedures. Many facilities are enhancing their security activities, expanding their perimeters, and revisiting training for personnel to ensure an appropriate state of preparedness and a proper security posture. These activities will continue and right now, these facilities are probably as secure as they ever have been. Individuals should feel at ease to participate in normal activities, events, and celebrations.

“The wish of terrorism is to take away that feeling of freedom and joy… No. That is my answer. No. We cant allow it. Fear cannot rule the day.” – Scooter Braun, Ariana Grande’s manager, as quoted in Time

Faced with a determined adversary, it is unrealistic to suggest anyone can guarantee complete security. It is likely that extremists will continue to plan and attempt attacks in the US and there is the possibility that some of these attacks may be successful. However, we are confident that our intelligence community, law enforcement, critical infrastructure owners and operators, and vigilant citizens, will continue to counter such aspirations and defeat or minimize the impacts of most terrorist plots. Suspicious activities, individuals, and objects; when something looks like it doesn’t make sense, report it. If something happens, protect yourself, your friends, and family; take care of those around you; and if able, administer aid to those in need. Day-to-day and in crisis, be a good neighbor – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. There are many free resources to help prepare businesses and individuals, and some of those can be found on our Resources page.

Terrorists and other extremists will continue to seek to harm innocent civilians and to cause damage to facilities. These would-be attackers seek to instill fear, uncertainty, and hatred in US citizens and visitors. They seek to divide our people and foment hostility towards Muslims and ethnic groups. Their success is largely based on our response. We are a resilient people and we will not allow evil to influence our way of life. To paraphrase and refine the words of Prime Minister Theresa May, while we mourn the victims of the tragic attack in Manchester, as well as other parts of the world, we stand defiant. The spirit of freedom “is far mightier than the sick plots of depraved terrorists. That is why the terrorists will never win, and we will prevail.”

Keep Calm. Carry On. Go enjoy a show, a concert, the NBA and NHL playoffs, and anything else you want to do. That’s the middle finger best response we can give to those that seek to cause harm.

“And while we mourn the victims of last night’s appalling attack, we stand defiant. The spirit of Manchester – and the spirit of Britain – is far mightier than the sick plots of depraved terrorists. That is why the terrorists will never win, and we will prevail.” – Prime Minister Theresa May, PM statement following second COBR meeting on Manchester attack: 23 May 2017

Gate 15 provides intelligence and threat information to inform routine situational awareness, preparedness planning, and to penetrate the decision-making cycle to help inform time-sensitive decisions effecting operations, security, and resources. We provide clients with routine cyber and physical security products tailored to the individual client’s interests.  Such products include relevant analysis, assessments, and mitigation strategies on a variety of topics. 

This blog was written by Andy Jabbour, Gate 15’s Co-Founder and Managing Director. Andy leads Gate 15’s risk management and critical infrastructure operations with focus on Information Sharing, Threat Analysis, Operational Support & Preparedness Activities (Planning, Training & Exercise). Andy has years of experience working with partners across the critical infrastructure and homeland security enterprise to support national security and client business needs.

image of the 22 May Victims, via the Telegraph