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U.S. Cities Brace for Mumbai-Style Attack

Thursday, 11 Dec 2008 05:51 PM

By David A. Patten

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U.S. cities are racing to fix security vulnerabilities revealed by the devastating terror attacks in Mumbai, and many hotels remain “sitting ducks,” experts tell Newsmax.

Security personnel around the country are intensively reviewing what happened to Mumbai to learn more about terrorists’ shifting tactics, according to Fred Burton, vice president of counter-terrorism at Stratfor, a private intelligence firm located in Austin, Texas.

“The study has already begun,” Burton tells Newsmax. “I’m seeing that from a lot of our channels, and I am answering a lot of questions myself in that regard.”

Police are addressing Mumbai-like scenarios where teams of terrorists fan out and use small arms and explosives to lay siege to hotels, hospitals, and other major institutions, and take hostages.

“We look at these new kinds of tactics and the way they orchestrated this, and modify our approach,” Michael Downing, the head of the Los Angeles Police Department’s counter-terrorism unit, told the media. “We’re looking at it very closely.”

Close to 200 persons died in Mumbai in a series of coordinated attacks that terrorized the city for more than three days.

On Friday, New York City police conducted the first U.S. training exercise based on the Mumbai experience. “Our goal,” New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told security officials, “is to find out as much as we can about terrorists worldwide, to understand who’s behind them, what motivates them, and what tactics they use.”

Homeland security expert Dr. James Jay Carafano of the Heritage Foundation tells Newsmax that the mass shootings at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech have increased police response to hostage situations and reports of gunmen on the loose. But that doesn’t mean U.S. authorities could respond effectively to multiple assaults.

“Nobody ever thinks in terms of a dozen heavily armed people working in coordination,” he says. “There are almost no exercises in preparing for that. And it’s an easy thing to pull off. You don’t really a whole lot of training. All you really need are a bunch of small arms, and people who aren’t stupid.”

Carafano adds: “It’s something to worry about because most police forces would be really overwhelmed. SWAT teams don’t really train for this.”

Burton agrees, telling Newsmax: “If you have that many target sets simultaneously occurring, you’ve got a very daunting task for any type of effective response.”

Burton points to the October 2002 Beltway sniper attacks that had some in the Nation’s Capital afraid to venture outside their homes for weeks.

“Think about the D.C. sniper case and the chaos that was caused, due to one two-person team,” Burton says. “Magnify that by say six to eight teams, and place them on the loose in any city in America. Most cities in America have only one SWAT team, so think about how much damage could be caused. It’s a fairly frightening scenario.”

It is believed that extensive planning and surveillance preceded the Mumbai attack. New York City police are asking all security forces, both public and private, to report any idle visitors or suspicious vehicles.

Although there has been no specific intelligence of a planned attack, warnings of a possible operation against the New York City subway system circulated shortly before the terrorist siege in Mumbai. Immediately after news of the Mumbai siege, New York police dispatched 150 officers in 75 police cars -- with lights flashing -- to major hotels across the city to provide additional security.

Other cities are responding to the Mumbai threat as well:

  • In Boston, police have stepped up surveillance and are keeping an especially close eye on hotels.

  • The Department of Homeland Security has warned hotels throughout the country to beef up security.

  • Authorities at port cities are particularly concerned, given that the terrorists traveled to Mumbai by boat. “Our great vulnerability is the water,” Miami Police Chief John Timoney told USA Today.

  • InterContinental Hotels says it has taken additional, unspecified security precautions in “high-risk markets” nationwide.

    When the Los Angeles Times asked city Police Chief William J. Bratton the likelihood that city would face a Mumbai-style attack, he replied, “First off, we’re all surprised something has not happened since 9/11.”

    Even if terrorists don’t launch a similar attack here, law enforcement officials are concerned about a “copycat” attack: Homegrown extremists trying to emulate the tactics paralyzed Mumbai.

    “You have to look into the copycat effect, your Jihadist wanna-bes who pick up a couple of AK 47s, become a two-man team unto themselves, and want to see if they can pull off something like this,” Burton warns. “It would not necessarily have to be the scale of Mumbai.”

    “Hotels are sitting ducks,” Burton adds. “If you look at hotels in certain countries, the vulnerability clearly exists. You’ll see some hotels doing a better job than others” to keep guests safe, he says.

    “I don’t know if anyone is prepared to repel an attack on that scale,” John Serafini, co-owner of Elite Protection, a security firm that guards several high-profile Chicago hotels, told The Associated Press. “Even if a hotel has a fully armed staff, it is still a dangerous proposition to engage an attack like that.”

    The nationwide security review triggered by Mumbai includes the U.S. Coast Guard, which would play a vital role in repelling terrorists before they could attack the soft underbelly of America’s cities.

    Rear Admiral Thomas F. Atkin, who leads the Coast Guard unit responsible for stopping ship-borne terrorists, continually asks himself: “Can we do the mission with our current equipment? We need to evaluate it to determine what the right equipment is. Then we can train appropriately.”

    Atkin tells Newsmax, “We don’t want to give the perception that everything is fine, that we don’t need to change. The Coast Guard is always changing to improve its mission capabilities.”

    Stopping terrorists before they get loose in American cities is the right idea, Carnahan says.

    “It really doesn’t do any good to say, ‘Oh my God, terrorists could do this.’ Well, terrorists could do a lot of things,” he says. “If we think like that, we’ll run around chasing our tails and we’ll live in a garrison state. The best way to combat this is to make sure attacks like this don’t happen in the first place.”

    © 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

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