Thwarting Terrorist Bombing And Other Threats:
Part 2- Conditions & Threats
By Lawrence Kane
Editor’ Note: This is the second
in a two part series on Thwarting Terrorist Bombings and Other Threats.
1 of this series focused on awareness and assessment. Part 2 focuses
on various categories of threats, their indicators and choices of action.
Terrorist threats are frequently indirect, delivered via remote explosives
rather than via direct personal attacks. Unlike a typical mugger or common
criminal, terrorists are usually looking to cause as many casualties
as possible with the least amount of effort. It's hard to create mass
havoc through a one-on-one attack.
When traveling through public places or using public transportation
it is prudent to look for and report any suspicious or unattended packages,
devices, or baggage that could be used to deliver an explosive charge.
There are many instances where alert civilians have been able to thwart
potential remote bombing attacks.
For example, on January 23, 2005 a young boy playing in the village
of Barangay Malisbong, an Abu Sayyaf stronghold in the Philippines, discovered
a powerful explosive device concealed in a two-liter plastic soy-sauce
container packed with shrapnel and rigged to a timing device. He reported
his discovery to the authorities who disarmed the weapon and subsequently
arrested two terrorist suspects. Similar devices were retrieved unexploded
from a packed public market in Midsayap and the Cotabato City Cathedral
the next day.
If you discover a suspicious package it is best to avoid using a cellular
phone or radio transmitter within 50 feet, however, as your transmission
could cause a bomb to detonate. Some specific things to look for can
• Hidden or abandoned packages of any kind, including large
items left in garbage containers
• Packages that are connected to wires, timers, tanks, or bottles.
• Items that appear to be releasing a mist, gas, vapor, or have
any unusual odor.
• Packages containing canisters, tanks, metal boxes, or bottles.
Vehicles can be suspicious too. They are, after all, frequently used
to deliver explosive charges (e.g., Oklahoma City bombing). Once again,
there are many instances where alert civilians have been able to thwart
potential vehicle bombing attacks.
For example, on February 28, 2005 an astute villager in the city of
Arabe notified Israeli security forces of a commercial truck with a long
cable protruding from it. Upon closer examination, the cable was attached
to a battery and a video camera, most likely intended to document an
impending terrorist attack. IDF forces discovered a large amount of explosives
packed in the back of the vehicle which they subsequently detonated in
a controlled manner to dispose of the threat.
According to the FBI Bomb Data Center, six pounds of explosives (cigar
box) has a fragmentation range of 832 feet. For reference, the London
subway bombs were all less than ten pounds each. Forty pounds of explosives
(briefcase) has a fragmentation range of 1,129 feet. One hundred and
sixty pounds of explosives (suitcase) has a fragmentation range of 1,792
feet. You can imagine how devastating a truck bomb twenty times that
size could be. Potential vehicle bombs can often be identified by:
• Mismatched or precariously hung license plates.
• Attempts to abandon the vehicle in an inappropriate spot near
a high value target.
• An extra heavy load in the back.
• Attempts to evade roadblocks or security checkpoints.
• Refusal to slow down or comply with legitimate commands by
law enforcement authorities or security personnel.
In addition to remote explosive devices or vehicle-delivered bombs,
suicide attacks can also be a concern. This tactic has been used by Al
Qaeda, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezballah, the Kurdistan Worker's Party,
and the Tamil Tigers, among other groups, affecting countries such as
Afghanistan, Algeria, Argentina, China, Colombia, Croatia, Egypt, India,
Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan,
Panama, the Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania,
Tunisia, Turkey, Uzbekistan, and Yemen.
While anyone can blow him or herself up for a cause, the typical suicide
bomber is male, unmarried, in his late teens or early 20s, and fanatical
about his beliefs. He is often well educated, coming from a middle class
background. Security experts are becoming adept at identifying such individuals
through their suspicious behavior. Warning signs can include:
• Unseasonable dress, particularly when conspicuously bulky.
• Protruding bulges or exposed wires under clothing, potentially
seen through the sleeve.
• Attempts to wear a disguise or blend into a crowd where the
person does not seem to belong.
• Repeated and nervous handling of fashion accessories or clothing.
• Slow-paced movements with intense focus.
• Profuse sweating in excess of what might be expected due to
• Nervous muttering, mumbling, or praying.
• Attempts to maintain distance from or otherwise avoid security
personnel where present.
• Exuding a faint chemical odor.
While awareness can help you avoid terrorist attacks altogether, it
can also help you thwart one before it can be pulled off successfully.
Because the trained martial artist is far better prepared than the average
citizen to take action in these cases, we should be prepared to intervene
when necessary. Prudent application of countervailing force can be very
For example, on March 8, 2002 a Palestinian youth in his 20s walked
into the crowded Caffit coffee house in Jerusalem and asked for a glass
of water. This was nothing unusual as that particular part of town was
a popular hangout for Palestinian teenagers many of whom frequented the
café. What was unusual, however, was the fact that he was carrying
a large black school bag, appeared nervous, and was sweating profusely.
An astute waiter, Shlomi Harel, became concerned by the youth's behavior,
noticed a suspicious wire leading from the backpack, and took immediate
action. Pushing the youth outside, Harel and a security guard who also
worked in the building snatched the bomb from the assailant's hands,
yanked the wire from the detonator, wrestled him to the ground, and held
him until police could arrive. Their quick action averted what Police
Chief Mickey Levy said would have been, “a major disaster.”
Terrorist attacks are, by definition, terrifying. It is easy to feel
hopeless in the face of such danger yet it is also possible to hone your
sense of awareness, identifying and avoiding peril before it becomes
too late. Good situational awareness means having a solid understanding
of time and place and how they relate to you, your family, friends, and
others around you at any given moment. Any time you are near others,
especially strangers, you must be vigilant. If you can sense danger before
stumbling across it you have a much better chance of escaping unscathed.
While the odds of encountering a terrorist bomber are remote, a refined
sense of awareness can be beneficial in any type of hazardous encounter,
be it with a person, place, or thing. Violence almost never happens in
a vacuum. There is always some escalation process—even a really
short one—that precedes it. Consequently there are always physiological,
behavioral, environmental, or verbal indicators that you can spot to
warn you of imminent peril. By constantly surveying and evaluating your
environment, you achieve more control over what ultimately happens to
Copyright © 2005 Lawrence Kane posted on FightingArts.com
with permission of the author.
About The Author:
Lawrence Kane is the author of Martial Arts Instruction: Applying Educational
Theory and Communication Techniques in the Dojo (YMAA) and co-author
of The Way of Kata: A Comprehensive Guide to Deciphering Martial Applications
(YMAA, September 2005). Over the last 30 or so years, he has participated
in a broad range of martial arts, from traditional Asian sports such
as judo, arnis, kobudo, and karate to recreating medieval European combat
with real armor and rattan (wood) weapons. He has taught medieval weapons
forms since 1994 and Goju Ryu karate since 2002. He has also completed
seminars in modern gun safety, marksmanship, handgun retention and knife
combat techniques, and he has participated in slow-fire pistol and pin
Since 1985 Lawrence has supervised employees who provide security and
oversee fan safety during college and professional football games at
a Pac-10 stadium. This job has given him a unique opportunity to appreciate
violence in a myriad of forms. Along with his crew, he has witnessed,
interceded in, and stopped or prevented hundreds of fights, experiencing
all manner of aggressive behaviors as well as the escalation process
that invariably precedes them. He has also worked closely with the campus
police and state patrol officers who are assigned to the stadium and
has had ample opportunities to examine their crowd control tactics and
Lawrence lives in Seattle, Washington. He can be contacted via e-mail
For more information on Kanes two books see:
The Way of Kata