The rise of “lone wolf” attacks or the “active gunman” whereby the perpetrator acts alone is one of the key risks for 2016, according to a recent panel discussion on terrorism organised by the Risk and Insurance Management Association of Singapore (RIMAS). This trend is not unexpected for the region. New risks emerge, which many are not prepared to deal with.
“We’ve seen an evolution in our clients in understanding terrorism risk and mitigating it through financial solutions and physical security infrastructure, but the active gunman is something new and I don’t think they’re ready for it,” said Mr Daniel Bould, Regional Director, Crisis Management, Aon Risk Solutions. He added that this emerging risk requires additional skillsets, such as proactive intelligence, and security staff well-trained in identifying potential individuals and alerting authorities.
The lone wolf
Mr Andreas Wimmer, Director at the German-Asian Research Centre in Singapore (Deutsches Asienforschungszentrum), noted that the recent Jakarta attacks had shown for the first time how the effectiveness of the Indonesian counter-terrorist forces has paid off. The quick response prevented a greater loss of life. But the new threats prove a potent point, that public safety is a concern for everyone and complacency or weak policy creates the political vacuum which allows hate-ideologies like ISIS’ to grow.
“And once a terrorist group gets eroded in structure and capability, it reverts to something less effective, like a knife attack in public,” he said, adding that such a scenario is very much within the threat spectrum in a city known for its safety like Singapore. Examples of such attacks as seen in New York and the UK are ample and require a rethinking of public safety initiatives by both the public and law enforcement agencies. These tactics are not limited to Europe or the United States and could appear within Asia.
Likewise, Ms Pranoti Surve, Vice President, Intelligence at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch, agreed that this “lone wolf, singular actor” is a key threat. Small groups of people could be radicalised over the Internet and then act independently, conducting attacks with an element of surprise which require very little financial commitment and minimal logistical support from the larger terrorist groups.
Mr Ben Brandt, Security Intelligence Analyst at Cargill, said that illegal access to weapons in the region is “much more than it should be”, and this is going to drive more attacks – a possibility in societies which are religious and racially polarised. He cited the example of Malaysia, where recent racial tensions have been quite bad.
First responders critical
In the immediate aftermath of attacks and mass casualties, where emergency medical services would take time to respond, the role of first responders will be critical.
“In the ‘platinum 10 minutes’ after injury occurs, we need people on the streets to actively help the casualties before they get to a doctor,” said Dr David Chew, a trauma physician at ARIS Integrated Medical. “Training is critical.” He also expressed concern that terrorists could come up with novel ways to weaponise chemical and biological agents in their attacks.
Awareness training for staff
Mr Bould said that to protect themselves, organisations should open up their facilities to the police and share building plans to enable them to familiarise themselves with the surroundings. In addition, they should ensure that adequate crisis management plans are in place, such as ensuring that staff know their roles and responsibilities, run simulation scenarios and update call lists, which would help first responders. “There is very little you can do in shooter situations as an organisation, but you can help contain the crisis and manage it,” he said.
The panellists highlighted the importance of awareness training for staff so that they would practise the principle of “see something, say something” and know how to react to unusual behaviour in their peers, and carrying out training and drills in skills like CPR. Other measures include paying attention to advice from intelligence sources and developing a robust information network – at present, there is still a lack of investment in forward-looking intelligence by Asian companies.
Countering the ISIS narrative
On ways to counter ISIS, the panellists felt that it would be a good idea to counter its narrative, though this would be tough given the wide range of reasons driving the individuals who respond to its call.
Mr Wimmer added: “Authorities do need help from corporations. Corporations and their access to resources, technology and know-how are able to address some of the gaps, better and faster than authorities. This is an opportunity for Asian corporations to contribute to public safety.”
Mr Brandt noted that there are some “common sense” practices, like not putting terrorist suspects with other prisoners at large to prevent the latter’s radicalisation. However, isolating radicals effectively, together with tightening access to weapons, continue to be an issue in many countries.
“I think there’s a lot of great work being done in Southeast Asia to de-radicalise individuals – we just have to keep plugging away, one individual at a time,” Ms Surve said.