I remember watching United Airlines Flight 75 plow into the second World Trade Tower. I’m sorry if this offends anyone but my first thought was “clever bastards.” I was stunned by the terrorist’s audacity. While there were some people who predicted a deliberate air crash (including recently deceased author Tm Clancy and Morgan Stanley’s head of security), it was still an enormously surprising event. Obviously, there wasn’t anything the victims of this heinous crime could do to forestall their fate. But I’ve never forgotten the fact that . . .
9/11 was perpetrated by murderers with imagination, patience, intelligence and determination.
So when I heard of Kenya’s Westgate attack, I knew it wasn’t a simple a matter of a bunch of madmen driving to the mall and shooting up the place. Yesterday’s New York Times had a photo gallery of the attack’s aftermath with new information about the way it went down.
The initial attack was carefully planned and well rehearsed, officials say, with the building’s blueprints studied down to the ventilation ducts. The team of attackers slipped undetected through Kenya’s porous borders, often patrolled by underpaid — and often corrupt — border guards.
A day or two before the Sept. 21 attack, powerful belt-fed machine guns were secretly stashed in a shop in the mall with the help of a colluding employee, officials say.
Armed Americans are conditioned to to consider a lone wolf shooter—Adam Lanza, James Holmes, Nidal Hassan, Aaron Alexis, etc.—as their worst case scenario. They would do well to remember that terrorists are organized killers. They plan and act in groups. Like all groups of predators, they anticipate resistance and seek soft targets. They use stealth and misdirection to maximize their murderous mayhem.
Western security officials say they believe that several fighters slipped out of the mall during the attack, dropping their guns, changing clothes and blending in with fleeing civilians, an account echoed by some witnesses.
What this means to an armed self-defender is clear: don’t trust anyone.
How do you know your new friend is your friend? A civilian shepherding civilians towards an exit during an attack—this way! this way!—could be a terrorist or psycho-killer leading innocents straight to their death. This one-two punch is terrorists’ SOP (standard operating procedure): one attack to funnel the enemy in a predetermined direction or create a crowd, a second to destroy them.
When James Holmes opened fire inside a Cinemark theater in Aurora, Colorado, moviegoers stampeded out the front doors. They could have died in a secondary IED (improvised explosive device) explosion. Lest we forget, Holmes had booby-trapped his apartment with a range of IEDs.
Equally, Holmes was initially mistaken for law enforcement (he was wearing a tactical vest). How do you know the cops are cops? Would you climb into a bus taking victims to the hospital without wondering if it was a part of the terrorists’ plan? Most people wouldn’t give it a second thought. You should.
The trick is to keep thinking.
While gun gurus talk about (and instill) “muscle memory” to create quick, non-conscious reactions to life-threatening stimuli, it’s just as important to keep your rational brain spinning in an OODA loop (observe, orient, decide act). Where are the threats? Where is safety? What do I need to do to eliminate or avoid the threat or get to safety? NOW where are the threats? NOW where is safety? Wash, rinse, repeat. Until you are 100 percent safe: physically and legally.
For years, American officials have been deeply worried about the Shabab, who have claimed responsibility for killing more than 60 men, women and children in the mall attack. Viewing the deadly siege as a direct threat to its security, the United States is deploying dozens of F.B.I. agents to the mall to investigate.
They’re concerned. We should be vigilant. And prepared. To paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, if you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs you may just survive a violent attack. You may not, but the odds are better. Especially if you’re armed. Considering the endless evil of our enemies, that’s as good as it gets.