Civilian Response to Terrorist Threats is one of the SIG SAUER Academy’s Special Topic classes, combining real world shooting drills with a larger amount of classroom time than most of their offerings. The course spans two days and has an optional third day Simunitions Force-on-Force exercise to put what the students have learned into practice. The class is taught by Todd Rassa, a guest instructor at the SIG Academy. Rassa is responsible for creating many of the Academy’s more imaginative courses including Extreme Close Quarters Battle Pistol, Preparation for Social Collapse, and the more light-hearted Zombie Apocalypse Survival School (and no, I’m not making the last one up – go check out their website). Anyway . . .
The Civilian Response to Terrorist Threats is an outgrowth of one of Todd’s earlier classes – the Military/LE-only Counter-Terrorism Tactics for the First Responder. The reason the Counter-Terrorism class is restricted in that Todd’s presentation includes updated intelligence on current and/or recent terrorist threats and specific police response tactics. Despite this, there was a demand for a civilian version of the class, so Todd did a little re-writing, removing the restricted material and altering the tactics taught during the shooting portions of the class to make it more relevant to a civilian audience.
The class is broken up into a morning lecture segment followed by afternoon shooting. The schedule is repeated on the second day. When I arrived I was pleased to discover that of the original four people registered, only one other person besides me showed up. This is a huge benefit as the training becomes much more personalized and often the instructor can move beyond his standard syllabus to offer additional tactical training not generally taught to a larger class.
The first day started with a four-hour lecture segment on Islamic Fundamentalism and Terrorism. Whether you agree with it or not, Todd’s position is that the notion that Islam is essentially a religion of peace with only a small segment of its adherents misinterpreting it is absolute bunk. According to Rassa, if you take the time to really study Islam and read the Koran and other writings, you come to the conclusion that Islam is, in fact, a warrior religion in which its adherents are urged to convert or kill unbelievers.
Rassa’s contention is that the vast majority of peaceful Muslims are simply choosing not to interpret the Islamic holy writings as literally as their more violent brethren. He likens the extremist Muslim sects to fundamentalists in other religions. Christianity and Judaism both have their share of adherents who interpret the holy writings literally and in some cases, choose violence to advance their agendas.
The discussion included the terrorist mindset as well as the overall goal of the fundamentalist Muslim – to restore the worldwide Caliphate of the Ottoman Empire. With an understanding of the goals of terrorists covered, we moved to a discussion of where we might see attacks in our communities. Terrorists are taught to follow a two-prong strategy for assaults. On the one hand is the big “go for broke” strategy such as the World Trade Center attacks. On the other hand is the smaller, but more numerous “death by a thousand cuts” method that has terrorists launching smaller, but more numerous attacks on things like schools, local government buildings, shopping malls, etc.
One of the areas Rassa covers is an overview of the attack strategies that terrorists might employ. He contrasts attacks in Israel to attacks that can happen elsewhere. Israel has seen more of the suicide bombing style of attack simply because with a very alert and heavily armed populace, the likelihood that a terrorist could escape after launching an attack is very small. By contrast, given the largely unarmed population here in the U.S. and other Western nations, the chances that a terrorist could launch an attack and still escape is much higher.
Given the fact that resources are scarce, it’s likely that the terrorist planners would attempt to launch attacks that would enable their people to escape so that they could launch another attack at some point in the future.
Rassa then moved into a discussion of Islamic terrorist attacks around the world. He specifically focused on the September, 2004 attack on the school in Beslan, Russia which ultimately left 338 people dead and over 700 wounded. He also covered the 2007 attack at the Trolley Square mall in Salt Lake City, Utah that was perpetrated by a Bosnian Muslim as well as the Washington D.C. Beltway sniper case from 2002. While not widely discussed, this attack was perpetrated by Muslims as well and many people in law enforcement see this as another Islamic terrorist attack.
During the classroom segment, Rassa showed a number of videos, one of which is a captured film from a terrorist training exercise in which the participants practice taking over a school building. This latter video is very detailed in its portrayal of the kind of tactics that terrorists could use in taking over a building with a lot of people. The camera shows how people are separated out into small groups and frisked under the watchful eyes of armed guards.
The first day’s classroom segment concluded with a discussion of physical and psychological signs to look for when evaluating whether a suspicious person might indeed be getting ready to commit a terrorist act. In all, it was a very eye-opening session.
After lunch, we hit the firing range. Rassa focused on tactics that one would use in the event of an attack – a lot of moving and shooting as well as learning how to assess and use cover and concealment. We practiced room clearing drills – slicing the pie and speed entry. When Rassa thought we had it down, we did it in pairs.
Fortunately, my classmate was also fairly skilled with his pistol, so Rassa felt comfortable taking us through more advanced drills, confident that we could handle them without accidentally shooting each other. It was a very interesting experience doing these drills with someone I had never worked with. It shows that if you’re paired with someone who is also good with a gun, you can manage some pretty sophisticated coordinated attack strategies. These drills went far beyond anything that I had previously experienced during an Academy course.
Day one also involved a fair amount of extreme close quarters pistol work. We practiced firing at point blank range with our assailant at arms-length. Day one wrapped up with some familiarization drills with the kinds of weapons that Islamic terrorists would likely be using – the CZ-52 pistol and an AK-47 rifle. I have to admit I was pretty impressed with the CZ-52 which fired a 7.62x25mm bullet at speeds approaching 1600 feet per second. This round has the capability of penetrating Level II body armor, which makes it a very potent round. I just may have to keep my eyes open for a CZ-52.
Day Two had us back in the classroom for a couple of hours to review The Combat Mindset. Rassa spent a fair amount of time talking about the mental elements in a self-defense scenario as well as reviewing the steps that to take should we find ourselves in a shooting situation with a family member.
He stressed that preparation is paramount – you need to have a discussion with your family beforehand so that they know what to expect should you find yourself in a combat situation. Since you’re likely to be the one engaging the bad guys, it’s critical that your family understand they need to seek cover and distance from you and that even if you go down, they can’t approach you lest they expose themselves to gunfire.
The second day’s shooting exercises moved into more advanced tactics. We practiced moving to and from cover in several spots as well as facing a surprise last bad guy as we made our way for the exit. We also learned to conserve our ammo as until we are completely clear of the situation. You never know when you might be called upon to use your pistol again after you think you have neutralized all of the threats.
We practiced working in pairs – one person carrying the AK-47 while the second person provided backup with a pistol. Some of these scenarios involved us crossing back and forth behind each other so it was critical that we watched where our pistol was pointing at all times. It is important to stress that this is not a course for beginners as mistakes could have resulted in the very real possibility of someone getting accidentally shot.
Getting away from the guns for a little while, we also practiced some basic knife skills. We learned that the best location for a knife is a place where we can reach it with our support hand. Then we got into some pistol retention drills in which our gun hand was holding onto the weapon while our support hand drew the knife and used it to attack the bad guy who was going for our gun.
Rassa also got into the subject of concealment. And he’s not a proponent of open carry for the simple reason that he does not want the bad guy to know that he has a gun until it’s too late. This same philosophy should be applied to the knife location, too – you don’t want to advertise that you’re carrying one, so we were taught places to conceal it while still leaving it accessible to our support hand.
The day finished with two scenario based exercises – in the first, we had to sprint about 30 yards to a cover position and then attempt a single head shot on a “terrorist” with a suicide vest from about 45 yards. I was glad I had chosen to use my Sig P210 for this as I came the closest to nailing the guy in the head. The other participant hit the terrorist squarely in his torso which would have likely detonated the suicide vest. Depending on the terrorist’s head movement, I very likely would have tagged him, but I still need to practice my mid-range shooting skills a lot more to be confident of that every time.
The second scenario had us sitting at a table in the mall enjoying lunch. At the instructor’s command, we jumped up and put two point shots into a terrorist right in front of us. We then simulated that he dropped his AK-47, which we picked up, then ducked behind cover. Then we emptied the magazine at six other terrorists at various distances and angles, all the while avoiding shooting the innocents that were sprinkled in-between.
Once the AK was empty, we put it down, moved over to the shoot house and proceeded to clear it room by room, simulating our escape through the mall’s administrative offices. Since we didn’t know the number or disposition of the terrorists in the shoot house, we had to conserve our ammo as we moved through. Just to make it harder, innocents were sprinkled in among the terrorists that we needed to avoid shooting.
One of the takeaways from the course is a frank self-evaluation of my own concealed carry strategy. In many cases, when I carry, I carry a small caliber weapon with limited ammunition. Often, I don’t bother with an extra magazine or speed loader. My threat analysis always focused on the single or double attack scenario in a parking lot or other place where 6-10 rounds should be adequate to enable me to escape.
This preparation may be OK for that kind of attack, but wouldn’t do me much good if I found myself in a situation such as a shopping mall where I might have to shoot my way out against a larger number of armed attackers. Going forward, I’m making sure I have a couple dozen rounds of ammunition with me anywhere I go.
The other major takeaway was that terrorist attacks on our home soil are a question of when, not if. The bad guys are training to take schools, malls and other places that would inflict maximum psychological damage. Rassa discussed one such scenario that might target shoppers during the Christmas season.
Perhaps we’d see a series of coordinated attacks on malls followed by attacks on UPS/Fedex airlines that would cripple both the brick and mortar and the on-line vendors. Our LE community have stopped at least 50 attacks since 9/11 that Todd is aware of. Some made the news while others didn’t.
He’s the first to admit that if he knows about the first fifty, it’s likely that the true number is even higher as many of these attacks were never disclosed to anyone –not even law enforcement. We need to be prepared to counter more than the typical convenience store robber or lone mugger. We’ll see coordinated attacks on our home soil in the future and being prepared to counter them is our only defense.
Unfortunately, the optional third day of Force on Force training was canceled because of the missing students. Since it would have been just me, it would have been difficult to do Force on Force as we kind of lacked one of the Forces. All things considered, it’s just as well. I rescheduled for the next time it’s offered – November which is probably better since the Force on Force is taught with Simunitions and we are required to wear a fair amount of protective gear. I think I’ll be much happier doing this in the cold of November than I would have been in the heat of July.