Paris and global terrorism
Most countries around the world are on high alert following the ISIS Paris terrorist attacks. These are reactive countermeasures taken in order to prevent any copycat attackers who may apparently find the coordinated simultaneous multiple attacks inspirational.
The Nigerian Federal Government also heightened up security at all the airports across the country. This is perfectly understandable considering that the country is still dealing with Boko Haram terrorist organization who look up to ISIS so much that they decided to pledge allegiance and refer to themselves as the West African branch of ISIS called ISWAP (Islamic State West African Province).
The Paris attack highlights the ongoing threat of global terrorism, and shows that even major cities thought to be relatively safe are not spared from terrorist attacks. ISIS appears to delight in attacking tourist destinations and cities and continue to attempt exploitation of travel security vulnerabilities. Even here in Nigeria, Boko Haram members have been arrested a few times at airports attempting to carry out surveillance on travel security operations.
Based on this knowledge, it is recommended that Nigerian airports adopt the security threat advisory system. This will involve the government security agencies effectively communicating information about imminent terrorist threats to members of the public and making them aware of the heightened security at all airports and border crossings. This will make members of the public more observant during the threat period, until the risk has been averted. It will also prepare the minds of travelers to make appropriate accommodations for travel delays as a result of increased security checks.
Also, since quite a number of Nigerians travel across the globe for trade, vacation, work, and so on, it is important that families and corporations begin to implement travel security training and advisory to ensure their personnel or family members know what actions to take should they find themselves in a foreign land that has just been attacked by terrorists.
Aside from travel security, there are other counter terrorism lessons to be learned from this attack:
Weapons and Technology Hardly the Panacea
First of all, the Paris incident have shown us that despite sophisticated digital and communications surveillance methods and equipment available to security and intelligence operatives, attacks can still occur. The perpetrators of the attacks were said to have stayed off the digital radar, with practically non-existent virtual footprints on social media and barely any use of cellular communication. In addition to that, increasing encryption online and deep web social network communications are making it harder for authorities to track would be attackers.
During the peak of Boko Haram attacks earlier this year, there were several accusations levied against Western nations for preventing the Nigerian government from procuring weapons needed to defeat the sect. France runs a well equipped military, yet the country they are equipped to protect, still became vulnerable to attacks. Militaries must not rely on weapons and technology to defeat terrorists, counter terrorism measures must involve operating a network of human informants and community policing where individuals can provide information to hotlines.
Mentorship and Bombs
Secondly, the attacks highlight the ease with which deadly ideology and training is shared across the globe. The onset of the internet and prevalent technology has helped perpetuate the spread of radical fundamentalist preaching. Impressionable listeners are able to follow the daily teachings of their mentor who encourages them to carry out these evil attacks on innocent people.
There is now more easy access to IED making materials and instructions and all these things are available on a medium that has no borders. This poses a risk to all countries and including Nigeria. For example, there is a robbery trend in which robbers who carry out attacks on banks, now use bombs to disable security doors and ATMs.
Recently, a gang of four was arrested in Ogun state with explosive devices. The individual in possession of the explosives initially denied trying to use them for ulterior purposes by saying that he uses them for fishing! The man said “I normally use the explosives for fishing by putting the explosives in the water and then connect them to wires. When the explosives go off, they shock the fish to death and I catch them”. Assuming this individual was indeed telling the truth, it makes one wonder how civilization has gotten to the point that the use of bombs are so commonplace, that a person believes it is adequate means to catch fish!
Thirdly, these attacks highlight the need for Nigeria to get serious about compiling their terrorist watch list, maintaining an accurate biometric database and focusing on tightening border security and maintaining adequate border controls.
Paris authorities were able to identify one of the suicide bombers by taking the fingerprints off his severed finger. The French police used the Syrian passport found next to one attacker’s body to determine that the attacker entered France through Greece, into the EU and on through Macedonia and Serbia before making it to France. The French authorities are able to trace all this information because they have adequate border control systems. Nigerian borders and their over 1,000 illegal border crossings will make identifying the manner in which terrorists entered the country virtually unfeasible.
Serbian authorities could not identify the Paris suspects on any terrorist or criminal databases, so they deemed them as non-threats and allowed them cross the border. Keeping an adequate terrorist biometric databases will help Nigerian ensure that insurgents are unable to wander around the country and region unimpeded.
Terrorism is a transnational crime because it transcends across borders. Thus a global joint effort will be necessary to hamper its spread and cripple its organization. African nations understand the need for this increased collaboration and have begun taking action as evidenced in the regional Multinational Joint Task Force, and even in the recent arrests in Senegal in which 5 Boko Haram affiliated individuals were arrested near the Niger-Nigerian border attempting to join Boko Haram militants with a huge sum of money including fake currencies.
Overwhelmed Security, Prepared Relief Teams
Terrorist prefer the technique of carrying out multiple attacks simultaneously or in timed synchronization as this causes maximum chaos and fear among members of the public. In early October, Boko Haram planned a sequence of attacks by releasing multiple suicide bombers in different cities who detonated back to back. The intelligence agencies are usually to blame anytime such attacks are not thwarted beforehand.
In the case of France, it is said that more than 1,500 French citizens are believed to have traveled to ISIS territory, 250 have returned to French soil and their database of suspected individuals have more than 11,000 names on it. The country’s security and intelligence services may be a bit overwhelmed in implementing an effective counter-terrorism measure.
Despite the difficulty in thwarting all impending attacks, the country’s security operatives can carry out counter-terrorism exercises that simulate multiple attacks, in order to test their emergency responses and ensure that should an unfortunate terrorist attack such as this one occur in unexpected cities, the emergency response teams and disaster relief groups are ready to wield control while the intelligence agencies piece together the puzzle with 20/20 hindsight.
Tanwa Ashiru is the founder of Bulwark Intelligence and is a U.S Air Force veteran with over 12 years of experience in All-Source Intelligence and counter improvised explosive device (CIED) Analysis. She has been involved in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations in support of Multi-National Forces in Southwest Asia, the Middle East and Africa.