Law enforcement and intelligence agencies estimate that the threat of using suicide attackers to attack targets in the U.S or Europe is no longer considered a low probability event. The US born terrorist Abu-Salha had returned to the United States for several months after receiving training by an extremist group in Syria is an appropriate example to this estimate. According to the agencies over 1,000 Westerners including approximately 100 Americans and more than 350 Belgians had received training and gained practical combat experience in Syria. Counter terrorism officials in both Europe and the United States have long said they consider the return of their radicalized citizens from Syria a looming threat.
This recent turn of events raises the question of the use of risk-based intelligence driven screening as an ongoing security concept.
Abu Hurayrah al- ameriki known as Moner Mohammad Abusalha, 22 years old, Florida-born college dropout, chose to carry out his attack in Syria rather than in the United States, but in a alarming new video, the US-born jihadist warned America that “we are coming for you. You think you’re safe where you are, in America or Britain or Indonesia or Jordan or China or Russia or Somalia or Africa? You are not safe…we are coming for you. Mark my words.”
American officials are still piecing together Abu-Salha’s travels between his two Syria trips but the fact is that a radical suicide terrorist with the intention of attack came on board international and domestic flights.
Intelligence and other law enforcement agencies are blamed for missing the terrorist travels, not detecting red flags, allowing him to fly “below radar” which is exactly what happened when Faruk Abdul-Mutaleb the Christmas-day 2009 bomber tried to blow-up a Northwest airline flight number 253 on route from Amsterdam to Detroit.
There was some information about Abu-Salha according to US officials: “The F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security had some indication at the time of his first trip that Abu salha had traveled to Syria. But they were unaware that he had trained at the Nusra camp and had no information to indicate he planned to take his life, according to the officials. It was only after he arrived in Syria the second time that the United States obtained information about his intention for a suicide attack.”
There have been other occasions when Americans and Europeans have received terrorist training overseas and then returned home, unknown to law enforcement agencies. Before he tried to detonate a bomb in Times Square in 2010, Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized American from Pakistan, received explosives training at a camp run by the Pakistani Taliban. Another American, David Headley, made several trips to Pakistani training camps run by the group Lashkar-e-Taiba and helped scout targets for the group, which carried out the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. The French citizen Mehdi Nemmouche, had fought with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and is accused of shooting four people in the Jewish Museum on May 24 2014 and the Dutch soldier known to us as Yilmaz who became a Jihadist in Syria.
Analyzing these events we can find one thing in common, though many successes are related to the intelligence community and its systems, security deployments must continue to rely on their own abilities to deal with these threats as if they were a standalone system devoid of any intelligence reports. And as we see the rise of these high threat passengers we understand even more that these security deployments cannot rely on the one size fits all concept being used today.
But there is a silver lining in the sky as we see a rise in the use of Risk Based Screening by many security deployments around the world, the use of Threat Indicators as a system to detect these high threat passengers is proving to be more useful than before especially as we continue to understand how to synergize the Human Component with emerging Technologies.
And as the threat grows and as we understand that the intelligence community can only stop part of these events, policy makers must allow greater freedom to security organizations to implement the risk-based screening under strict rule of human rights and privacy.