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Very important to engage terrorists, says expert

Arthur J Pais in New York | December 03, 2008 14:59 IST

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It is an extremely expensive suggestion, but a renowned anti-terrorist expert says the police forces in every country facing high risk of terrorism should have sophisticated training in dealing with the assault, evacuation of the victims, securing the area for clues, and look out for a second attack, not to forget targeting the escape avenues the perpetrators could use.

The cost of such training saves far more money in the long run than the investment made in creating the infrastructure to fight terrorism, said Aaron Richman, co-director of the four-year-old Institute of Terrorism [Images] Research in Response in Jerusalem, which also trains Homeland Security outfits in America.

"This is the lesson we could learn from the Mumbai attacks," Richman told, "and these lessons we have been learning from many other terror attacks including the one at Virginia Tech in America.

"It is very important to engage the adversaries when they go on a shooting rampage as they did at the busy train station in Mumbai," Richman said. It was not enough to rush a group of police officers to the scene. It is very important, he said, to tactically and strategically engage the terrorists, while making sure that the security officers are not gunned down or bombed.

He pointed to an article he wrote some time back for In Homeland Security in which he argued that 'The age of terrorism into which we have been flung presents new and unique challenges for law enforcement in the field. At a time when nightclubs, office buildings, buses or pizzerias are all targets for international terrorists, the police officer, uniformed or not, has become a frontline counter-terrorist agent.'

"There are many ways to maximiSe success in this scenario. Chief among them is training, at all levels of command, for preventing mass casualty attacks before they occur and for handling the situation if they do. Waiting for the higher officials and commandos could take some precious time and wasting of lives.

"When tactical decisions made in the wake of a terrorist attack are implemented in an instantaneous fashion, immediate goals are met and the system operates efficiently, with minimal losses and a quick return to normalcy."

Richman, an expert on international terrorism and suicide bombing who has spent years in special units of the Israeli military, offers rigorous anti-terror training in America and Israel through his institute. He provides training to the US Department of Homeland Security among others, and another client is Harvard University.

Speaking of the dangers of negotiating with terrorists, he said he was aware of reports that the Indian government did not want to negotiate. There are reports from Israel National News that terrorists in Mumbai 'had offered negotiations' for hostages at Chabad House where six people including two rabbis would be killed. But their offer was met with a firm refusal by the government, the news service said.

Richman, who said his men are in Mumbai trying to gather more information on the attack on Chabad House and concomitant issues, had no idea if the government had ever received hostage exchange offers from the terrorists. But if such an offer was made and the government stood by its decision not to negotiate, he said it was understandable.

"I would not be surprised at all that the adversaries looked back to the hijacking of the Indian Airlines plane nine years ago," Richman mused, "and how the Indian government exchanged some high profile militants from its prisons for over 150 hostages on that plane. They must have thought they could make a similar demand this time too, in Mumbai."

He said when any government gives in to the demands of the terrorists especially in hostage situations, the repercussions are wide. "If a government releases terrorists from prison in exchange of hostages, there is a vicious snowball effect worldwide," he added. "The terrorists will get bolder and they will think even more than before that they can succeed by negotiation."

But that does not mean there would not be negotiations. Even Israel, which holds that it won't deal with terrorists, has exchanged dozens of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one Israeli soldier.

"Each government should weigh the situation, check the demands of the adversaries and begin to act quickly," Richman said. "But you must also remember that sometimes the demands can be outrageous. The Chechen rebels, for instance, were unrealistic when they attacked a school demanding an immediate end to the Chechen war four years ago."

On that occasion, more than 1,100 people including 777 children were taken as hostages in the town of Belsan. In the fight with the terrorists, at least 334 hostages were killed, including 186 children.

Six years ago, heavily armed rebels threatened to shoot or blow up 700 hostages in a Moscow [Images] theatre unless Russia [Images] pulled its troops out of their homeland. At least 129 hostages and 41 Chechen fighters died when Russian troops stormed the theatre.

There is no point in negotiating when the "adversaries" are exchanging fire with the authorities, Richman said. "But in a hostage situation, it is a different situation." Calm and resolute thinking is very crucial in the negotiations, he continued.

"If the government starts out ruling out negotiating, they have to continue that," he said. "They must maintain that policy, unless the government on its own decides to reverse it. It should not however be changed because of the acts of the adversaries."

The police who are handling the situation where the adversaries have started shooting should multitask, Richman said.

He is aware of the criticism that the Mumbai police did not secure the attacked areas, and many people were able to go near the Taj or Chabad House even while the terrorists were inside. "Securing the scene is a very high priority," he said. "There is always a very high potential for a secondary device or attack. The police should also be trained to scan the vicinity for potential secondary threats."

In his articles, he has emphasised the need for anti-terrorism training scenarios for the police, 'whether table-top or real-life,' and there is 'a need to be drilled at the level of the lone patrol up to the level of an entire unit. Furthermore, commanding officers should be drilled by their supervisors along with their subordinates. The benefits of such an approach are abundant: the commander can improve at a personal level, as well as learn to better identify training points for him to focus on among his personnel. As the commanding officer needs to be at the scene of an actual terrorist attack as soon as possible, managing the incident, he also needs to be an integral part of the training and drilling for such an event.'

He hopes the debriefing among the commanders and police personnel in Mumbai will yield insights and lessons, that will then be rigorously employed to strengthen the security apparatus and increase their preparedness.

Complete coverage: Terror strikes at Mumbai's heart

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