Terrorist tactics - Why don't they hit easier and more panic-inducing targets?

The recent London car bombs again illustrates something that has puzzled me for a while. Airports are hard targets, having very focused security in comparison to most public places. Yes, they are an important part of a nation’s infrastructure, and yes you’ll get a fair number of civilians there, but aren’t there just as attractive targets elsewhere?

It’s not like airports will be filled with military or other officials; most of the people you get will be civilians. In terms of symbolism, you can make a great argument for McDonald’s (or something similar) representing Western decadence or gluttony, or what have you. In terms of effectiveness at causing damage and spreading terror, people are already a little nervous at the airport; they expect it. Also, there’s often annoyingly strict security there, which at least gives the illusion of safety, or Something Being Done.

Why then don’t they try to hit McDonald’s and Starbucks, or shopping malls (those centers of Materialistic Evil), or office buildings, etc.? If they’ve been living in Britain (or wherever they may be) for any period of time, they’d know that commerce is the lifeblood of the nation, and hitting those spots that EVERYONE frequents on an EVERYDAY basis would really do serious damage. And these spots are just so much easier to hit; put a guy with an automatic weapon blocking each exit, and the death toll would be staggering.

I’m glad that no competent group has used this strategy in America, but I’m puzzled as to why. Any thoughts?

Yeah, I really have no idea. I was thinking for a long time that if they wanted to induce maximum terror they’d hit a small town grocery store or something. Right now the people who are the most hysterical are the people who are least likely to get hit. Our foreign policy for a while was dictated by people who had never set foot in New York City. I remember the initial hysteria of people thinking that their place of business could be a potential target. However, everyone knows that it’s the big cities that get hit. They know that they are safe in Sheboygan. Attack the local K-Mart in Sheboygan and suddenly that sense of safety is stripped from them.

The Palestinians hit pizza places in Tel Aviv. I don’t know why they don’t do that sort of thing around these parts. It would also be easier to get away with. Hit a McDonald’s for two minutes and then bolt, get across the state line, hit a Starbucks, and then ditch your car, so you can do it again in a month somewhere else.

I think part of the point is to damage infrastructure, too. Also, if you just kill a bunch of people, I don’t think it has the same psychological effect as blowing up a bunch of people in a place that they ought to have been safe.

Anyone can blow up MacDonalds or a shopping mall if they really want to maximize casualties, but it’s not particularly impressive if you do, so what’s the point? Terrorists aren’t trying to kill everyone, they’re trying to terrify everyone.

I think **Mosier ** has a point. Yes, it would be scary if someone blew up a random Starbucks or whatever (and certainly so for the company involved), but it’s less impressive to walk into such a place and blow it up simply because you can just walk into it. Pretty much anyone, if they so choose, could do that, with no help or funding. Airports or more security-heavy targets are more attractive just because of that; it doesn’t just say “We can kill you” it says “We can kill you despite your pathetic security”. Much more impressive.

I think it would be scarier to hit a local fast food joint in a small town because then it can ‘happen anywhere’ at ‘anytime’, which is not a perception people have now. Also, there is nothing we can do to keep a McDonald’s safe even if they are being blown up regularly.

Were I a terrorist, I’d probably do both.

Maybe they feel that, in order to be good terrorists, they have to hit something that is intrinsically bad. International influence by western countries is bad. Local stores aren’t. (McDonald’s and Starbuck’s may be a gray area.) So they hit big things attached to world trade when operating in the west.

The existence of Israel is bad, so hitting any part of it is good. Tourists in Muslim countries is a bad thing, so tourist spots are hit.

Just guessing.

In a terrorists perfect scenario, you could do both. Hitting the high security target involves a lot more risk, though. You probably can’t hit both a high sec target and a macdonalds and get away with it.

I was always wondering much the same thing.
Hitting soft targets (of all kinds) all over the U.S. would bring a feeling of vulnerability right down to every American.

I think that to accomplish this one of their main weapons would be individual suicide bombers wearing a bomb vest or perhaps a bomb-laden backpack.

They could walk in unnoticed to almost anyplace and then detonate their explosives. They could pick random targets so nobody would know where they would strike next.

Even individual homes could be targets. Any sense of security that the individual American had would be gone.

I guess that in a way, soft targets could become the equivalent of hard targets as far as psychological harm goes. The rest of the world has had to endure this for years.

The IRA did this, actually; they often preferred targets like bars and shopping areas, where they could kill civilians with a minimum of risk to themselves. And of course Islamic terrorists have hit many soft targets; the London bombings were all on minimal-security buses. Suicide bombers in Israel frequently attack restaurants and other civilian targets.

I’m inclined to wonder if we’re not overthinking the issue here; the Scotland batch don’t appear to have been the most skilled terrorists in the history of armed conflict, and may have been attacking an airport mainly because they didn’t think of attacking anything else. The 9/11 terrorists used airplanes, and they’re the heroes of Islamic terrorists, so why nhot doing something else airport-related? And if you’re in too much of a rush to learn to fly a plane, a car bomb at the airport is pretty close. It may have not bene any more complex than that.

There’s any number of reasons why the sort of market and bus bombings you’ve seen in Israel and Iraq don’t happen in Western countries. For one thing, just as a matter of proximity it’s a lot easier to keep up a series of smaller bombings in those nations. It’s much more difficult to get a network set up and ready to strike in a Western country, and given that they’ll probably only be able to get off at most a handful of attacks they want to focus on high-value targets.

Another thing is that terrorist attacks are meant to play to Islamic audiences as much as, if not more than, Western audiences. Being able to blow up a London Starbucks probably isn’t going to impress the Islamic man on the street. But taking out a high value target demonstrates that they can strike at the “heart of the beast”, and will increase their ability to recruit further Islamists to their cause.

Hitting one random Starbucks would scare people for a short while, and then it would fade into insignificance. What is needed to cause ‘terror’ is a bombing campaign, as with the IRA and in Israel (both mentioned above). This either requires a lot of would-be suicide bombers (easy to find in Palestine), or a large organised paramilitary system rather than a few radicals sat around a table.

However, note that the end result in both Britain and Israel turned out to be stoicism, and a determination not to let the attacks affect everyday life other than through some extra security and precautions.

The Al-Qaeda signature is to mount multiple simultaneous attacks, usually 2 but in the case of 9/11 it was 4. And these were hugely spectacular attacks killing vast numbers of people. If you truly want to sow terror, have 50 terrorists strike a busy fast-food joint in every state, killing about 10-20 people in each location. At the end of the day you’ve killed as many as 1000 people, all across the US. Simple, effective, and truly terroristic.

But the problem is that an attack like that would also galvanize and unify the population. 9/11 was clever in that it was large enough to be spectacular, but not quite large enough that it turned everyone to a permanent unity of purpose (like say in Israel where antiterrorist security is just a way of life). The terrorists really don’t want all 300,000,000 Americans sitting up and saying “OK, enough is enough, we’re all in it together”, instituting a draft, and starting WW2-sized military solution that might actually damage terrorists and their sponsor governments. (Actually I don’t think anyone wants this. I certainly don’t).

Being permanently off-balance like this, we can’t agree whether we need to “dig in” for a long-term existential struggle or whether a fairly quick fix is in sight. This way, we can’t decide to do much more than take impotent, self-undermining swipes at false targets while maintaining our status quo as far as stupid foreign policy and energy dependence.

I think this is a key point. We wargamed this a few years ago, and the scenario we came up with involved multiple strikes around the country using two and three stage explosions, which are a common terrorist tactic. I won’t mention the selected targets, but they terrified the Americans in the group. The others not so much. They pointed out exactly what flurb did. Any target has to be “playable” back home for propaganda, or it’s just a “boom.”


Yeah, I gotta join GorillaMan on this one. The sort of operation you’re talking about would require a huge, coordinated terrorist network spread across the entire United States. This ain’t 24.

I don’t get how terrorists pick their targets either.

If I were a terrorist and wanted maximum impact I would hit a school. Find out the name of a kid who went there, dress in a business suit complete with briefcase, say you’re picking the kid up after school soon and you just want to use the bathroom. Or find an open side door. Or go in with a group of people. Get several people and hit more than one at the same time. Instant terror.

Hitting multiple transportation targets at the same time would be good too. Like set enough explosives to take out a couple of important bridges or overpasses in a major city during rush hour. Even better would be to do this, and then have accomplices in other cities set explosives on the same kinds of targets that go off during morning rush hour, while everyone is still going ‘gosh that could happen anywhere’.

I’m wondering if the attack was really a suicide bombing.

Both of the earlier (pre-airport) bombs gave off smoke before they went off.

Could it be that the airport bomb had its fuse lit too soon, & the car & all within caught ablaze? The guy who tried to open the back of the car might have been trying to shut off the bomb, so he & his buddy could escape alive.

And the explosives belt one fellow was wearing might have been a backup plan, in case they were captured. Or even a component of the bomb, which was meant to be attached later.

Never attribute to Malice what can be laid to the door of Stupidity.
Overall, these boys don’t seem too swift. :dubious:

Why in this day and age would anyone use a fuse anyway? Why not a remote detonated bomb. Creating a radio remote is extremely simple. A cell phone bomb is slightly more sophisticated, but not by very much, just connect the wire for the ringer to your detonator.

Another thing to keep in mind is - these are usually suicide bombings. They have only one shot, and they have to make it count. All strategery aside, my ego would impel me to try to take out a major target than waste my life on a Starbucks.