Terrorists Could Use Fire as New Tactic Against United States
Counterterrorism experts worry about a weapon that is both easily attainable and destructive. It is not a gun, explosive or nuclear weapon. It’s fire.
Joseph Pfeifer, chief of counterterrorism and emergency preparedness at the New York Fire Department, said first responders and law enforcement need to be more prepared for terrorist attacks that use fire as a weapon. Such tactics were used in the 2008 assaults in Mumbai, India.
“The recognition of terrorists’ interest in the use of fire as a weapon and the resulting complexities are important considerations for all first responders and security forces,” Pfeiffer said June 12 in his statement before the House Homeland Security Committee’s subcommittee on counterterrorism and intelligence.
“Fire as a weapon, by itself or along with other tactics, presents significant challenges that first responders and security forces must contend with in planning, preparation and drills,” he said at the hearing, which focused on the potential of an attack on the United States by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistani terrorist organization.
There is a lack of training and knowledge about potential “Mumbai-style” terrorist attacks on the homeland. Pfeiffer urged Congress to provide resources for research and training that could aide in the prediction of these attacks sooner rather than later.
Lashkar-e-Taiba led the series of attacks against Mumbai.
“While successful attacks are instructive, it is equally important to study unrealized terrorist plots that reveal a great deal about intentions, motivations, target selection and desired tactics of our adversaries,” Pfeifer said.
Some terrorist organizations have been publishing information that instructs members how to use fire as a means of attack. One publication, Inspire, provided its readers with a tutorial on various methods, including the use of simple “ember bombs” to ignite forest fires, according to Pfeifer.
While the LeT continues to train and cultivate new terrorists, these groups and individuals no longer need extensive training, Pfeifer said. The pressure cooker bombs planted during the Boston Marathon was one example of a relatively simple to construct weapon, he said.
Meanwhile, Lashkar-e-Taiba doesn’t pose an imminent threat to the United States, said Christine Fair, senior fellow with the Combating Terrorism Center at the West Point military academy.
While Pfeifer agreed with Fair, he still believed that the United States could be a potential target for the LeT and other groups. While the organization may not be directly connected to al-Qaida, many militants work together to plan attacks, he said.
There is no evidence that the LeT has the intention to attack the U.S. home front, said Stephen Tankel, an assistant professor at American University and expert on terrorism.
Tankel shared a conversation he had with an alleged member of the LeT, who stated that there were two reasons why the organization had not targeted the United States: the fear of retribution and the price that the organization might have to pay in the aftermath.
The member told Tankel that if those two things were absent, the LeT would have no issues with attacking the United States.
Topics: Homeland Security