Posts Tagged AQIM

Industry Talk: What Can We Learn From The In Amenas Gas Plant Attack?

“The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.” -Sun Tzu

What I wanted to do here is take a closer look at the In Amenas Gas Attack and comment on what is of interest. The first story below talks about how such a thing could even happen and that this is a wake up call.

Well it happened because of complacency and because the enemy force exploited a weakness after studying the facility and it’s security apparatus. It’s the same with the Camp Bastion assault, in which the attacking force was keen on the reconnaissance. For raids, good intelligence is key, and this attacking force did their homework.

As to how they were able to cross miles of desert from Libya into Algeria, and maneuver this close for the raid, they used deception. (another Sun Tzu tenet) Here is a quote:

The militants arrived in nine Toyotas with Libyan plates and painted in the colors of Sonatrach, the Algerian oil and gas company that has a share in the plant, according to the Algerian daily El Khabar.

This is a key point to identify in this deal. Deception is becoming more and more of the trademark of today’s terrorist networks. It is a tried and true method of getting forces near the target, as old as warfare itself. Wearing military, police or company uniforms, to throw off the OODA  (the observation part) of the security element or the victims, is a tactic that works. Al Qaeda and it’s partners know this, and they are consistently bringing this into their raid strategies.

For the Camp Bastion assault, the attackers wore US Army uniforms. The attack on FOB Salerno June of last year, the attackers wore ANA uniforms.  The attack on Bagram Air Base back in May of 2010, the attackers wore US military uniforms. In the attack on Pakistan’s Naval Station Mehran, the assault force wore Naval uniforms. This list and trend goes on…. The bottom line, raiders will use deception to achieve their goal of getting close, causing confusion, or killing more folks with a secondary deception tactic, like a VBIED in an ambulance. The imagination is the only limitation, and those security folks who can put together the pieces in their battle space faster than the enemy, will be able to counter.

It is also important to note that these raiding forces usually have suicide assaulters on their teams–or guys with explosive vests.

Let me bring up another killer–apathy and complacency. The In Amenas site had plenty of security, but obviously they were not prepared for such an assault. The second article below talks about how much security there really was.

The Amenas gas plant in Algeria was guarded by around 100 armed gendarmes but they failed to fend off an attack by less than half the number of terrorists, it can be disclosed.
A base for the gendarmes was built between the residential compound and the drilling area which are several miles apart in the desert, sources told the Daily Telegraph.
But they failed to react in time when a convoy of around 14 vehicles arrived at the base at 5.40am on January 16 with heavy machine guns mounted on the back and carrying at least 32 terrorists.
Gendarmes accompanying a bus heading for the airport managed to beat off the first attack and Huw Edwards, a British gas worker on the bus, said he owed his life to them.
However the al-Qaeda-backed militants were able to get into the residential compound and take dozens of Westerners hostage.
The army arrived to provide back up from a base around 30km (18.5m) away but their two attempts to launch a rescue ended in a bloodbath and the death of at least 37 foreign workers.

But this quote tells us something else about the style of attack that the enemy used here that should be noted. The enemy was able to gain relative superiority using surprise and violence of action. According to the book Spec Ops, the six principals of special operations success are simplicity, security, repetition, surprise, speed, and purpose. Obviously the enemy is following similar principals, and surprise and speed was key in order for a small group to take on a large group such as this and actually gain access to the facility.

I would even say purpose is something to throw in there, just because these guys were hell bent on getting western hostages and either killing them or holding them for ransom, and destroying the facility.

That last part is a great way to transition to the 60 Minutes show on the attack. If you watch the video and listen to the commentary of these individuals, you get an idea of how focused this assault force was on finding and killing/capturing western hostages. And these employees knew how important they were to the terrorists.

In the 2008 Mumbai Attack, the assault teams were very systematic in their execution of hostages, to include western hostages. So with that said, security folks should not advise their clients to give up when it comes to terrorist attacks, simply because this is a death sentence. Run, Hide, Fight is more in line with what needs to happen, and your client should definitely be briefed on the overall security plan in the event of a complex assault like this one. At the In Amenas attack, the terrorists were intent on killing hostages and destroying the plant.

Perhaps late Wednesday or early Thursday morning — Mr. Sellal described it as a nighttime episode — the kidnappers attempted a breakout. “They put explosives on the hostages. They wanted to put the hostages in four-wheel-drive vehicles and take them to Mali.”
Mr. Sellal then suggested that government helicopters immobilized the kidnappers. Witnesses have described an intense army assault, resulting in both militant and hostage deaths.
“A great number of workers were put in the cars; they wanted to use them as human shields,” the prime minister said. “There was a strong response from the army, and three cars exploded,” he said. One contained an Algerian militant whom the prime minister identified as the leader, Mohamed-Lamine Bouchneb.
The second and final operation happened Saturday, Mr. Sellal said, when the 11 remaining kidnappers moved into the gas-producing part of the complex, a hazardous area that he said they had already tried to ignite.
“The aim of the terrorists was to explode the gas compound,” he said. In this second assault, he said, there were “a great number of hostages,” and the kidnappers were ordered to kill them all. It was then, he said, that army snipers killed the kidnappers.

 Another point to bring up with this attack is that it was early morning and possibly during a shift change. The attackers definitely timed their attack as the bus full of workers was coming in. So time and timing was crucial here as well. It is important to note that most complex attacks of this nature, occur in low light or at night, so it seems.

The In Amenas assault started at 0540 in the morning. The Camp Bastion Assault started at 2200 at night. The Mehran attack started at 2230 at night. The Mumbai attack happened at 2010… So you get a picture here that darkness or low light definitely helps in the ‘surprise and deception’ department, and the enemy knows this.

Another pattern I am seeing is the use of multiple assault teams. In the Camp Bastion assault, they had three teams of five. In the Mumbai Assault, they had two teams of six and four men. The In Amenas attack had nine trucks filled with around 40 militants. In all of these attacks, there was a division of labor here and the attacks were organized. Teams were assigned targets and objectives.

The point to bring up here is that with multiple teams comes multiple problems. Security forces could respond to one attack by one team, and then the other assault teams can start the real attack. It can create confusion for the security forces and it can increase the success of the assault force.  The assault force can even implement Cheng and Ch’i, by using one team to set up the security force with one type of attack, and then use another team or teams for the real attack to achieve the ultimate goal.

The Mumbai attack is a great example of this, where one force causes the distraction and sucked in the majority of emergency response forces to that fight (lighting fires, etc), and then the other team did the systematic search and killing of the primary targets in the hotels. Cheng is the expected or orthodox strategy, and Ch’i is the surprise or unorthodox strategy. Playing the two strategies off of each other creates all sorts of opportunities for an assault force composed of multiple teams. Yet again, the enemy is recognizing the value of this, and security forces have to be aware of the attack coming from multiple points and at multiple times.

Well, that is about all I have on this one.  If you would like to further delve into the lessons learned that others have brought forth, here is a link. It would be great to hear what other folks picked up on this and other attacks.

I also want to mention the heroic acts of the security force in the face of such an attack. The lone guard named Mohamed Lamine Lahmar who was killed shortly after he hit the alarm button to shut down the plant and warn everyone, certainly saved lives. The Stirling Group contractors whom died in the defense of their client also get special mention, as do the hostages whom were killed.

The lesson here is that companies will adjust and security forces will learn from this incident to build a better defense–or apply continuous improvement to their operation. We must actually recognize what the enemy is doing or deal with reality, both in Africa and elsewhere in the world, and learn from this. Most importantly, we must stay one step ahead of them and implement security plans that effectively deal with this reality. As Sun Tzu would say, we must ‘rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable. -Matt

 

 

Algeria Attack A ‘Wake-Up Call’ For Energy Companies
by Tom Gjelten
January 24, 2013
A week has passed since the terrorist attack on a natural gas facility in Algeria, but risk analysts and security experts are still undecided about the incident’s likely impact in the energy world.
The price of oil, a good indicator of anxiety in the energy market, went up modestly right after the attack, but then it stabilized. No energy company has suspended operations in Algeria, nor has any company announced it will hold off on future investments in North Africa, a key source of oil and gas supplies.
It may just be that governments and energy companies are still trying to figure out exactly what happened at the In Amenas gas field. The complex had not been attacked during decades of civil war in Algeria.
Success Of Raid ‘A Mystery’
David Goldwyn, formerly the State Department’s special envoy for international energy affairs, notes that the complex was surrounded by “a ring of steel.”

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Al Qaeda: Boko Haram, Al Shabaab And AQIM Are Linking Up

“It’s one of the main depots of the Malian army,” a security source told AFP, adding that it had been built in case of “a long and difficult war.”A regional security source confirmed the seizure, saying the vast cache of weapons will “really boost AQIM’s striking power”, and adding: “It is really impressive what AQIM has found in the underground depot.”The source said the group “is today more armed than the combined armies of Mali and Burkina Faso”, Mali’s neighbour to the east.

This to me is fascinating and startling at the same time. Look at how fast these Islamist groups are spreading in Africa? They are taking advantage of the leadership vacuum caused by the Arab Spring, or making their moves in really poor and poorly governed countries. Where there is darkness on the continent, they are moving in to set up shop.

They are also capturing some pretty significant weapons and using this stuff to gain ground throughout the region. From the stuff in Libya that was ‘liberated’ during that fighting, to weapons depots in Mali that were taken by force.

And what gets me here is that I still haven’t heard what exactly Ansar Dine was able to get out of this weapon depot in Gao, Mali. Apparently they are now ‘more armed than the combined armies of Mali and Burkina Faso’, says the quote up top. So these non-state actors are now more armed than several countries combined? Yikes, and that is quite the accomplishment….It also makes you wonder about places like Syria, where that country is imploding and weapons depots–to include chemical and bio, could potentially be compromised.

Not only that, but now that the Muslim Brotherhood is in control of Egypt, whose to say that some of their weapons wouldn’t slip out into the world and find their way into Islamist’ hands? Or directly given to Islamists by a government that openly supports them. pfffftt.

We will see how it goes and somehow I don’t think this fire in the Middle East or Africa is going out any time soon. –Matt

 

Captured armored vehicle in Mali.

 

African extremist groups linking up: U.S. general
June 25, 2012
By Lauren French
Three of Africa’s largest extremist groups are sharing funds and swapping explosives in what could signal a dangerous escalation of security threats on the continent, the commander of the U.S. military’s Africa Command said on Monday.
General Carter Ham said there are indications that Boko Haram, al Shabaab and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb – groups that he labeled as the continent’s most violent – are sharing money and explosive materials while training fighters together.
“Each of those three organizations is by itself a dangerous and worrisome threat,” Ham said at an African Center for Strategic Studies seminar for senior military and civilian officials from Africa, the United States and Europe.
“What really concerns me is the indications that the three organizations are seeking to coordinate and synchronize their efforts,” Ham said. “That is a real problem for us and for African security in general.”
The United States classified three of the alleged leaders of the Islamist sect Boko Haram, based in remote northeast Nigeria, as “foreign terrorist,” on June 20. But it declined to blacklist the entire organization to avoid elevating the group’s profile internationally. Police in Nigeria said members of the group seized a prison there Sunday and freed 40 inmates.

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Al Qaeda: AQIM Getting Rich, Using Mercenaries, And At War With France And The West

“A disproportionate number of terrorist attacks … fail simply because ideological conviction is not sufficient to have technical and operation capabilities,” he says. “What this group is doing is they’re increasing their probability of success by hiring people who understand the terrain, and have the know-how.” 

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“Mokhtar (Belmokhtar) is one of the more innovative terrorist leaders,” Pham said. “He’s expanded into Mali and Mauritania and built this nexus of criminal activity which raises money for terrorist operations. Every time after he collects a ransom or some other funding, he plows that money right back into the organization by hiring even better people to handle the next operation, thus ensuring its success.” 

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     I found this to be very intriguing, just because this Mokhtar guy is doing some things that will undoubtedly be copied by others.  The ransom game, along with collecting passage fees in drug trafficking zones in Africa, is turning out to be very lucrative for AQIM. As more countries like Spain continue to pay ransoms, groups like this get rich and are able to do more kidnappings and terrorist operations. It is a terror/crime cycle that feeds itself and only gets bigger. Kind of like the whole piracy thing.

    With that said, close protection in these parts of the world should be a top priority of companies and countries that endorse the companies as they work abroad. Every payment made for ransoms, will only make these groups stronger.  So having a means to defeat these hired jijadist mercenaries that conduct these types of operations should be a top priority for companies. I say companies in general, because I could see this type of thing replicated throughout the world and by all types of terrorist organizations.

     Nothing new in the world of terrorism, but as you can see, every once in awhile you get an enterprising booger eater who has figured out a niche. Hopefully France is able to kill or capture this guy and put this group in check.  Spain and these other ‘weak kneed’ countries need to learn as well that paying ransoms will not make the problem disappear. Much like ransoms have done for the piracy game, it will only make these groups stronger, and things worse for westerners operating in these countries. –Matt

When Crime Does Pay: The Threat of an Emboldened al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

France’s War Deepens With Desert Al-Qaida Ally

An Al Qaeda affiliate getting rich in Niger

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When Crime Does Pay: The Threat of an Emboldened al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

September 23, 2010

J.Peter Pham, PhD

(the last paragraphs are posted)

……In this context, the resurgence of AQIM should be cause for grave concern—all the more so because the payment of ransoms and the release of jailed militants have given the terrorist group a considerable boost, not just in terms of material and human resources, but also in terms of prestige among extremists. Exacerbating the threat that an emboldened AQIM poses is that its leadership has shown itself to be rather pragmatic in their using the resources which come their way to “professionalize” their operations, that is, employing mercenaries like Omar le Sahraoui and others willing to work for hire for the terrorist organization irrespective of their ideological commitments. The six killed in the failed French raid on AQIM in July, for example, included three Tuareg, an Algerian, a Mauritanian, and a Moroccan. By using personnel who are either trained or who have superior knowledge of the geographic or social space in which operations are to take place, AQIM’s terrorist activities not only stand a greater chance of success, but in the event of failure and capture, authorities do not gain much by way of entry into or leverage with the terrorist group itself. Given how this threat has been evolving, it may turn out to be fortuitous that al-Qaeda’s franchise has provoked what is apparently a rather robust reaction from the French at this time, rather than later after it has had more time to consolidate its position.

Story here.

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France’s War Deepens With Desert Al-Qaida Ally

Sept. 21, 2010

Dana Kennedy

NICE, France (Sept. 21) — More than 80 French counter-terrorism troops in long-range reconnaissance planes are scouring a vast no-man’s land on the edge of the Sahara for seven hostages taken last week in Niger.

It’s the latest battle in what is beginning to look like a deepening war between France and a group that calls itself al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

“France will do everything to free the hostages,” government spokesman Luc Chatel has told reporters, but the French Foreign Ministry said it had not yet received any proof that the hostages are alive or any demands for money from any group.

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