IS/ISIS/Daesh - Losing ground, extending reach.

As IS/ISIS/Daesh loses more and more territory in Iraq, and prepares to defend their capital city, terror attacks claimed by them have hit the UK, Australia and Iran. And it is no coincidence that all these developments have come hand-in-hand.

Intelligence and security agencies across the globe - in the states who are fighting IS/ISIS/Daesh - have long feared that defeat of the jihadist in Iraq and Syria would lead to an increase in attacks on their homelands.

The UK and Australia (as part of the US-led Coalition including many Sunni Arab states) and Iran (part of a competing club with Russia and the Assad regime in Syria) are all prominently involved in fighting IS/ISIS/Daesh, and have now been targeted at home with attacks claimed by the group.

After three attacks in the UK, attackers seemingly affiliated with IS/ISIS/Daesh mobilised this past week in Melbourne, Australia, and in the capital city of the (Shia/Shiite) Islamic Republic of Iran. All three states will be dramatically reassessing their counter-terror measures as a consequence, as will many others globally.

Melbourne might be characterised a 'near-miss', with a speedy and decisive police intervention limiting the casualty count and ending a siege before it had really begun. 

But now the debate of the day in Australia, where I write from, is how police - in light of events in Melbourne and indeed in far-away London - will develop new shoot-to-kill tactics, and whether some should be armed with automatic assault firearms. New threats require new responses. 

IS/ISIS/Daesh are under assault across the Middle-East and North Africa (we take our eyes off the African dynamic at our peril) losing more territory by the day, all good news for the millions suffering under their truly brutal rule.

The downside of this success however will be more attempted attacks by IS/ISIS/Daesh from the UK to the US, from Russia to Australia, with the hope of undermining domestic public support for military action in the countries involved in the operations against them.

The first barometer of whether this might work will be in today's General Election in a UK, as the country votes while still reeling from three terror attacks. 

The Madrid al-Qaeda attack in 2004 changed the course of a national election, might IS/ISIS/Daesh have done the same in the UK in 2017?

You can thus be sure that IS/ISIS/Daesh and its supporters will be watching the result with particular interest.

Manchester attack - Jihadist war on our leisure + pleasure

Following the terrorist atrocity in Manchester Prime Minister Theresa May addressed the nation to defiantly state "that our values - the liberal, pluralistic values of Britain - will always prevail over the hateful ideology of the terrorists".

We expect such words after such an attack, yet May's emphasis on liberal, pluralistic values could not be more poignant. For Manchester, more than any other jihadist attack experienced yet in the UK, has highlighted the determination of jihadists to target our very values and culture.

While a first for the UK, the attack is the latest globally against aspects of modern leisure and cultural pursuits - having fun, attending events and gatherings purely for leisure and pleasure, are treasured aspects of modern life, but it is exactly for these reasons that they so offend militant Islamists.

To them such activity represents the godless, immoral, hedonistic value system of the West, which they see as a direct rebellion against the will of God, and thus constitutes a legitimate and priority target of their jihad. 

This view has been long-held by militant Islamists, but what has changed in recent years is the increasing choice by jihadists, especially IS/ISIS/Daesh and its followers, to make it a priority in their targeting *. It is a profound challenge for the UK authorities, with a huge number of major events taking place annually - from concerts to festivals to sporting events - and policy will now be actively reassessed in response to the events in Manchester. 

The UK is unusual in having a specialist counterterrorism agency that is specifically tasked with protecting public places and spaces - NaCTSO, the National Counter Terrorism Security Office – so addressing this issue is hardly new.

Until now however actual physical security measures differed dramatically from one setting to another - go to a Premier League football match and you may be subjected to a frisk search, your possessions being searched, electronic scanning and other measures, yet go to a play at a West End theatre and be subject to no direct security whatsoever.

The rationale behind this was clear - provide only the security level needed, and where possible allow the public to go about their lives without constantly being subjected to and inconvenienced by security checks. 

This will now have to be reevaluated, and the UK counterterrorism and public-safety system will be examined and reformed in light of the reality that events like concerts and other public cultural gatherings are now priority targets for jihadists. 

And the deliberate targeting of a venue which was known to be full of children and young people is an element of the attack that will only heighten the urgency to protect public cultural, sporting and similar gatherings.

Meanwhile the UK threat level has been raised from 'Severe' to 'Critical', warning that other attacks may occur. This reflects the dramatic increase in threats to the UK, and the priority directly following the attack to ensure that no-one associated with it is still at large and able to carry out a second attack. 

The critical threat level also reflects the scenario that the authorities have feared for sometime – that the defeat of IS/ISIS/Daesh on the ground in Iraq is going to have the knock-on effect of increasing the attempts by IS/ISIS/Daesh and its returning fighters to carry out attacks against its enemies including the UK. 

Stopping jihadist fighters getting into/back into the UK, disrupting plots and terrorist planning, and better understanding how this attack occurred will now be the priorities. Exhaustive efforts will be made by UK authorities, across the board, to learn from Manchester and ensure that no further such attack follow.

 
* = These include the following high-profile attacks:-

·         In Kenya in June 2014 al-Shabab carried out multiple attacks on bars showing the football World Cup, killing tens of people and forcing the government to urge people to avoid watch matches in "crowded and unprotected open places".

·         Public World Cup screenings meanwhile were cancelled in Nigeria after threats that they would be targeted from (the now IS/ISIS/Daesh affiliate) Boko Haram

·         The multi-target attacks of November 2015 in Paris included both an attack on a theatre hosting a rock concert and one on the national football stadium.

·         The July 2016 Bastille Day vehicle attack in Nice, killing 86 and injuring hundreds. 

·         The December 2016 vehicle attack on the Berlin Christmas market, killing 12.

·         The Jan 1 2017 attack in Istanbul targeted a nightclub full of party goers drinking and celebrating a day in the Christian (New Year's Eve) not Islamic calendar.

·         Now the suicide attack on a pop concert in Manchester/the UK.

 

 

The London terror attack - My analysis

The attack that the UK has been preparing for has occurred, a policeman and two members of the public are dead, and more are seriously injured.

Any deaths in a terror attack are tragic, and no doubt there will be urgent investigations into whether PC Keith Palmer could have been better protected, and whether anything could have been done to stop the car driving through a crowd of pedestrians. 

And yet the attack has actually demonstrated the success of the exhaustive counter-terror planning and preparation that has taken place in London and across the UK in the last few years.

These low tech, high impact attacks - one man, a car and a knife - are very hard to anticipate and prevent. They require no bomb-making skills or acquiring of firearms, and thus are able to be attempted by any dedicated extremist - today a Frenchman has also been arrested in Belgium on suspicion of driving at a crowd.

Yet the resort to such tactics, by those in the UK trying to carry-out attacks in ISIS or al Qaeda's name, is also a reflection of the successful security and resilience system put in place across Britain, and especially in London.

It is increasingly difficult to access firearms or the chemicals/materials needed to make improvised bombs, and the vast majority of cells that have formed to execute mass casualty attacks have been intercepted over the last decade, resulting more and more in individuals choosing to go it alone.

Additionally, UK efforts to create an 'All Hazards' security and resilience system, designed to make any kind of attack harder to carry-out and have less impact if one does occur, has been very effective. Tragic as the human cost of this attack was, there should be no doubt that without these measures in place the casualty list would have been a lot higher.

There are of course no grounds for complacency, the system can always improve, and lessons will be learned from this attack. But national and London authorities can also move forward with the knowledge that their efforts are making a difference, are working more often than not, and that they have the admiration and support of the British public as they strive to stop similar attacks occurring again.

Annual lecture for the Worshipful Company of Security Professionals.

On Thursday 17th March 2016 Hagai delivered the prestigious Annual Lecture for the Worshipful Company of Security Professionals, at the RAF Club in Piccadilly.

The Master of another Worshipful Company who attended (Chris Allen, Worshipful Company of Tobacco Pipe Makers & Tobacco Blenders) posted on his blog that it was "an incredible tour de force by the lecturer Hagai Segal... who spoke entertainingly for 45 minutes without notes. We struggle to understand the complex politics of this region and the tragic consequences of terrorism in our own countries and Hagai Segal succeeded in shedding considerable light on these difficult issues."

Master, Wardens, Hagai Segal and Clerk.  © Gerald Sharp Photography

Master, Wardens, Hagai Segal and Clerk. 
© Gerald Sharp Photography

Master, Wardens, Clerk, Hagai Segal and Sponsors from QCIC © Gerald Sharp Photography

Master, Wardens, Clerk, Hagai Segal and Sponsors from QCIC
© Gerald Sharp Photography