Vacations and Terrorism

The attack in the resort town in Tunisia last weekend proved once again that the soft underbelly of many countries is its tourist sites and hotels. Meir Gershuni on the need to draw the necessary conclusions with regard to the security settings of tourist resorts around the world. Opinion

Vacations and Terrorism

39 people, most of them European tourists, were killed in the June 26, 2015 terror attack on a beachside hotel in Sousse, a resort town in northern Tunisia. The terrorist, a 26 year-old local Islamist, was inspired in his act by ISIS. The organization also claimed responsibility for the attack and published a picture of the terrorist, with two Kalashnikovs at his sides.

Pictures of the attack that were published on international media – a publication that serves the terrorists' objectives even more than the attack itself – show the terrorist as he walks freely on the beach along with his assault rifle, while dozens of local residents stand and stare as he walks by. What we have not seen in the pictures is a sign of security and police forces, whose complete absence made the terrorist's task much easier. He was not required to possess any special fighting ability as he systematically picked his victims, preferably British tourists, judging from testimonies of survivors who fled the scene.

The absence of security forces around foreign tourists is a surprise to those familiar with the traditional concept of the Tunisian security forces, which in the past made sure to closely monitor foreign visitors. Not necessarily to protect them, but rather as an attempt to prevent activities that are not "convenient" as far as the authorities are concerned, as establishing connections and "liberal" initiatives by foreign visitors and locals. The lack of security presence itself, during this time of Ramadan, also points of an inadequate assessment – to the point of completely ignoring the sensitivity of this time and the likelihood that fanatic Islamists will take advantage of it to take violent action. The Tunisian security forces lacked a basic assessment of the situation, in light of which there is a need to reinforce the security presence in sensitive places, with an emphasis given to concentrations of foreign tourists, in the country considered the number one exporter of terrorists affiliated with ISIS (so far over 3,000).

In the last half decade, we have witnessed a noticeable upsurge of severe attacks against hotels and resorts, which – due to improper preparations and absence of security forces – fit the category of "soft targets" for carrying out terrorist attacks and other forms of crime.

Resorts, and luxury hotels in particular, are attractive targets, mainly due to the fact that they usually host a high concentration of foreign tourists and businessmen. They are also a significant economic component of the tourism industries, and have material weight in influencing the GDP of the country. A series of past attacks has taught the terrorist organizations the greatness and high impact of the media coverage of such attacks on hotels and tourist sites.

Despite the known facts, the fact that most hotels and resorts in the world are not secured in direct proportion to the terrorist threats, is evident and recognized. This is in part also a result of the common indecision caused by the attempt to preserve the quality of service given to the guests, and reducing, or even abolishing, the possibility of using security measures that will affect the hotel's image and perception as a fortress, not to say a luxurious prison.

Combining the above facts – a hotel being an attractive target in light of its activities and guests, being of economic importance to the state, the lack of adequate security, and the large international media coverage in tragic events – all make hotels and resorts the most attractive destinations for terrorist attacks.

According to reports in international media, the attack in Tunisia seems to be of a lone terrorist, unlike most terrorist attacks against hotels in the past. The Mumbai terrorist attack in November 2008, for example, was executed after the planning and organization were made well in advance. A team of 11 terrorists participated in the attack –  they raided and attacked (in several squads) a number of sites in the city including the Taj Mahal hotel (31 killed) and the Oberoi Trident (32 killed), and of course Mumbai's Chabad House (6 killed) and other sites. The total number of victims was 173 people. It is noteworthy that despite the fact the attack in Mumbai was planned and organized, and that global intelligence agencies had prior information about the intentions of the attack, the various defects – including the lack of cooperation between intelligence agencies – prevented the possibility of connecting the pieces of the puzzle and create the intelligence picture needed to thwart the attacks in advance.

During the last fifteen years, dozens of terror attacks against hotels and prominent resorts worldwide were carried out. Suffice to mention the terrorist attacks in Bali, Indonesia in 2002 and later in 2005 (in which more than 200 people were killed, many of them foreign tourists), the attacks in luxury hotels in Baghdad, Sharm El Sheikh, Mumbai, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tunisia, Taba and so forth. Hundreds of people were killed and thousands more injured in these attacks – a huge success in terms of terrorist organizations. From our acquaintance with "the role model" motive, it is likely that this success will serve as a catalyst for additional terrorist attacks on hotels and resorts that will remain vulnerable.

It seems that despite the painful experience of past attacks, the lessons have not been derived or implemented in all places. These lessons are required for the consolidation of preparedness and proper security response to terrorist threats against all tourist destinations, and hotels in particular. It is safe to assess that a minimal presence of well-trained, efficient security force could have prevented, or at least reduce the dimensions of the vicious massacre of tourists in Tunisia.

Meir Gershuni served as a head of division in ISA (Israel Security Agency). He is the owner of a consulting firm that specializes in the design and execution of security layouts for critical infrastructures.

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