This article is going to focus on vehicle-borne IED attacks, but we will rule out the targeting of individuals with car bombs as this falls more into the category of targeted assassination. Instead, this article will focus on the use of VBIED’s as a means to kill and injure indiscriminately.
The real subject matter experts in this field come from the military. Soldiers deployed to war & conflict zones are dealing with this threat on a daily basis. However, for the purpose of this article, let’s view the subject from the point view of an executive protection team. The knowledge gained through the examination of this threat will be particularly useful to RST teams (Residential Security Team), those charged with the guarding of critical infrastructure, and event security personnel.
Typically, I find myself engaged in the process I’m about to describe whenever I’m patrolling the premises of a principal’s house or deployed upon a task involving the protection of critical infrastructure.
Before we dig deeper into this subject, let’s look at the terminology and understand a few key terms.
IED: Improvised Explosive Device.
An improvised explosive device (IED) is essentially a bomb, constructed and deployed in ways that differ to conventional military exploding devices. Simply put, it’s a homemade bomb. The parts required to build one and the methods in which it is deployed can vary, though the most common types tend to be roadside bombs.
VBIED: Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device.
The term VBIED specifies the delivery method used to transport the exploding device to its intended target, in this case, a vehicle.
PBIED: Person-Borne Improvised Explosive Device
The most commonly encountered PBIED would be an explosive vest worn by a suicide attacker.
Now that we’ve got the terminology in order let’s consider what you should be looking for when tasked with protecting a client or securing a venue.
Indicators to look for include:
Cars that look heavy, a chassis sitting low on the axle and especially those with a greater amount of weight at the rear.
Vehicles that are parked illegally or parked in a no-parking zone, especially when located near to exits or where there is a heavy flow of pedestrian traffic.
Cars with tinted or covered windows, particularly when this is not in keeping with the make and model.
Vehicles that have had their license plates removed or visibly altered.
Vehicles with large containers inside, such as boxes, barrels, tanks, and large bags. Be suspicious of loads that are concealing their cargo with blankets or other materials.
If there is an unusually strong smell of gasoline, propane, or other similar chemicals.
Be alert to any visible wires, antennas, and batteries outside or inside the vehicle that are not normal.
You should be cautious of vehicles which seem abandoned, or those that have appeared during the hours of darkness.
A driver who is wearing some form of disguise or is trying to avoid being recognized.
Drivers who refuse to answer your questions when challenged or seeming overly aloof.
If you encounter a situation with two or more of the factors described above, then you may want to be extra cautious in approaching or searching the vehicle.
Entering the kill zone
There are several different methods in which the VBIED can be brought to the kill zone, here are some examples.
Passive penetration – meaning it comes without permission but doesn’t use force to enter, for example, tailgating.
Aggressive penetration – where a vehicle enters the area by force, breaching barriers, gates or buildings in the process. Deception – where the attackers use fake id’s and/or permits to gain entry to a restricted area.
Proxy – where the person driving the VBIED is not the attacker but delivering it on their behalf. An example of this would be where the driver is under duress due to extortion or kidnapping of a family member. This is a very effective way of launching a VBIED attack into a restricted area.
Attacks using vehicle-borne IED’S are not a new thing. They are currently being used in war and conflict zones all around the world. We have become used to hearing news about car bombs detonating in hostile regions like Iraq or Syria, but, historically they were commonplace in Europe too. Remember the London car bombs in 2007.
Two cars loaded with explosives were intended to kill people coming out of a popular nightclub. You can do a google search for more in-depth information, but the point I want to highlight is that the bombs were found by accident by an ambulance crew that came to the scene to handle another incident. They came across a few of the indicators listed above, reacted accordingly, and fortunately discovered the device.
Norway, which is considered to be one of the most peaceful countries in the world, suffered tragic events in 2011 when a massacre was initiated after a parked vehicle full of explosives detonated in front of the prime minister’s office, killing eight people and destroying nearby buildings.
Unfortunately, we are going to continue seeing these types of attacks again and again. Why? The answer lies in their simplicity, not to mention, it is relatively cheap and easy to make VBIED’s. The materials required to make improvised explosives aren’t particularly difficult to acquire, though intelligence agencies and the police monitor the flow of such materials. The all-important vehicle, which serves as the delivery platform can be stolen, loaned or rented with considerable ease and there is a surprisingly low risk of actually being caught. Large quantities of bomb-making material, loaded into vehicles, can easily avoid detection, especially in non-war zones like in the Nordic countries. Here, security personnel don’t routinely face these types of threat, and consequently, they are not practiced or instructed in threat detection and mitigation.
Combatting the threat
So how do we better protect against this threat? One basic, yet essential thing we can do is to ensure that the relevant people receive regular training on how to spot a VBIED threat. Next, we need to start implementing specific access control procedures in venues we are tasked to protect. We can reinforce buildings, so they are better prepared to withstand a blast and enforce a minimum standoff distance between parked cars and buildings. Additionally, the strategic placement of vehicle barriers will add another layer of defence. These are just a few things, to begin with, and while VBIED’s may not be your top priority threat in an executive protection setting, it is still vital that you know how to spot one.
By: Wille Heino
Gambeson is a security training & consulting company specialized in countering modern day threats. Wille Heino, Security Specialist gambeson firstname.lastname@example.org