The past month has been eventful. On 22 May 2017, 22-year-old Britisher Salman Ramadan Abedi detonated a shrapnel-laden homemade bomb at the exit of Manchester Arena in Manchester, England, following a concert by American singer Ariana Grande. Twenty-three adults and children were killed, including Abedi, and 119 were injured, 23 critically.
The Manchester blast is a strong reminder that there are chinks even in the strongest armour. After the Nice attack in France last year, when so many men, women and children had been horrifically mowed down by a terrorist driving a lorry, I remember reading an article written by Peter Taylor, a veteran journalist who writes on terrorism, about how Britain has managed to keep itself safe from terrorism. He had said in that article that “since the London bombings of a decade ago, Britain has managed to avoid such a mass attack. But statistics show it has been a close-run thing. Forty terrorist plots have been disrupted since 2005 – including seven in the past 18 months”. This, he went on to say happened primarily because of the way in which intelligence is now intimately shared between all the agencies in the UK: the Security Service (MI5), MI6, GCHQ – and the police. This, he believed was the key to keeping Britain safe.
Investigators believe that the Manchester attacker was a lone wolf and that he had acted on his own and perhaps that was the main reason why he was not spotted and neutralised in time, as he was not on the radar of the higher intelligence agencies. However, the fact is that he was known to local police but was not regarded as a high risk, having been linked to petty crime but never flagged up for radical views. This in my opinion, is the chink in the armour!
While nations have increased the sharing of information between their higher intelligence agencies, their linkages with the local police are not as strong as they should be. The flow and analysis of information from the ground up is critical, if we have to preempt and thwart lone wolf attacks. The ‘connecting of the dots’ needs to be done more efficiently, as according to Manchester police, the explosive device used by Abedi was the design of a skilled bomb-maker and had a back-up means of detonation using a sophisticated explosive material called TATP. It was also known that he had travelled abroad to sensitive locations, perhaps to learn bomb making. So, the pointers were actually there, it was just that they were not pieced together in time by the agencies.
To spot self radicalised potential lone wolf attackers, the Israeli agencies believe that the signs are there, if you track and analyse social media posts. In an article published in the Economist it is revealed that while conventional intelligence organisations are designed to penetrate organised terrorist groups, they struggle to spot imminent attacks by self-radicalised individuals or small groups. So now, the Israeli Defence Forces have developed algorithms to monitor the social-media accounts of young Palestinians to look for early-warning signs of radical thoughts and behaviour. The equation is simple, if organisations such as ISIS use the social media to radicalise young people, then the clues to their change in behaviour are also to be found on the same media, it’s just that one should know what to look for!
Back home, as the date for the implementation of Goods & Service Tax (GST) nears, the entire nation of 1.3B people awaits the change which is touted to be the biggest business reform of independent India. The fire and security industry would have been happier if the proposed rate of tax on these goods had not been clubbed with the ‘DeMerit, Luxury and Sin Goods’, which is the terminology that the government itself has collectively given to items that fall in the highest tax slab under GST (28%). With any stretch of imagination this classification of life safety goods such as fire alarms, hold-up and panic alarms and fire extinguishers etc is not acceptable to either the industry or to the common man, as it defies logic. We will keep tracking the events as they unfold and impact the industry and bring you the complete details in our next edition.
Till we meet next month, Cheers and Happy Reading.
G B Singh
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