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«Sept. 8, 2009 This analysis may not be forwarded or republished without express permission from STRATFOR. For permission, please submit a request to ...»

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The Militant Threat to Hotels

Sept. 8, 2009

This analysis may not be forwarded or republished without express permission from STRATFOR.

For permission, please submit a request to PR@stratfor.com.


STRATFOR 700 Lavaca Street, Suite 900 Austin, TX 78701 Tel: 1-512-744-4300 www.stratfor.com


The Militant Threat to Hotels For several years, militants — primarily Islamist militants — have been changing their target set to focus more on soft targets. Hotels are particularly popular targets for militant strikes involving improvised explosive devices (IEDs), vehicle-borne IEDs, armed attacks or kidnappings and assassinations. However, there are several security measures that can be taken to limit the damage caused by militant attacks at hotels or even prevent such attacks before they happen.

Back in 2004, STRATFOR began publishing reports noting that militants — primarily Islamist militants — were changing their target set. We observed that after 9/11, increased situational awareness and security measures at hard targets like U.S. government or military facilities were causing militants to gravitate increasingly toward more vulnerable soft targets, and that hotels were particularly desirable targets. Indeed, by striking an international hotel in a major city, militants can make the same kind of statement against the West as they can by striking an embassy. Hotels are often full of Western business travelers, diplomats and intelligence officers. This makes them target-rich environments for militants seeking to kill Westerners and gain international media attention without having to penetrate the extreme security of a hard target like a modern embassy.

In early 2005, STRATFOR began writing about another trend we observed: the devolution of al Qaeda and the global jihadist movement from an organizational model based on centralized leadership and focused global goals to a more amorphous model based on regional franchises with local goals and strong grassroots support. As a result of this change, the less professional local groups receive less training and funding. They often are unable to attack hard targets and therefore tend to focus on softer targets — like hotels.

Following several attacks against hotels in 2005 — most notably the multiple bombing attacks in Amman, Jordan, and Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt — we updated our 2004 study on the threat to hotels to include tactical details on these attacks. Now, following the November 2008 Mumbai attacks and the July 2009 Jakarta attacks, we are once again updating the study.

The most likely method of attack against a hotel is still an improvised explosive device (IED), whether vehicle-borne (VBIED), planted ahead of time or deployed by a suicide bomber in a public area.

However, after the Mumbai attacks, the risk of a guerrilla-style armed assault including the use of high-powered assault rifles and explosives against multiple targets within a given radius is quite high.

The relative success of the Mumbai operation and the dramatic news coverage it received (it captured the world’s attention for three days) mean that copycat attacks can be expected. Additionally, attacks targeting specific VIP’s remain a possibility, and hotels are likely venues for such attacks.

The continuing (and indeed increasing) threat against hotels presents a serious challenge for the hotel and hospitality industry and foreign travelers staying at such establishments. Beyond the obvious necessity of protecting guests and employees, taking preventive security measures is emerging as a corporate legal imperative, with the failure to do so opening companies up to the possibility of damaging litigation.

There are numerous ways in which hotel operators can mitigate risks and make their facilities less appealing as targets. In addition to physical security measures such as security checkpoints — which 2 © 2009 STRATFOR 700 Lavaca Street, Suite 900 Austin, TX 78701 Tel: 1-512-744-4300 www.stratfor.com are believed to have deterred attacks against some hotels in the 2005 strikes in Amman — and protective window film, employee training and protective countersurveillance programs are invaluable assets in securing a property.

The Shift to Soft Targets

One of the important results of the Sept. 11 attacks was the substantial increase in counterterrorism programs to include security measures and countersurveillance around government and military facilities in response to the increased threat environment. The attacks had a similar impact at U.S. and foreign airports. The effective “hardening” of such facilities — which in the past had topped the list of preferred targets for militant attacks — has made large-scale strikes against such targets measurably more difficult.

As a result, there has been a rise in attacks against lower-profile “soft targets” — defined generally as public or semi-public (some degree of restricted access) facilities where large numbers of people congregate under relatively loose security. Soft targets include various forms of public transportation, shopping malls, corporate offices, places of worship, schools and sports venues, to name a few.

Between the first World Trade Center bombing on Feb. 26, 1993, and the second attack on Sept.

11, 2001, al Qaeda focused primarily on hitting hard targets, including:

Nov. 13, 1995: A U.S.-Saudi military facility in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where two VBIEDs • exploded. Seven people, including five Americans, were killed.

June 25, 1996: A U.S. military base near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, was hit with a large VBIED.

• The attack killed 19 U.S. soldiers and wounded hundreds of Americans and Saudis.

Aug. 7, 1998: U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, were attacked • with large VBIEDs. More than 250 people were killed and 5,000 injured.

Oct. 12, 2000: The USS Cole was attacked with a suicide IED in a small boat while harbored in • a Yemeni port. Seventeen sailors were killed in the attack.

After Sept. 11, there was a marked shift in attacks consistent with one of al Qaeda’s key strengths:

adaptability. The enumeration of al Qaeda-linked militant strikes since then reads like a laundry list of soft targets. While there have also been attacks — both foiled and successful — against harder targets like embassies since Sept. 11, the present trend of attacking softer targets (and specifically hotels) is

unmistakable. Since the start of 2008, we have seen the following attacks:

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© 2009 STRATFOR 700 Lavaca Street, Suite 900 Austin, TX 78701 Tel: 1-512-744-4300 www.stratfor.com Jhangvi.

• Nov. 26, 2008: Attackers armed with rifles and grenades stormed the Oberoi Trident and Taj Mahal Palace hotels in Mumbai, India. Over the course of the three-day siege, 71 people were killed and more than 200 were injured. The attackers belonged to the militant group Lashkar-eTaiba.

• June 9, 2009: Attackers with guns and a VBIED targeted the luxury Pearl Continental Hotel in Peshawar, Pakistan, around 10 p.m. local time. The attackers breached the security gate and detonated the explosive-laden vehicle next to the hotel. Sixteen people were killed and more than 60 were injured. The attack is believed to have been carried out by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.

July 17, 2009: Two suicide bombers belonging to a Jemaah Islamiyah splinter group detonated • IEDs nearly simultaneously in the adjacent JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta, Indonesia. Nine people were killed and 42 were wounded in the attacks. The bombs had been assembled in the hotel room of the JW Marriott where one of the attackers had been staying.

This trend toward seeking out soft targets will continue as Islamist militant cells become even more autonomous and “grassroots” jihadists become more numerous in various regions. The emergence of regional al Qaeda franchises such al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al Qaeda in Iraq in recent years has further supported this trend. STRATFOR has even begun to see these regional franchises develop more autonomous and localized cells.

Grassroots jihadists are al Qaeda sympathizers inspired by Sept. 11, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq or some other event, but who often lack specific training and usually have little or no direct connection to the wider jihadist network. Nevertheless, they can be dangerous, particularly if they are attempting to prove their value or if they are able to link up with someone who is highly tactically skilled. In either case, a lack of resources, planning capabilities and operational experience will necessitate the choice of softer targets.

Staging operations against such targets allows militants to maximize the casualty count while limiting the chance of preoperation interdiction or operational failure. Whether the targets are hit, however, is a question of access and security countermeasures.

Generally, soft targets attract high levels of human traffic and are surrounded by small — if any — security perimeters, often limited to gates and poorly trained guards. They are known to lack professional security personnel and rarely use countersurveillance measures. This makes them attractive targets in the eyes of a militant.

The downside of hitting soft targets, from the jihadists’ perspective, is that such strikes usually have limited political and ideological mileage. Islamist militants prefer targets with high symbolic value, but they have proven willing to forego some degree of symbolism in exchange for a higher chance of success. However, attacks against certain soft targets, such as synagogues and large Western hotels, can at times provide the necessary combination of symbolism and a high (primarily Western and Jewish) body count.

The Threat to Hotels

Hotels are the quintessential “soft targets.” They have fixed locations and daily business activity that creates a perfect cover for preoperational surveillance. Extensive traffic — both human and vehicle — inside and outside the buildings still goes largely unregulated. This is especially true for larger hotels that incorporate bars, restaurants, clubs, shops, pools, gyms and other public facilities that cater to clientele besides the hotels’ own guests.

Because Westerners are very likely to be found at large hotels — either in residence or attending meetings, parties or conferences — such hotels offer the best chance for militants in many countries to kill or injure large numbers of Westerners in a single attack. The casualties could even include local 4 © 2009 STRATFOR 700 Lavaca Street, Suite 900 Austin, TX 78701 Tel: 1-512-744-4300 www.stratfor.com business and government leaders, considered high-value targets especially if they are seen as collaborators or supporters of “illegitimate” or “apostate” rulers in Islamic countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or Jordan.

Although hotel security workers do occasionally monitor and confront suspicious loiterers, militants have found that one way around this is to check into hotels, which gives them full access and guest privileges. The bombers who conducted the July 17 twin suicide bombings of the JW Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton in Jakarta, Indonesia, had checked into the hotel two days prior to carrying out the operation.

The constant flow of large numbers of people gives militants ample opportunity to blend into the crowd, both for extensive preoperational surveillance and actual strikes. Furthermore, it is not uncommon to see anonymous and unattended baggage in hotels, unlike airports and other facilities.

Attacks in recent years have caused hotels to increase security, especially at sites in high-risk locations like Pakistan and Afghanistan. But in many parts of the world, hotel perimeters are frequently unsecured, with limited to nonexistent standoff distance and easy access for cars and trucks — including buses and taxis that could be used as Trojan horses for a bombing. Also, it is common for vehicles to be parked and left unattended in front of many hotels. Loading ramps and parking garages offer other opportunities for those seeking to detonate VBIEDs.

Unlike an embassy, a hotel is a commercial venture and is intended to make money. In order to make money, the hotel needs to maintain a steady flow of customers who stay in its rooms; visitors who eat at its restaurants, drink at its bars and rent its banquet and conference facilities; and merchants who rent out its shop space. On any given day, a large five-star hotel can have hundreds of guests staying there, hundreds of other visitors attending conferences or dinner events, and scores of other people eating in the restaurants, using the health club or shopping at the luxury stores commonly found inside such hotels. Such amenities are often difficult to find outside of such hotels in cities like Peshawar, Pakistan or Kabul. Therefore, these hotels become gathering places for foreign businessmen, diplomats and journalists residing in the city, as well as for wealthy natives. It is fairly easy for a militant operative to conduct surveillance on the inside of a hotel by posing as a restaurant patron or by shopping in its stores.

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© 2009 STRATFOR 700 Lavaca Street, Suite 900 Austin, TX 78701 Tel: 1-512-744-4300 www.stratfor.com

hotel attacks as in keeping with the Koranic injunction of prohibiting vice and commanding virtue:

Hotels are places where men and women mix freely, and guests can consume alcohol, dance, and engage in fornication and adultery. Jihadists might also see an attack on a large hotel as a strike against a corrupt elite enjoying life at the expense of the impoverished majority.

Additionally, jihadists increasingly have shown an interest in attacks with economic effects.

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