Ongoing terrorist trends and tactics across the globe well prove that American schools are among the next big terrorist targets for attacks.
While U.S. school shootings are surely among the most tragic accounts of personal and family tragedy over the last 20 years, they may unfortunately only preface a grotesque reality facing students, teachers, administrators and parents in the United States.
Preaching a sermon just last week, Sudanese Muslim Cleric Muhammad Al-Jazouli gave a chilling warning against possible American airstrikes against ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). He warned that “if a single airplane flew over Iraq,” Muslim extremists were to attack Americans in their restaurants, coffee shops, workplaces and – perhaps most shocking- in their universities and schools.
Just as bold was the call from Muslim Imam Shaker Elsaed in Jan. 2013 – speaking to Ethiopian Muslims at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria. Va. – for Muslims in America to “wage Jihad” on American citizens.
Terrorists plan to attack our schools for two primary reasons – they know that our children are our most precious asset and they know that a large-scale terrorist attack on our schools would cripple us psychologically.
Additionally, they know that both our schools and law enforcement are wholly unprepared for a terrorist attack. They see that a single, lone shooter can create havoc among us, and know that an attack involving 5-10 terrorists on a public school with over 1,000 defenseless students and teachers would create a massive media event.
Several terrorist groups have not only warned us of their intent to attack U.S. schools, they have provided us with the tactics they intend to use.
Groups like the Chechens and Boko Haram have conducted attacks on schools with large groups of attackers who were wholly unwilling to negotiate. Their intent has been to create mass casualties and kidnappings.
American soldiers in Iraq have confiscated videos from terrorists showing training to takeover schools in America, and there have been materials gathered from terrorists by our soldiers showing actual floor plans of specific schools in the U.S.
One of the most vulnerable targets may be school children on buses. Reports show that some 42% of all international terrorist attacks have targeted transportation systems. Among school attacks alone, 37% have been against school buses.
This horrific tactic is an attractive one for terrorists as it concentrates children in a confined space, with no means of escape.
School bus attacks are further attractive because they are often found in rural areas far away from police protection and response. A prominent tactic internationally has been for terrorists and militants to stop buses on a lone highway, kill all the passengers, and leave them to be discovered by passers-by hours later.
As bus drivers are notorious for “staying on schedule,” terrorists can successfully set up an attack knowing that the exact time a school bus will be in a certain area.
Even more horrific, a growing tactic among terrorists has been to conduct separate but simultaneous attacks on similar targets. Imagine terrorist attacks on four or five school buses in different parts of town, at the same time.
Relative to terrorist attacks on schools, the growing phenomenon of female suicide bombers is also worth examination. The teaching profession is notoriously female-dominated, increasing the need to consider an attack on school children by a female suicide bomber.
Of course, this should not be viewed as discriminatory against women, but rather a recognition that terrorists may seek the opportunity to recruit female teachers or administrators who are sympathetic to their cause (a tactic that terrorist have become very good at), or they can easily insert a female suicide bomber into a school.
One mistake our education systems have made is to think solely of protection for our children. For many terrorists, it is not the children they want to kill, it is the teachers. As Abubakar Shekau – leader of the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram – said in July 2013: “Teachers who teach western education? We will kill them! We will kill them in front of their students, and tell the students to henceforth study the Quran.”
Clearly, school administrators must begin to consider issues of liability in regards to possible terrorist attacks. The question is: Are terrorist attacks against schools a foreseeable risk?
According to lawsuits in the wake of the Twin Towers attacks, the courts found that New York Ports Authority and Twin Tower management and officials “knew or should have known” that the buildings were likely to be terrorist targets.
The threat of terrorist attacks against our schools is real. Both students and teachers in the class room are attractive – and easy – targets, as are children on school buses. These targets are accessible, will provide worldwide media attention, and a small group of 4-5 terrorists can hold off law enforcement response for hours, resulting in hundreds killed.
As a final thought, a list of relevant school attacks and tactics may prove the urgency of this issue:
- April 14, 2014 (Nigeria): Some 300 girls kidnapped from school, dozens of gunmen in 20 trucks and 30 motorcycles.
- Feb. 25, 2014 (Nigeria): Dozens of male students killed, female students abducted or freed. Fifty attackers stormed co-ed school, shot students, set fire to dorm. Students shot or knifed to death as they tried to escape.
- Feb. 14, 2014 (Nigeria): Twenty nine boys killed, terrorists stormed a boarding school set school on fire.
- Jan. 25, 2014 (Nigeria): Several students killed, large group attack on secondary boarding school, burned the school to the ground. Only boys were targeted, girls were released.
- Jan. 9, 2014 (Syria): Eighteen killed, mostly women and children, car bomb near school in Hama Province.
- Jan. 6, 2014 (Pakistan): One teenage student killed, suicide bomber detonated explosives outside of government school for boys.
- Oct. 6, 2013 (Iraq): Fourteen children killed, suicide bomber drove explosives-laden truck into the playground of a primary school.
- Sept. 29, 2013 (Nigeria): Forty four students and teachers killed, 18 injured, terrorist entered male dormitory at Agricultural College, opened fire on students as they slept.
- July 6, 2013 (Nigeria): Forty six students killed, gathered together in a room and shot, set fire to secondary school.
- June 15, 2013 (Pakistan): Fourteen students, four nurses and seven others killed, female suicide bomber detonated explosives on a bus from a women’s college, another suicide bomber detonated separate explosives when the injured arrived at nearby hospital.
- June 3, 2013 (Afghanistan): Ten children killed, suicide bomber on a motorcycle.
- Sept. 9, 2004 (Russia): 330 killed, including 172 children, and some 700 injured, Chechen Muslims overtook elementary school and held off police forces for three days.
About the author
Keith Pounds is a former hospital corpsman (medic) having served in the U.S. Navy and with the Marines. In 2012, he was designated as an Honorary Green Beret by the S.C. Chapter of the Special Forces Association. He holds an MBA with a concentration in organizational psychology and is the president and CEO of Countercon, a Columbia, S.C.-based counterterrorism consulting company.
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