Security

14 March 2016, DHS warns ISIS aims to attack DC area hotels

On 10 March 2016, the US Department of Homeland Security issued a threat warning saying that ISIS was aiming to attack hotels and conference venues in the Washington DC area, so reports The Investigative Project on Terrorism.

Several government agencies contributed to the report, including the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC,) and the Washington Regional Threat Analysis Center. The District of Columbia Hotel Association also reportedly had a hand in it.

The actual threat warning part of the report was apparently general in nature, but it was released two days after an ISIS video threatened violence in the United States. The video, posted by the Daily Mail here, is titled, “A Message to America from the Islamic Caliphate Supporters.” The video said:

“Paris isn’t far from you. We will by Allah’s permission do to your country what we did to Paris. We will kill, slaughter and burn your people. Inshallah (God willing), we will attack you very soon with anything we lay our hands on.”

The Investigative Project said that the DHS bulletin warned: “Many hotels in the District of Columbia often host dignitaries, large numbers of people in enclosed space, and special events … Nefarious actors can exploit the need to balance customer service and security at conference hotels, as found in an August 2014 exercise in which DHS-led teams successfully infiltrated a conference hotel by circumventing facility security measures.”

Specific tactics that DHS said terrorists might use included:

– theft of name badges from registration tables/areas to infiltrate events

– attacking hotels from the outside because most of them (in DC ) have little outer perimeter security capabilities

– detonating vehicle bombs in hotel parking facilities where security is lax

– attacking highly advertised events at hotels based on the intelligence provided by the actual advertisements (who to target, timing, etc.,) and the lead time they provide for attack planning

Overall, DHS said DC area hoteliers should be prepared for terrorist attacks that might use firearms and a variety of improvised explosive devices (IEDs,) including vehicle bombs.

The report further stated that hotel staff should have some type of security training to help them recognize the warning signs of an attack such as threat behavior, etc.

Additionally, the threat by ISIS and the DHS warning seem related even if the U.S. government has not clearly stated that they are. These two pieces of threat information came out in close sequence, and it is entirely possible that the intelligence community had critical and sensitive information about the ISIS threat that it could not release but, nevertheless, pointed toward hotels.

And why not hotels? As demonstrated by recent hotel attacks in the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Mali, Tunisia, and other countries, ISIS, al Qaeda, and their franchises are increasing their attacks on hotels and resorts. Even the Paris assault included a hotel attack, albeit the hotel was a small one (a budget hotel.) Also, the Paris attackers staged from a hotel.

These radical groups achieve sensational press coverage by attacking hotels, mainly because they are places of rest and recreation where no one expects hardcore violence to happen. When it does, the scale of horror is usually astronomical, which is what terrorists want in order to spread their message, push their influence, and secure new recruits.

In the case of the DHS hotel attack warning for Washington DC, the threat should be taken seriously. Islamist jihadists are required to warn their victims before an attack. It is a religious duty according to their own rules and regulations. The warning does not have to be too specific. There is no doubt, then, that America, particularly Washington DC, has just had it’s warning. Groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS have proven time and again that once they issue a warning, they make good on it. It might be one day after the warning, and it might be many months after the warning, but the attack is almost always carried out.

Accordingly, any of the attack scenarios mentioned by DHS are possible against Washington DC area hotels. This would include nearby metropolitan areas in Maryland and Northern Virginia.

Muir Analytics believes that, while vehicle bombs and planted bombs on hotel property are entirely possible, another likely scenario would a Mumbai style attack, technically referred to as a “raid.” Hotels in the greater Washington DC area, to include Maryland and Northern Virginia, should increase their security accordingly.

Sources and further reading:

John Rossomando, The Investigative Project on Terrorism, “DHS Bulletin Focuses on Terror Threat to DC Hotels,” 11 March 2016.

English-speaking ISIS jihadi warns America they will be attacked ‘very soon’ and ‘by Allah’s permission do to your country what we did to Paris’,” Daily Mail, 9 March 2016.

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