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How the Manchester Bombing Could Have Been Prevented

I, like millions of individuals throughout the world, am horrified and saddened by the terrorist attacks that occurred a couple of weeks ago at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England. Such unwarranted and unjustified attacks simply have no place in our society and its perpetrators should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Notably, this attack differs from others as it is evident that the identified suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, and his co-conspirators targeted young children. Targeting children, who are some of the most vulnerable members of society, is both sickening and cowardly. Before I continue any further, let me extend my deepest condolences to the victims of the bombings and their families, in addition to the people of Manchester.

As Americans, we know far too well the pain and anguish caused by terrorism. Thus, a significant portion of the conversation surrounding this attack has been focused on preventing similar attacks. Unfortunately, too many commentators and journalists were cynical in their analyses, stating that this attack could not have been prevented. In response to this cynicism, and by reviewing counterterrorism literature and reviewing the facts surrounding this attack, I have identified several means through which this bombing could have been prevented.

Civilians are often cited as the first line of defense in regards to surveillance, as vigilant civilians are crucial in assisting the efforts of law enforcement and intelligence agencies. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, such agencies began to recognize the impact civilians can have on deterring crime and reporting suspicious behavior, prompting the commencement of the “See Something Say Something” campaign. Utilized in major cities such as New York, this campaign has proved to be effective in combatting terrorism, as it has created a proactive citizenry that is aware of suspicious activities and behavior.

In the case of the Manchester Bombing, vigilant civilians could have prevented this terrorist attack in two regards. First, Abedi demonstrated several warning signs of terrorism in the months leading up to the attack that were witnessed, yet not reported, by his neighbors. Individually, some of these behaviors are not suspicious enough to warrant contacting authorities, yet collectively these behaviors are consistent with those who potentially have terrorist motives. Salman Abedi’s neighbors recounted to journalists and reporters that even though he had lived in the neighborhood for a significant period of time, they knew little about him. This extreme isolation from neighbors should have drawn suspicion from his neighbors. Further, his neighbors also witnessed (A2-A3) several tenants moving sporadically in and out of Abedi’s home a few months before the bombing. Abedi also departed from, and returned to, his residence with an unidentified man late at night for a reason that was not clear to his neighbors. Lastly, Abedi loudly chanted an Islamic prayer in the middle of the street a few months before the attack and in 2015 was enraged after a imam at his mosque denounced ISIS and terrorism in the name of Islam.

The behaviors Abedi demonstrated are simply not normal nor rational. If his neighbors were more vigilant and reported these behaviors to the proper authorities, there is a significant probability that this terrorist attack would have been prevented.

Secondly, civilians could have prevented this attack by identifying suspicious signs surrounding his attire that Abedi demonstrated as he was approaching the foyer in between Manchester Arena and the Victoria train station. As surveillance photos taken in the foyer shows, Abedi was wearing a heavy winter jacket on the night of the bombing. While wearing a winter coat is in no way an indicator of terrorist motives, it is suspicious that Abedi was wearing a heavy jacket when the temperature in Manchester was in the mid-60's. If this behavior was noted and reported, the casualties as a result of the suicide bombing could have been minimized.

In addition to actions civilians could have taken, the security surrounding Manchester Arena and in the Victoria train station could have been greatly improved. While Abedi was not able to enter Manchester Arena, many concertgoers told authorities and reporters that security entering the stadium was extremely lax. Obviously, the security measures at the Manchester Arena need to be revamped to include more thorough screenings for weapons and explosive materials. Yet, in order to prevent this attack, security at and surrounding the arena should have been layered. Outside of the stadium, a program similar to the Britain’s Football Officers Staff Program should have been employed, in which security officers patrol local areas and train stations surrounding the stadium. Coupled with bomb sniffing dogs, these officers would have served as a deterrent to terrorist and criminal activities, thus potentially causing Abedi to abandon his goals. Additionally, such officers and bomb sniffing dogs would have served as a preventative force by identifying the presence of explosive material on Abedi and thus, minimizing casualties. The effectiveness of this layered security is demonstrated by the Stade de France bombing in 2015, in which by confronting a suspicious individual, who was a suicide bomber, a security guard was able to save dozens of lives.

Lastly, alterations to the design of the Manchester Arena could have minimized, yet not completely eliminated casualties in this suicide bombing. Unfortunately, because there were only four exits to the stadium, and only one that led to the Victoria train station, a security issue referred to as the “queuing problem” occurred. The queuing problem refers to terrorists targeting scores of people entering or departing from the stadium due to the concentration of individuals, as opposed to committing an attack within the stadium. Further, it refers to the threats that arise as the result of having large lines at security checkpoints, as the line becomes a formidable target to terrorists. In order to minimize the casualties as the result of this attack, more exits should have been present in general, in addition to those that led to the foyer, to disperse the crowd.

While you personally cannot control the security measures put into place at a stadium or the quantity of exits, you can make a crucial impact by being vigilant and actively conducting surveillance for items or behaviors that are out of place or abnormal. So, the next time you go to a concert or sports event, look for suspicious activities and if you see something, say something. Additionally, right now, you can educate yourselves about the warning signs of terrorism and terrorist activities by reading the warning signs that are compiled in this article.

Photo credit Tomasz Kozlowski, Creative Commons

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