Home Terrorism & Threats A Forensic Examination of the First Few Moments of the London Attack

A Forensic Examination of the First Few Moments of the London Attack


By Dave Slogett

The recent jihadi attack in London, drawing parallels with past attacks, raises the question of whether terrorists are becoming much more sophisticated in their planning.

What is certain is that jihadi terrorism returned to the streets of London using a very low technology approach — a rented SUV and two knives. But, within minutes of the attack, three people lay dead, one was fighting for her life in the River Thames, and a police officer was bleeding to death, having been stabbed multiple times.

The concept for this sort of terrorist “shock and awe” was developed by the United States military. The idea, ahead of the attacks on Iraq in 2003, was to quickly overwhelm the defence; to put them on the back foot, struggling to keep up with the operational tempo of the assault.

In Paris, Nice, Berlin — and now London — we have seen terrorists understand this principle; that to keep the emergency services behind the curve in terms of their response you have to set the operational tempo. Using a combination of distraction techniques and dividing the attack into a number of carefully choreographed phases, terrorists have learned they can stay one step ahead of the response. Critical to the success of these terrorists is the coordination of the response in the first few moments.

This military approach stems from long-standing American military doctrine. It was US Air Force Col. John Richard Boyd who invented the Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA) loop. Flying F-86 Sabre aircraft against aerodynamically superior MiG aircraft in the Korean War, he learned he had to get ahead of the enemy’s decision loop in order to control the engagement.

This profound observation — emerging from high-speed air-to-air dog-fights — has now become a fundamental military axiom. It appears terrorists have also figured out this salient point about engagements. To secure a high body count, terrorists have to try and stay one step ahead of authorities.

This was illustrated in the attack in London. The rented SUV used by Khalid Masood to strike people walking along the usually busy Westminster Bridge just after lunch provided the initial distraction. In any such event, it takes time for people to realise what is happening. But once they do realize their life is in danger, they turn and run. Panic quickly sets in as people flee, almost sheep-like, away from the threat. The herding instinct applies.

A well-planned terrorist attack takes advantage of this, setting a secondary trap for those who flee in the obvious direction away from an initial threat vector. Their situational awareness, which is often narrowly set, sees the threat and, flight or fight –a basic human instinct – takes over.

Read the full article at HSToday.



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