Knife stabbings: operational advantages and countering options – by Maria Alvanou

Lately in Europe, apart from suicide attacks, it is the knife attacks that have spread death and the seed of fear. In Paris a Muslim perpetrator who attributed his actions to IS (and IS accepted them under its ideological umbrella) entered the home of a police officer and killed both him and his wife (also working in the police), before getting killed by the law enforcement authorities and fortunately before harming the small child of the family. The killer filmed and posted his actions in Facebook. A few months before on a train in Germany another perpetrator attacked passengers with a knife. Although he shouted “Allahu Akbar” the German authorities seem to connect the incident with the perpetrators phychiatric problems and not with a terroristic cause. Shot but also stubbed a dozen times, a young female MP in Leeds died by the hand of an attacker, who appears to be driven by political reasons. The three events show of course no relevance between them and there is still research about their circumstances, as well as about the extend extremism and organized group activity could be behind the killings. Nevertheless, the above stabbings are a good reason to start contemplating on a possible new operational threat: knife attacks.

From an operational point of view, stabbings offer a lot of advantages, even more than suicide attacks do, making them an attack technique that could be preferable in the future by both organizations and lone wolves. It is simple, very low cost, requires minimum to none training, it is very immediate and accurate (perpetrator and victim come close and have contact) and proves to be effective. All the killer has to do is to be armed with a knife (or any sharp object that can penetrate a human body or produce a deep cut), that is very easy to conceal (an advantage over suicide attacks, because a vest and explosives are hard to hide, especially during summer months when people dress lightly and a bulky appearance could raise awareness and alarm). Moreover, during such an attack the perpetrator can threaten the victim and enjoy sadistically the pleadings of the victim (most probably cried in vain) before the blow. The psychological aspect of the effect of these attacks to the public is also very important: people can easily get terrorized, since anyone could be a stabber, at any place, at any time. And if more attacks take place in houses, then the “asylum” of home, the one place where someone can feel safe is vanished. This trend in operations can cause fertile ground for social panic.

Already we have witnessed that a barrage of attacks with a knife have been taking place in Israel and this wave of violence is referred by many as the ”Third Intifada”. They are proving to be a very successful method, even in a country where security is very developed. Taking into account that the public in Europe is not in an alert state like in Israel, one can understand that Europeans are far more vulnerable to this way of attacking. It is not so likely that a member of the European public will address and thwart effectively a stabber, like we have seen sometimes in Israel, where nearly all citizens have had military training (even women) and male citizens remain in reserved duty for many years, plus a lot of them bear arms. Additionally Europeans do not have the mentality and perception of being at war like the Israelis do. This intense jihad that has started since the attacks in Paris is something new and the reflexes of survival are not sharpened like in Israel.

Stabbings are not a novelty of course. Middle East has proved once more to be a test field for terrorist attack methodologies both in ancient and modern times. In antiquity Zealots called Sicaris (named after the dagger they carried) attacked Romans in Israel. And the infamous Assassins were killing their targets also with a knife. What modern stabbers do is almost the same operationally and it is a form of high risk operation, since it is almost certain that they will be captured or even killed by authorities.

The standard measures and mainly situational prevention measures used to counter suicide attacks are by definition not applicable in stabbing attacks. Above all because the perpetrator can show no signs of his killing scenario until it is too late; he is so close to his target/victim that little could be done. Remaining calm and expert knowledge of self-defense techniques in order to counter a stabber cannot be the qualification of every member of the public. Self protection can hardly be achieved. This leaves the authorities with few options (actually sniper activity) that can be employed only if there is a very good network of intelligence, so that law enforcement and special units are prepared in advance. The perpetrator must be caught before getting in operational orbit. This means that even before behavioral profiling at a certain site where an attack is ready to take place (this stage could prove to be too late), there must be information against the attacker, so that authorities can make an arrest before the deadly act. Furthermore, this operation makes more demanding the need to stop the future stabbers before they even conceive their murderous plan, before they would even wish such an attack. It is becoming evident that European societies have to counter and prevent radicalization, because this is the only way we can actually lessen attacks (any form of attacks). If there is no effective work towards this direction, it is a matter of time for more terror attacks that will eventually be out of control.