The following information, while not all-inclusive, highlights issues law enforcement officers face when confronting a homicide bomber. Much of this information has been written about and examined at various levels, but I'll focus on first-responding officers.
As police officers, we approach potential threats at all times, but a police officer making an approach to a suspected suicide or homicide bomber may trigger the response you want to avoid. When the threat potential exists based on your reasonable belief or information received from citizens/witnesses, the following tactical issues may spell the difference between a non-event and mass casualties.
Distance, Cover & Movement
The blast radius for explosive devices carried attached to the body can easily cover 100 yards. Consider where you are, who's around you and where you can move to. Can you communicate with other law enforcement officers? What's your best, most-accessible cover position? How much open ground must you cover to get there? Do you have a vertical issue (e.g., a stairway or elevator)? Can you affect an evacuation? If so, where to and by what route? Are you behind or in an area of glass or other fragmenting surface that could easily produce secondary projectiles?
When you confront a potential offender, any movement allows the offender the opportunity to trigger the device. While you may choose to make verbal contact in an effort to gain compliance, doing so from a location directly exposed to a blast is extremely dangerous.
Unless you have a very strong belief a bomb is present, you or other law enforcement officers will likely first make verbal contact. Don't attempt to talk and shoot, however. Without practice, you won't do both when needed. Use one talker/negotiator at a time (with an idea of what you desire to accomplish), and have as many shooters as necessary (and available) at the ready.
Use of Force
Conventional thinking and action won't defeat unconventional threats. Knowing when to act against a bomber is as critical as knowing how to stop a bomber. Justifying the use of force to prevent or stop a bomb carrier or someone who controls the bomb carrier or device presents significant challenges. The law is clear in matters of defense of life, whether you have a face-to-face threat or must deal with an escaping offender who continues to present a threat of death.
The U.S. Supreme Court case, Tennessee v. Garner, established a verbal warning is required only when feasible against a fleeing felony offender who offers up a threat of serious physical harm to the officer or others, or who escapes making use of a deadly weapon. Deadly force is lawful to employ against an offender without warning where an unlawful immediate threat to life exists. Feasibility means, in part, that officer/citizen safety is not threatened by such warning. When no escape is attempted but the offender stands their ground and presents a threat of death or great bodily harm, use of force is based on self-defense of the officer and others.
To initiate a proactive use of force requires more than mere suspicion. Information gained from reasonably believable source(s) may provide such a foundation for some action, but it remains outside the realm of conventional police-officer thinking and training to proactively shoot a suspected offender in the head without personal knowledge that a direct and immediate threat to life exists.
This is the most difficult issue in homicide-bomber response. Is this the terrorist or a man with a sack of groceries? Because the offender can move faster than an officer can react, if the offender moves to detonate the bomb and the officer doesn't act first, the officer and all around may die.
At a training class I attended, Isaeli instructors warned a homicide bomber will most likely use their hands in a detonating sequence. If a potential offender raises their hands, look for wires or other hardware that indicate the presence of a device. Raised arms also don't block the blast effect, allowing for greater damage.
Remember: As noted trainer Tony Blauer describes, presumed compliance leads officers to false expectations, and an offender's compliance may be a ploy to set up an attack. Also, the verbal command "don't move" is unambiguous; any movement is a violation. Don't allow the offender to bend down or move to a position that allows an attack against you or others.
Your live-fire shooters should stand ready to make a head shot, preferably with a long gun with a high-velocity round or 12-gauge slug. Further, officers must not direct gunfire at the explosive device. Shock detonation is possible and very real for certain types of detonators and mixtures currently in use by terrorists.
Important: The ability to achieve head shots requires training and continuous practice.
Carry and wear protective eye lenses. Polycarbonate wraparound lenses defeat high-velocity fragments. Without such glasses, you may survive the blast but be blinded. Officers in my department wear Protective Optics Wiley X PT-1N glasses (www.wileyx.com). There are other good eyewear manufacturers as well.
As an officer safety issue, I think officers should wear glasses at all times on the street. Same with soft body armor. Richard Davis, inventor of soft body armor, once told me of a bank robbery some years ago in Scandinavia in which the offender detonated himself while wrapped in explosives. A number of officers were saved by their armor.
In a bomber incident, there may be more than one offender or accomplice. Establish a perimeter around and away from the threat. Ask yourself what and where is the method of transport by the offender(s). How'd they arrive?
Don't allow a second offender to approach your back. This has happened on SWAT callouts.
What does a suicide bomber look like?
As Israel has discovered, bombers can include men and women, young and old. Nationality or race may distinguish your sworn enemy, but history tells us such distinctions aren't so easily made.
How does a suicide bomber dress and act? Bomb technicians tell that in hot weather, look for someone wearing too many clothes long-sleeve coats can hide a device on the body, for instance. This doesn't help in cold weather, obviously. Female bombers can also prove especially difficult to spot due to dress, pregnancy, etc.
Backpacks are so common we have little chance of detecting such a delivery. Keep them out of crowded events and venues. Remember the Olympic bombing in Atlanta?
A suicide bomber will probably be very anxious. Interviews with bombing witnesses and survivors tell of offenders sweating heavily, with a preoccupied, lost look and an odd walk or movement.
Secondary Devices & Booby Traps
If an offender is down, don't approach them. This runs counter to everything law enforcement does in an ordinary arrest, but if you trigger a primary or secondary device, you'll be another example to others of what not to do.
The 1997 abortion-clinic bombing in Atlanta included a secondary device timed to hit first responders. Bottom line: The threat isn't over after the first blast. Believe this and act accordingly. Train with your bomb techs, or bring in agents from FBI and ATF to assist with educating your officers on the tactics and techniques used in the past by criminals and terrorists.
Real or Not
In 2000, LAPD officers were called to a shopping mall when a security guard was confronted by a man who pulled a hand grenade from a bag. The offender reportedly had his finger through the grenade pin and made repeated threats to use the explosive device. As he moved from an area outside the mall and attempted to re-enter the mall, officers took action and fired on him. The offender fell on the grenade, and the bomb squad was called in to determine if the grenade was live. It was determined it was a dummy grenade.
The officers certainly couldn't know it wasn't real, and their actions were legally and morally correct. No officer can stand by and allow an offender to throw a hand grenade at officers or citizens.
As we work to define tactics to defeat or counter the homicide bomber, issues become clearer based on lives lost. The Israelis have learned these lessons, at great cost. We must prepare for the day our enemies again attack us. The threat is real, and it's our obligation to stand ready.