Terror at the Mall: Why Civilian Operators Matter

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I just finished watching the HBO documentary “Terror at the Mall” about the Nairobi Kenya Westgate Mall Attack last year by Al-Shabaab Terrorist that left 67 dead and 155 wounded. Almost all of the documentary is CCTV footage from that day narrated by the actual survivors. There is also some awesome LIVE video and photographs taken that day by two combat correspondents (Tyler Hicks and Goran Tomasevic) who happened to be near the mall that day and after donning a kevlar vest and helmet, decided to jump right into the middle of the action. Because of these two journalist’ bravery and daring, you get a real sense of what was happening that day from a first person Point-of-View.

I must be honest with you, while watching this film, something in me clicked. When I started seeing all the wounded and dead, including women and young children, and nobody DOING ANYTHING,  I started to get really pissed off. All of the so-called “Police SWAT” and Military personnel (or what passes for Police SWAT and Military in Kenya I should say), were standing around outside, taking cover behind concrete walls and basically pissing themselves. The friggin’ Red Cross people had more balls than these guys! They went up on the top deck without any police protection, as they were told there were many wounded children up there.  After an hour had passed, The ONLY ACTION AND RESPONSE came from 5 plain clothed policeman with AK’s and 2 civilians armed with registered handguns...INITIALLY THESE WERE THE ONLY PEOPLE WHO HAD THE BALLS TO GO IN AND TRY TO SAVE LIVES…the so-called Police SWAT and Military would not enter the mall until 3 Hours into the siege!

 Both of these civilians, Harish Patel, an Airport Worker and Abdul Haji, a Real Estate Executive, demonstrate the true spirit of what it is to be a Civilian Operator.

Here is a direct quote from Harish Patel from the HBO Documentary:

“Whoever has the balls, we go in, the rest, stay. If we have to die, we die.

Here in this quote, Abdul Haji reiterates why it is important to STAY ARMED!  Read what he told ABC News:

“Haji says he grew up around guns and lately had been carrying his pistol with him. “I left where I was and I headed straight to the Westgate,” Haji told ABC News. “Luckily on that particular day I had actually carried my licensed gun with me so I didn’t have to go back home to waste time and pick up a gun, I went straight to the mall.”

Here, in the same interview, Haji shows the Combative Mentality a CO has to have in a situation like this:

“I had 14 rounds (in my pistol)..it never crossed my mind that we (the civilians) only had handguns and the terrorist had assault rifles..A gun is a gun and at the end of the day it is how good you are with it that makes a difference….”

 

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Not mentioned in the Documentary, was another civilian who was just as key in helping to save lives that day. A nameless and anonymous (for obvious security reasons) Ex-British Royal Marine, who, with a pistol tucked in his waistband, led over a hundred people to safety out of the mall, despite the obvious danger from sporadic gunfire.

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So ultimately what can we take away from this senseless, awful, shitty mess?

First and foremost,as I have always said, the CO can never count for somebody to come and “rescue or save” them when an incident like this occurs. Now I understand our Police here in America are better trained and motivated for the most part, and a comparison to the Kenyan Forces may be unfair, but the message of self-reliance to the CO remains the same: Anytime you put your safety and the safety and security of your loved ones in another’s hands, you are rolling the “cosmic dice” with their lives.

What really gets me about this story  is the complete  lack of urgency by the so called Police “SWAT” and “Counter-Terrorist” units of the Military; both of them waiting THREE HOURS before entering the Mall, when they knew they had wounded, bleeding out civilians in there! And whats worse is when they did enter, according to hostage testimony, they FIRED INDISCRIMINATELY upon hostages several times who were trying to signal them for rescue! Luckily, no hostages were harmed by these idiots, but they did end up shooting and wounding three Policeman who were working with them, one of them, fatally. In the end, After 4 days of futility,  the Military and Police decided to do away with a ground assault (even though they had over 500 men at their disposal with Armored Personnel Carriers and Helicopter support against only FOUR Terrorist) and fired an Incendiary Artillery round into the supermarket area of the mall where the terrorist were hiding, burning the entire mall to the ground, causing massive property damage and killing all the terrorist along with it. Talk about using a Bazooka to kill a mouse.

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Bottom line guys, It was the bravery and fortitude of these 3 civilians and 5 plainclothes police officers that saved ALL of the people who survived that day in Nairobi. Believe me when I say this: In the world we currently live in, being a civilian operator WILL save lives one day, maybe, even including your own! Think about that every time you go out to train! Think about that the next time you question spending money on quality firearms and tactical training!

I know what a lot of you are saying: I Just don’t know if I could be as BRAVE as those 3 civilians were if something like that happened to me..to that I say this: “Doing alot of things can get you killed in this life, including in this case, doing nothing!

Stay Armed, Stay Alert and Stay Dangerous!

 

 

Surviving Multiple Active Shooters

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Terrorism by its very nature, is a virus. A virus, in order to survive must adapt and change to defeat anti-biotic/security counter-measures. The Terrorism/Active Shooter MO today is to avoid hard targets like Embassies where the security has been tripled since 9/11 and to strike in force at soft targets where hapless, un-armed throngs of civilians gather in large numbers like hotels and shopping malls either with a suicide bomber or gangs of armed men with automatic weapons. You do not have to think back very far for some tragic examples: The 2008 Mumbai Attacks, where in 13 coordinated bombings and attacks, 257 people were killed and 700 wounded. The latest Tragedy in Kenya, where to date, 62 civilians have been killed and 200 wounded, shows the extreme lengths these cowards will go to ply their trade.

As we have discussed before, surviving one active shooter is a complex and dynamic situation to train for. Boiled down to essentials, it involves either bounding (moving without being detected if possible) cover to cover, as quickly as possible to an any exit, aka getting the hell out of dodge or Hiding and waiting on the Calvary. Going in with the ideal that you are going to have an “old west show down” with the shooter is pure hollywood fantasy. The only time that should become a reality is if the shooter is either blocking your egress or is attempting to openly engage you or your loved ones while hiding. Changing the scenario to multiple shooter’s, armed with automatic weapons and grenades does nothing at all to simplify the scenario, but in essence, does not really change your game plan: either EGRESS or HIDE! The reality of having MULTIPLE shooters both greatly lowers your odds of escape and increases the chances you will be caught, wounded or killed! For me to sit here and “tactically hypothesize” about what you should/could or would do in a dynamic situation like that is asinine and pointless. All that the CO can do to prepare for a situation like this is to look at the situation REALISTICALLY and not through the lens of a Hollywood Hero, ala Bruce Willis in the original Die Hard.

Having said all that however, that still does not mean we have to roll over and die!

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Giving the CO the best scenario possible, which includes him/her being “tactically aware” and not getting caught as a hostage and/or disarmed in the process, hopefully, at bare minimum, the CO is going to be armed with a handgun, spare mags, a knife and a cell phone. The shooters, if we follow the model of the 2008 Mumbai attacks and the recent Nairobi, Kenya attack, will number anywhere from 15-30 men, working in 2 to 3 squads, armed with automatic weapons, Tactical/IBA vest,  grenades and radios. The disparity of force that exist between an armed civilian and squads of armed men with automatic weapons, grenades and IBA is at such opposite ends of the spectrum, even the David and Goliath analogy does not do it justice!

Of course, since there has been only one “Multiple Active Shooter” incident inside the United States (“Multiple” meaning that there was verified proof of MORE than one shooter) with Columbine High School in 1999, we really do not have any data to compare the worldwide incidents too. However, I did find these stats from the FBI website:

  • Active-shooter incidents often occur in small- and medium-sized communities where police departments are limited by budget constraints and small workforces.
  • The average active-shooter incident lasts 12 minutes. Thirty-seven percent last less than 5 minutes.
  • Overwhelmingly, the offender is a single shooter (98 percent), primarily male (97 percent). In 40 percent of the instances, they kill themselves.
  • Two percent of the shooters bring IEDs as an additional weapon.
  • In 10 percent of the cases, the shooter stops and walks away. In 20 percent of the cases, the shooter goes mobile, moving to another location.
  • Forty-three percent of the time, the crime is over before police arrive. In 57 percent of the shootings, an officer arrives while the shooting is still underway.
  • The shooter often stops as soon as he hears or sees law enforcement, sometimes turning his anger or aggression on law enforcement.

Getting back to the CO’s response, the only move you have is to do just that: MOVE!! EGRESS OUT OF THE KILL BOX ASAP. Using cover as best you can and staying low as possible and moving in a zig-zag pattern, bound (move/run) to an exit. As you move cover to cover, be mindful of erratic Bullet Behavior. As I will discuss in a future article, bullets tend to have a mind of their own, particularly in urban environments. To rehash a topic I talk a lot about, be VERY aware of bullet penetration as you bound. Most all of you know by now the distinct difference between “cover” and “concealment”. Being strictly empirical, I would wager most of the “medium” (ie walls, fixtures, booths, etc.) you would find in a typical shopping mall would classify as “concealment”; it may “hide” you fairly well but as for stopping bullets, forget it. Next time you are in a mall, look around at the general construction; most of what you find I wager is glass, poster and cardboard.

As I say time and time again on this blog, Awareness is always your first and best weapon, so hopefully, you have done some “pre-deployment” homework as to the general layout of the places you intend to stay and/or visit. In a shopping mall (in the rare instances I am caught in one) I always make a habit to study the layout directory and get a general sense of the floor plan and where all the exits are located. Concerning shopping malls, It is also note-worthy to remember that most  (not all) of the stores have service entrances in the back for deliveries that will typically lead to an exit via a loading dock. For Malls with multiple levels, there is often a service elevator for this purpose, so the freight can be loaded and delivered easier. It would not take much investigation to find this out.

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OK, so on to option two: Hiding and waiting on the Calvary. Now as I have gathered consensus from my friends in Law Enforcement HRT and examining historical examples of active shooter situations where people did hide, versus trying to run, the survival rates are lower for those who hide. Looking at an example from the latest attack in Kenya that proves the opposite however, when the shooting started, a woman crawled in an air duct and hid until Police found her 8 hours later! Take into account there is very little data on people who were hiding in an Active Shooter situation that were ARMED with FIREARMS. Talking to Law Enforcement, this situation can be likened to an armed home owner taking refuge during a burglary or home invasion; the home owner calls 911 and hunkers down with their weapon, if the intruder attempts to proceed into the room where they are, the home owner opens fire, defending themselves and the intruder is typically killed. Now in a multiple threat situation, where you may be pitted against several armed men with automatic weapons, the odds of survival start dropping severely, but we could play the “what if” game all day! Suffice to say, that if you have called 911, alerted the authorities of where you are, are sufficiently armed (have spare mags), barricaded down in a secure area with solid cover, you at a bare minimum, have the element of surprise on your side. Always remember the #1 Rule in siege warfare: The defender always has the advantage!

Now I know I have not even scratched the proverbial surface in covering every “eventuality” in a multiple active shooter situation, but as I said, this is such a dynamic event, it would be fruitless to try to “tactically hypothesize” what you could/should or would do! Sure, there are all kinds of “Macgyver” type shit you could try and do but I make it a point to be real with my readers and students..there is enough “ass smoke blowers” out there on the internet and in the self-defense training community!

Update:  An awesome example of what an aware, armed CO can accomplish! Over 100 lives saved because of this man!

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2430201/British-hero-mall-massacre-Ex-Royal-Marine-handgun-saved-100-lives-terrorists-ran-amok.html

Stay Real, Stay Aware and Stay Dangerous!  The Adventure Continues………..