The May 1, 2011 announcement that United States forces killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan is likely to result in retaliatory acts of terrorism against targets of interest to Islamist terrorists worldwide. Missionary and faith-based organizations, their staff and their facilities are potential targets of these acts of terrorism.
CCI assesses this to be a significant risk to the safety of missionary and faith-based personnel worldwide, with increased danger especially in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The announcement yesterday that U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan has resulted in an intense flurry of activity, interest, reaction and opinion. Much of the pundit-based commentary has noted the potential for retaliatory attacks in response to this event. This commentary has ranged from near dismissal of the threat to dire warnings of widespread attacks against Americans on the streets of virtually every country in the world. The U.S. Department of State expressed its concern this way: “The U.S. Department of State alerts U.S. citizens traveling and residing abroad to the enhanced potential for anti-American violence given recent counter-terrorism activity in Pakistan.”
The Context of the Threat
CCI believes that it is very important to contextualize the potential threat and to evaluate it with respect to our constituents: missionaries and other Christian faith-based workers.
The al Qaeda organization led by Osama bin Laden on September 11, 2001 no longer exists as an entity with significant capacity to mount terrorist operations (at least on the scale of the 9/11 attacks). However, it has spawned the birth and growth of countless “like-minded” organizations worldwide. These organizations tend to be small, insulated, and independent in their structure and operations. The original al Qaeda franchise (led by bin Laden) retains the ability to inspire, promote and even birth the concepts of terrorist operations, but since the 9/11 response by western governments, the operational capabilities of this group have been severely degraded. What replaced it, however, in many ways represents a greater threat to the faith-based world than the original organization.
The legions of al Qaeda inspired franchise organizations around the world are of different sizes and operational capabilities. The common threads linking these organizations are targeting, motive and tactics. Of these, the most immediately critical to the faith-based world is targeting.
Over the history of the al Qaeda inspired Islamist terrorist movement, a constant theme has been the targeting of victims by this movement. Beginning with bin Laden, but certainly not limited to him, has been the consistent categorization of the targets of the movement as Jews, Christians and Americans. This movement, its leaders, and the multiple al Qaeda franchises now spread around the world have made no secret whatsoever that they classify their cause and battle as a religious war – a battle to defend Islam against perceived attacks by Judaism, Christianity and western cultural influences.
Although al Qaeda and its affiliates have always sought to maximize the impact of their attacks by perpetrating “spectacular” attacks (large mass-casualty and mass-fear-inspiring events), successfully accomplishing such attacks in the post-9/11 world is difficult. As a result, most of these terrorist organizations look to “softer” targets – targets without the benefit of high-profile, expensive and comprehensive security protective systems. The al Qaeda franchises, like all terrorist organizations, will choose targets providing a combination of the maximum impact and the maximum probability of success (or, put another way, the greatest impact and the least risk).
The assets of Christian missionary and faith-based organizations provide an attractive target for Islamist terrorism. One of the foundational premises of this movement is that Islam is under attack by Christianity. Missionaries and other faith-based workers are, quite literally, the soldiers leading this perceived attack (at least, that is how leaders of these terrorist organizations characterize their world view). In addition, the assets of Christian missionary and faith-based organizations will never have the physical defenses and layers of security found in more traditional targets of terrorism (embassies, multi-national business interests, infrastructure, etc.). These two factors – we are the enemy and we are not well-defended – create a target profile that these terrorist organizations absolutely recognize.
The Death of Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden died in precisely the manner he desired – he was killed by American military forces. His death will be characterized by his followers as a martyrdom. Because he was killed in Pakistan by American military and intelligence forces, there will be many in the Muslim and Arab worlds who, although not fully supporting the al Qaeda terrorist philosophy, will lend weight to the martyrdom concept. The spontaneous celebrations the erupted in many places, but particularly in the U.S., as the news of bin Laden’s death spread will further inflame those who shared bin Laden’s philosophy. Those celebrations will also tend to offend others who, although not terrorists, oppose Christian and American values generally.
bin Laden’s death will certainly trigger reaction throughout his constituent world. In many places, this reaction will be limited to demonstrations, media comments and generally non-violent rhetoric and commentary. The volatility of this situation will result in some of these demonstrations turning violent, even if violence was not the intent of the organizers. This is the reason that the U.S. State Department’s initial Travel Alert recommended that “U.S. citizens in areas where recent events could cause anti-American violence are strongly urged to limit their travel outside of their homes and hotels and avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations.”
Those violent demonstrations are the most likely, most predictable and most manageable threat arising from this event. As the State Department says, limiting travel, staying away from public gatherings and being aware of local conditions are very viable and effective preventative and defensive measures. Unfortunately, these events do not present the greatest threat, or risk, to the missionary and faith-based communities.
The intentional targeting of missionary and faith-based assets is a foreseeable, even likely, response to the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. forces. This threat could be manifest anywhere in the world where al Qaeda franchises or sympathizers exist. This literally includes almost every country in the world. However, the most immediate and dangerous threats probably exist in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Retaliatory attacks against “desirable” targets – including missionary and faith-based assets – is highly likely in these two countries.
What Does This Threat Look Like?
Because this event (the killing of bin Laden) was a surprise, many of those desiring to retaliate will not have pre-existing plans. They will respond with quickly-planned attacks. This makes the types of attacks fairly predictable: Bombings, assassinations (“street” attacks) and kidnapping. These threats are listed in order of probability (it is easier, faster and safer for terrorists to deploy a bomb in a crowd of “desirable” targets than it is to plan and execute a kidnapping).
In this Advisory, the term “assets” has been used several times. This term refers to anything of value to a missionary or faith-based organization. Formal risk assessment processes group assets into seven categories: People, information, facilities, equipment, services (mission, operation, activities), image (reputation) and money. In the environment addressed in this Advisory, the assets at greatest risk are people and facilities.
- The core of the State Department recommendations (stay home and limit travel) makes sense, especially in the short term. Demonstrations and civil unrest associated with this event are most likely to occur in the near future (days), and sheltering in place (or hibernating) is a viable short-term strategy. However, this is not a long-term option for missionary and faith-based organizations.
- Organizations operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan especially need to re-assess their security protocols in light of this new threat. Leaders and those responsible for security are urged to take a very fresh look at the threat, and not be overly influenced by a season of little or no activity (against them) in the recent past. The killing of bin Laden is an extraordinary and unprecedented event and reaction to it will not necessarily be guided by or limited to actions taken in the past.
- Avoidance of high-risk areas and situations is a key. High-risk areas include any places that are perceived as “American” (embassies, government offices, offices and facilities of U.S. based businesses, offices and facilities of U.S. based NGO’s) or Christian (mission and faith-based NGO offices and facilities, and especially churches). They also include places where Americans and other expatriates tend to gather – restaurants, shopping and entertainment facilities, etc. High-risk situations include any assemblies of Americans, “westerners”, other expatriates, and Christian and any local public gatherings (demonstrations, memorials, etc.).
- Individual awareness is a key security strategy. Everyone in the organization should understand and embrace the principle that they must have an acute and intense awareness of the environment around them. Detecting and reporting suspicious and unusual activity is the very best opportunity the organization has to respond to a potential terrorist attack in a preventive manner. This requires individual commitment, organizational training, and a system to collect all reports in a single place, so trends can be identified and acted on.
- Avoiding routine and predicable behavior is vital. Terrorists (and all other criminals) seek to achieve maximum surprise and tactical advantage during their attacks. That requires advance knowledge of the victim(s)’ activities and movements. Varying daily activities as much as possible will frustrate the efforts of adversaries to develop a plan of attack that maximizes their chances of success.
- Enhancing physical security measures may be necessary. These are very much situation- and site-specific; but may include:
- Adding guards
- Restricting access to facilities
- Screening procedures to vett those seeking entry to facilities
- Installing (upgrading; repairing) physical security tools (locks, fences, alarms, etc.)
CCI stands ready to support Christian agencies in the response to this increased threat, to conduct site-specific assessments, to provide training and to assist agencies in the implement these recommendations and additional actions; and to discuss specific issues and situations. We remain the only Christian agency in the world that provides real-time on-site support and assistance in crises and emergencies without charging fees. Contact us:
Crisis Consulting International
PMB 223, 9452 Telephone Rd.
Ventura, CA 93004 U.S.A.
Tel (+) 805-642-2549
Fax (+) 805-987-5192
© 2011 Crisis Consulting International. Permission is granted to Christian non-profit agencies to reproduce and distribute this Advisory in its entirety only and with attribution to CCI. All other rights reserved.
 Global Travel Alert issued May 1, 2011. “Recent counter-terrorism activity in Pakistan” is government-speak for the killing of bin Laden.
 The term “Islamist” is generally used to distinguish the radial and political expression of violence associated (by the perpetrators) with religion from the entire faith of Islam
 The most common term used by bin Laden over a 10-year period to describe his enemy was “Jews and Crusaders”