Editor's Note: “Shadow War”: State Sponsored Terrorism & Threats to Local Communities is a five-part series that discusses ongoing local dangers from the “Cold War” between the U.S. and selected allies versus an alliance of Iran, Hezbollah and increasingly Russia. This creates “Hot War” conflicts as well as added threats from terrorist plots and attacks playing out in our communities. During the series, examples of this activity and solutions for law enforcement officers will be showcased and highlighted.
During a 16-hour class I taught to local police on terrorism awareness, I had a section titled “Shadow War”. This PowerPoint and lecture outlines a flurry of global terrorist events in 2012 causing deaths and injuries. These incidents occurred on several continents, perpetrated by Iran/Hezbollah, against persons and locations of their rivals. This showcases important lessons for types of activity happening in jurisdictions in which the “Shadow War” plays out.
“Shadow War” History & Incidents
The background of this specific “Shadow War” activity can be traced to 2010 and 2011, when Israel was concerned about a growing Iranian nuclear program. During this period, there were a series of explosions and sabotage at missile and nuclear facilities in Iran. There were also the reported assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists in Tehran. These actions were interpreted by experts as possible secretive activity by Israel to stop what they identified as an existential threat to their homeland. Because of the rhetoric and previous actions of Iran, a nuclear program is deduced as a direct threat to Israel’s survival.
In 2012, IRGC’s Qud Force and Hezbollah embarked on a global campaign to wage proxy attacks against Israeli and Saudi as well as US interests. The locations of these plots and attacks include Bulgaria, Georgia (country), Turkey, Cyprus, Kenya, South Africa, Azerbaijan, India, Singapore, Thailand and the United States.
Some of the incidents are as follows:
- In February 2012, a bomb was located on an Israeli Embassy vehicle in Tblisi Georgia and disarmed with no injuries. On the same day in New Dehli India, a bomb attached to an Israeli Embassy van exploded and injured four people. Iran is the main suspect behind these two attacks.
- Also in February 2012, a dramatic scene unfolded on the streets of Bangkok Thailand. A house occupied by several Iranian nationals exploded in a residential neighborhood. One of the individuals fleeing the house, bloody and disoriented, tossed an explosive device at a taxi that failed to stop for him. A second IED was thrown at responding officers, but this explosion severed the perpetrator’s legs and also injured several Thai bystanders. The house and is occupants were suspected as part of a Quds force operation to create bombs for a terrorist campaign. There were previous warnings in Thailand of possible attacks against Israeli and US interests in this country. A month earlier in January, a suspect with possible links to Hezbollah was arrested by Thai police after they raided a warehouse in Bangkok containing explosive precursor materials.
- In June 2012 two Iranian nationals, believed to be Quds Force members, were arrested in Mombasa Kenya with a stash of explosives. They are suspected of plotting attacks on U.S., Israeli, Saudi or British targets in Kenya.
- July 2012, six people were killed and thirty-two wounded as a suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus at the Burgas airport in Bulgaria. This is a popular Black Sea tourist destination for Israelis and the bus was filled with visitors recently arriving on a flight from Tel Aviv. The main suspect in the attack was Hezbollah. According to the Bulgarian Interior Ministry, two of the plotting facilitators of the attack hold Austrian and Canadian passports.
At the end of 2011, there was the interdiction of a Quds Force plot on US soil. In a deal to sub-contract the direct action to the Los Zetas drug cartel in Mexico, the planned attack was to take place at a Washington DC restaurant targeting the Saudi Ambassador to the US. In statements made during the planning, the IRGC representatives understood that Americans would also be casualties in this bomb attack. Meetings in Mexico and phone conversations were recorded by law enforcement authorities, as one of the individuals who was approached about this plot was a DEA informant. A deadly attack within a US community was averted.
Tactics Techniques & Procedures (TTP) Lessons
Some of the important lessons from “Shadow War” activity are TTP’s used by Quds Force and Hezbollah operatives. Descriptions of attacks in Tblisi and New Dehli refer to magnetically attached (MA) IEDs placed on vehicles to be exploded remotely. An element of this activity are motorcycles riding up and attaching devices to vehicles in heavy traffic as the targeted vehicle’s occupants are unaware. These small and easy to construct IEDs are effective in this limited attack capacity. There is history in the US of these type of devices, particular during feuds among organized crime groups.
Any complex terrorist activity utilizes safe-house locations as we saw in Bangkok. This type of place, in a city filled with international residents and visitors, is ideal for plotters to discretely make these devices for a coordinated bombing campaign. This same template is a danger in any size city in the US. Individuals quietly come into a community and use a house for plotting and facilitation of organized terrorist activity. If something dramatic like a premature detonation doesn’t happen, they may be able successfully conduct the operation and flee the area unabated. We have to be aware of this threat in our jurisdictions.
Hospitality locations are popular terrorist targets for many different attacks including in Bulgaria. This resort area on the Black Sea would not have been on the forethought of many of us as a place Iranian sponsored terrorism would unfold. But this is exactly why Hezbollah chose this target location. Less scrutiny to execute with maximum impact on Israeli citizens. This is the concern for any community that has events and gatherings attractive to terrorist targeting (which is all communities). ISIS and Al-Qaeda have focused attacks against hospitality areas as the Quds Force and Hezbollah also add to the danger.
One of the lessons of the attack plot in Washington DC is the unusual proxy chosen by the Quds Force in the Los Zetas cartel. This type arrangement of potential proxies Iran can use is growing. Next in the series we will discuss Shi’a foreign fighters in Syria which has attracted a diversity of individuals from different places. In the future this will widen the ability of Iranian backed activity to attack rivals in an assortment of geographical locations.
- The “Shadow War” in 2012 provides a template to understand terrorist methods and activities that unfold during this type of conflict including current dangers.
- Local Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice professionals can research and learn from TTPs ways to identify and mitigate as well as prepare for dangers in their jurisdictions.
In this five-part series, the background and actions of Iranian sponsored “Shadow War” terrorist activity is discussed. A spate of attacks and plots in 2012 provides important lessons on tactics / methods of sponsored activity. Regional Shi’a foreign fighter recruitment for the Syrian Civil War is explored as an enduring danger as well as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds force and its covert mission to cultivate operatives and spread terrorism in support of Iran’s objectives worldwide. Previous Iranian based terrorist activity in the US is showcased to assists with analyzing and preparing for the threats unfolding in our communities. There are US cities, spaces and activities more at risk from this variant of terrorism.