U.S. News

Terrorists Shifting Focus to 'Soft' Targets: Study

Terrorists are aiming for hotels and other easier-to-hit targets as security measures at military and government facilities continue to improve, says a global intelligence company.

Al-Qaida is changing from a centralized organization with global goals to regional "franchises" with more parochial aims and strong grass-roots support, according to a report Tuesday from STRATFOR. These smaller cells get less training and less money, so they set their sights lower.

That doesn't mean they aren't dangerous, "particularly if they are attempting to prove their value or if they are able to link up with someone who is highly tactically skilled," the report says.

According to STRATFOR, the number of attacks on hotels has more than doubled since the 9/11 attacks in 2001 when compared with the eight years before. Injuries and deaths caused by those attacks have increased six times over the same comparison period.

A hotel is the ultimate soft target for Islamic extremists: a fixed location, lots of human traffic and shallow security perimeters. Hotels also attract many Westerners, giving militants high probabilities of killing or injuring large numbers of them in a single attack, according to the report.

Although hotel security guards try to monitor suspicious people and activities, extremists know the way around this is to check in as a guest, giving them full access to the grounds. As an example, the report says the bombers who carried out the July 17 twin suicide attacks at the J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta, Indonesia, had registered two days earlier.

From a terrorist's perspective, the downside to hitting soft targets is that the attacks don't generate as much "political and ideological mileage" as hitting a hard target such as a better guarded government building or military facility, the report says.

Despite the increasing attacks in hotels, the report says many owners and managers have been reluctant to equip their buildings with more security measures, which can be cumbersome and inconvenience guests.

But that mentality may have to change.

An attorney representing the victims of a hotel attack in 2004 has demanded that the owner accept responsibility for the security and belongings of its guests.

"Terrorism-related liability considerations, which could be called a hushed concern among hotel industry insiders since Sept. 11, are becoming a much more prominent issue," the report says.