Terrorism: June 21, 2002


: Police. Firemen. Medics. All of these civil servants are expected and even openly-greeted at the scene of any crisis, waved through secure perimeters without a second glance. For a terrorist, it's the perfect Trojan Horse to either initiate an attack or escape from the scene of their crime.

The New York Daily News reported on 20 June that the NYPD and FDNY had been warned that terrorists may try to use police cars, fire trucks and ambulances as high-speed bombs, after two Middle Eastern men tried to buy an ambulance with cash this month. The two unidentified men went to the northern New Jersey Movie Time Cars Inc. shop sometime within the last two weeks. The firm specializes in building replica ambulances and police cars, but when the men offered to buy a replica ambulance for cash, company owner Joe Sargo became suspicious. He told the men he does not sell vehicles to just anyone and the men quickly fled. An employee jotted down the license plate number of the car and Sargo alerted authorities, who then warned city law enforcement officials.

Newark FBI office spokeswoman Sandra Carroll confirmed the two men to be Middle Eastern, admitting that the FBI knows who they are and were seeking them for questioning, but has not connected them to any terrorist organizations. An unnamed high-ranking New York law enforcement official who had been briefed about the threat told the Daily News the obvious: "If a terrorist got their hands on one of these vehicles, it would be an ideal way for them to get in somewhere". 

The use of fake official vehicles is an old terrorist trick and one the Islamic jihad-bent "mujahadeen" have used in the past. Shamil Basayev, leader of the Chechen rebel commando team that seized Buddenovsk hospital in 1995, used a Lada automobile painted up like a Russian police car to lead three Kamaz trucks filled with terrorist fighters through a 80-mile series of Federal checkpoints. Two rebels disguised as "sergeants" were sitting in the Lada, their trademark beards shaved off and dressed similarly to the truck drivers. 

These could be used as car bombs that could be planted near government buildings or landmarks without drawing attention. Among the high-security targets NYC officials fear terrorists could infiltrate are City Hall, Police Headquarters and key FBI and Fire Department facilities. Armed FDNY fire marshals began securing ambulance stations and garages where vehicles are stored or repaired. They are also on alert for any suspicious activity around FDNY headquarters and the 911 center (both based in downtown Brooklyn). The NYPD and the FDNY have alerted rank-and-file members to keep a close eye on any official department cars. Stealing police cars is apparently easier than a casual observer would think (see http://www.tremcopoliceproducts.com/articlesdet.htm). On 19 June, a handcuffed drug suspect stole a police cruiser in Southwest Philadelphia and escaped. 

Israel has recently had a series of recent unpleasant experiences with this terrorist tactic. A 14 February 2002 statement by an IDF Spokesman noted that Israeli security forces had witnessed an increasing use of ambulances and and medical vehicles by terrorist organizations. The terrorists were working on the premise that these vehicles would not undergo thorough examinations when they passed through IDF roadblocks and checkpoints.

The most prominent example of this was the apparent use of a medical vehicle or medical accreditation to help carry out the suicide terror attack on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem on 27 January 2002. Female suicide bomber Wafa Idris worked as a medical secretary for the Palestinian Red Crescent. The Israeli investigation indicated that Idris was sent by Mohammed Hababa, a Tanzim operative and ambulance driver for the Palestinian Red Crescent. Among the group that planned the attack was Munzar Noor, who also worked for the Red Crescent in Ramallah. 

This was not the first incident in which ambulances were used by terrorist organizations. In October 2001, Israeli security forces arrested Nidal Nazal (a Hamas operative from Kalkilya). Nazal worked as an ambulance driver for the Palestinian Red Crescent and apparently exploited his relatively easy movement around the West Bank towns as an ambulance driver to serve as a messenger between Hamas headquarters in the various towns. Palestinian Red Crescent identification vests were also distributed to rioters, after a road block the erection and tire-burning at one of the Palestinian roadblocks in Samaria.

At approximately 10:00 hours on 27 March 2002, Isalam Jibril (a Tanzim terrorist) was arrested at an IDF roadblock near Ramallah while working as the driver of a Red Crescent ambulance. An explosives belt and other explosive charges were seized from the ambulance. The ambulance driver admitted that these were given to him in Nablus by Mahmud Titi (one of the senior Tanzim operatives in Samaria and well-known to the organization's leaders) in order to transport them to Tanzim operatives in Ramallah.

The Israelis decided that the increasing use of medical personnel by terrorist organizations to by-pass checks at IDF blockades underscored their need to conduct thorough searches of Palestinian medical and evacuation vehicles, despite the inconvenience and hardship involved. - Adam Geibel


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