Monday, October 15, 2012

Case Study Omagh NI Bombing 1998

Date: Saturday, 15th August 1998.
Location: Omagh, Country Tyrone, Northern Ireland.
Category: Terrorist Attack, Bombing, Vehicle

The very first time I took a course on critical communications and bomb threat management the instructor had noted how most bomb threat warnings are called in to reduce physical casualties as typically the building to be bombed serves as a symbol and the bomber does not traditionally intend to harm a lot of people.

However it was also noted in the last two decades that terrorist groups around the world have been developing bomb threat strategies of a more melevolant nature. Intended to increase the number of casualties to both civilian and of the first responders (typically medical and security forces)

There are three key malevolent bomb threat strategies as identified by EOD expert Craig S Gundry US Army (Ret) CPS, CHS-III

1 - The Mouse Trap

2 The Short Warning

3 The False Bomb location

The Omagh bombing of august 1998 employed two of these tactics the short warning and the false bomb location. It was carried out supposedly by members of the Real Irish Republican Army a splinter faction of the Provisional IRA who were opposed to the signing of the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement on the 10th of april 1998. The bomb was detonated in a crowded market area and inflicted casualties estimated at around 30 (+2) dead and over 200 wounded. I say +2  as one of the women was carrying an unborn child and there was a paramedic who was killed in a vehicle collision rushing to respond to the explosion. Never forget about the men and women who run towards the fire.

This day, the 15th of August was reported to be the last day of major shopping before the start of the new school year and Omagh is reported to be the only town in County Tyrone that had school uniform and supply stores and so on this busy hectic day of shopping you found hundreds of people flooding to Omagh to get the last minute shopping done so that all the little ones would be ready for school. I have been told it was said to be a big day for the town and things like a festival had been planned and we had people of both Protestant and Catholic backgrounds, Tourists from the Republic, a Mormon teenager on an exchange, several young exchange students from Spain all in this one area.

Now this was a tense period on the Northern Irish peace process. Negotiations to end the Troubles had already failed in 1996 and there was a resumption of political violence. They finally signed the act through on 1998 as Sinn Fein (A republican political party that has historically carried ties to the PIRA) had approved of the Mitchell Principles which called for the disarmament and disbandment of all paramilitary forces and a commitment to nonviolence. The RIRA opposed certain clauses in the agreement and began its campaign on January 7th 1998 with an attempted bombing in Banbridge, County Down. this attack was thwarted when responding security forces managed to located and diffuse the device before it could be detonated.

On 13, August,1998 a red Vauxhall Cavalier was stolen from Carrickmacross, County Monaghan, in the Republic of Ireland. the culprits switched the Republic plates with Northern Ireland plates and crossed the border on the morning of the 15th. At approximately 14:10 the vehicle was recorded by CCTV parking outside of an S.D. Kells' clothin store on Lower Market Street in Omagh. This position was also near its intersection with Dublin Road. Two unidentified subjects exited the car and walked east down Market Street turning towards Campsie Road. where they most likely had an extraction team waiting for them.

This photo was recovered in a camera found in the rubble. That car parked to the left of the man and child is the vehicle that contains the bomb.

The next stage in this operation was the phone calls. The phone call traditionally is used as a warning to evacuate the building. It is believed by some that bombers view the building as a symbol and do not necessarily intend to inflict human casualties. Of course some casualties do occur however it is usually believed to be a warning to minimize casualties.

This is not one of those cases. At approximately 1430 a bomb threat call was made to Ulster Television in Belfast, Northern Ireland with the following message

"There is a bomb. Courthouse. Omagh town. 500 lbs. Explosion. 30 minutes"

So we have established that a 500 lb blast will occur at the courthouse in Omagh at approximately 1500. For purposes of the geographical location the courthouse is just under 500 metres from the marketplace. At approximately 1432 a call was placed to the Samaritans Charity society in Coleraine, County Londonderry.

"Am I through to Omagh? This is a bomb warning. It's going to go off in 30 minutes. 200 metres from the courthouse"

At 1435 a second call was recieved at the Ulster Television station in Belfast with a brief message.

"Bomb, Omagh town, 15 minutes."

In  a span of five minutes the callers established a web of confusion as to the location and detonation time of the bomb that would ultimately give them a more successful operation. 

Now in each call the name Martha Pope was referenced. This was a code word, an authentication code if you will to be used between Irish Republican forces and British Police to verify the validity of the call and that it was not a prank.And as such the police response was to immediately evacuate the court house and surronding area and get them a safe distance away. A cordon surrounding the courthouse was established at 1440 hours and the evacuees were positioned 400 metres away on market street. which as it happens was the location of the school supply stores and that red car. They began carefully searching the area around the courthouse.

 At 1510 hours the bomb detonates roughly 400 metres from the courthouse in the crowd of evacuees and children.

Chaos immediately after the bombing.

From there the incident was not over. On the 18th of august 1998 a group identifying itself as the Real IRA, the RIRA admitted responsibility for the event but blamed the police for the deaths. They claimed that 3 clear messages identified the device as being on market street 400 metres from the courthouse parked in front of a commercial target.

 Is it possible that this was an operational screw up that can be blamed on bad or inaccurate intelligence? of course it can but isn't it also possible that the callers had a much darker plan intended for that device then blowing up a clothing store?

Now immediately after the blast and prior to the RIRA accepting the blame. the fingers were all pointing to the Provisional Irish Republican Army. The PIRA who were quite obviously furious having just signed the Belfast agreement and agreeing to attempt at peace. It has been rumored that the PIRA got their own kind of revenge against the real perpetrators of the attack.

Now whether or not that is true I have absolutely no idea. It would not surprise me but I simply do not know if such a thing is true.

Omagh Bombing Memorial placed where the vehicle was parked.

Lessons to be learned from this attack:

1. NEVER assume that the information stated in a bomb threat warning is completely accurate the caller may be misinformed or inaccurate about his statement It is also possible that the caller is bering deliberately misleading in an effort to provoke a specific response.

2. ALWAYS inspect your safe zone and cordon area for secondary devices. Although we found no secondaries in the Omagh incident a search of the safe zone could have revealed the actual intention of the bomb. possibly saving the lives of everyone there.

This was probably one of the darkest hours in the history of the troubles and it caused a severe backlash on both sides of the tension due to a severe number of civilians, women and children dying from the incident.

To the best of my research the RIRA is still active in Northern Ireland even today as they are not satisfied with the Belfast Agreement.


First Look: Lakonian Bladecraft LBC-2 Last Warning

I am kind of a knife guy. I almost always have a cutting tool on me and I just appreciate weapons of all forms. Despite my fascination with blades and knives I have never really been an SME on knives. I know only a little bit of basic knowledge on the most basic elements of sharpening and maintenance, I know almost nothing about steels and heat treatments and such. Blade angles mean only a little bit to me I just want to be a able to cut whatever needs cutting with ease and precision apart from that I don’t care if it is a 22 degree angle or a 20 degree angle. 

That doesn’t stop me from appreciating a good solid knife when I see one.

I have what I believe is a minimum set of required knives or blades that everyone should have. Think of it as the Greyman Four. The four minimum blades everyone should own and that is a hatchet or axe for gathering wood, a large fixed blade camp/fighting knife for a whole range of field work, a small pen knife like a swiss army knife or case knife for whittling and small tasks and then a middle range fixed or folding knife intended for everything in between. I have been looking for a wharncliffe knife for some time now to serve that middle range position, I was eyeing the wharncliffe folders made by Spyderco and Blackhawk but I am not a huge fan of Spyderco knives and I eventually came to the decision that I wanted a fixed blade.

I wanted a blade length of around 3 ½” or shorter and did not want too big of a knife but I wanted a full grip so as to allow a good solid purchase on the handle. I wanted a quality steel and kydex sheath so I could mount it to any kind of MOLLE platform if the need arose.

Eventually a friend of mine Kos Stathakis in Toronto Ontario decided to start making knives and low and behold did he feel he had made the perfect option for me. Enter the LBC-2 Last Warning.
The LBC-2 Last Warning is a 2 inch modified wharncliffe style blade made from 52100 steel with an overall length of 6 and a quarter inches and is almost .210 of an inch thick. The blade shape resembles many of the fighting style wharncliffe knives favoured by famed knife instructor Michael Janich and features a very mean point.

When it arrived to me in came in a padded thick parcel envelope that included the knife, kydex sheath and some parachute cord to make a necklace out of. The blade is intended for neck carry though I plan to run this in either pocket carry or belt carry. I do not at present live and work in an environment that requires speedy access to a knife so this will serve as one of my utility knives. I feel that in this role it will be an excellent fit and would also work well as a simple keep around the house utility knife. Kind of like a Stanley box cutter on steroids. And of course that nice point and edge would make it a great defensive weapon 

The knife is to be honest not the cheapest blade on the market though at the same time you have to remember this is not a mass produced knife out of a factory full of CNC machines this a hand made knife designed, tested and produced by a guy with a one man operation this is not some mass produced china made knife. This is a handmade tool built by a craftsman. Kos was kind enough to even engrave a little grey on the blade as a nod to our program here. ;)

No disrespect to mass production knives and not everybody is going to enjoy shelling out 150+ on a blade but if you are one of those guys who has a serious love for knives or a respect for craftsmen then this may be something to consider. The knife features gimping all across the handle which allows you to get a decent purchase on the grip and it gives it a cool little look. I recently added some skateboard griptape to the side to allow an even more solid purchase on the handle but its not necessary. The knife as was shipped to me did not come with scales however the included paracord can also be used for wrapping the handle. I opted out of thais as I have never been overly fond of cord wrap handles. I feel my little grip tape mod does do a good job as this is a thick knife so scales are almost not needed. I would not mind some nice G10 scales but at present my griptape works just fine.

While this is hardly a review I will say that so far I really like this knife. Stay tuned for more on the LBC-2 Last warning.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Firearm Myth: Hollow Point ammunition

This is going to be a series addressing myths and misconceptions about firearms and weapons. A lot of these are projected by accident by people who are simply not aware of the mistake or intentionally by the media and anti firearm political groups and a lot of these I encounter personally both among shooters and non shooters alike. These are simple misunderstandings pushed out by uninformed people and sometimes it is for the intention of scaring people.

Now despite that little introduction I wish to clarify I am not a subject matter expert, I am not a ballastician, or a medical examiner or lawyer or anything with a fancy acronym after my name. (2013 UPDATE: I am somebody with a fancy acronym after my name now.)

Myth: Hollow Point rounds were intended to kill people easier

Reality: While theoretically a Hollow Point will kill easier or inflict more damage that was not the key intention of the design. the priority is slowing the round down.

A hollow point round is a projectile that has a kind of cavity drilled into the centre of the round. The intention of this design and the reason that most law enforcement carry hollow point rounds is that upon impact with the rounds target the bullet will expand out which will slow the round down and as such will improve the odds of the round staying inside the body. The cause for this rapid expansion is that we as human beings are mostly made of water. And when it hits that hard that quickly water is more or less like hitting concrete. The water enters the cavity of the round and pushes through it more or less causing a massive expansion of the round in some ballistic tests the round almost doubles in size upon impact, sometimes it breaks up into several particles and fly's in different directions inside the body.

NOW a by product of that effect is that the round can potentially cause more "damage" internally. But the purpose of the design is not from a lethality standpoint the goal is to slow the round down so it will stay inside the body as opposed to passing through the body and moving on until it stops. Like all rounds it is designed to kill but its not designed to be a magic super bullet that will kill everything with impunity its designed so that when you shoot someone the bullet doesn't exit the body and move on to "hit the gas tank of a school bus full of nuns." (Credit to TheHossUSMC for that line)

The reason why police and why armed citizens carry hollow points is that traditionally we fight inside very close to medium range environments and often times there may be bystanders present. Think of the distance as like the width of a car, the length of a car, the length of a hallway, the length of your driveway. relatively short distances and most of these are in built up areas where you will probably find bystanders and people who you dont want to shoot.

Another instance where you want to control penetration would be in a controlled or pressurised environment such as an aircraft. you want to stop the round inside the body by expanding and slowing down so as not to cause an unwanted effect to the aircraft.

All in all I feel that the point of stopping the round is the priority in a Hollow Point bullet and the fragmentation and expansion is simply an added benefit


Review: Glock: The Rise of Americas Gun by Paul M Barrett

You can argue semantics over various firearms debates until the end of time but one thing that cannot be argued by anybody is the fact that Glock pistols are carried by well over half of all law enforcement officers in the United States. Here in my own country of Canada the Glock 22 pistol is carried by easily the same ratio of half of all police departments nationwide. Here on the east coast the four maritime provinces seem to favor the Sig 226 in 9mm but almost exclusively west of New Brunswick the carry pistol of choice (Save for federal level LE like RCMP and Military Police) is the Glock 22 in .40.

Now debates on calibre can be made I personally do not like high pressure rounds like .40 and feel that 9mm is more then efficient to mess somebodies day up though I am not opposed to a .40 calibre pistol either. I believe that you take the tools you are given and you go to work.

The Glock has a really interesting story behind its rise to the top of handgun excellence. You have a man who made a living making door hinges and curtain rods, a man who knew nothing of firearms, their proper use, design, or mechanics. A common man who approaches an Austrian Army general and says "Im going to build your new service pistol"

A pistol which he in fact builds in not even a year, a pistol that then goes on to defeat Sig, Steyer, Beretta and Walther by a landslide? That my friends is extraordinary. I was recently passed a copy of Glock: The Rise of Americas Gun by Paul M Barrett. I had known of this book for a while now but had just never gotten around to grabbing a copy.

The book covers not just the history of Glock as a company but also allows a look at gun culture in America from all angles.As an example the head of pentagon counter terrorism in the 80's fought to have the glock 17 banned from being imported or sold in the US based off of speculative information regarding the ability to smuggle the disassembled "plastic gun" through airport security screening systems. The book implys that this evidence came from a faulty test. Now lets remember that that the pistol has about nineteen ounces of steel plus about 4 ozs. of lead, if it has a full magazine. The book later imply's that this same high ranking terrorism expert went on to purchase a Glock 17 some time alter and claims that he found it to be one of the best auto pistols he had ever fired.

There are a few interesting things I have taken away from this book (And I have yet to finish it)  

Glock had a very aggressive business approach to tackling the US. He found that if he could get the feds and the cops to carry them then the gun community (Billions of dollars) would come running with cash in hand.

He had a very celebrity approach to tackling police management, private dinners, free training classes tons of free samples and bonus incentives he made these coppers feel like rockstars and it worked. Couple that with the fact that when the pistol came on the market it was cheap, effective and held a ton of ammunition compared to the stuff cops were used to. Remember this was dropped onto the table basically right at the tail end of the wheel gun days and only a few auto pistols were seeing police use. 

The pistol since that time has remained almost unchanged save for some minor changes in the design. Some of which have not been received so well by the community as others. But nobody can deny the Glock's affect on both civilian firearms culture and the policing and LE communities. 

I am really enjoying this book and encourage anybody interested in the glock pistol or even the US gun culture to pick up a copy at your local book store. Glock: The rise of Americas gun is available at most any book store and is running an average of 15.00-20.00 CAD for a hardcover copy