Hotels Become a Favorite Target for Terrorists

By Matthew Harwood

Terrorist attacks against hotels have become more frequent and deadly since the events of September 11, 2001, says a private intelligence firm.

In a new 12-page report, STRATFOR looked at the number of hotel attacks eight years before 9-11 and the number eight years after. It found that the bulls eye on foreign hotels catering to Westerners has grown significantly. Since 9-11, there have been 62 attacks against hotels in 20 different countries as opposed to 30 attacks in 15 different countries in the 8 years prior to it. 

The main culprit of these burgeoning attacks have been jihadist terrorists, STRATFOR says.

There are many reasons why jihadists have increasingly sought out hotels as targets, the private intelligence firm explains. First, the 9-11 attacks led many governments and militaries to "harden" the security around their installations and critical infrastructure. This has led terrorists to seek new, softer targets—crowded, poorly guarded public or semi-public facilities.

Hotels, because of their congestion, openness, and minimal security, "are the quintessential 'soft targets,'" according to the report. "They have fixed locations and daily business activity that creates a perfect cover for preoperational surveillance." Moreover, the hotel industry's ultra-competitive business environment makes hotel managers worry about inconveniencing its patrons with additional security measures they will find cumbersome.

Hotels also serve up two types of targets jihadists favor: Westerners and the indigenous local elite, which are frequently looked upon as collaborators with the West or apostate regimes. By attacking a linchpin of any tourism-based economy, terrorists know they can inflict tremendous economic pain, such as the November 2008 Mumbai attacks and the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings. It also doesn't hurt that hotels are places where men and women indulge themselves in each other, dancing, and drinks—all contrary to the Koran, STRATFOR reports.

Another related reason the firm believes hotels have come under greater attack is the changing nature of the jihadist threat. Radicalized and inspired by 9-11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, "grassroots jihadists" that have no contact with core al Qaeda or other professional jihadist networks have created their own jihadist organizations capable of conceiving and executing their own attacks. Because they lack resources, planning capabilities, and operational experience, these more amateur jihadists gravitate toward softer targets, such as hotels, according to the report.

STRATOR also discovered attacks against hotels have grown exponentially more lethal. There have been six-and-a-half times more people killed in terrorist hotel attacks since 9-11, while the injury rate has grown six-fold as well.

Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are the most popular and deadly method of attack. The IEDs have been either hidden in cars or trucks or strapped to a bomber's body. But since security upgrades have been effective at stopping vehicle-borne IEDs, terrorists have directly strapped bombs to their bodies more and more since 2005. The latest attacks occurred in Jakarta, Indonesia, when two suicide bombers detonated themselves inside the adjacent JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels, killed nine and wounded 42.

"These attacks using what are essentially human smart bombs, capable of moving around and through security measures, have proven to be very deadly," the report says.

But the most infamous and deadly hotel attack came last November, when terrorist commandos stormed the Oberoi and Taj Mahal Palace hotels, killing 71 and wounding 200. "This incident," the report warns, "showed how an active-shooter situation carried out by well-trained militants can cause more casualties than some [vehicle-borne IEDs]."

The report recommends hotels undertake a vulnerability assessment to determine where their weaknesses are. If certain facilities sit inside a high-threat area, hotels should consider increasing the standoff distance between the hotel and vehicular traffic, bolstering their static security surveillance around the hotel's property, and consider adopting a protective surveillance program, which STRATFOR says "is the best means of interdicting hostile actions."

♦ Photo of Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai, India, by Gao Observer/Flickr


View Recent News (by day)


Beyond Print

SM Online

See all the latest links and resources that supplement the current issue of Security Management magazine.