December 22, 2014

TSG IntelBrief: Targeting the Uniform

• The December 20, 2014 assassination of two NYPD officers is the latest in a global trend of decentralized extremists (individuals and groups) targeting centralized authority by ambushing uniformed police and military personnel

• On the same day, Taliban extremists ambushed and killed seven Afghan police officers at a checkpoint, and an individual in Joué-les-Tours, France, severely wounded several police officers with a knife in what appears to be another deliberate targeting of police

• In the United States, overall felonious police officer fatalities continue to decrease, though the number of officers killed in ambushes has held steady for the last two years; with the majority of these ambushes perpetrated by individuals with right-wing anti-government/survivalist ideology

• Given the continued online spread of violent ideology across the spectrum—and the crowdsourcing nature of isolated attacks inspired by groups such as the Islamic State—it is likely the U.S. (and other Western countries) will see an increase in police ambushes in 2015.

While the apparently politically-driven murders of two New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers appears to be an isolated attack by an individual with an extensive criminal record, it sadly is not isolated in terms of deliberate ambushes on uniformed police and military personnel worldwide. The ideologies of the disparate groups are varied—ranging from extreme Takfiri Wahhabism to anti-government/survivalism—but all share the common tactic of decentralized ambush-attacks on uniformed symbols of centralized authority. From Kabul to New York, Baghdad to Ottawa, the risks of politically-motivated attacks on law enforcement and military personnel will likely increase in 2015. On the same day as the murder of the two NYPD officers, seven Afghan police officers were killed in a Taliban ambush, and several French police officers were seriously wounded when an individual walked into a police station and began to attack officers with a knife.

Statistics from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) show that the overall annual number of felonious police officer killings in the U.S. continues to decrease, with 27 such killings in 2013. Of those, five officers were killed in deliberate ambushes such as what happened in New York City; six officers were killed in ambushes in 2012. These numbers are actually down from 2010-2011, when 15 officers were killed in ambushes each year. The majority of the perpetrators for these recent police ambushes ascribed to anti-government/survivalist ideologies. 2014 will likely see an increase in officers killed in ambushes but the trend of anti-government/survivalist ideology as motivation in the majority of the attacks will hold steady (as seen in the killing of two police officers in Las Vegas, and the killing of a state trooper in Pennsylvania).

Unfortunately, 2015 might be different in terms of both scope and motivation of attacks on uniformed personnel, as the violent messages spread by groups such as the Islamic State are likely to find more and more adherents in the West. The recent attacks on uniformed personnel in Canada, England, France, and previously in New York City, appear to have been inspired by the Islamic State’s call for its supporters to conduct attacks whenever and wherever possible. The enduring toxicity of the group’s message among unstable and vulnerable individuals—and the inability of Western governments to create effective counter-narratives—means that more attacks across the world on uniformed symbols of the state are likely in the coming year.

Regardless of whether the attackers shout “Allahu Akbar” or “Down with police” while committing politically-driven acts of murder, the goals are the same: to strike at symbols of state stability. Police officers are among the most visible symbols of the state, and they interact with local populations more closely than almost any other agency. By attacking the uniform, extremists are attacking the validity of the state and the vital relationship between the police and those they serve.


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