The New York Police Department (NYPD) has conducted a simulated militant attack similar to the terror unleashed in Mumbai two years ago, a media report said Tuesday. In the simulation, a team of terrorists launch a coordinated series of bombings and gun attacks around the city. The terrorists also attack police officials visiting the wounded in a hospital. By the time the day-long attacks are over, dozens of people are killed and many wounded, The Wall Street Journal reported. The simulation “deliberately” mirrored the 2008 massacre in Mumbai, when on the night of Nov 26, 2008, 10 gunmen attacked various locations in India’s business hub, including two luxury hotels, a hospital and a railway station.
A total of 166 people were killed in the attack that went on for three days. “Until Mumbai, NYPD counter-terrorism officials felt reasonably comfortable that they were prepared for any type of terrorist attack. But that comfort level was built on preparing for a single event, not a series of coordinated attacks that would terrorise a city for days on end,” the report said.
The terrorist incidents that have actually hit New York, such as the Sep 11, 2001 attacks where terrorists hijacked planes to destroy the World Trade Center, or the foiled Times Square car-bombing attempt in May 2010, were different from the Mumbai-type attacks. “The Mumbai attack two years ago was a bit of a game changer,” said Mitchell Silber, head of NYPD’s intelligence analysis division, said. “It was a model that most counter-terrorism practitioners hadn’t really considered. The armed gunmen roaming around the city taking hostages, that wasn’t something we had seen by any jihadist group. That was a real eye-opener,” Silber said. He said the more NYPD officials learned about the Mumbai attacks “the more similarities we saw between Mumbai city and New York City”. Both are financial centres, both are surrounded by water on three sides and both get intense media attention, he said.
More than 40 commanders took part, and a facilitator introduced complications into the exercise that took place Dec 3.
The NYPD’s top brass gathered inside the department’s headquarters in Manhattan, in the Police Academy on East 20th Street and a third undisclosed location. The police officials were given a fictional scenario that began with President Barack Obama visiting New York for a bill signing. At the same time, convicted Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad was scheduled to appear in a federal court.
The attacks began with bombings in downtown Manhattan “that resulted in 18 dead and dozens injured”. The president went ahead with the bill signing at the World Trade Center site, when another bomb went off nearby. He was whisked away. But the attack was not over. Six gunmen piled out of a van at Herald Square and opened fire on shoppers and pedestrians. They then entered the Macy’s department store and took 26 hostages.
“As in Mumbai, police in the simulation had trouble containing and anticipating the terrorists,” the report said. At one point, police who tried to rescue hostages were shot by snipers. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Chief of Department Joseph Esposito went to Bellevue Hospital to visit wounded police officers, where both were injured when a bomb exploded inside the emergency room. NYPD’s spokesman Paul Browne said the exercise provided several valuable lessons. Conventional wisdom was that the best way to deal with multiple subway bombings was to shut down all mass transportation and evacuate everyone by foot, he said. But the exercise showed the advantage of continuing to use buses during an attack to shepherd civilians out of Manhattan.
The exercise also showed that the first responding officers shouldn’t have evacuated people and waited for reinforcements, the traditional response in a hostage situation. Instead, the police could have minimised casualties by quickly finding and killing the terrorists who were shooting people.
Since Mumbai, Browne said, the NYPD has trained and equipped its officers to use “heavy weapons” for a prolonged siege situation and to counteract military-style assault weapons like the ones used in Mumbai.