Dispatch: Lone Wolf Attack in Belgium
Tactical Analyst Ben West discusses the Dec. 13 lone wolf attack in Liege, Belgium, and shows that unsophisticated methods can still achieve deadly results.
Four people were killed and dozens more were injured today in an attack around lunchtime in the center of Liege, Belgium. The only confirmed suspect reportedly killed himself during the incident. The most current information as of now indicates this was the work of a lone wolf. While today's attack was rudimentary — involving only grenades and an assault rifle — it proves the effectiveness of simple tactics.
At approximately 12:30 pm local time, a man identified as Nordine Amrani began lobbing grenades in central Liege. The location of the attack is significant. It happened near a judicial courts complex where a seasonal Christmas market had been set up. The area also appears to be a hub for the public bus system. Therefore, it was a bustling, target-rich environment.
According to imagery available to us, damage was minimal. At one bus stop, glass had been broken out of the frame but the shelter itself was still intact. The superficiality of the damage corroborates reports that light weapons were used. There were even reports that the grenades were flash-bangs — devices that produce a lot of bright light and noise, but are not designed to cause significant damage. Authorities have located Amrani’s vehicle and an explosive ordnance disposal team has been dispatched to investigate it, although most likely just out of precaution.
The motives behind Nordine Amrani’s attack are so far unknown. Several Belgian news outlets have speculated on the involvement of Islamist groups, but an official at the Belgian Interior Ministry has insisted that Amrani acted alone and that this was not an act of terrorism. Subsequent investigations will certainly reveal more details behind Amrani, his connections and his possible motives. One of the first details that emerged about Amrani is that he was sentenced for illegal weapons possession in 2008. Therefore, he was a known entity to the authorities and courts.
Regardless of Amrani’s intentions or motives, his attack confirms the threat of individuals using rudimentary tactics and weapons that STRATFOR has highlighted since 2010. Even in a country like Belgium, Kalashnikov rifles and grenades are readily available on the gray markets. Based on Amrani’s history, it’s clear that he knew how to get these weapons. However, Amrani’s attack produced a relatively small death toll, despite the fact that he attacked a target-rich environment in the middle of the day. This detail indicates that Amrani was not very proficient with the weapons that he used.
The effectiveness of simple attacks can be seen in recent incidents such as Maj. Hasan’s 2009 attack on Fort Hood in the United States. Also, in July of this year in Norway, Anders Breivik demonstrated the deadliness of a rifle over more complex improvised explosive devices (IEDs). He was able to kill 68 people with his rifle versus 8 people with a massive vehicle-borne IED in Oslo.
While improvised explosive devices and suicide bombings are far more dramatic, they are not necessarily as lethal as armed assault and they are certainly more difficult to organize. Rifles, ammunition and grenades are relatively easy-to-use weapons systems that come already assembled and ready to use. They do not require homemade assembly that makes IEDs and suicide vests prone to human error. Regardless of Amrani’s intentions today, tactically he reminds us that attacks don’t need to be complex to kill people.